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!
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