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Humble Bragging

Jonathan Clements  |  January 4, 2020

WE’RE THREE-YEARS-old, and we’ve grown to become something I never intended. When I launched HumbleDollar on Dec. 31, 2016, my plan was to take my money guide—which had previously appeared as an annual paperback—and make it freely available on the web. I also had plans to write an article every week or so and have others occasionally blog for the site.

Since then, HumbleDollar has morphed into a fulltime job that doesn’t pay me a salary and a site that—I like to think—occupies a small but unique place in the internet’s ongoing financial conversation:

  • Readers visited 937,000 of the site’s pages in 2017, more than 1.7 million in 2018 and almost 2.6 million last year, for a total of over 5.2 million pages. The market for thoughtful financial writing is, alas, fairly small. Still, I’d love to see the site garner a much larger audience.
  • Before I launched HumbleDollar, I blogged occasionally at JonathanClements.com. But I didn’t want the new site to be solely about me, so I went hunting for a new name and URL. Some time after midnight, I found myself lying in bed, mulling variations on the word humble. A middle-of-the-night internet search revealed that HumbleDollar.com was available.

Since then, I’ve taken further steps to ensure the site isn’t about me. Early last year, I removed my photograph, along with a brief bio, from the homepage. Nobody complained. From the site’s navigation bar, I deleted the tab devoted to my books. Nobody seemed to notice.

  • In 2019, HumbleDollar ran 365 articles—one for every day of the year—and those articles were penned by more than 30 contributors. I’ve only met a few of the site’s writers in person. But thanks to their willingness to share their financial stories with readers, I feel like I’ve come to know all of them. It’s a great privilege to have these folks writing for the site.
  • HumbleDollar has a distinct financial philosophy. We believe the goal is to be rational about money, but we’re all too aware of our human failings. We think there’s far more value to be added by focusing on broader financial issues—saving enough, buying the right size home, getting our estate in order, keeping debts manageable—than by trying to second-guess the financial markets. We believe that money can buy happiness, but it takes far more thought than most people imagine.

To bring this philosophy into sharper focus, I introduced a manifesto last year, which now appears in bite-size chunks on the homepage. That manifesto joins a series of other short homepage items, including “Numbers,” “Think,” “Act” and “Truths.”

  • Over the past 12 months, I added five chapters to the site’s money guide: Portfolio Builder, Life Planner, Big Ideas, Great Debates and Humans. Big changes like that tend to catch readers’ attention. But I’m also constantly making smaller changes to the guide, whether it’s updating numbers or adding new insights. If you haven’t spent serious time exploring the money guide, I’d encourage you to do so.
  • In 2019, I changed the way the site seeks to cover its costs, which run around $18,000 a year. Early on and with far too little thought, I did what so many financial blogging sites do—I signed up for various affiliate marketing relationships with financial firms. That meant the site would earn a fee every time a reader opened an account or bought a product from one of these companies.

But I quickly came to realize the whole thing was unethical, akin to brokers making money by flogging the products that pay them the highest commissions. In 2019, I axed all of these marketing arrangements—except the one with Amazon, which I view as pretty innocuous, because it isn’t in the financial services business. (Shortly after this article appeared, I also nixed the Amazon relationship, so HumbleDollar now receives no affiliate marketing revenue.)

Instead, I decided to solicit donations to supplement the modest sum that the site earns from advertising. The level of support has been gratifying. Over the past eight months, more than 400 readers have contributed to the cost of running the site. Those contributions are often accompanied by kind comments—and I value those comments even more than the dollars themselves.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @ClementsMoney and on Facebook. His most recent articles include He Can Be TaughtJust Do It and Eyes Forward. Jonathan’s latest books: From Here to Financial Happiness and How to Think About Money.

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