What Makes You the Expert?

By Linsey Knerl on 9 October 2008 9 comments
Photo: Peter Dutton

Bloggers get flack sometimes.  Even here at Wise Bread, we get the occasional, “Who died and made you the King of Frugality?” rant that leads us to continually examine the quality of posts we offer our readers.  But perhaps the most enlightening part of writing for such a richly diverse audience is the genuine sharing of knowledge – one that allows for us to learn as much as we teach. 

With every claim to a financial expertise, there are some important things to consider:

We are all human.  Textbooks cover economics in a theoretical sense, and for the most part, these theories hold true.  What the textbooks don’t take into account is the element of humanity, personal decisions, and the feeling and emotion that make up most decisions of a material kind.  Love, in particular (or the desire for it) can cloud the judgment of even the most educated economist.  Why am I saying this?  Because I have known and respected many self-proclaimed financial “experts” who were successful in their finances, until a sticky personal situation came along (like lending money to a relative, divorce, etc.)  They were no more able to handle it than most financially-illiterate people.

You can’t sell it ‘til you’ve lived it.  A good friend of mine and her family were recently featured on a national talk show in order to get tips from a frugality expert.  The expert studied her lifestyle, and suggested some hacks to help stretch her grocery budget a bit further.  The entire scenario played out on TV, and I was able to watch my friend’s smile fade as she listened to the “expert” and her tips.  Many of the tips were atrocious, and sounded great in theory, but I could tell that this woman had never actually tried most of them (or attempted to make children go along with it.)  

I’ll admit that tough times do call for tough measures, but my friend was far from destitute.  Instead of getting tips for using coupons, hitting sales, or making her stuff last longer, she got one-size-fits-all cheats for the very, very poor.  (And the “expert” seemed far removed from the advice she was dishing out.)

Economy is relative.  One thing that I have learned from writing here at Wise Bread is that my economy is not my neighbor’s.  Assuming that my rural, farming family can follow the same tips as my fast-driving city friends, it doesn’t mean it will always be.  We’ve seen commenters from all over the world that see U.S. values as something to be desired (or in some cases, something to be avoided.)  This will affect how our “expertise” is received, and we must always be sensitive to others in this manner.

A good track record speaks volumes.  Some of my favorite financial experts have years of experience behind them.  They have not only maintained a successful financial picture, but often times they have come from nothing, only to rise above it.  They have grown.  They have met the challenges.  They have been encouraging in their message.  Mary Hunt, Suze Orman, the late Larry Burkett, and Dave Ramsey (among others) are popular, not because they have fantastic PR reps (although that helps), but because they have proven themselves.  And their message will stick around as a result.

Nothing says it like a testimony.  I see more and more “experts” popping up on talk shows, newspapers, and blogs.  I am always on the lookout for something that gives credibility to their message.  Many of them have really slick websites, have been featured on talk radio, and even speak at sold-out events, but have they ever really helped anyone?  Those experts that can provide me with a testimony (or twenty) are the ones I will trust the most.  To know their techniques are proven is a must!

Experts are everywhere.  Believe it or not, most of us are an expert in something.  If you’ve overcome incredible debt, raised a large family on a limited income, put yourself through college, or started a successful home business, you ARE an expert in finances.  Regardless of how many talk shows you’ve done, you do have something positive to offer the world. If you heart is in it, and you have a desire to help others, I encourage you to share it! 

The world can’t have enough of these kinds of experts.

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Guest's picture

When I lived in Tampa several years ago there was a two weeks course offered on How to Become an Expert in Six months. When I hear/read questionable “expert” opinions, I often wonder whether they attended such a course or they truly speak from experience. Testimonials and unique, smart advice grab my attention. I always ask, “Tell me something new, something that can improve my life or entertain me”; for that reason I like reading the Wisebread website.

Guest's picture

I'm always amazed at some of the negative comments left on Wise Bread and other blogs.

I like to look at blog posts as the opinion of the blogger based on their experience. That experience may or may not be similar to mine. I've never felt that I had to agree with every blog I've ever read, but neither do I feel that I should trash a post because I disagree. Most of the time I glean some great information off of blogs.

In Life there are so many variables. In my mind even a true expert can't be right 100% of the time for every situation. Everyone on Wise Bread is doing a great job! Ignore the haters.

Carrie Kirby's picture

I watched the Thriftiest Family in America episode this week and was not all that impressed with the family featured -- why was it being touted that living on $58k AFTER TAXES AND RETIREMENT CONTRIBUTIONS was a challenging thing? They didn't even live in an expensive area. They touted the amount of savings they had in their retirement accounts, but again, that money wasn't even part of their stated income.

 Then again, I didn't see any problem with the advice they offered the other family -- it wasn't new to me of course, but it seemed fine.

I blog at www.shopliftingwithpermission.com.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I did see that episode (I think it was the one with the Coupon Mom on it, too.)  My friend, however, was on a morning talk show quite awhile ago.  They didn't even discuss her finances, just showed her grocery shopping with the kids and then had her sit with this "expert" while the expert spouted off very generic tips that may or may not have even applied to my friend.

I've heard that some of the tips on the Oprah show were getting backlash for being impractical, but I think that Coupon Mom's system is very practical, depending on the area you live in.  We only have one store near us.  It is over-priced, but does offer double coupons.  The downside is that they won't double them for any item that is on sale.   :(

Guest's picture

Tim Ferris (of 4 Hour Workweek fame) has said that anyone can become an expert in a year, if they devote themself fully to that area and are smart about their approach. I tend to believe him.

Really, if you could devote yourself fully to one area (say, mountain-climbing or speaking French) with really good teachers and a chance for immersion, you'd definitely be very far along in a year.

Guest's picture

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Guest's picture

Thanks for the encouragement. The bloggers on Wisebread are great, in large measure because of their diverse viewpoints. We readers use what we can immediately. Then run other ideas around in our heads to see if they spark solutions to our own particular situations. There's a real sense of being in this whole shebang together, that you all want to make our lives better too.

I feel badly for your friend who was shown on TV. I've received my share of "let them eat cake" advice as well.

Linsey Knerl's picture

So funny you said that... my husband remarked the EXACT same thing.  A story for another day.  :)


Guest's picture

I think your habits make you and expert. Like several others have said, if you have enough experience in something, you will eventually be an expert.