Topic Spotlight: Personal Finance

We mentioned previously that HubPages is working on an expansion of overcrowded Topics to enhance the site’s organization and provide more categorization options for Hubbers. In this post, we’d like to highlight some changes and improvements in Personal Finance.

Personal Finance is one of our most practical and successful Topics here on HubPages. It covers everything from tax forms to coupon clipping to investing in stocks. Through the Topic Expansion process, we are discovering what subjects our Hubbers most enjoy writing about. Interestingly, we’ve found that the most popular Personal Finance Topics are Frugal Living, Tax and Taxes, Income and Making Money, and Investing in Stocks, Bonds, Real Estate, More, and it’s on those categories that we’ve focused the majority of our attention. We’re very excited about the new Topics! Here’s a comprehensive list of what we’ve added in Personal Finance:

We hope you’ll have fun browsing the new Topics and that you will help us fill them up with high-quality Hubs. (Check out our Topic descriptions at the top of the Topic pages too. We occasionally sneak in the odd bit of trivia or humor.) If you’re looking for a subject to write about, new Topics are a great choice; since they will have less Hubs initially, your featured Hubs are more likely to show up on the first page. With these new changes, the dust has settled in Personal Finance for a while, but the Topic Expansion process is still full swing elsewhere, so look for more improvements to come.

Personal Finance Writing Tips from Money Grows on Hubs Contest Judge Gyutae of Money Crashers

As you may know, the Money Grows on Hubs contest is now in full swing, and we have been introducing you, over the past months, to our contest judges!  One of our contest judges is Gyutae Park, an Editor for MoneyCrashers.com, a personal finance blog and community of authors that exists to educate readers on financial topics and help them make financially sound choices with their money. As an editor and admin for the site, Gyutae sees a lot of personal finance articles and knows what it takes to write the best of the best.  Check out the interview below for some great tips – and also to get to know more about what Money Crashers is all about.

HubPages: What inspired the creation of Money Crashers?

Gyutae: The first version of the Money Crashers site was created back in 2006 by Erik Folgate, who wanted to help college students, recent graduates, and young single or married people understand some of the essentials of personal finance.  While in college, Erik racked up over $20k in credit card and student loan debt in just 2 years.  He later managed to get out of debt and improve his finances, and made it his mission to help others make wise financial decisions and avoid the same mistakes he made early on.

There’s clearly a large void in the US when it comes to teaching personal financial education in high schools and colleges.  Sadly, this leads to the majority of young people not having sufficient knowledge to make some of the most important decisions in their lives including college enrollment, marriage, career, buying a home, and starting a family. Money Crashers and sammycouponcodes.com was created to help fill that void.

Has the format or direction of the blog changed over time?  Do you think it is making the impact on readers that you had hoped to see?

As I mentioned, Money Crashers started off as a one-person blog with Erik sharing his thoughts and experiences managing his finances.  Erik has a lot of interesting and helpful insights for readers, but the site was more of a personal blog about money back then than anything else.

Since that initial start, Money Crashers has evolved quite a bit.  Andrew Schrage, who’s currently another editor, and I took over as the main admins in ’09 and we focused on growing the site and spreading financial education awareness.  We knew that there were a lot of people out there struggling with their finances, especially after the start of the big recession in 2008, and we wanted to use Money Crashers to help these people get back on their feet and improve overall financial literacy.  The timing was great too because all of a sudden personal finance and frugality were “in”.

It’s really a shame that personal finance isn’t taught in schools here in the US.  I would say it’s one of the most important life skills to have, especially at an early age when it matters most.  Our target audience consists mainly of young people in their twenties and thirties, fresh out of college and looking to improve their financial situations and build wealth for the long term.

We’ve brought on quite a few different writers to cater to this audience and discuss a variety of financial topics like budgeting, getting out of debt, smart shopping, best uses for credit cards, insurance, careers, small business, and more.  Basically, we’d like Money Crashers to be a comprehensive resource about personal finance where readers can learn more about the options that they have based on their own unique preferences and situation.

I think we’re definitely making some good progress.  We frequently get emails and comments from readers thanking us for the information and of course healthy discussion and debate is always a good thing.  We’re also looking to partner with other similar sites in the community to further promote the cause of financial literacy.

Would you say that people are more or less informed about personal financial matters today than they were fifty years ago?

Well, it’s tough to say since I wasn’t around 50 years ago to truly understand what the financial awareness was like back then.  However, I do know that history often repeats itself (e.g. wars, depressions) so it’s likely that our parents, grandparents and even great grandparents went through very similar things we’re going through now when it comes to finances.  The biggest difference is that we now have technology and a wealth of information at our disposal through books, TV, and the Internet.  It’s never been easier than now to learn about a subject and connect with like-minded people around the world.

So theoretically, we should be much more informed about personal finance matters today.  The real question is, will we make an effort to actually learn and use all of the tools available to help ourselves?  That’s really what it’s all about.

Which types of articles on Money Crashers are the most popular or useful?

We’ve experimented with a lot of different content on Money Crashers and we’ve found that the most popular and useful articles are usually those that tie in the personal experiences and opinions of the author.  The more unique and interesting, the better.  It definitely helps to be controversial and go against the grain at times.  This is a good way to differentiate and stand out amongst other writers and blogs.  For example, here’s an article that drove a lot of interest: 8 Reasons Why I Quit My Dream Job to Be a Stay At Home Mom & Parent.  Not many people quit their dream jobs, but the author made it work for her.

Additionally, there are 3 types of articles that do particularly well.

Reviews: There are tons of financial products and services out there and it’s usually tough to cut through the marketing and advertising lingo and find out how useful they really are.  For this reason, we try to do a few reviews per week on Money Crashers covering everything from credit cards and savings accounts to tax preparation software and even gadgets .  As you may have guessed, there’s usually a pretty high demand for reviews since readers want to make smart buying decisions and get the most bang for their buck.  As an example, here’s a Lending Club review and a TurboTax review.

Comprehensive How-To’s: In addition to buying, users go online to learn and educate themselves on how to do something.  Create a comprehensive how-to article on a niche topic that people want to learn more about, and readers will naturally be drawn to it.  This is especially effective if your guide is truly all-encompassing and the best available.  Here’s one on Money Crashers that turned out particularly well: How to Find the Perfect Apartment For Rent – The Ultimate 5-Step Process & Guide

Long Lists: Readers like options, lots and lots of options.  So naturally, articles with long lists usually do pretty well, especially since they can easily be scanned and tucked away for reference.  Our list of over 400+ top personal finance blogs was received extremely well by the community and still gets a lot of traffic each day.  And here’s another example: 11+ Uses for Vinegar You Need to Know About

Do you have any tips for our Hubbers on how to go about writing about personal finance if they’re not particular experts on the subject?

In my opinion, there’s no such thing as a true “expert.”  No one knows everything there is to know about a subject and there’s always going to be something new, especially in personal finance where everything changes so fast.  Be content with being a student and always be learning.

At the same time, everyone is an “expert” to someone else who knows less.  Don’t get down on yourself because you “don’t know enough.”  I’m sure someone out there would love to hear or read what you have to say.

Know your audience and pick your spots based on your strengths and unique experiences.  If you’re great at research, create a long list or uncover some new insights that have never been revealed before.  If you’re a good storyteller, share an anecdote and tie that in with your main points.  Don’t try to do too much and stick with what you’re good at.

Sure, this is a writing competition, but you shouldn’t compare yourself with other writers and follow the crowd.  In fact, being different is what will set you apart and increases your chances of being noticed.

Good luck everyone!  I’m looking forward to reading the entries.

[Thanks, Gyutae!]

Gyutae shares some really GREAT advice – here’s the summary in case you are reading this post in haste:

  • Be willing to constantly learn
  • Draw on personal experiences and add a personal aspect to your articles
  • Write good reviews
  • Write comprehensive how-to’s
  • Compile fun, long lists

And if you are out of ideas and feeling writer’s block with the contest, perhaps you can gain some inspiration from the great guides on Money Crashers.  Gyutae shares some wonderful ones above, and we also love these:

The submission portion of the contest is now in full swing, so you can get started right now.  Good luck!!

Personal Finance Writing Tips from Money Grows on Hubs Contest Judge Jeff Rose of Good Financial Cents

Jeff Rose of Good Financial Cents

Jeff Rose of Good Financial Cents

Another fabulous judge in our upcoming contest is Jeff Rose- a certified Financial Advisor and Investment Planner in Carbondale, Illinois who manages Good Financial Cents in his free time.  The Personal Finance blog allows Jeff to pass on tips, lessons, and knowledge that he gains through his work and share it with the masses.  We sat down with this Money Grows on Hubs contest judge to learn more about his work and get some tips for writing Personal Finance Hubs for the contest.  Check out our exchange below:

As a professional in the finance field, you must see some of the same issues, concerns or goals come up over and over. What would you say are the three most common reasons people seek your help?

You’re absolutely right, I do see a lot of the same issues reoccurring. I think the three most common reasons people come to me are the following:

a. They just don’t get it. Investing in general can be very complex and for the average person who doesn’t spend a lot of time educating themselves, it can be very perplexing. A lot of my clients don’t feel they have the aptitude to understand the complexity of the investment world and how to apply it to their own situation. They feel much more confident in relying on a professional to help them through the process.

b. In conjunction with not getting it, they just don’t have the time. Most people are busy working jobs- sometimes two jobs- or caring for family, or all the other affairs they have going on in their life.  They just don’t have time to devote to understanding what’s going on with their investments or the economy and everything along with that. By outsourcing that research to a professional as myself, it frees them up to do the things that they want to do.

c. They don’t want to get it, so a lot of people who do have the time and the capability to do the research just don’t want to.  I can relate that in my own personal life. I could take the time to know how to change the oil in my car, but what’s the point? I feel much more comfortable outsourcing that to the professional who knows what the heck they’re doing. A lot of people take that approach with investing by relying on a financial planner to help them through the process.

Do you think that responsible financial behavior has changed over time, or are good financial practices today the same as they were 50 years ago?

Wow, that’s a really good question. I know when I look at the spending habits of my grandmother compared to what I’m seeing with the gen X and gen Y generation, my hunch is that financial behaviors have gotten worse. Coming from the gen X generation, I know that a lot of my friends aren’t saving, or if they are saving, they’re not saving nearly as much. To make matters worse, they outspend what they earn financing things on credit cards, second mortgages, etc.

You have a solid formal financial education under your belt, which gives you a big leg up when it comes to personal finance blogging. Are there any good educational resources you recommend for beginners?

It’s funny you say that about my formal financial education because although I was a finance major in school, I didn’t learn a lot about personal finance investing until I actually graduated. I was actually luckier to have landed a job as a financial advisor because that’s where I was able to learn, not just on my own but by my client’s personal experiences and their shortfalls. I think in this day and age, there are several good blogs on personal finance that people can go to for great information. A few that come to mind are http://www.getrichslowly.org, http://www.thesimpledollar.com and http://www.cashmoneylife.com. There are so many personal finance blogs out there that provide good, useful information, at least for people to come up with their own decisions based on their own individual situation.

How much continued education do you feel you have to engage in to stay on top of things? Do you do a lot of research for every post you write or are new articles more inspired by lessons you teach or learn on the job?

When it comes to writing my blog posts, I seem to intertwine the two. Having the certified financial planner designation and all the continuing education that comes with it helps me stay on top of what’s going on in the investment and financial planning world, which gives me a leg up. I also like to do more story-like posts based on either lessons I’ve learned in my life or lessons that I learned from my client’s lives on mistakes that they’ve made.

What would you say is the most rewarding part of writing about personal finance?

For me, the most rewarding part is whenever I know that I can make a difference in someone’s life. I’ve had numerous people send me emails and messages saying how much they’ve enjoyed my blog and how much it has helped them to make important financial decisions in their life. Each of those people who have contacted me gives me the validity that I need to keep doing what I’m doing with my blog.

What tips do you have for personal finance writers on HubPages?

Be relevant. Find ways to incorporate personal stories as you’ve learned valuable life lessons through your personal finance journeys. It’s much easier for people to relate when they are in the situation and trying to improve upon that.

[Thanks, Jeff!]

To have a look at our favorite recent Good Financial Cents articles (and get some ideas on ways to format and write your own Personal Finance Hubs!) below:

Note that the titles are specific, and that Jeff writes about niche topics where his posts have a chance of ranking higher in search results.  Jeff also is quite good about titling his posts like search queries, which helps with making things appear in search results. When writing Personal Finance articles on HubPages, you should adopt the same approach.

Personal Finance Writing Tips from Money Grows on Hubs Contest Judge Adam Baker of Man vs. Debt

As you know, January’s Money Grows on Hubs contest is quickly approaching, and to get a leg up on the competition, you can start writing entries now!  To give you more entry inspiration and tips, we had a chat with Adam Baker, one of the Personal Finance contest judges.

Adam Baker (Baker for short!) along with his wife Courtney and two-and-a-half year old daughter Milligan decided that they wanted to live the life of their dreams – and really did it! Adopting the motto “Sell your crap, pay off your debt, do what you love,” Baker and his family sold everything they owned, paid off their commercial debt, and spent a year traveling abroad – sharing their story as they went along on Man Vs. Debt. Below Baker shares more about the process, plus his tips on writing personal finance articles!

What made you decide to make such a bold move in your life?

Well, the straw the broke the camel’s back was the birth of our daughter Milligan. After bringing her home from the hospital, we were finally given the clarity to see that the life we were living and the life we wanted to live – were not aligned.

We were deep in consumer debt, with way too much stuff clogging our lives, striving along a path that didn’t reflect our real values. We realized that a bold shift in our daily actions and lifestyle was the best way to realign our values.

So we decided to pay off our debt, sell all our crap, and spend a year traveling abroad to get even more perspective on what we really wanted out of life. 🙂

What was the hardest part of selling nearly everything you own?

The hardest part in getting started for us was realizing the difference between what items added true joy, value, and purpose to our lives – and which were just holding us back (without delivering any real value).

Most people I know (ourselves included) tend to buy many thing that we think add value to our lives – but whose value is really either inflated or fleeting at best. It’s hard to come to terms that we’ve wasting so much money, time, and energy on these possessions, but it’s essentially that we cut our losses and move forward.

Why did you decide to blog about the financial aspect of your adventure?

I think that one of the problems with personal finance these days is that the issue, problems, and solutions are so taboo to talk about in our culture. No ones wants to admit a financial problem and most people strive to show off their inflated lifestyles as much as possible.

I think that providing financial transparency – even on a small scale – can help shed some positive light and show people that there’s nothing to be scared about this journey. We share how we handle problems (both the ups and downs) in hopes that’ll it inspire others to do the same. 🙂

What have you learned about writing personal finance articles over the past months?

I’ve learned that you don’t have to be a guru – or an expert – to positively affect people. Courtney and I are far from gurus, we have a lot to learn about the process. But we’ve been able to have a tangible difference simply writing about who we are and what we are going through honestly.

Sure, I’ve done a lot of research in the past few years on this journey – and I know what works and what doesn’t for most people. But I try my best to approach it in a genuine and transparent way. I think people really relate to that part of it.

How much research do you do before writing one of your blog posts / guides?

Depends. Some posts have no research done for them – as I’m just sharing my personal opinions, trial and error, or reflections.

Others have months of research. Meaning several hours a day, non-stop – for months at a time. These are my more premium guides – the ones I sell as part of my business. Each of these I’ve obsessed on for months, but the result is something that is both comprehensive and powerful for people.

It’s a lot of work, but I’m extremely proud of the end products in this cases. 🙂

Do you have any tips for the Money Grows on Hubs contest entrants that they might consider when writing their own personal finance articles?

Don’t try to appear like a guru. Don’t try to be the “best” resource on any given topic. Simply try to relay what you believe to be positive, sustainable change for people in you *own* voice.

Don’t be afraid to be yourself and don’t be afraid to show your weaknesses. Be proud of what you do well and humble of anything that you don’t. That’s the formula I try to stick to! 🙂

[Thanks Baker!!]

One of the most inspiring things about Baker is that he turned his personal experiences with finances and turned them into learning resources for others.  As a Hubber, you, too, can work on improving your own finances and share your findings online – much in the same way Baker has – as Personal Finance Hubs on HubPages.

If you’re curious to see some of Adam’s great Personal Finance articles – and to get some inspiration for the upcoming contest, here are some great posts from Man vs. Debt:

Personal Finance Writing Tips from Money Grows on Hubs Contest Judge SVB of The Digerati Life

The Digerati LifeSilicon Valley Blogger, SVB for short, is one of our five Money Grows on Hubs judges, and is the blogger behind The Digerati Life– a mostly Personal Finance-oriented blog which combines posts on money, business, technology, and SVB’s entrepreneurial endeavors.

SVB shares more about her experience as a Personal Finance blogger – as well as some great Personal Finance writing tips- below:

HubPages: What got you started with personal finance articles?

SVB: Personal finance has been a hobby of mine since I got out of college over 2 decades ago. By becoming independent and finally earning my own living as a software engineer, I was encouraged to take stock of my finances. I got very excited about the prospect of growing my money through mutual funds and I began to study the investment world more carefully. I subscribed to several personal financial magazines and have since gotten hooked on the topic. So when I began blogging, it started off as a hobby and internet experiment, and as a way to connect with others on my favorite topic. I continued with my hobby while working at my full time engineering job but after a year and a half decided to go full time into blogging as an online business. In short, I gave up my full time job to become an online entrepreneur, focusing on financial content.

What were your initial goals with The Digerati Life? Have they changed over time?

Yes! I started off thinking I was going to write primarily about business in Silicon Valley — something like a ValleyWag or even a mini-TechCrunch. I had worked in several high profile technology and financial companies in the Bay Area, as well as in a few start ups, so it seemed like a sensible idea at that time. Over time, I noticed that I was more comfortable writing about general finance than about business and Silicon Valley startups, so I shifted my focus.

When you write a new personal finance guide, where do you start? With research? Outlines? Personal experiences?

I basically live on the internet. I visit many communities, media sites and other financial sites and often find many things that catch my eye. This may inspire me to settle on a topic. Experiences, personal stories and general stories I hear about or read online (and off) may spark me to write about a particular topic. I also try to make sure I cover all aspects of finance during the week. I often cover a different financial area each day of the week so that there is variety.

How has personal finance blogging changed your own financial behavior?

I’ve learned quite a bit from reading about others’ experiences through comments and messages I receive from readers as well as through reading other financial blogs. I realized that no matter how much I feel I already know about personal finance, there is much more that can be learned. I felt I had gaps in my knowledge, especially in the areas that involved financing and borrowing — simply because I am not a big “borrower”. I also learned that I was comfortable with running my own business, when in the past, I considered myself a technologist through and through. My experience as a blogger opened my eyes beyond financial matters. It also helped me learn a whole lot of things about myself and about my goals.

Some of your posts get more traffic than others – what do you think attracts readers to personal finance articles?

It is true that certain topics in finance attract more attention than others. If the topic is controversial or polarizing, then you’ll get a lot of discussion from people on that subject matter. I also found that current events can affect traffic — the topic du jour will certainly pique the interest of more readers. For example, there was a time when the economic stimulus, subprime lending, government bailouts and the financial crisis attracted a tremendous amount of buzz.

Do you have any particular tips for those writing entries for the Money Grows on Hubs contest?

I would encourage writers to really know their material and see if it’s something they can present in a personal manner. Go beyond the basics and avoid generic material. Draw from personal experience so that you can provide a unique spin to a particular topic that may already have been covered by many others. By leaving room for people to draw opinions and to share them, you can encourage others to participate in the discussion. I find that articles that state a question (especially in finance) can draw more readers into the conversation.

[Thanks, SVB!]

Still looking for some good examples of Personal Finance articles before you get started on your Money Grows on Hubs contest entries?  Here are some great guides by SVB below:

For more information about the Money Grows on Hubs contest, visit the HubPages Personal Finance topic page.

Announcing the Money Grows on Hubs Contest

Today, we’re very excited to launch Money Grows on Hubs– a HubPages contest in the Personal Finance  category.  The submission portion of the contest starts on January 3rd, but the writing and learning part starts right now!

Throughout the month of December, we’re going to help you educate yourself about Personal Finance (and writing Personal Finance Hubs!) by sharing interviews with our contest judges (who are all top Personal Finance bloggers), as well as helpful HubPages guides.

By the time January rolls around, you’ll be all set to publish amazing contest entries, which you’ll definitely want to do, seeing as there are so many amazing prizes! Be sure to Save Unpublished all of the Hubs you’re working on in December; don’t begin publishing them before January 3rd at noon Pacific Standard Time!

Each day of the contest, two winners will be announced: a Daily Drawing winner, who will be selected randomly from the day’s contest entries and be awarded $50, as well as a Staff Pick winner (judged to be the best entry of the day), who will win not only $50 but a copy of New York Times best-seller I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi, cited by The New York Times as “…[one] of the brightest minds in the world of money advice for the young.”

There are also two weekly prizes of $100 each – one (People’s Choice) based on popular votes form the community and another (Best Hub) selected from our panel of five judges.

Our Grand Prize is a whopping $500!  The final winner is selected from the month’s four Best Hub winners.

The Money Grows on Hubs contest sponsor is I Will Teach You To Be Rich, which is not only the source of the contest’s book prizes, but also some great entry inspiration.

To learn more about the contest, visit the Personal Finance topic page.