I’ve now been blogging for 6 years and it’s been fun.
But in terms of changing the world, after 6 years of painstaking and regular(ish) posting, I would give myself a B+ for effort but only a D- for achievement.
At an individual level, through my financial coaching, I’ve helped a lot of people change their lives. But, let’s be honest, I haven’t changed the world.
The Prison Camp system remains undefeated. The Media-Advertising Complex continues to puke out a mixture of consumerism and propaganda. How do they do this? Well, if you want to sell product you tell people what they want to hear. You flatter them, you pander to them and their fantasies.
The phrase pandering to people (verb; to pander) is such a useful concept when understanding consumerism that it really merits a closer look. Here is a dictionary definition:
pandering: to gratify or indulge an immoral or distasteful desire or taste or a person with such a desire or taste. For example: “newspapers are pandering to people’s baser instincts”
The first rule of advertising is that pandering to the consumer works better than challenging them.
When you want to sell product to a mass-market audience, it makes sense to tell people what they want to hear and reinforce their pre-existing beliefs, biases and prejudices. To make money, find the largest possible audience that is impulsive, aspirational and status conscious…and then tell them what they want to hear.
You know those TV cop shows where they run a Good Cop, Bad Cop routine to break a suspect? Well, The News plays Bad Cop; making people scared / angry / fearful. The adverts are then made as soothing as possible (that’s The Good Cop). The contrast is the point: The News makes you feel bad, the adverts make you feel good (or at least promise that if you buy their stuff, you’ll then feel good).
In contrast, The Escape Artist often feels like the kid in the fairy tale that shouts out “Hey! The Emperor Is Not Wearing Any Clothes!“.
I always used to wonder why personal finance was so bland and never challenged the reader to raise their game. The answer is that telling the unvarnished truth risks scaring away the customers getting less clicks, less advertising revenue and making less money.
But speaking out and telling the truth can have other risks as well losing money. When you speak out, you risk violating an invisible status hierarchy.
Have you ever wondered why most people find public speaking such a terrifying prospect? The fear is hard-wired into us because for most of human history if you challenged the authority of the chief, that would not end well for you. You might not get killed directly…but being expelled from the tribe would have been an effective death sentence.
There’s an important point here. Money is not always the villain; sometimes the culprit is the very human desire for acceptance and validation. If you are a blogger whose prime motivation is engagement and positive feedback (rather than monetisation) it’s still tempting to pander to your audience and avoid saying anything controversial.
I’ve spent the last 6 years finding out where people get uncomfortable with the truth. I’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t please all of the people all of the time…and you shouldn’t even try. For the benefit of new bloggers, here’s a quick guide to the subjects that offend people:
- Anything to do with personal responsibility
- Anything to do with relationships, sex and gender relations
- Anything to do with parenting
- Anything to do with people’s health / lifestyle choices
- Anything to do with people’s spending (see point 4 above)
- Anything to do with politics
- Pretty much anything really
Groups look for concensus, individuals look for truth. If you are a blogger and want the truth, you need to stop caring too much about concensus.
If you are gonna walk the path to financial freedom then at some point you need to stop caring too much what other people think, for example stop caring about what The Joneses think about your (lack of) car.
If you start a small business or side-hustle, you are gonna need to stop worrying about what people think if you “fail”. Not caring what other people think is a superpower.
Most of the best books about money are written by people who’ve already become wealthy themselves. This tends to mean i) they know what they’re talking about ii) they can afford to be honest. They’re written by people who care enough to make the effort to pay it forward but not so much that they worry about telling the truth.
People would love to be told that it’s easy to get rich kwik but it’s not. I’d rather be honest. This is why I never say that getting rich is easy. Investing may be simple but it’s not easy. Frugality may be simple but it’s not easy. Earning more money is not easy.
Being financially independent allows me to be 100% honest with my financial coaching clients. It allows me to gently challenge blindspots and limiting beliefs. You don’t know what you don’t know. This is why it’s good to talk.
I see my role as getting clients to the point where they don’t need me, giving them the knowledge and confidence so that they can walk their own path. I can only afford to do this because I don’t need their money.
You can get rich slowly…I suggest you allow somewhere between 10 and 20 years for this. Most people over-estimate what is possible in one day or one week and greatly under-estimate what is possible in one decade.
It’s the percentage of your income that you save and invest that matters. If you could only measure one metric, it would be your % savings rate.
You have to earn more, spend less and invest the difference wisely. That’s why I write about all 3 areas: all are important to get to financial freedom.
Think of the areas of life where people get help to achieve peak performance. Sports coaching or teaching would be great examples. Some athletes may just lack some self-belief. For them, a good coach would offer praise and empathy. Others may respond better to being challenged. Good coaches use the tool that’s right for the job and for the person in front of them.
This is the opposite of the approach taken by mass media which often panders to the audience. Consider the BBC’s flagship personal finance radio programme Moneybox. Or rather Moaneybox as I call it. Whenever I listen to this they’re moaning about those evil banks, insurance companies, that evil government etc etc. Whatever the situation, the consumer is always blameless. That is what pandering looks (or sounds) like.
This week I’ve been watching The Tour de France highlights on ITV4. The downside is that I’ve been exposed to TV adverts which are even worse than I’d remembered. Everything is soft focus, the men look like they’re on tranquilisers, all the women are Mums with a heart of gold, all the old people are lovable grandparents. Welcome to Fake World where consumer frogs get slowly boiled in the pan.
We all want to make money…there’s nothing wrong with that. As someone smart once said: a man is never so innocently occupied as when he is making money. But pandering to people leads to ever more bullshit, not a resource in scarce supply today.
I will leave you with the words of Thomas Sowell, the American economist and philosopher:
“When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear”Thomas Sowell
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