Reflections On 5 Years Of Blogging

5 years ago I started this blog to give myself a voice on personal finance and to continue my education on personal finance.  Now 320+ articles and 410,000+ words later I have built a website that I’m super proud that helps over 200,000 people a year.

I am very thankful for the support I have received while building this blog.  My family has shown endless patience with me spending time building this site. This site has also allowed me to be less intense when trying to help someone.  Previously if someone mentioned a topic I might have tried to “help them” by reciting from memory everything my nerd brain has on the subject.  It’s much less intense for me to just shoot someone a link in an email, and it is much more helpful because you aren’t forcing your captive audience to remember everything.

My coworkers and friends have overwhelmingly supported me in this endeavor.  One of the coolest moments I had from this blog was when one of our new hires at my job mentioned reading an article about working in the ice condenser published by a John C. and he wanted to know if it was me! I also had my Boss’s boss mention he had read my article on ice condensers when we first met a couple years ago.  In the blogging community J$ and John from ESI have featured my work on Rockstar Finance several times, which has been amazing with getting me new readers and growth for my blog.

 

I Used To Suck At Writing.

Looking back on past articles my voice was ok and my spelling and punctuation weren’t horrible, but I rarely delved deep into a topic.  Of my first 30 blog posts I only wrote 3 that were over 1,000 words. I had read that 300 words was a goal to shoot for, so most of my early posts were roughly 300 – 500 words in length.  Back in 2016 I started aiming for 1,000+ words and these days most posts are over 1,500 words.

 

Apparently Keyword Research Is Important:

I literally just started doing this a couple months ago. Keyword research is basically using a tool to see what the search volume and competition is for a given topic.  Researching keywords helps authors figure out which terms are more likely to drive more traffic.  Historically I’ve just written whatever popped into my head.  The lack of keyword research I think plays a major part in why my blog traffic stagnated over the past 18 months.  I’m turning this around by doing keyword research for all upcoming posts and going back and updated old posts.  When I’m updating old posts I’m making sure the content is still relevant and updating links and references.  I occasionally will expand on the topic if necessary. I am also adding new images and pinning the posts on Pinterest.  So far I have updated over 30 previous posts.

 

There Is A Lot More To Blogging Then Writing Posts:

  • Behind the scenes someone running a blog needs to engage in at least some of the following:
  • Finding, Implementing, and customizing themes and overall site design
  • Creating relationships with advertisers and inserting ads
  • Keyword Research and article ideas
  • Mailing list management
  • Community building: talking with other bloggers, approving and responding to comments.
  • Promotion: Guest posts, HARO queries, etc.
  • Social Media Management:  I’ve let my twitter account stagnate.  I’m working hard on developing my Pinterest account recently.  I create a new pin for each new article and am working on my backlog of previous articles.

 

Blogging Expenses Keep Rising:

When I started this blog I bought a standard hosting package with a domain name for $36 for a year from GoDaddy, the normal pricing is $86 per year plus $15 for the domain name.  A couple years in I wanted to look into hosting multiple blogs so I increased my hosting package to $132 per year.

My website got hacked in February and I needed help so I bought a 3 year security package for an additional $180.  In July I found out that Google would be labeling my site as “Not Secure” without an SSL certificate so I bought one of those. Unfortunately my search traffic has dropped by over 40% since switching to HTTPS.  I’ve read that this can be due to short term issues that will clear up in a month or two, but also that part of the drop could be bots that were trying to hack my site, which don’t bother now since I have https.  Hopefully this corrects itself shortly.  All in my yearly expenses going forward are:

  • Domain Name: $15
  • Hosting: $132
  • Security: $84
  • SSL Certificate: $75
  • Total: $306 Per Year

Blog Income Fluctuates:

I originally didn’t plan to make money from this site, but I have to admit the first time I saw a whopping $4 come in I was excited.  I was even more excited when this blog earned $2,000 in its 3rd full calendar year.  Although I have been averaging $200 a month for a couple years my income has been as low as $34 and as high as $413. I paid for our entire trip to Disney World with income from this blog.

I’ve added and subtracted advertising over the years and I am pretty happy with where I am now.  I have developed 3 spreadsheets for sale and will start my first eBook soon.  I originally wanted to publish one around the 5 year mark, but I have little more than an outline at this point in time. Here’s my revenue from Action Economics by year.

  • 2013: $0
  • 2014: $0
  • 2015: $80
  • 2016: $2,011
  • 2017: $2,489
  • 2018: Looks to be on track for around $2,500.

Blogging Has Been Essential To Staying Focused:

Want to keep your mind focused on something, write over a 1,000 words a week on it for 5 years!  Writing this blog has challenged me to look into different areas of personal finance and to continuously strengthen my career(s) and my balance sheet.  Mrs. C. and I have nearly tripled our net worth since I started this website and I don’t think we would have been nearly as successful without it.  Thinking about money as much as I need to in order to maintain this blog has also led me to formulating a long term plan for building generational wealth.

The spreadsheets that I sell here took many many hours to develop and I use them constantly for our personal finances.  These are tools that I would not have developed as deeply as I have without this website.  This has allowed me to speed up our timeline for paying off our home and has allowed us to optimize our tax strategy.

Deciding How Public To Be Is Draining:

I’ve struggled with this so much over the last 5 years.  This is something that I worry about more than what articles I am going to write.  I’m semi-anonymous to the world, but am public to family/friends/coworkers.  Most people who know me in the real world are aware of this blog.  Overall I think the vast majority of people are positive towards it and so far there have been no negative repercussions from this blog into my personal life.

What I struggle with is how much of my finances to reveal.  For 3 years I posted quarterly financial updates to help show readers that it is possible to do what we are doing and to also show that even finance bloggers have set backs.  For me I felt more comfortable when our total net worth was smaller because I felt it was more relatable.  Now, with our current net worth where it is and our savings rate where it is, I feel that I might come across as tone-deaf and isolated because we are doing top 5% stuff at this point.  I think at this point those quarterly updates feel more like financial porn than they feel like a helpful tool for my audience.

On the other hand, I feel like our position in life is relatively unique in the personal finance blog world.  I wear steel toes and a hardhat to work each day. I work in an industrial environment and Mrs. C. works in retail, whereas it seems the majority of finance bloggers work in tech, finance, or engineering.  We have 4 kids and were very young parents, which is a challenge very few PF bloggers have.  Jillian at Montana Money Adventures is an exception who comes to mind. I may continue to do quarterly updates but with a focus more on lifestyle than on actual numbers.

Financial Blogging Leads To Unrealistic Comparisons:

I mentioned above how I felt like my quarterly updates were becoming finance porn,  well I also tend to read similar updates from other blogs and it certainly leads to unhealthy comparisons.  Most early retirement bloggers are a small subset of a small subset.  These are the 1% of the 1% of people who are best at saving, investing, and mastering personal finance.  If you only read personal finance blogs you get sucked into a mindset that these people are normal and that you are behind, when in reality you may be in the middle of the pack of the top 1% to 5% of people when it comes to personal finance management.  I’ve read so many updates from people in their mid 30s who are very near FI or already FI and at times rather than pushing me forward I end up feeling overwhelmed that I am not anywhere near where I should be.

I have to remind myself to run my own race.  When I was writing my end of year update last year I felt like I had failed, even though Mrs. C. and I had saved almost $40,000, not including the principal portion of our mortgage payments (just under $45,000 if you do).  We saved in 1 year more money than we made combined just 10 years ago.  We saved just shy of half our income and I felt bad because I was falling behind my unrealistic goals set by comparing myself to the absolute best people in the world at personal finance optimization.   If you only compare your swimming times to Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps, you will always feel behind.

A recent Bankrate survey found that only 16% of Americans save over 15% of their income. So what percentage do you think save 25% of their income? or 40%?  I’m sure it drops off substantially once you hit 20%.

A different survey comparing the finances of college education black and white workers in America showed that 10% of white workers and 8% of black workers saved over 20% of their income.  Keep in mind this is a subset of only college education Americans.  Presumably they are more likely to have higher incomes, higher savings rates, and a better financial education than workers without college degrees.

Bottom line:  If you are saving at least 20% of your income you are absolutely in the top 10%!

Our family has lived well bellow our means for almost 15 years, it’s OK for us to spend $50,000 in a year for a family of 6.  We aren’t “failing” just because we compared ourselves to another family that only spent $40,000.  There can be danger in keeping up with the FI Jones’s too.

I’m The Only Person Who Cares About My Blogging Frequency:

Early on I wanted to post at least 2 to 3 times a week and I did this for several months.  I constantly felt under the gun.  I had so many ideas I wanted to write about and I just wanted to get something out there.  After posting at this frequency for a while I thought that when I dropped to 1 post a week readers would be upset at the lack of material being put out.  No one cared.  It helps that 80% of my traffic comes from search.  I still felt I might upset people when I dropped to every other week recently.  Once again, no one cared.

I was putting a TON of pressure on myself to consistently post and it was only to meet my artificial schedule.  When I’m working 75 hours a week it is really difficult to write something meaningful every week.  In the past I’ve built up 6 – 12 articles that were ready to publish to give me some breathing room when my busy season started.  This summer I just haven’t had the time, so the every other week schedule should help me out a lot and if I miss one, I know it won’t be that big of a deal. This blog is a hobby after all and is not run like a business.

 

In retrospect I’m ecstatic that I took the leap and have spent the time and effort to develop this site.  It has given me a productive hobby to pursue in my down time, especially while traveling for work.  The articles I have written on this blog have helped many other people and I see this collection of articles as part of my overall legacy to my children and grandchildren.  I plan to keep blogging for the foreseeable future and will likely be celebrating a 10 year anniversary of Action Economics in the future.

 

John C. started Action Economics in 2013 as a way to gain more knowledge on personal financial planning and to share that knowledge with others. Action Economics focuses on paying off the house, reducing taxes, and building wealth. John uses the free tool Personal Capital to track his net worth and posts quarterly updates on his finances. Check out the Action Economics archives section for all past posts.

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