A Year in the Life of a Personal Finance Blogger

A year ago to the day, I hit publish on my first-ever post as a personal finance blogger. The year that followed has been full of unbelievable ups, downs, twists, turns, saving, spending, goal-getting and incredible friendships.

If you’ve ever wanted to dive into what your first year as a personal finance blogger will be like, oh boy is this ever the post for you – and it’s a bit of a novel, so grab a coffee and settle in, friends.

Getting started

As I’ve admitted several times, starting this blog was the definition of a half-baked idea, hence the name.

I opened a spreadsheet, decided to save half my income, and decided to write about it on the internet – all within the span of about an hour.

Because I have a bit of a history of starting blogs, only to abandon them after a grand total of four posts, I made myself a deal. I wasn’t allowed to spend any money on the blog until I was sure I’d keep going with it. That led to a WordPress.com blog and a free theme, and here’s what Half Banked looked when I hit publish on my first post one year ago today.

The old look of halfbanked.com, before I took it seriously! (Pro tip: you can start a blog reallllly cheaply.)

People (very kindly) assumed it was me in the photo, but all credit goes to Unsplash on that one. Also, see how stellar I was at the whole anonymous blogging thing back then, with my real face live on the blog for the world to see?

“So Desirae, tell me about your strengths.”
“Anonymity. Definitely anonymity.”

I broke my spending rule to get a $5 cartoon of my face – which was instantly recognizable to anyone who knows what I look like in real life. Since I was on a such a roll (ahahahahaha omg no) I also sprang for a $17 domain name, and halfbanked.com was officially born.

Then it got hard

It was probably mid-fall when I started to feel the first twinges of blogger burnout. At that point, I was publishing two posts a week and even though I was connecting with some amazing blogging friends, I felt like I was treading water. It felt like I could have easily stopped blogging, deemed this another failed blogging experiment, and found a different hobby.

If we’re being entirely, totally transparent here, one of the biggest reasons I got through this slump was that I had a post featured on Rockstar Finance for the first time. So dear J$ and C$ – thank you for thinking my post about the two ways you can squeeze your budget was worth featuring, and I likely owe you my blogging firstborn.

The other main reason that I kept going was the amazing support of some incredible other bloggers. I’m not kidding when I say that this community of money nerds has been the most open, welcoming, incredible group of humans on the internet that has ever existed, and I’m so grateful to all of you for keeping me going this year.

Also, to everyone who isn’t a blogger but has taken the time to tell me that my blog has in some small way impacted your real-life finances? You are literally why I do this thing, and I appreciate the time you took to tell me that more than you know.

I’ve learned so much

Let me tell you, if you start writing about money every week on the internet, you’re going to learn a few things.

Scratch that.

A lot of things.

Early on, I was taking on monthly challenges to make sure I had something to write about, and to see which ones would help me hit my savings goal of stashing away half of my income. I spent a month tracking my spending down to the penny, which became the most impactful thing I’ve done for my money all year. Another month, I went through Cait Flander’s Mindful Budgeting Program, and learned how to balance saving with being grateful for the experiences I was able to buy with my money.

Along the way, I was adding to my list of fantastic personal finance blogs, and learning just as much – if not more – from the unbelievable humans who also share their money know-how on the internet. From early retirement, to millennial money, to non-traditional money management and more, I have learned an unbelievable amount about my money just from reading blogs.

As my OG blogging friend Penny wrote recently, it’s important to have a variety of perspectives, and there’s no easier – or cheaper! – way to do that than to add a bunch of money bloggers to your Feedly account, or following them on Twitter.

We blogging types don’t always agree, on money or video games, but if you find enough perspectives you’ll be able to find the ones that fit best with your life – and use them to make informed decisions about your own spending.

I’m the first to stand up and say I do things a little differently, and what works for me might not work for you. I’m a big advocate of the fun budget, but I’d also be the first to tell you that you can save more than you think, and that you should only spend on things that really matter to you.

Maybe you need a more tough-love approach, or you want a place where it’s OK to talk about your True Money Confessions with people who do the same. Whatever your happy place is when it comes to managing your money, I guarantee there are bloggers out there who offer exactly your brand of money management advice. You just need to find them.

Worked with amazing people and companies

If you had told me at the beginning of this blogging adventure that I would have done all the things I’ve done in the past year, I straight-up would have told you that you were nuts.

Remember, this was the blog that I was writing “anonymously,” that I hadn’t even decided I was going to stick with beyond a few posts.

Since then, I’ve written guest blog posts for Millennial Money Man, Northern Expenditure and Canadian Budget Binder. I’ve worked with two of my favourite Canadian fintech companies, Lowest Rates and Wealthsimple, and I’m writing a weekly column for GenFKD about fintech. I was in the freaking Globe and Mail that one time, and Rob Carrick – the Real Canadian Personal Finance MVP – linked to two of my articles in his newsletters.

I’ve had Twitter conversations – multiple Twitter conversations! – with the authors of personal finance books that are sitting on my bookshelf right now, like Kerry Taylor and Preet Banerjee. Yes, none of them are ever going to speak to me again after this nerdy paragraph, but it’s TOO COOL. I own their books! They are big deals!

I’m sorry, but for a self-confessed personal finance nerd, those are some pretty big-deal line items. I can’t even believe that this year happened. 

The numbers

I wouldn’t be a very good personal finance blogger if I didn’t sneak at least a number or two in here. While I’ve gone back and forth on which numbers to share, and how to be transparent without giving you access to my entire bank account and my SIN number, I will say that I’m always down to share percentages and goal numbers – so here we go.

2 (the number of months I’ve hit my savings goal)

Since I started tracking my spending in September of last year, I’ve hit my 50% savings goal exactly twice, in March and April of this year. This might seem like a failure, but to me it’s a massive win.

Since I was tracking my spending the whole time, I can pinpoint exactly why I wasn’t hitting the goal, and each month was for a reason that was more important to me than saving half my income. Think “important birthday for a loved one” and “travel to see family” and “insurance for my luxury dog.”

47.34% (the percent of my income I saved in 2016 so far)

Holy shit friends. That right there is why I don’t consider not hitting my savings goal for 9 out of 11 months a failure – because every month I knew I wouldn’t be hitting the goal, I didn’t use that as an excuse to bail on the intention behind the goal.

I set the goal in the first place because I have a lot of big goals I want to hit, including funding an emergency fund for me, saving up a separate emergency fund for my dog, and saving for a house downpayment someday. I knew that unless I upped my savings rate, it would take me way too long to hit any of my goals, so I decided to turn it up.

Before I set that goal, I was saving about 20% of my take-home income every month. So while sure, I didn’t quite hit a 50% savings rate consistently, I more than doubled my previous savings rate – and came within striking distance of a 50% overall savings rate for the past six months.

That’s a win.

1438 (how many comments the blog got this past year)

Some people look at comments as a “vanity metric,” that doesn’t drive “real results” when it comes to blogging.

To those people, I just have to say, you must not know my blog friends.

I’ve connected with so many amazing people through this blog, and commenting back and forth on their blogs. I can’t even name them all, because I’d be too scared of forgetting someone, but if you’ve ever commented on a blog post of mine? Just know that I am so glad we connected (but of course, you probably already knew that!)

The message

When I started Half Banked, I had convinced myself that I was going to be the Queen of Epic Frugality, and completely eschew my previous consumer-driven ways. I read basically every article FrugalWoods has ever written in a single sitting, and charged forward with all the finesse of a Tyrannosaurus Rex trying to reach something on the top shelf.

If you want to see how misguidedly crazy I went with it all, please observe this deeply embarrassing post in which I made coffee using paper towels, in order to avoid buying a French press. That attempt at frugality is not recommended. Buy the freaking French press. (We got this one after The Boyfriend convinced me that maybe there was a better way to spend my weekend mornings.)

As the months went on and I got into the groove of trying to hit my savings goal, I realized that maybe hardcore frugality isn’t my money sweet spot. Sure, I’m still all for spending intentionally, and making my coffee at home most of the time, but I’m also not going to be over here telling you never to spend money on things that make your life great.

I also realized that a lot of the joy I get from this blog comes from the unexpected moments where people tell me that something I wrote really helped them get a handle on their money, too. If you happen to be one of those people, just know that there was zero chill and much happy-flailing on the other side of the computer screen when you sent those messages – yes, even more than I told you about at the time. Zero chill.

Those two realizations – that I’m more about balance than hardcore, bootstrap frugality, and that my favourite part of this whole project has been the unexpected ability to help people – are what has been guiding Half Banked and the stuff I’ve been writing over the past few months.

Also, I’m never going back to making coffee with paper towels again and you can’t make me.

What’s up next

While I’m always going to be sharing my personal stories, because I do enough hilariously embarrassing stuff to make it funny for me, in year two of Half Banked I want to focus on building tools and content that are actually, genuinely useful for you guys.

I fell in love with the personal finance community because we fit in this weird gap between “I know nothing about money” and “Omg I need to pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars for financial advice.” There’s so much room in between those two ends of the money spectrum, and that’s where I’ve found the information I needed to handle my own millennial money situation.

If I can help fill in that gap for people, with stuff like the One Minute Budget and Zero to Investing Hero? I’ll be a happy camper. Plus, who can forget my unfortunate but also entirely accurate How Not To series, in which I share my biggest money blunders to help you avoid doing exactly what I did wrong? If you missed them, here’s how not to…

On that note, I’m working behind the scenes over the next few months to bring you guys a new resource to help you juggle all of your money goals without losing your mind (or having to make coffee using paper towels.)

This was actually one of the most common responses to the survey I sent out a few months ago, and it makes perfect sense to me because hi, story of my life. Trying to save for multiple goals at once, and figuring out how to balance them, is one of the hardest and most important money challenges we’ll all face in our 20s.

There’s only so much money, and it needs to help us pay down debt, buy a house, get a dog, take awesome vacations, stop wearing sweatpants to work, and so much more.

You’ll hear way more about that in the next few months, and I am so excited to help you tackle that challenge! Expect to see it launching sometime in January.

You know what else you’ll hear more about?

Housing. Specifically, to share a personal update, the timeline on our house goal has moved up, and I’m aiming to have my half of a down payment saved up for…. drumroll please…. this spring. I’m almost halfway there, but that also means I’ve just set myself an aggressive, five-figure savings goal to hit in the next 9 months.

It won’t be as hard as some other things people do over the course of nine months, but trust me when I tell you I’ll be keeping you well-informed about how it’s going along the way.

Lastly, to end this massively long blog post (I can’t believe you’re still reading this, for real) I just want to reiterate that I am seriously, unbelievably grateful to every single person who has ever laid eyes on the blog. Thank you for making this the best hobby in the whole wide world. (And a very special shout out to The Boyfriend, who puts up with me working on Half Banked most evenings and weekends.)

Here’s to another year of being a money nerd on the internet.

Do you have any questions I didn’t answer in this novel about what it’s really like blogging about money on the internet – or do you have stories of your own to share? Cool things you never expected would happen from starting a blog? I’d love to hear them!