Can High Income Bloggers Help The Low Income? Should They?

It’s a criticism you often see online, especially when the story of someone reaching financial freedom at an early age hits the mainstream media. “That’s nice,” they sneer, “but I don’t make a high income. This persons advice doesn’t help me!” There are also many discussions about how financial freedom isn’t possible for the low income-and a defeatist attitude from those that don’t make much. They can’t put aside 90% of their income, or save six figures in a year, so why bother trying?

Or someone will try and write money saving tips or advice for the lower income, and be raked across the virtual coals. “They can’t possibly understand what it’s really like to live on the financial knives edge!” goes the peanut gallery. “They shouldn’t be writing to the lower income when they don’t live on one!”

Do those with a higher income have an obligation to write for those with a lower one? Or is it patronizing when they try? And what obligation do financial bloggers-or the financial media in general- have to those that don’t make six figure incomes? Let’s explore.

What is a blog, anyway?

A blog is one persons story-and one persons perspective. Perhaps it’s the perspective of multiple people if the author regularly publishes interviews or guest posts. But those other people usually will be similar to the blogger in terms of income and socioeconomic status, unless said blogger makes a concerted effort to reach out to others of a different background.

I’ve written before about the importance of diverse financial stories – and it’s something I still feel strongly about. It can be difficult to do, since it’s easiest to get financial bloggers on your site, and they tend to be higher income (and of the demographic of the higher income). I see it as part of my personal mission to help engage and inspire women of all backgrounds and financial situations.

BUT…ultimately a blog is your personal space. Your mission might be different from mine. You can write whatever you want. Heck, you can write a blog aimed at people that make millions of dollars a year, and the problems of buying your second yacht. Your advice doesn’t need to apply to everyone. If you’re writing for everyone, then likely you’re running a different kind of personal finance website. Not a blog.

A blog is one persons journey and perspective. If you’re higher income, your advice will most likely only apply to those similar to yourself unless you’ve made a deliberate effort to diversify your perspective.

What if you want to write for the lower income?

If this is something you want to do, the question is how? Start by doing research. You can interview people who come from a different life situation. There are games you can play online to simulate living paycheck to paycheck like Spent – see how well you can do! Or you can arrange to talk with someone locally who helps the lower income. Watch YouTube videos on making ends meet. Read some books like Nickel and Dimed. Do research on things like payday loans (like this report from Pew Charitable Trusts) title loans (like this set of facts)  and bankruptcy (learn why people really file-it’s likely not what you think).

Bottom line is you’ll need to proactively work to get yourself out of the high income bubble and make yourself aware of the realities of others. If you know of other sources, be sure to recommend them in the comments.

Even if you’re not interested in writing for the lower income-say, for example, you target six figure earners-you should watch out for making blanket statements that assume anyone can do what you or someone else has done. Each of us has inherent advantages and disadvantages. Some are by choice, others not so much. If you haven’t personally overcome the exact challenges that person is facing, saying “everyone can do this!” may sound tone deaf.

Bad choices and bad circumstances compound in a similar way to interest. If you’ve mostly had good circumstances but run into a problem, you’ll probably be able to overcome it with little challenge. But if you were born into adverse circumstances, never personally knew anyone who overcame them, and things happened by choice or by happenstance that worsened your life – well, then, you’re going to have a hard time getting yourself out.

Nothing is impossible. You can always find someone who overcame a bad start in life, terrible life events, or horrible choices. Sharing those stories is important, because it can give people hope that their lives can indeed change for the better. It can give them a role model to follow, and a possible path to a different life.

The Mainstream Media

In my opinion, the obligations of the mainstream media are very different than those of personal finance bloggers. While a blog is one persons story, perspective, and research, the media is typically full of journalists with journalistic standards. They have an obligation to report on the facts, and the reality of everyone – not just the wealthy.

There are, of course, publications that target the high income. The Wall Street Journal comes to mind here. However, a journalists first obligation is to the truth. That Associated Press article also talks about journalists being comprehensive and proportional; and loyalty to the citizens of their country. This, to me at least, would mean all citizens. Not just the wealthy.

Example And Facts

Sixty percent of people don’t have a thousand dollars saved for emergencies. Heck, they can’t even cover a $500 emergency.  Seventy eight percent of people live paycheck to paycheck. So what happens when they get an $800 bill to fix the brakes on their car, like I did this week? Or when they need to take a sudden unpaid leave of absence to care for a sick loved one?

Well, they don’t just tap their non-existant emergency fund. That goes on credit cards, which will take a long time to pay off. This is also how people can find themselves trapped in the payday loan cycle or title loans on their cars.

I actually do have a car repair fund, because my car is almost ten years old and I assume it will need repairs. I do an automatic transfer every paycheck into a savings account so I’ll have the money for car repairs. I do the same thing for my car taxes, pet expenses (with two pets, you never know when you’ll need to pay vet bills!), and holiday gifts.

This is an example of a tip that can work for almost any income level. Even a small automatic transfer of a few dollars a week can help offset unexpected expenses, and might make the difference between being able to cover the bill and needing to put it all on credit cards.

BUT – it won’t work for everyone. Who can’t do this? The unbanked. How many unbanked are there in the US? Seven percent of Americans representing nine million households.

So here you can see an example of a situation and tips where if I write about how to pay for your car repair by using automatic savings fund transfers, I’m excluding a certain population. That might be OK, or if I want to be more inclusive, I would try to find tips that work for that population.

Should the high income try to write for the low income?

There are plenty of mainstream media finance folks who are multi millionaires who work to help those at the low end of the income scale. Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman are two that immediately come to mind. But should you?

It’s really up to you, and your personal goals for your site. If you want to help everyone, then yes. If you’re targeted at a certain demographic, then no need to force yourself to write content you’re not passionate about.

The best writing, particularly in blogs, is based on personal stories. If your story doesn’t include living at a low income, or overcoming financial adversity (like my story about overcoming the near death of my husband, or my friend Financial Journeymans story of going from community college to millionaire), be careful. I’d suggest writing fact based articles with your own research, or articles about other people’s stories.

Just make sure to do your research so you’re not making patronizing sounding suggestions to others, or recommending things that won’t work for their reality.

I want to hear from you!

You already know that financial diversity is an important topic to me – and to me, income level is another aspect of that diversity. Part of my mission is to help and inspire those who aren’t six figure earners to one day become one, in the same way I was inspired by stories of successful women back when I was a low earner. But I understand and respect that it’s not everyone’s mission – and that’s OK.

If you’re a writer, do your goals include writing for everyone or are you targeting a specific demographic? If you’re a reader, do you think writers have an obligation to help everyone, or is it up to them? Let me know in the comments!

Want to connect with other money smart women? Join in my Breadwinning Women or Women on FIRE Facebook Groups and find other money smart women like yourself.

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chiefmomofficer

IT professional, MBA, working mother of three, avid reader, geek and personal finance nerd

27 thoughts on “Can High Income Bloggers Help The Low Income? Should They?

  • May 25, 2018 at 11:50 am
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    Well done, Liz. This topic is quite a slippery slope, but you’ve done a great job laying out the points on both ends. I especially like how you emphasized that the best blogs post about personal stories, which I couldn’t agree more on. You and Dave from Financial Journeyman are wonderful examples of this.

    In terms of my own writing style, I would like to think I am income and wealth agnostic. The goal, always was and continues to be, to help and learn. As I am constantly reading and asking questions to others in the PF community, I would think others are doing the same.

    Thank you for all of your contributions to the community, Liz!

    Reply
    • May 25, 2018 at 12:09 pm
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      Thanks Church! It can be a slippery slope, and people can get worked up on this topic in one direction or the other, but I hope I’ve helped move the discussion forward in a more objective way

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  • May 25, 2018 at 12:10 pm
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    Thanks for covering this. I don’t think there is (or should be) any unspoken rule that high income earners can’t write for those with significantly lower incomes. As you deftly point out, there are ways to educate oneself on the circumstances of those possessing a different level of means and facing a different set of challenges.

    That said, I do think there’s a lot of skepticism and fatigue in the average-to-below average household income community pertaining to the topics of financial independence and early retirement. It seems that nearly all of the predominant voices for the FIRE movement are those who either possess (or at one time possessed) six-figure incomes.

    Even the writers of blogs espousing a healthy dose of frugality typically have this background, such as Mr. Money Mustache. I still remember a poll in the MMM forums years ago along the lines of “How Mustachian Are You?” which revealed that of poll participants, the vast majority were spending $40,000 – $60,000/year but had relatively high savings rates due to six-figure incomes.

    As someone with an annual household income near the U.S. median, it’s always been difficult for me to relate well to those with six-figure incomes. Charting the path to financial freedom (up to and including financial independence) for those with average household incomes or less is one of the main reasons I started my own blog.

    Pursuing financial independence on an average income or less requires truly taking the proverbial path less traveled. There’s little room for error, which means you truly have to optimize every area of your finances. I didn’t mind this since I have an optimizer complex anyway, but it can be an insurmountable barrier for some. I’m hoping to make that task a little easier by sharing the course my wife and I charted on our own journey.

    To answer your question, my goal is to write primarily for those with a similar background to my own. If someone with a higher income wanted to incorporate the same approach and strategies in the name of further optimizing their finances, sweet. But I feel the average-to-below-average household income community is currently underserved in the personal finance blogosphere, and that’s where I’m focusing my particular efforts.

    Reply
    • May 25, 2018 at 12:39 pm
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      That makes a lot of sense, and it’s great that there are now more folks who don’t make six figure incomes writing. I hope the mainstream media picks up more of those stories. I think people are tired of the “I made and saved a lot of money” stories.

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  • May 25, 2018 at 12:29 pm
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    So much food for thought here.

    Most of my stuff is more philosophical, since I’m not very good at making long lists.

    But you’re absolutely right that we can improve our financial positions both by increasing income and decreasing costs. I’m not sure why there is so much focus on the latter in the psdsoml finance world.

    Great post!

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    • May 25, 2018 at 12:41 pm
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      Increasing income is harder to advise on, I think. I can tell you how I increased my income, but I can’t necessarily suggest how you can unless I know a lot about where you are now. And I can give generic advice about negotiating, hard work, education, etc. but it might not apply to your life and situation. Personalized coaching is probably more helpful there.

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  • May 25, 2018 at 1:15 pm
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    I always try and write from experience. I do not make a low income so it would be difficult to share experience or knowledge on the topic. I do believe there are several basic principles that can be shared to help improve ones financial situation no matter what your income, sharing those ideas can generally help others. There no one size fits all solution, too many personal factors to consider. But sharing information on a blog to help spark conversation, education, etc is really the key.

    Reply
    • May 25, 2018 at 1:29 pm
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      Makes sense Brian-and you’re so right that there’s no one solution that works for everyone!

      Reply
  • May 25, 2018 at 1:39 pm
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    I hear this a lot – it’s hard to give tips to earn more money because you dont know specifics but I’ve also heard criticism of saving money tips. We can’t cut lattes if we don’t drink lattes. We can’t stop buying things we don’t buy. Those seem like the bad side of “rich people giving advice to the poor.” All advice is general.

    It’s an interesting topic! I’m trying to mentor a woman who is low income and shes trying to start a side hustle. She seems pretty frugal – she saves every month, but there isn’t any more room to cut back.

    Reply
    • May 25, 2018 at 1:42 pm
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      Yeah there’s definitely a point where focusing on making more, rather than cutting back, makes the most sense. You can only cut back so much, but every extra dollar you make can go toward other goals

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  • May 25, 2018 at 3:06 pm
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    The high income earner likely started as a low income early on in their career. They can offer insight on how the grew their income and saved up money to the lower income. 24 years ago, my first job after college was $2300 gross and I lived in a studio for $800/month. I owed my parents money and wanted to pay off in six months. I ate a lot of bologna sandwiches… From that point on, I moved to a lower cost of living area, increased my income to low six figures, married, had kids, saved, invested, and living comfortable. I made a lot of financial mistakes over those years, but could afford them. It takes time and part of the journey called life. There is no magic pill. Life would be so boring without all the up and down that you experience.

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    • May 25, 2018 at 3:57 pm
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      So true!

      Reply
  • May 25, 2018 at 3:52 pm
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    As a blogger, I think we do a disservice to our readers when we try to cater to the masses. People follow us for a reason. They want to know more about this subject that we are so passionate about. When we write “off topic” for the sole purpose of trying to appease a segment of the population that has little to no interest in our content, then we lose credibility with the ones who do.

    On another note, I’ve been reading your blog almost since you began writing it. The fact that you are a high-income blogger never crosses my mind. I would have to triple my income to reach six figures but that doesn’t mean that I would prefer to read content for my “income bracket”. In fact, in most cases, that type of content would probably bore me to tears. If I thought that I had to aspire to earn a higher wage to read your blog or that the content only applied to six-figure wage earners, I’d be missing out on a lot of great stories and information. I also read a lot of FIRE bloggers and Mr. Money Moustache from time to time. In doing so, I’ve learned a lot of tips and tricks for making the most of the money I do earn.

    We live a very minimalist lifestyle – no debt, very low overhead, and not a lot of “stuff”. Over the years, we’ve found that we often have more discretionary income than some of our higher income friends and we also save at a higher rate than they do. So, while we may not earn six-figures, you could definitely say we have a six-figure mindset and your blog fits perfectly for that.

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    • May 25, 2018 at 3:57 pm
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      Aw thanks Melody. The income level of the bloggers I read also doesn’t really matter to me-it’s interesting content that I look for. And I bet you save more money than most of the six figure earners I know. I have a lot of coworkers who are on the “lifestyle inflation” treadmill and live paycheck to paycheck, despite making as much as (or more than) I do.

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  • May 25, 2018 at 7:30 pm
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    Good topic. I have tried to diversify my writing a lot over the years, but I have found that my writing isn’t as good if I’m not writing from real life, real time examples. It feels forced. I think people should just write about their own journey and I try to be all things to all people.

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    • May 25, 2018 at 7:56 pm
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      Makes sense Sam – if you’re writing from real life, it’s not only easier but also more sincere. I think if folks write about what interests them, and their real life, it’s much more fun for writer and reader

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  • May 25, 2018 at 8:00 pm
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    You can’t make everyone happy, don’t even try to. You can try, but you will never succeed. Yes, you’ll get a regular stream of haters but both sides simply can’t be pleased no matter what you do.

    Reply
    • May 25, 2018 at 8:48 pm
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      Makes sense-nothing applies to everyone.

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  • May 26, 2018 at 7:02 am
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    I really struggle with this topic too Liz – I want my blog to attract high earning women, and inspire other women to consider increasing their income and blasting away that gender pay gap. But does talking about my 80% savings rate alienate those people? And as a very socially liberal who is also fiscally conservative, it’s hard to see other people like me out there. Most people seem either liberal all round or conservative all around.

    Reply
    • May 26, 2018 at 11:41 am
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      I do know some people find high savings rates discouraging, but others find them motivating. You can’t please everyone!

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  • May 26, 2018 at 11:51 am
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    I’m fortunate in that I grew up in an inner city surrounded by poverty, and then “made it” to a successful high income earner later in life. My goal is to try to give my stories the best I can to help anyone. I don’t discriminate. My advice can be used by anyone and I hope it resonates.

    Great post!

    Reply
    • May 26, 2018 at 12:05 pm
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      That’s awesome AF-and inspiring. Stories like yours are helpful to others who might be currently struggling with poverty, because they can see through your story a possible way out and up.

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  • May 27, 2018 at 3:41 pm
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    I was a high earner my entire career with a frugal awesome wife, in fact today is our 40th anniversary! I would never try to tell a median income earner how to do it because I did not have to have a super high savings rate to succeed and retire slightly early. I limit my blogging to my own true stories and those of people I know and maybe some advice on marriage and careers. I’m not special, I’d have had to be a total idiot to not have achieved a reasonable state of wealth. The real heroes of this movement are single moms and school teachers who become financially independent against severe odds. And you Liz, are awfully cool bringing home the bacon and dispensing thoughtful posts like this one.

    Reply
  • May 30, 2018 at 7:36 am
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    I think that if people are fabricating reasoning or conclusions based only on a bloggers income level they are losing the point in the first place. I read the content of all kind of bloggers and does not really care about their income levels. The question people should ask “Ok, this blogger is [happy/rich/insert the thing you like to achieve] and have (or investigating) the recipe to keeping at it. Let’s see what I can apply from these principles for my life and situation”. It seems I have to use this quote these days more often:
    “Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be.” /George Carlin

    Reply
  • May 31, 2018 at 10:26 am
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    Physician Finance bloggers have an interesting situation when it comes to this, depending on who their target audience is.

    My target audience is medical students, residents, new attending physicians, and other medical professionals in their first years of practice. So, my target audience ranges from people who make zero income and live off of student loans accumulating at 7% interest (medical student) to the resident earning the median income (50-55k) to the high income earning medical professional.

    Because of this, my posts need to span the gamut, but I can speak from an experience of “I’ve been there.” I also went through bankruptcy with my parents as a kid and have seen the consequences of poor financial decisions.

    I do think that the message must be genuine and authentic, though. You cannot write from a position “on high” if you’ve never experienced the lows. Well, that’s not true. You can write from that position, but people likely won’t be able to relate to you.

    TPP

    Reply
    • May 31, 2018 at 10:31 am
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      Makes a lot of sense-and I totally agree. If you’ve had personal experience with a situation, your posts and perspective will resonate much more than if you don’t.

      Reply
  • June 3, 2018 at 1:41 pm
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    I’ve been blogging for 3 months. Had a lot of ideas in the previous years but lately I’ve noticed I really like to talk about saving money. On things and experiences, I haven’t talked about paying off my debt or growing my savings yet but I grew up in poverty. I have a long way to go until I make 6 figures but I live comfortably and can see how making 6 figures could either mean I increase my spending and live alittle more comfortably or actually take vacations, or how I could continue living like I do while saving 50%of my income. No 2 people are the same. I grew up in poverty and for the past month I’ve brainstormed ideas about blogging about budgeting when there is no money. I see posts that say find out how I saved 1k on groceries. I have never spent over 600 on food in my life so that doesn’t exactly speak to me. I liked reading it but at one time I only had 200 to spend and I feel like I should focus on others in that are in poverty. I’m totally against pay day loans but I guess I could put information, I just feel my opinion would be biased.

    Reply

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