Becoming More Transparent//The Positive and Negative Of Blogging Anonymously

img_2943Over the past three years, I, with my wife’s blessing, help, and support, have chosen to be an anonymous blogger. This decision has been both a blessing and a curse.

The Blessing

On the blessing side, anonymity gave me the courage to put my ideas out in the public eye in ways that I otherwise would not have felt comfortable. This has led to several unintended consequences.

I have found a passion for writing I never thought I had. I have made some amazing personal connections and new friendships. Writing publicly has forced me to develop a more nuanced and far deeper understanding of personal finance and retirement planning. This allowed us to develop a much more secure and prosperous plan for FIRE than we imagined possible when starting this journey.

The Curse

However, blogging anonymously has not been all positive. For the past three years our life has been a series of lies, or at least half-truths.

We try to live with as much honesty and integrity as possible. This is immensely difficult when having a second persona which we’ve been trying to keep secret.

Every time I reveal a detail to a different person, I start wondering if I said too much. If Person A talks to Person B who is friends with Person C who works with Person D, blah, blah, blah.

I wake up early many mornings to write about things that we are learning that are life changing for us. I write to share our message to help others who I have never met. Then I turn around and hide these things from my real life friends and acquaintances, out of fear that our employers would find out and our plans would not pan out.

On one hand, I spent a lot of time trying to share my message through writing guest posts, being a guest on podcasts, and commenting on blogs and forums that allowed me to maintain my anonymity. On the other hand, I turned down other offers for far greater exposure and from people I also greatly respected, because they balked when I insisted on maintaining anonymity when promoting my message.

Bottom line, I am a terrible liar. My mom says I always have been. The whole process is exhausting.

Coming Clean Today

Telling my employers I was quitting my job was a major stress relief. Today I would like to get one more thing off of my chest and share my identity with readers of the blog. However, until I am done working in an industry with daily interaction with the general public I am still not going to put my name on the blog directly. I makes it a bit too easy to be found by any random person who Googles my name.

Due to all of the personal information that I share, I’m still not excited about that. This also could violate social media agreements with my current employer . For those reasons, I will keep one step between putting my name directly on the blog for now.

I am going to share my identity with anyone who is interested by telling you yet another secret that I’ve been hiding from most of you. (Sorry! I told you this whole double life thing is complicated.) For the past year, I have been doing freelance writing for the personal finance website Doughroller.net. You can click this link to see who I am and scroll through all that I have written for that site.

A Great Personal Opportunity

I decided to start freelance writing using my real identity without linking it to my personal blog about a year ago for multiple reasons. Most importantly, I was seriously thinking about shutting down the blog for some legal reasons that I can not disclose, and I wanted to ensure I would continue to write. At the same time, I was listening to the Doughroller podcast and the owner/host, Rob Berger, put out a call for freelance writers.

This gave me several opportunities that excited me. My primary purpose when starting this blog was to educate others so that they would avoid the massive mistakes we made in dealing with the financial industry. However, most of the people that I have attracted to the blog are already in the process of working toward FIRE and they get these basics.

Writing to a more general audience at DoughRoller has given me the motivation to sit down and write posts that I really wanted to write to an audience more likely to benefit from them. These posts included writing about what variable annuities are and why you almost never would want one. I covered what you could do if you have already been sold a variable annuity as we and several members of our families had. I also wrote about the many conflicts of interest inherent in the financial advice industry.

Another main purpose of this blog is to publicize and highlight others in this space who are doing great work. Writing for a large, mainstream financial website has allowed me to pay back some of those who have been very influential in my financial education by sharing their message with a much larger and more general audience than I have. At the same time, I can also reach many more new readers with this information than I do with the very limited marketing I have done with my blog. This has included writing book reviews for Jim Dahle’s “White Coat Investor”, JL Collins’ “Simple Path to Wealth”, and Darrow Kirkpatrick’s “Can I Retire Yet?”. I also was able to write a review of the “Travel Miles 101” course, which as I have shared in our February and March updates continues to pay major dividends to our family.

Writing for a third party with deadlines has forced me to write hard posts I otherwise have been procrastinating such as researching health care options in early retirement. This has prompted me to write articles about “How ACA Subsidies Can Benefit Early Retirees” as well as learning about alternative options such as health care sharing ministries.

Writing about early retirement for a mainstream personal finance website also allows me to share some key lessons that are commonplace in our community, but are revelations to those outside of the FIRE community. The first post I ever wrote for DoughRoller, “Three Money Rules That Guarantee Early Retirement” was the most viewed and most shared article on the site that month.

Since then, I’ve had this article about saving more with less effort featured on Business Insider. I’ve also had my article “How To Save Money on Taxes By Retiring Early” featured on Accounting Today. Being featured in these types of publications helps me develop credibility and gain exposure.

Finally, writing for DoughRoller has allowed me to connect with Rob Berger who started and owns the site. This was a strategic play for me for several reasons. Since starting to blog about early retirement I have been humbled by how little I know about blogging. Rob is one of the earliest personal finance bloggers. He is very financially successful with his business while at the same time maintaining great integrity. He is also an early retiree, leaving the practice of law at age 50 last year. Thus, I view him as a role model for many of the things I would like to do and how I would like to live in “retirement”.

What to Expect Going Forward

Going forward, I will continue to write my personal story here. As long as I am working, this will probably be limited to 1-2 posts each month. I will continue to do freelance work for DoughRoller, typically at a frequency of one article per month.

I am no longer worried about keeping the blog a secret to those that care enough to find it. Therefore, I will publicize when I publish anything on DoughRoller to those of you who subscribe to the blog and I will also share on Twitter.

Losing this secrecy will allow me to share, and thus better serve those of you who follow along with my writing here. It will also allow me to publicize my work for DoughRoller and anyone else I write for in the future, thus better serving those who I am doing work for. Losing the secrecy not only makes sense, it feels really good.

I’m curious to hear from other bloggers on this one. Whether going public or being anonymous, what do you think are the biggest drawbacks, and what has been most positive about the experience? Has anyone else started out anonymous and gone public? If so, how have things changed for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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12 comments on Becoming More Transparent//The Positive and Negative Of Blogging Anonymously

  1. Welcome from outside the shadows, friend! I’m sorry you’ve felt like you’re hiding something when it comes to the blog. I think you should stay anonymous if that’s what you’re comfortable with–it shouldn’t be done out of obligation.

    I’ve straddled between anonymity and my real identity. I only tell my first name to fellow bloggers once I’ve gotten to know them a bit. Most people can guesstimate my location based on my blog, and I include photos of myself as well. But yeah, I’m not about to publish my full name, address, and blood type on there. 🙂

    I’m comfortable right now going by a pseudonym and offering a few deets about my life on the blog. I try to keep work pretty separate from the blog, though.

    1. We’re not really sure what we’re comfortable with. I guess we’ll see. We try to be as honest as possible while not offering details of our personal life that make us vulnerable to bad things happen. I also write about wanting to leave my job and paint an accurate picture why, while not saying anything negative about my employer. There are definitely many blurry lines to avoid crossing.

      Sharing this detail was something that I wanted to do for a long time because I have a pretty loyal group of followers and it allows me to share more content with them. It also allows me to publicize, instead of hide, work I am doing elsewhere, which I know I would want if I was paying someone to provide content. It just seems to make sense.

  2. I stay anonymous for now. I recall an episode where Jason Fieber had a cyberstalker. Really weird guy (girl?) who set up a fake Facebook profile of him and tried to friend his friends list then spread misinformation. Other weird behavior.

    Also, the income for me at this point is truly trivial. If I was making a living at this, I might feel compelled to come clean. For now, it isn’t worth the hassle.

    1. This is definitely something we talk about and worry about, especially with a young child. However, many people share far more than we do on their Facebook and other social media outlets, which we do not even use so there are trade-offs all over.

      While we do not make any income off of the blog at this time, I am looking to develop this site into something more in the future. The reason that I started all of this was out of disgust with our experience with the financial industry and I want to provide different options for people in the future. I hope that by putting my name and face on and behind my work it will provide a bit more credibility as I begin to build things out.

  3. Awesome for you and your family!!

    I imagine living a double life as such one where you are trying to not be found…. while also living one where you want to be found and broadcasted to the masses to make an impact on people’s lives would be a tough thing to juggle.

    Always enjoy your content!!

    cheers!

    1. Thanks Tim. Anonymous blogging is definitely something that can be done quite successfully as our friends such as Our Next Life and Physician on Fire to name just a few are demonstrating. There are a lot of positives to doing so. However, it is a lot of work to put yourself out there AND hide your identity, and to me it was not worth the effort. Just want to be clear though that it is possible for those trying to do it and I am not making excuses.

      Thanks again for your feedback and encouragement, which is always appreciated.

  4. Great post, Mr. EE. Although some may baulk at your identity protection measures, I get all the reasons you have chosen to remain anonymous. From the wide range of folks online today (with various intentions) to the potential for the wrong folks (employer, etc) to view your blog.

    I agree with your approach. I dont feel you owe any explanation whatsoever. Do what you do.

    1. Thanks Dave. To be honest, I constantly wrestle with how much to share in my writing. At the end of the day, I have found that the more honest and true to myself that I am, the happier I am and the better the results. Coming clean with my employers and telling them my plans has been nothing but positive. Hopefully this will be the same.

  5. Congrats on making this huge leap, pal! (Even if your name is not technically here.) 😉 We can’t wait to share all of it, less for the blog’s sake, and more because it’s just mentally exhausting to keep track of who knows what, who’s connected to whom who might tell our employers, which aspects we’ve shared or haven’t, etc. The double life stress is real. Can’t wait to share our details this fall.

    Congrats on making some super cool opportunities happen — it’s awesome you’re sharing your knowledge with the world through multiple platforms!

    1. Totally agree about the stress that comes with anonymity. It felt great to just put things out there!

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