Sunday, April 4, 2010

Personal Finance Blogs from a Woman’s Perspective (Part 2 of 2)

A Guest Post by Kat

Click here for Part 1

Common Themes

In all of these blogs, you’ll see how last year’s financial crisis affected regular Americans: a lot of them were laid off or are fearing lay-offs, and most find themselves caught in a debt trap.

Thank god our parents paid for our college tuition. Imagine getting started with your working life with several hundred thousands of pesos in student loans? What kind of choices could we have made given that big constraint? I used to think I was not lucky because we were not as rich as my batchmates, but you know what, I took advantage of the freedom of being able to live happily on very little. I had the freedom to sign up for an eight thousand peso job a year out of college in exchange for the adventure of living in another province, learning another dialect, honing my research skills, and paying for my own expenses. That gig led to a lot of other opportunities for me, and I am still benefiting from the network that I have established until now. The point is, I would not have dared to pursue that career track had I graduated with big debt on my shoulders.

Blogging seems to work as a strategy towards attaining financial freedom. I started following most of the blogs I mentioned 3 years ago during their “gung-ho” debt payment phase. Some of them branched out into other topics when they have reached their financial goals and their finances have more or less stabilized already. I think blogging was an effective strategy for them because of two things: (1) the rigorous documentation of all financial activities, hence savings, expenses, investments, net worth data are all tracked in one form or another, and (2) an accountability system based on the community that is built around the blog (for example, the bloggers get trashed from commenters for their bad choices or they are encouraged when they are feeling down).

Finally, in most of these blogs, you’ll see bloggers highlight the “personal” in personal finance. Although this could just boil down to my voyeuristic tendencies, I appreciated most of the insights that one’s finances are but a reflection of one’s life choices: childhood traumas, teenage angst, a myriad of insecurities and fears all play a role in our choices. Our choices then define our financial status. Most of the time, realigning our mindset goes a long way towards improving our financial status.

Research Gaps

It was once emphasized that a review of literature discusses what the existing materials are talking about and what the existing materials are missing. From my perspective, here are the gaps in the current personal finance blog landscape:

The emphasis of most blogs are on reducing costs instead of increasing income. Ramit's blog is the only one I encountered who covered the topic on a regular basis. However, I also point that some of the get-rich blogs just reek too much of scams that I am skeptical of their message.

Dearth of material on Filipino personal finance. I used to read Salve's MoneySmarts blog, but she stopped posting last year. The only other Filipino PF blogger I know is The Digerati Life. But she is based in Sillicon Valley so still American in context: we do not have 401(k), student loans, and other American society features. What we do deal with are low paying jobs, corrupt government officials, extended family relations, and bankrupt social security systems that her blog almost always fails to talk about.

What does a Filipino young urban professional do when aiming for financial freedom given these constraints? Investor Juan is a good effort towards answering this question. But personal finance is a huge research area that needs more and more inputs to cover all the financial issues we face. IJ provided us already with comprehensive information on UITFs and investing. But what about buying a car? Choosing a house? Doing grocery in the city? Shopping for shoes and clothes?


Following personal finance blogs for the past three years gave me a unique perspective at understanding another culture. What we read in Time or Economist are usually condensed versions of the regular Joes' stories. The summaries are either quantitative (e.g. unemployment rate, inflation rate, GDP) or qualitative (e.g. an in-depth type of story about one specific family in general). But these personal finance blogs gave a human face to all those statistics and a credibility sensationalized or packaged news articles do not have.

What has been most fascinating for me is the fact that the underlying goals of those American personal finance bloggers remain the same with ours, despite the structural and contextual differences between our countries. They may be a 40 year old, overweight, frustrated writer, or a 26 year old tango aficionado, or a 30 year old resigned bachelor, but I, a 26 year old Filipino researcher can relate to them because we all aspire and work towards the same goal of financial freedom.

Freedoms are defined by the things that we are able to do. Being in debt or living paycheck to paycheck severely curtails our options. It does not matter if we live in a developed or a developing country, the fact remains that there are choices we make that either shackle us or free us. I like the way the personal finance blogs and the community supporting them generate their own debates (e.g. to rent or to own a house? pay debt first or build emergency fund first?), agree on certain strategies, and ultimately create their own knowledge of finance apart from those that the financial institutions fed them.

I contribute here in Investor Juan with the hope that a small community can form around this, supportive of each other and passionate about financial freedom. I just shared what I know: I’m looking forward to reading stories from the rest of you.

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