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PFBlogger Spotlight: Jeremy at GenXFinance

I’ve been a fan of Jeremy’s blog at GenXFinance [3] for quite some time because I’m Generation X (or Y or whatever the heck I am), the exact target audience he’s trying to reach (and that he is). He’s an INTJ, loves long walks on the beach (*I made this up), and actually answers quite a bit of questions about himself on his About page [4] (some of which are repeated below). With nearly 1700 1900 RSS subscribers (subscribe [5]!) and an average of a thousand unique visitors a day, he can be considered among the more popular bloggers out there. He also has more experience in the professional personal finance realm than most bloggers, writes for About.com’s Financial Planning section [6] and was really interested to talk to for this interview. We’ve swapped several emails back and forth on this and other topics and in general he responds pretty quickly and with a lot of information. If you ever have a question for the guy, don’t hesitate to ask him.

jim: Hi Jeremy, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Jeremy: As you probably know, my name is Jeremy. I’ve always been a bit of a technology junkie and I actually went to college expecting to become a programmer. In high school I taught myself some Pascal and C/C++ while dabbling in Assembly. Well, it only took one semester to realize I hated all of the advanced math courses required, so I did a complete 180 and went into landscape architecture. I always had a bit of an artistic side, and I thought I would enjoy designing golf courses, so I figured why not. I did get my degree in that, but I failed to realize how few jobs there were out there in the field, and the ones that were out there rarely paid more than $30,000 per year. So I did what any 22 year old would do, and I decided to completely change career paths again and began to pursue an MBA and finance everything with student loans. Long story short, I am still a few credits short of earning that degree, but stopped going to school because I had found my love of finance early on in that curriculum, and after a few job offers I haven’t looked back since.

I was a financial planner or advisor or whatever you want to call it for a few years, but the commission-only sales wasn’t for me. I had a very hard time being able to bring home a paycheck while trying to do what was best for the clients (i.e. not sticking them into 5% front-load funds, trying to push life insurance, etc.) What I wanted to do was to simply help people. Well, unfortunately you can’t make much of a living as a commissioned financial planner by educating lower to middle-income families who are just getting started. Thankfully I was able to get out of the sales aspect of financial planning and found a position with a company that strictly deals with retirement plans and pays salary. Now, I have no incentive to try and sell anyone anything, and I strictly provide an educational and service role where I can work with people to help them make better financial decisions. This type of role reflects the very thing I’m trying to accomplish with my blog and the financial planning site at About.com.

jim: Outside of About.com, what do you think can be done (speaking theoretically of course) to help educate those people who aren’t “profitable” for commission financial planners?
Jeremy: The biggest problem is that there is little incentive in the financial industry to service people who don’t have investible assets. If someone is relying on selling an investment or insurance to get paid, they don’t want to waste an hour of their day sitting down with a young couple and helping them put together a debt snowball plan or come up with a budget. Even if someone isn’t working on commission, the fees they might charge to otherwise meet with a client like this would put this service out of reach for most.

I think one of the best ways to tackle this problem is to make financial information readily and freely available, which many of the blogs out there are doing, and it is a great start. Even so, this is only reaching a very small number of people who could actually use the education. There is also the issue regarding the quality of information. The internet is fair game, and anyone can set up a website about anything and claim to be an expert. While the vast majority of blogs and websites have good intentions, it only takes a few bad apples to potentially cause someone financial harm.

So, I think that the internet is creating a solid foundation for getting information out there to those who need it, but it is just a start. The real work has to be done by parents today. Parents need to set examples for their children by following sound financial principles. This is the only way that a young person will set off on their own with at least a basic understanding of the fundamentals of personal finance. Nobody has to be an expert and understand everything, but if you can start your adult life out by realizing that you need to spend less than you earn, the importance of saving, and using credit wisely, you will be way ahead of the game.
jim: What motivated you to begin blogging and how long have you been doing it?
Jeremy: To be honest, I’m not exactly sure why or how I started blogging. I have only been doing it for a little over a year now, and I didn’t even know what a blog was 18 months ago. I believe it all got started while chatting with a friend of mine online. We always brainstorm and joke about how people come up with these crazy ideas on the web and get rich doing it. I think he suggested to me that I start a website that talked about finance, since that is what I know. Well, at the time I had sworn off any future internet ventures because as of early 2006, I had finally sold my last internet business and never wanted to be bothered with it again. For some reason, after that conversation I went online and researched finance blogs to see what others were doing, and decided to set up WordPress [7] just to play with. The rest is history.
jim: What do you think makes your perspective unique?
Jeremy: I think that my experiences in life closely mirror those that most in my generation (Generation X, and some of Generation Y). Clearly, there are many other finance blogs out there that are written by people in the same age group and have similar experiences, but I try to bring to the table the issues that I’ve been through personally. I don’t write in a way that it comes across as a personal story, but I use my experiences to hopefully provide information and advice that can be absorbed by others in similar situations. I say this because I’ve been there and done that. I have racked up $80,000 in debt. I’ve paid off debts like that. I’ve started a business that failed miserably. I’ve started a business that was actually quite a success. I lost thousands of dollars in the stock market day trading. I’ve made thousands of dollars in the stock market day trading. I’ve been unemployed and found myself unable to pay rent or even buy groceries. I’ve managed multi-million dollar portfolios, gave finance seminars to hundreds of people, and attended similar seminars when I was looking for the answers.

While none of this may outlined in my writing directly, these are the experiences draw from when putting together posts for my sites. I’m not going to proclaim that I have all the answers and that what I say is how everything should be done, nor do I walk readers through every aspect of my financial life. I think (or at least hope) that my perspective is a refreshing matter of fact outlook on personal finance for anyone in any situation.
jim: What are your favorite personal finance books?
Jeremy: There are so many, but I strongly believe in the basics. Since there is no secret to reaching financial independence, I think any book that deals with the very fundamentals of personal finance is a winner. I particularly like David Bach’s Automatic Millionaire [8]. It is a short book that is easy to read, yet it breaks down the path to wealth in the most basic terms, and I think that is what most people really need. People need to be reminded that there are no shortcuts. It really does come down to spending less than you earn, saving some of your money, and planning for the future. Trivial? Maybe. But without the basics, you can read every investing book or go get a PhD in economics and still be broke.

I’d also recommend What Color is Your Parachute by Nelson Bolles [9]. I’ve been as lost as anyone can be while trying to find my career path in life, and this book is a great read for anyone who feels a bit lost. It is also important because many people overlook the importance of their career in regards to personal finance. Your job is your means to make the very money that you save, spend, and invest in order to reach your financial goals. Having a career that you enjoy while providing the income required to reach your goals is paramount in your quest of financial independence.

And for the investors out there, I’d recommend my visual history of the stock market since 1996 [10]. It is really just meant to reiterate the fact that the market has its ups and downs. I work with so many people who have completely freaked out over the past few months with the volatile market and make drastic and harmful investment decisions based on a few bad days in the market. Stocks go up, go sideways, or go down. That’s it. The problem is that when the market is quietly going up month after month and year after year, people tend to forget, and the moment we see a correction, people panic. So the market went down 5% this month, sure, that stinks, but did you forget that over the past 3 years you’re up over 60%? Stick your money in an appropriately diversified portfolio and let it ride. You will be rewarded.
jim: What’s something no one else in the blogging world knows about you?
Jeremy: This is always a difficult question, but I think I have a little something that not many people know. I love science—physics, astrophysics, and Earth science in particular. When I’m not writing, I’m usually watching the Science Channel, poking around the web reading up on String Theory, or checking out the status of the solar conditions at spaceweather.com [11]. I’m just a complete geek when it comes to almost anything related to science. Once spring rolls around, I become a severe weather junkie. I’m actually a trained Skywarn storm spotter, so when bad weather is coming in, I’m going out to get in it.
jim: Which of your posts do you think all your readers should read?
Jeremy: If I’m allowed to cheat a bit, I’d have to recommend my “24 Signs That You Could be in Financial Trouble Series [12].” [jim: If I may interject here, I think this series it great] The reason is that many people who are seeking financial advice are in some sort of trouble. Maybe money is tight and bills aren’t getting paid, or it is bad credit card spending, a dead end job, or fear that retirement will be impossible. This is a list of 24 things (most of which I’ve personally done) that point to financial problems.
jim: What financial “mistake” that you’ve done has bothered you the most?
Jeremy: This one is easy. The absolute biggest mistake I ever made was trying to keep a failing business alive for too long while simply going further into debt. Basically, this is the equivalent of falling in love with an investment and refusing to sell when it’s doing poorly. I had this online business that I had invested 5 years in, had thousands of clients, and I was just positive that I could make it work. Well, when things really headed south, I borrowed a few thousand to keep things going until I could turn it around. A few thousand turned into ten thousand. Ten thousand turned into thirty thousand, and thirty thousand turned into fifty thousand. Do you know how hard it is to make the minimum loan/credit card payments while your business is losing an additional $1,500 each month? Exactly, it is impossible. I should have let go of the company years earlier, but I was stubborn and felt I had too much invested to give up on it. It cost me dearly, and I’m still feeling the effects of it today.
jim: How about your best decision?
Jeremy: Selling the aforementioned business. It was bittersweet, but being able to recover at least a fraction of the overall debt incurred was helpful. In connection with the sale, I actually bit the bullet and sought out a debt counselor. Bankruptcy was out of the question, so I needed to find out how to tackle all of my debt. I knew that I couldn’t continue on the path I was on and needed outside help. As degrading as it felt, it was one of the best things I had ever done. It was through a non-profit organization who worked with me to create a budget and work with my lenders individually to create a debt reduction plan that would put me on the path to success. It wasn’t rocket science, but simply working with someone else that was holding me accountable made sure that I put the plan into action and stuck to it. I don’t know where I’d be today without that assistance, even if it was trivial.
jim: What was that internet venture you sold? Is that the “mistake” (and good decision) venture you were talking about?
Jeremy: Well, I’ve had a quite a few internet ventures. I ran a web hosting company, an eBay consignment business, and ran dozens automotive websites and message boards. The mistake was really the collection of websites and message boards. A few of the sites were local, and after building a user base of thousands of members—many of which I became friends with in person—I just became too attached and failed to treat it as a business. So, the sites continued to grow, and I wanted to try and please everyone, so I failed to see the writing on the wall that said I should get out when financially things got out of control. The worst part is that I sold the business to someone who thought they could keep it going, but within about 3 months, they shut it down completely.
jim: What is your favorite personal finance blog and why?
Jeremy: Somehow I knew you were going to ask this. Clearly there are dozens of fantastic personal finance blogs out there, and it is nearly impossible to select just one as a favorite. I will say that I use pfblogs.org [13] quite a bit to stay abreast of the PF blogosphere and occasionally find some new sites. But to answer your question, I will list one site that I’ve become a regular reader of, and that is Millionaire Money Habits [14], Ryan does a good job over there and it feels as if we’re on very similar wavelengths, so I really enjoy his writing.
jim: What do you hope to accomplish this year?
Jeremy: I can’t believe it is 2008 already. I’m amazed at how fast time flies, but even so, I do have some goals for 2008. For me, 2008 is the year of a vacation. It has been about 4 years since I’ve had a real vacation, my body really needs the time off. In fact, I’ve been married for about three years now and we still haven’t even had a honeymoon. It just hasn’t been in our cards lately to take time off. My wife is building her career and we have more pressing financial concerns that have pushed any idea of real time off into the distant future. Sure, we get a few days off here and there around the holidays, but I need to get out of the house. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling Europe and I’m dying to go back. My wife has never been, so hopefully we can put together a nice trip overseas.
Aside from some true leisure time, my goals for my websites involve continuing what I’m doing with hopes of growing readership. In addition, I’m looking at a complete redesign sometime in the first quarter of the year. But to be honest, between my full-time job, writing for About.com and managing my blog, I’m just happy to keep my sanity.
jim: And, lastly, if your blog ended today, how would you like people to remember it?
Jeremy: I would hope that people remember it as a helpful place to turn to when it comes to personal finance. I’ve never really thought about the site ending before, so it is hard to think about what people might remember it as. At the very least, I hope that someone, somewhere has taken a piece of advice from the site and gone on to radically change their life at some point in the future. If I could positively affect just one person, I’d be satisfied.

We hope you enjoyed the interview and learned a little about Jeremy and the fine work he does over at GenX Finance [3] and About.com’s Financial Planning site [6]. If you have some time, please do check them out.