It can be difficult to make a name for yourself in the sphere of personal finance writing. In a way, writing about investing and general money-related philosophies is a lot like writing about weight loss. Just as weight loss tips are all some variation of “restrict calories/ exercise more”, everything in personal finance eventually boils down to some variation of “spend less than you earn, and do something intelligent with the difference.”
But Greg McFarlane at Control Your Cash is different. He writes in a raucous tone that encourages investors to think in terms of intelligent behavior, rather than what is typical. McFarlane writes in a style that points out the opportunity costs of every financial decision you make, often in a style that people don’t want to hear. Plan on spending $30,000 on a wedding? McFarlane is going to tell you that $30,000 compounded at 8.25% for 40 years is going to equal $888,000 in foregone wealth when you retire, and he is going to point out that a one-day wedding is going to cost you about $35,000 in easy, annual dividend money that you could be having deposited into your checking account each year.
The Control Your Cash website has a motto: “Buy assets, sell liabilities.” When McFarlane touches on this topic, he is going to point out to you that being rich isn’t something that just happens. Rather, it’s about making a series of intelligent decisions in a row, and then letting them compound without interference. To stick with the physical health analogies because they are easy to make, someone doesn’t run five miles every day because they belong to some class of species known as “runners.” Rather, because some people choose to move their legs at 6-7 MPH for thirty minutes each day, they become runners.
Aristotle was right: we are formed by what we do. McFarlane provides countless examples of how to get on the path to becoming wealthy which is generally a combination of (1) adding sources of cash flow to be steadily deposited into your bank account on a regular basis, and (2) resisting debt (to finance depreciating assets) like its the Yersinia pestis bacteria bringing the Bubonic Plague your way.
What I particularly like about the Control Your Cash website is that there is little hesitation to criticize finance writers that give bad advice. In particular, McFarlane goes after the self-indulgent writers that celebrate super modest improvements in their personal finance stories (he is particularly merciless on a chick that celebrated reducing her debt load from $105,000 to $103,500 by getting a pedicure and treating herself to a night on the town).
He is also harsh on frugality bloggers that write thousand word posts about how to save $0.30 on laundry detergent. McFarlane’s problem with ultra-frugality is that it discounts the importance of one’s time, and focuses on savings dimes and quarters (and sometimes even Kennedy halves) when you’d be better off spending your time figuring out how to save thousands of dollars on the price you pay for a car or the terms of financing for your property.
In particular, McFarlane treats Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar fame as the go-to punching bag when he wants to mock the ultra-frugal techniques advocated by some prominent writers in the blogosphere. I have slightly mixed feelings about McFarlane’s treatment of Hamm—on one hand, Trent seems like a good guy that took the kind of initiative that McFarlane recommends to launch his blog and turn it into a wildly successful site that he was able to sell for $1,000,000+. How many people can say they built a million-dollar business at some point in their lives? It takes hard work and extreme discipline and dedication, especially in the early days. I respect Hamm for what he put together at The Simple Dollar. It’s not easy to write hundreds and hundreds of blog posts. If it didn’t require a killer work ethic, this world would be filled with blogger millionaires. Kudos to Hamm.
On the other hand, McFarlane is fantastically witty, and Hamm supplies more raw material to work with than you could get buying wholesale from Dupont Chemical. For instance, at some point in the past three years, Trent Hamm has written a post on: why women should spend $3 on a swimsuit, how to make your own toothpaste, how to use oven lights to save $0.02, and picking up rocks on the side of the road as collectibles for his kids. Some of Trent’s frugality posts sound like a step back for Western Civilization, and McFarlane delights in mocking frugality excess.
My only criticism of Control Your Cash is that comments are disabled on the posts when he ridicules other finance writers. It’s his site and he can do what he wants, and I have no problem with the fact that he disables comments on his general finance pieces. But if you are going to ridicule someone publicly, you should give them an outlet to respond on the same forum. If someone is going to take shots at the character, reputation, and integrity of another, I’d like to see the person attacked have a direct platform to defend himself/herself. That’s my only complaint.
If you have been reading personal finance website for awhile, you may have noticed a trend towards ridiculing those who make intelligent financial decisions by constructing this fictional “average person” and describing how some handicap would prevent this “average person” from being able to share in that success. McFarlane’s attitude is quite different—he will tell you that average people have no idea how to handle money, and it’s your job to act intelligent—not average. McFarlane is probably the best personal finance writer I have come across when it comes to explaining the opportunity costs of every decision, and clearly explaining how indulgences paid on credit today will upend your life (the $20 pizza you buy with your Visa card and don’t pay off immediately can turn into a $35 pizza before it’s all said and done). I am a religious reader of Control Your Cash because the website opens your eyes to the potential consequences of every financial decision that you make. And plus, he’s funny as hell about it.
To check out Greg McFarlane at Control Your Cash, be sure to visit (you guessed it): www.controlyourcash.com