Alison Griffiths on why you should always question money advice
MSN Money’s new columnist on the importance of doing your due diligence when it comes to money matters.
A new job is like a new relationship — exciting and full of promise. Today I begin a new job and a new relationship as your personal finance columnist. To me it is one of the most gratifying new directions I've ever taken. During a career spent largely in the print and broadcast media, I once held much the same view as my fellow writers. On-line publications and forums were initially considered lesser destinations for our work.
That was then and this is now and what a change has been wrought. Best of all, the new ways we consume information are being embraced by those of all ages. Only last week, a couple in their 80s asked about a comment I'd made in a blog. And as I write this I've just completed a tweet conversation with a man getting ready to convert his RRSP to a Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF), which is mandatory the year you turn 71.
So MSN Money as a new podium for my writing is a very welcome one indeed.
The first thing I want to do is impart a caution. Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can set themselves up as a financial expert. As a result, there are thousands of blogs, podcasts, tweets and webisodes out there with enough material to keep even speed-readers busy for years.
This is the first question you need to ask, whether it's of my column here on a reputable site, or anyone else's e-posting: Who are you? For example, a few years ago I came across some online articles about credit cards. The pieces helped de-code the explosion of credit card varieties underway at the time and the advantages of various types of loyalty, insurance and cash-back programs attached to them.
I'd never heard of the writer but that wasn't surprising with the field of personal finance expanding rapidly from a mere handful of people across the country to an expert on every corner. I wanted to use some statistics cited in one of my own stories. As I normally do, I searched for verification. I discovered that a PR and marketing firm representing major credit card issuers employed the writer.
This isn't to say the information was incorrect. But knowing the source made me question some of the content's validity. Not everyone is a journalist with the time and skills to be a detective, but whenever you rely upon material in print, online or broadcast, you should have a questioning mind, particularly when it comes to your money.
If you read an opinion about a great furniture-refinishing product written by someone attached to the manufacturer, the worst that can happen is you make a mess of Aunt Mae's old bedside table.
Not so with money. If you don't know someone is pitching a financial product in which they have a vested interest you could risk losses that are hard to recoup or you might end up spending money unnecessarily.
Also, don't hesitate to be skeptical about what you read from seasoned financial journalists, such as myself. There is never a single right approach to paying down debt or saving for your retirement. We all have our biases. For example, I don't like borrowing for RRSP contributions or buying extended warranties. But I know colleagues who give two thumbs up to both. Your job is to apply the information to your own temperament and situation.
Knowing a little about my background will help you assess the words I'll be sending your way. I have a background in economics, a BA and part of a Master's degree. I discovered writing as I was studying to be an economist and took a sharp detour into the fifth estate.
I've focused on business since the beginning of my career writing about the penny stock game (Fleecing the Lamb: The Inside Story of the Vancouver Stock Exchange) and the financial skulduggery within the NHL (Net Worth: Exploding the Myths of Pro Hockey). I've penned 11 books in all, 10 of them with my partner, David Cruise.
Starting about 15 years ago, I began branching into the subjects of personal finance and investing. Now I'm looking forward to a long relationship with you and MSN Money.
MSN.ca Money's editorial goal is to provide a forum for personal finance and investment ideas. Our articles, columns, message board posts and other features should not be construed as investment advice, nor does their appearance imply an endorsement by Microsoft of any specific security or trading strategy. An investor's best course of action must be based on individual circumstances.