Post 200

This is the 200th post at Bad Money Advice. As it is also a cold and rainy Friday morning here in Boston, this seems like as good a time as any to reflect and take stock.Keyboard a-Michael Maggs

I started Bad Money Advice on a much colder morning this past January. My primary goal was, and still is, my own amusement and satisfaction. Unemployment saddled me with a lot of free time and extra energy and I wanted something to do more substantive than on-line poker.

So far so good. BMA amuses me. I’ve got something to say and, apparently, have found an audience of people willing to listen.

From the start, the blog has been anonymous. It’s not that I would be embarrassed by signing my real name to anything I write here. But I cling to the hope of getting a job one day, and I don’t want the baggage of being a blogger to come along with my resume. This is not a good market in which to be a job candidate with any sort of complicating issue.

I bring this up because the question of my anonymity came up the other week when I almost got mentioned in a major media outlet. It fell through because the outlet has a rule against negative anonymous quotes. You can be critical and snarky or you can be anonymous, but not both. I think that’s a rule that is both misconceived and, in my case, misapplied, but I understand the sentiment. Nobody wants to read critical opinions from sources they can’t evaluate. (And possibly retaliate against.)

The bigger problem is that hardly anybody wants to read critical opinions of any kind. Outside of movie reviews and politics, where people like hearing criticism provided it fits into their already formed beliefs, negative comments on the work or opinions of others is increasingly frowned on.

The local glossy in these parts, Boston Magazine, runs an annual Best of Boston issue listing all sorts of establishments and places, from restaurants to parks, that the editors think are the best around. But in the old days (ten years ago?) it was called the Best and Worst of Boston issue and included an amusing and useful list of places to avoid. Why did they stop pointing out the worst? I don’t think it was a fear of lawsuits or the potential of lost advertizing revenue from the worst businesses. I think they decided it just wasn’t nice, and people don’t like reading magazines that aren’t nice.

This is not a good thing. We all believe, or say we believe, in the marketplace of ideas based on such principles as freedom of speech. Part of that is pointing out when the ideas of others are bogus. That’s not nice, but it is necessary. The real world isn’t (shouldn’t be) like a giant kindergarten where the efforts and participation of everyone is rewarded and encouraged. Freedom of speech doesn’t grant a right to an affirming “thank you for sharing” every time you open your mouth.

To me, the reluctance to tolerate criticism is related to a reluctance to think critically in the broader analytical sense. What was most striking to me about the kerfuffle over the “You lie!” heckling of the president a few weeks ago was the focus on the rudeness and lack of decorum involved. There was almost no discussion of whether or not Obama was, in fact, lying. The reason for this, I believe, was that the answer is complicated and possibly even ambiguous. Working that out might hurt our little brains. Better to report on how shamefully inappropriate it was. (And it was, by the way.)

Discomfort with being negative is probably a natural human inclination. Would I have written the previous 199 posts exactly as I did if my real name were on them? The honest answer is that I probably would have changed a few words here and there. Nobody likes to be hostile. But it must be done.

If you’ve read more than a handful of those 199 posts you know that I think that mainstream personal finance advice is a travesty. And you can’t get something fixed until it’s understood to be broken. So here I am, rudely, and sometimes mockingly, pointing out that it is broken. Stay tuned for the next 200.

[Photo: Michael Maggs]

No Comments

  • By Atticus, October 16, 2009 @ 1:34 pm

    Thanks for the last 200 posts, I’m looking forward to the next.

  • By Alien, October 16, 2009 @ 2:10 pm

    Keep going strong!

  • By Neil, October 16, 2009 @ 2:32 pm

    The silly thing is that if you’d picked a less obviously fake nom-de-plume – say Frank Burns instead of Frank Curmudgeon – (and didn’t state specifically on the website that it was an alias), the newspaper would have quoted you without hesitation.

  • By Evan, October 16, 2009 @ 2:38 pm

    Love your blog – it breaks the barriers of most common blogs – with the same material written differently…while entertaining me.

    Congrats on #200.

  • By Marcus Rademacher, October 16, 2009 @ 2:42 pm

    On the “You lie!” issue, Obama wasn’t lying:

    I think your point still holds, that the media didn’t care to find out if Obama was lying, and just focused on the fact that it was bad form.

  • By Mike Piper, October 16, 2009 @ 3:29 pm

    Congrats on 200. It’s been a blast reading your work so far. Feel free to rip apart anything I write, should ever care to.

    I call it “discussion,” and I think it’s a blast. :)

  • By Steve, October 16, 2009 @ 3:32 pm

    Keep up the good work. Do you subscribe to The Skeptical Inquirer? Just curious :)

  • By rob, October 16, 2009 @ 3:38 pm

    Keep those posts coming! I appreciate the alternative ideas and the ‘tell it like it is’ aspect of badmoneyadvice.

  • By SJ, October 16, 2009 @ 4:02 pm

    Congrats! The promise of 200 more should be entertaining~~~

  • By Adam, October 16, 2009 @ 4:09 pm

    I love your blog, and search every day for a new post. Keep them coming.

  • By Rob Bennett, October 16, 2009 @ 4:53 pm

    I agree with your comments that many today view criticism of any kind as “not nice.” I also share your view that this is a highly discouraging development. We only learn by finding out where we have gone wrong. If we all become too “nice” to point out the mistakes of others, we pretty much give up the possibility of learning anything new.

    I believe in soft criticism. I don’t do snarky ever. I am highly disinclined to find fault with the people putting forward bad ideas as I think that most bad ideas are put forward by entirely well-meaning people. But I think it is essential to point out flaws in ideas.

    I would go so far as to say that it shows a lack of respect for others not to hold their ideas to some minimal standards. When we as society adopt a convention that it is not nice to find fault with bad ideas, we are essentially all agreeing to stop respecting each other (and ourselves too, of course).

    By the way, I greatly RESPECT just about all of today’s money experts! (that’s a joke, kinda, sorta).


  • By Jim, October 16, 2009 @ 4:54 pm

    Keep up the good work.

  • By Rick Francis, October 16, 2009 @ 5:39 pm


    While it isn’t fun to be criticized it is also important to catch mistakes. Now that I’m blogging, I have to dread being featured on your site :-)

    For scientific papers there is a formal process for peer reviewing articles BEFORE they are published. It gives the fact checking without the public riddicule. It seems to me that could be a workable model for PF blogs- then at least two people have missed the problem.

    -Rick Francis

  • By Tyler, October 16, 2009 @ 10:07 pm

    Congratulations Frank. My favorite blog by far.

  • By abdpbt personal finance, October 16, 2009 @ 11:57 pm

    Congrats, Frank. Needless to say, I agree with you on so many of these points. I think most personal finance sites are atrocious, though my complaints are largely aesthetic in nature, whereas I think you object to the misinformation and overall crappy quality of the posts. But I think we can start demanding better advice AND less tediously boring writing from our personal finance sites, and you’re leading the charge!

  • By CalLadyQED, October 16, 2009 @ 11:59 pm

    keep up the good work

  • By Steve, October 19, 2009 @ 9:39 am

    Thanks Frank, I originally came to your blog for your interesting perspectives on Phil Town. Now I read your blog daily to gain more interesting perspectives. Thanks again,

  • By Alex, October 20, 2009 @ 8:45 am

    Congrats on the 200th post. This blog is the best PF site out there….Finally, a PF blog in which 2 out of 3 posts is not dedicated to making your own detergent ;)

  • By Chris, October 20, 2009 @ 9:26 am

    Frank, thank you for this blog. It has been an inspiration to me over the last few months. I envy your writing abilities and am impressed by your analytical skills. As a result of this blog, I have focused on improving my own mastery of these skills. I still have a long way to go.

    Keep writing and I, as well as the rest of your readers, look forward to the next two hundred.

  • By Marcus, October 23, 2009 @ 9:24 pm

    Frank, congrats on reaching 200 posts. Have fun with the next 200!

  • By Damon Day, November 3, 2009 @ 12:12 am

    Hello Frank,

    Congrats on the milestone. I am a new blogger myself. I just ran across your website today because the title caught my eye. I have read several of your posts and definitely enjoy your style. Keep up the great work. I will be RSSing BMA into my reader momentarily.

  • By Frank Curmudgeon, November 4, 2009 @ 6:46 pm

    Gosh, I would have hoped to be in your RSS reader for more than a moment. Still, I’m glad you like it.

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