The Best of Black Coffee: 43 of the Worst Personal Finance Articles of 2009

It’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy a little joe…

Welcome to a very special New Year’s edition of Black Coffee, your off-beat weekly round-up of what’s been going on in the world of money and personal finance.

I recently saw that Ray from Financial Highway was justly honored when his excellent article entitled 11 Dumb Ways to Get Into Debt was voted the Best Personal Finance Post of 2009!  It was an awesome post and a very big congratulations is in order for Ray, who should be very proud of that remarkable accomplishment!  (No, I’m NOT saying it’s remarkable because Ray wrote the article, it’s remarkable because… Oh, never mind.)

Seriously, congratulations, Ray!  :-)

Unfortunately, the fact that Ray has bragging rights to the best personal finance article of 2009 means every other personal finance article written that year was, by default, among the worst personal finance articles posted on Web.

If you happen to be a personal finance blogger like I am, well, that can be just a bit discouraging.

So sad, too bad.

No soup for you.

Deal with it.  I am.  Heck, I wrote over 200 articles in 2009 and now I officially know they all suck.  (Although I had a strong suspicion that was the case before Ray got his award.)

Upon further reflection, it also means that I am going to have to also rename my monthly Best of the Best in Money and Personal Finance Carnival to the Best of the Worst… but that’s not a topic germane to this article.

I started these Black Coffee retrospectives a little over six months ago.  Since then I’ve featured over 200 personal finance articles from around the blogosphere that I enjoyed reading.  However, I want to apologize to my readers:  At the time I had absolutely no idea I was recommending some of the worst personal finance articles from the blogosphere.


My aim was true.  Errant, but true.

So without further ado here’s just a small portion of some the worst personal finance articles of 2009 that happened to catch my attention – along with the pithy commentary I provided at the time, of course.

By the way, I’m sincerely sorry if I included one of your articles here.

I tried to keep the list short but it was such a plentiful smorgasbord of bad articles to choose from, I couldn’t stop.

I did, however, manage to spare a few of my friends such as Mr. Credit Card at Ask Mr. Credit Card, Investor at Monevator, Sam at Financial Samurai, Jason at RedeemingRiches, and Mike at the Oblivious Investor.  (Dudes, you owe me.)

Squawkfox – Somebody told me Kerry had an interesting article about growing grass and I’m always looking for pointers on improving my technique. Before things get out of hand, let me state for the record I’m talking about grass as in fescue and bermuda — not Maui Wowee.  After all, doesn’t everybody already know how to grow that?

Master Your Card – Jonathan’s post on the potential for catching swine flu from your credit cards really caught my attention. I always knew money was filthy, but I never really gave much thought to credit cards. He didn’t cite any corroborating studies, but it makes sense. You know, I stopped putting legal tender in my mouth the day I saw a lady pull her money out of her underwear. I am not kidding. I used to work as a grocery store checker and one day this obese, sweaty, lady paid for her groceries by pulling a wad of bills out of the waistband of her panties. I still get grossed out every time I think about it.

Early Retirement Extreme – I was interested to see Jacob’s piece on what bloggers should be paid for their services.  Based on Jason’s traffic, he calculated that his salary for blogging at ERE should be $375,000.  Fair enough.  Using his same handy dandy formula for my blog, I determined that my blogger salary should be 72 cents.

Plonkee Money – Yes, again – and quit your complaining.  If you were smart enough to title your blog “Plonkee (anything)” you’d be getting extra link love here too.  Anyway, Plonkee’s back from her hiatus with a couple of fresh posts on items you should and should not buy when traveling.  Good posts, Plonkee!  (Editor’s Note: I thought they were good at the time.) I just wish you had written them before I stood in line for 15 minutes last month at the airport gift shop to buy that stupid inflatable pillow.

Debt Free Adventure – Matt has got to be the hardest working guy in the blogosphere. Everywhere I look, I seem to run into one of his articles, whether it is on his own site or as a guest contributor somewhere else. This week on his site he had an interesting piece on how he decided to balance contributions between his emergency fund savings and paying off his debt.  His plan is called the 75/25 method, which sounds eerily similar to my 78.3/21.7 method that I touted on this site a while back -  for some reason my method never seemed to catch on though.

The Digerati Life – I really hate to admit this, and please don’t tell the Honeybee, but is it possible to have a crush on a graphical image? Because I think I do. See, I was visiting SVB’s place reading a very informative piece entitled The Best Online Stock Brokers for Cheap Stock Trades when I couldn’t help but notice I was being stared at by that beautiful girl in The Digerati Life header.  I’ve got it so bad now that Logo Girl has me completely mesmerized and I can’t get her out of my head. I’m thinking about dropping SVB a line to ask if Logo Girl has a sister that might want to spend a little time over on my blog header. I know. Maybe I should see a doctor.

Moolanomy – As most of you know, I am now a proud member of Pinyo’s Money Hackers Network, so I’m just checkin’ in with the boss. I’m working hard, Pinyo! By the way, if it’s okay with you can I have Saturday off this week?

Early Retirement Extreme – Well, once again a post from Jacob caught my wandering eye.  This time it was something entitled “How to Decide When to Unsubscribe from a Blog.”   I have to admit, he made some really great points in his article and so, after a lot of thought, I reluctantly decided to unsubscribe from my own blog.

Budgets Are Sexy – I’ve been following this neat two-part confessional on J’s blog written by an anonymous poker-player friend of his.  He says poker can be a grind and I’m not surprised, constantly playing for big money against serious players.  As for me, I stick to only playing tables with easy marks like my 9-year-old daughter, Plonkee, and her friends; until a few weeks ago we had a regular Friday night game.  We’ll be starting ‘em up again too – as soon as Plonkee replenishes her college fund.

The Consumerist – Okay, I’ll admit it.  I’m looking for a cheap bit of quid pro quo here – although I ain’t holding my breath.  This extremely popular blog could really help my readership numbers if they ever found it in their heart to give me a little reciprocal link love.  This week, they had a really cool chart breaking down how the average consumer spends his paycheck.  Check it out!  By the way, for such a popular blog, they aren’t afraid to ask for a handout – in the sidebar they ask everyone to “Tip Your Editors.”  So stop on by and give them a few bucks would ya?  And please, please, please be sure to tell them Len Penzo sent you.  (Editor’s Note: Apparently it worked.  My post on Why Rechargeable Batteries Are Rarely Cost Effective was picked up by The Consumerist shortly after I made this plea.  Coincidence?  I think not.)

Fiscal Fizzle -  I love Fiscal Fizzle!  I love that little pepper in the blog header.  Oddly, I also feel a special kinship with its proprietor, Wojciech, although I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because Wojciech is an architect, which I always wanted to be when I was growing up.  Anyway, Wojciech tackled an ethical dilemma regarding whether it is appropriate to walk away from a home that is worth less than is owed on it. (Note to self: find out Wojciech’s nickname ASAP – I feel like I’m taking a typing test here.)

MoneyWatch – From the Department of Overkill Department:  Rob featured this instructional video on YouTube from a news organization explaining how we can safely cut up our credit cards in order to prevent identity theft.  The solution: 16 separate cuts followed by dispersing the itty-bitty little pieces into multiple trash bags.  They obviously forgot to recommend dispersing the multiple trash bags into separate land fills as well.  You can never be too safe you know.

Old School Value – Speaking of investing, how diversified is your portfolio?  Perhaps more importantly, how do you know whether it is time to diversify or concentrate your portfolio?  Of course, for me, that last question is subject to my 50/50/90 rule: Whenever I have a 50/50 chance of guessing correctly, there is a 90 percent probability I’ll end up picking the wrong answer. Fortunately, for people like me, Jae has a nice article on portfolio management and asset allocation that explores these questions and he provides some interesting insights too.

Canadian Finance Blog – Anybody who themes a carnival around G.I. Joe is #1 in my book, as Tom did as the recent host of the Festival of Frugality.  You know, I had a whole army of G.I. Joes as a kid growing up in the 70s.  In fact, me and my G.I. Joes used to go on secret midnight raids into my sister’s room where we kidnapped her Ken doll, stripped and hog-tied him, and then took him hostage back to G.I. Joe headquarters.  Ken was then water-boarded and interrogated, sometimes for days, until my sister would finally notice he was missing.  Of course, Sis would then vehemently complain to “President Dad” who would order Ken released back to Barbie’s house on humanitarian grounds.  Good times.

I Will Teach You to Be Rich – Ramit had a provocative post asking why delusional people think their spending will be different from other folks.  Isn’t that kind of obvious?  They’re delusional.

Uncommon Cents – On Wednesday I read a very short post there questioning whether a $6000 bike was really six times better than a $1000 bike, or 12 times better than a $500 bike.  If you ask me, my not-so-professional opinion is that although the more expensive bike may not be a proportionate improvement over its cheaper alternative… I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better.  (There’s a margarine here in the US called… oh, never mind.)

Cash Money Life – Patrick was offering tips on how to lower your cell phone bill.  Regular readers here know that I am a cell phone aficionado.  They also know I have the best cell phone technology money can buy – in fact, it is the exact same sporty cell phone billionaire financier Gordon Gecko used in the awesome movie Wall Street.  Nothing but the best for me, folks!

Man vs Debt – Some disgruntled reader wrote me a nasty e-mail last Wednesday telling me how much my blog sucked.  I thanked him for the tip, of course.  Lucky for me, this week Baker put together a magnum opus on How Not to Suck at Blogging – and it’s just what the doctor ordered.  As I reflected upon some of Baker’s 2,967,354 tips for successful blogging, I can now see why mine sucks so badly.  To wit, successful bloggers: 1) use lots of pictures (oops); 2) realize they won’t make any money (funny, that’s not what John Chow told me); and, 3) refuse to watch Lost (sorry, but I’ve been watching Lost for 7 years – I ain’t quitting now).  If you’ve got a fortnight or two, check out Baker’s truly excellent article and learn the other 2,967,351 reasons why my blog sucks (and maybe yours too for that matter).

Bankersaver – Ben had an interesting article on green banks.   Apparently, green banks give financial breaks to people and companies that are labeled as environmentally friendly.  You know, I have a friend who has been looking for a new Hummer that can handle his daily 200-mile commute to work.  Later today, after I finish helping him bury some old motor oil and used batteries in his backyard, I think I’ll tell him to give one of those green banks a call.

Poorer Than You – While loitering over at Steph’s site I noticed that she is trying to land the “Good Mood Gig” being offered by NatureMade.  Stop on by and give her your vote.  I did.  Twice.  What the heck is the Good Mood Gig?   Beats me, but I know what it ain’t: me having to ask the Honeybee a question about anything before she gets that first cup of coffee in the morning.

Get Rich Slowly – Not only is he one of the founding fathers of the personal finance blog, but JD Roth is also one of my favorite game show hosts.  Hopefully one day they’ll bring back Opportunity Knocks, but until then I’ll be content to read JD’s blog.  This week, JD featured a guest post from a writer who espoused that pre-nuptial agreements are for everyone.  I have a prenup.  Uh huh.  When the Honeybee and I got married, she made me agree to one, even though I was the one making most of the money.  In a nutshell, it basically says this: what’s hers is hers and what’s mine is hers.

Saving Advice – Here’s a nice piece from David who writes about several shopping lessons he hopes his teenage son learns.  I found this article to be not only informative but interesting as well, for these reasons: 1) I have a 12-year-old son who will be a teenager next year; 2) any article that uses the word “frugalista” is, by definition, sure to be entertaining; and 3) the term “BOGO” was used in the very same paragraph that sported the term “frugalista.”   Okay, it wasn’t too hard to deduce the meaning of frugalista, but BOGO – now that one had me completely stumped…  Then… Eureka!  David must have been referring to the Danish island of the same name in the Baltic Sea, just west of Møn.   But why would a coffee shop offer a special hour each day celebrating such an obscure island?  How stupid is that?  The only way that would ever work is if they held it in conjunction with some kind of buy one get one free promotion.  Right?

Steadfast Finances – For those of you who think mac & cheese with cut-up hot dogs is haute cuisine, check out this article by Matt who offers a collection of low-cost restaurant meals you can make at home, including chicken Parmesan, roasted pork tenderloin, jambalaya, and turkey bolognese.  What’s funny is that until I saw Matt’s article I always thought turkey bolognese was turkey wrapped in Oscar Mayer bologna.

Fabulously Broke In the City - Since I’m talking about food, I have to confess that I love Denny’s.  Actually, I love any restaurant that has pictures of their food on the menu… For the record, although they don’t have a menu per se, I love Wienerschnitzel too.  Needless to say, while I was window shopping over at FBIC I saw Me had a recipe for one of my favorite foods of all time - chicken noodle soup.  Best of all, Me’s recipe came with pictures – lots and lots of mouth watering pictures.   Keep in mind this recipe is designed for people who can’t read measuring cups or spoons – all of the ingredients are defined as “just a pinch,” or “a good handful,” etc.  That’s how I cook too, Me.   The Honeybee always measures things out to the nearest Angstrom and it just drives me up the wall!

My Life ROI – Meanwhile, MLR discusses the financial pressures that the holidays bring and ways to relieve the stress.  In the post, MLR notes that, “Financial stress can cause someone to lash out against their family and friends.”  Of course!  Now I know the reason why my family holiday gatherings have always been so, um, festive.  Note to self: buy $10 debt-counseling gift certificates for the whole family this season. (That’s just a cheap joke, Mom.)

Four Pillars -  Who doesn’t enjoy staring at an accident scene every once in a while?  I wanted to highlight this article from Mr. Cheap, who confesses to a few really bonehead moves in his life.  What were you thinking, Mr. Cheap?  I mean really – letting an elephant stand on your chest, and moving hot rocks around a camp fire.  Sheesh, what a maroon…

Suburban Dollar – For those of you who like to keep score, Kyle keeps a monthly “Wealthy Bloggers” list based upon estimated net worth.  Right now, Stephanie over at Poorer Than You is at the, um, “top” of the list with a net worth of negative $38,000.   Apparently, Steph wasn’t kidding…

Hope to Prosper – One of my absolute favorite personal finance bloggers, Bret from Bret Frohlich dot com has moved his old site to a new domain: Hope to Prosper.  Bret is a very erudite and pragmatic writer and I always find his posts to be very insightful.  He is definitely one of those quality-not-quantity bloggers.  Please check out his new site and wish him well – I like the new look.   In the meantime, I’m going to double-check my dictionary to make sure I said what I actually meant when I used the terms “erudite” and “pragmatic.”

Mighty Bargain Hunter – Over at the Mighty Bargain Hunter, MB wonders where that extra French Hen went from last Christmas.  (Don’t ask.)

Evolution of Wealth – EoW admitted to everybody that he has an addiction to the McDonald’s Monopoly game.  Poor sap…

Your Money Relationship – Adam had an interesting post highlighting 31 home remedies that might help you avoid a trip to the doctor and save a few bucks in the process.   There are some neat suggestions for ailments such as burns, diaper rash, colds and even poison ivy.  Nothing though for people suffering from ED and hemorrhoids.  “Hey, Len, I didn’t know you had ED and hemorrhoids.” I don’t.  Really!

The Centsible Life – I often like popping in to Kelly’s site for lots of great money saving ideas. This week she gave a quick tutorial on how to set up a sale-mail account… On Wednesday I learned via Twitter that she won a raffle this week at Ikea! Congratulations, Kelly! I’m just sorry you only won this boring table setting. I know if I ever won a raffle at Ikea, I would much prefer to win a year’s supply of their famous Swedish meatballs. (Yes, I know that’s not a year’s supply.)

PT Money – PT put together an excellent article on how to buy life insurance.  The process is rather long, but PT deftly lays out all the steps for you in a nice easy and informative read and shares his own experience at each step – even Step 4 (Getting A Physical Examination).  Don’t worry – PT spared us the details regarding the rubber glove treatment.  You did get the rubber glove treatment, didn’t you, PT?  If you didn’t please forward me the name of your doctor.  Thanks.

Spend on Life – Ashley simply doesn’t get Black Friday and asks us to consider all of the hidden costs of partaking in it.  The first of which is the sleep lost by those of you who woke up at 3 a.m. this morning.  As I told Ashley, In Los Angeles, NOBODY wakes up at 3 or 4 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving to hit the Black Friday sales.  That’s because Angelenos pitch their tents in front of the stores the day after Halloween and then hire illegal immigrants to camp out there until two minutes before the stores open on Black Friday.

Wisebread – Adam gives some really good advice regarding five things you shouldn’t buy on Black Friday.  Um, Adam, you forgot to mention professional singing lessons from Taylor Swift.  My God, can somebody please explain the reason for her insane popularity?  (It ain’t because of her vocal chops.)

Personal Dividends - Miranda is another person in the Black-Friday-is-not-worth-it camp.  Her biggest beef?  The savings don’t cover the cost of her time spent securing the deals.  I see Miranda values her time at $85 per hour.   That’s pretty good for a personal finance blogger.  Maybe John Chow was right after all.  Unfortunately for me, using that yardstick, my time is currently worth four cents per hour.   Maybe I should be taking advantage of Black Friday after all.  (Editor’s Note: I have a standing offer to Miranda to provide any odd jobs she might need back at her mansion.)

Realm of Prosperity – When it comes to Black Friday, Simon is promoting the “utter disregard of its existence,” and tells us why we shouldn’t go shopping on that day.  My favorite reason – “You might die.”  Well, it’s true…

Four Pillars – Mrs. Pillars is very creative at making festive holiday table decorations out of fruits, nuts and vegetables, as she shows us in this article.  Just check out this nutty turkey made out of a peanut and walnut and see if you don’t agree.  I tried making this myself as per her directions, but the dang pumpkin beak wouldn’t stay on.  Luckily, a little duct tape fixed that problem right up.

Money Crashers – Here’s Fred’s list of eight ideas to minimize the cost of Christmas dinner.  Idea number 1: Get yourself invited.  Curiously not on the list:  Dumpster diving.  What do you mean, “that’s stupid?”  It’s what the Freegans do.  So there.

Money Saving Blog… Kathryn reports that Christmas shoppers in the UK spent 5-billion British pounds this weekend.  That’s welcome news for their struggling economy.  Coincidentally, here in the US, after a week of Christmas holiday parties and family gatherings, Americans gained 5-billion pounds.

Consumerism Commentary… A week or so ago I got this email from “Flexo,” and I have to tell you, it made my heart skip a beat.  You see, I had an old girlfriend in college affectionately named “Flexo.”   Good times.   No, great times.   (Sigh) Ah, the things she could…   Sorry, I digress.   As you can imagine, my heart sank when I found out it was the other Flexo from Consumerism Commentary.  Dang.  Anyway, Flexo (not my ex) had a post this week that caught my attention where he asked if we are better off now than we were in December 1999

Frugal Dad… In this guest post, Jackie wants to know what I’ve done right lately.  Why did Jackie have to ask such a difficult question?  It kind of makes me wonder if Jackie has been talking to the Honeybee; she asks me that very same question almost every day… (Editor’s note: Come to think of it, that’s what Flexo  – NOT the blogger – asked right before she broke up with me.)

Squawkfox – Kerry… offers up her own last-minute gift suggestions with over two dozen personal finance books.  Not on her list:  My latest book How to Make Oodles of Truly Convincing Counterfeit Money with a Black Sharpie and Green Construction Paper! (It’s in finer bookstores near you.)

Well, that’s it for this year’s retrospective.  I hope you enjoyed re-experiencing some of my terrible recommendations from 2009.

Of course, barring my untimely demise, I’ll be back with the regular edition of Black Coffee next Friday.

I promise I’ll try to do a better job in 2010.

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