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Blogger Showdown #7: Liz Weston vs. Kathy Kristof

by J. Money on Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Liz Weston vs. Kathy Kristof
It’s PF Blogger Showdown #7, baby! Featuring Liz Pulliam Weston – aka “the web’s #1 personal finance columnist” and Kathy Kristof – LA Times finance guru and one of my new favorite people! Yup, we’ve gone to the actual experts today my friends and their answers show it.

Two finance stars with the blogs & knowledge to back up their talk (imagine that?). We’ll return to non-journalist bloggers for the next round, but for now give it up for Liz Weston & Kathy Kristof!

Liz WestonLiz Pulliam Weston
Books published: 3
Ask Liz Weston
@lizweston
Kathy KristofKathy Kristof
Books published: 3
Devil in the Details
@kathykristof
How long have you been promoting personal finance?
A loooooong time. One of my first stories as an intern for the Seattle Times business section in the mid-1980s was about refinancing your mortgage. Another was about banking using your computer, which was a real gee-whiz story back then. I’ve been writing about personal finance full time, though, since 1994.

(See Ask Liz Weston, and Liz’s column on MSN Money)

Since birth (we don’t need to reveal when that was, do we?) by immediately illustrating to my parents the economic folly of having a child.

In seriousness, I have been writing a personal finance column since 1990. Six months later, I took over Sylvia Porter’s syndicated column, which leads to my main claim to fame: I was once a Jeopardy question.

“Kathy Kristof replaced what famous syndicated financial columnist when she died in 1991?”

I’m relatively new to blogging, writing my first post in April for CBS Money Watch, which is also new. The site didn’t go live until August or September of this year.

What are some of the projects/books you’ve been involved with?
My book “Your Credit Score” is still the best-selling book on this topic; it recently came out in a third edition. I’ve got two other books, “Deal with Your Debt” and “Easy Money,” that were also published by FT Press. I just made a deal with Hudson Street Press, an imprint of Penguin, for another money book that will likely come out in 2011. I’ve written three books. Investing 101, (recently updated, but first published in 2000 by Bloomberg); Taming the Tuition Tiger (2002, Bloomberg); and Kathy Kristof’s Complete Book of Dollars and Sense (1997).

I’m not sure if I understand what you’re asking for with projects. I am extremely old..I mean “experienced.” I’ve written massive project pieces on college students getting creamed by high-cost private loans; how colleges sucker students in to high-cost programs with misleading statistics; hidden fees in retirement plans; as well as a whole series of stories about how Angelo Mozilo (former chief executive of Countrywide Financial) played games with SEC filings so that he could sell $140 million of his company’s stock before his shareholders and customers knew that the subprime mortgage crisis was about to crush them.

Do people ever stop you in the streets and ask for advice?
I only seem to get recognized when I look my worst, like after a long airplane flight or when I forgot to put on any makeup, so most people seem to decide after getting a closer look to just say “Hey, I’m a fan,” and then back away. Where I really get tackled is at parties, especially those attended by artists (my husband is an artist). No, but they definitely stop me at cocktail parties. Give me a glass of wine and I might try to solve all of your financial problems, too.
What are the first 3 sites you check in the morning?
MSN, of course, and then Gmail and then Facebook. I start with gmail to see if anyone’s sent me a breaking news story that I have to jump on immediately (or if any of my friends have passed on any good gossip). I’ve set up a home page on Yahoo that gives me stock market news; world news and money news, including a number of money-oriented blogs. And then I check CBS MoneyWatch to monitor and respond to comments on my blog.
Are you a fan of the budget?
Yes and no. A detailed budget can really help you dig out of debt or deal with a financial crisis. As you get your finances more under control, though, I think a “track and adjust” method works fine. In our household, for example, I make sure that enough money is going into various savings “buckets” every month. (Our buckets include retirement accounts, our daughter’s college savings plan, and online savings subaccounts to cover less-regular expenses, including property taxes, insurance payments, car and household repairs, vacations and holidays.) I then monitor our transactions online to make sure we’ve got enough to cover our spending after all the monthly bills are covered. If we start to overspend, we cut back. I think that everybody needs to do a budget once just to see where they are spending their money. That’s usually pretty shocking because most people don’t realize that they’re spending a fortune on lunches, or shoes or baseball cards–or whatever their little personal money pit might be. But once you realize that you’re setting priorities for your life by how you spend your money (cuz if you spend here, you don’t have enough to spend there too), I think the point has been made. After that, I find day-to-day budgeting boring and annoying (like a nagging spouse), so I’d only do it if I wasn’t sure why I’d gotten into debt, or if I was having trouble paying my bills.
What’s one of the worst financial products ever invented?
Variable annuities inside of retirement accounts. Whole life insurance. It’s expensive, impossible to understand (mainly because no one would ever buy it if they could understand how it works); and it’s beneficial to about one person in 100,000. Everybody else should buy level-premium term insurance when they’re young and broke and stop buying insurance when they have enough assets to protect their heirs without it.
What about the best?
FDIC insurance. It put a foundation of stability under our financial system at a critical time during the Depression and again during the recent financial crisis. Index mutual funds. They give you the ability to earn the average returns of the stock market (which aren’t half bad if you look beyond these past 10 years) without the time, trouble and expense of buying a bunch of stocks on your own.
Do you think we’re out of this recession?
Technically, the answer may be yes, but I think it’s going to be awhile before we see significant improvement in the unemployment rate. As long as joblessness is still high, people are going to feel like we’re in a recession, even if we aren’t. That depends on how you define it. I definitely think things are getting better, but they’re getting better really slowly (and better is a relative term). I’ve been saying for the past year that we were going to start seeing signs of life this Christmas, but we’re definitely not out of the woods yet.
How should college kids be preparing for the “real” world?
Carrying credit card debt is one of the worst financial habits to get into, so the best thing college students can do is avoid it. If they already have some, they should strongly consider taking a semester off to work and pay it off. (See – A debt payoff plan that works)

I’d also suggest researching the field and the jobs they’re preparing for, and finding out how much those jobs tend to pay in the first year. That first-year salary is a good guideline for how much student loan debt to take on. If you have to borrow more than your first-year salary, you’d better be entering a field where salaries grow rapidly (you’re studying to be a doctor or an attorney, for example) or you might want to think how much you’re spending on your education.

They should get jobs. Even a part-time job will teach you that (1) life isn’t always fair (2) your boss doesn’t care and doesn’t want to listen to you whine (3) if you don’t show up, you don’t get paid (4) cleaning the restrooms at McDonald’s is a lot harder than getting an A on your English essay (5) one pair of “7″ jeans will cost you 50 hours of cleaning restrooms at McDonald’s, which makes them look a lot less cute.
Any favorite pieces of advice to leave us with?
Financial planning is all about balance. It’s just as possible, though not as common, to save too much as to save too little. You want to make sure you’re enjoying your life at the same time you’re providing for your future. Going too far in either direction-oversaving or overspending-is a recipe for eventual unhappiness. Live like the Fisherman in your blog. Money is a means to and end, not an end itself. Know who you are, what you want, and use money as a tool to get it. Don’t let money –or competition to get it– control you.
*BONUS* Who’s feistier: Suze Orman or Dave Ramsey?
When it comes to feisty, nobody beats Ramit Sethi. We don’t agree on everything, but I really enjoy his stuff. That’s a toughie. I’ve never seen SNL do Dave Ramsey, so I’ll vote for Suze–or maybe Kristen Wiig impersonating Suze. The problem with picking one over the other is that they say a lot of the same things. On substance over form, are they different? In fact, I think Dave Ramsey could be Suze in disguise or vice versa. (You never see them together.)

Time to crown Showdown winner #7! Submit your vote above and let us know who your all around favorite is. Base it on the funniest, most inspiring, knowledgeable, whatever you want! They’re both bad asses in my book, and I can’t thank ‘em enough for coming out and sharing with us – it’s not everyday you get professionals up in hurrr ;)

———————–
Previous Showdowns:
Showdown #6: Fabulously Broke vs. Krystal at Work (Krystal wins by 1 vote!)
Showdown #5: Matt Jabs vs. Adam Baker (Jabs wins)
Showdown #4: Flexo vs. Jim Wang (Flexo wins)
Showdown #3: Lazy Man vs. Silicon Valley Blogger (SVB wins)
Showdown #2: Stephanie vs. Squawkfox (Squawkfox wins)
Showdown #1: J.D. Roth vs. Trent Hamm (J.D. wins)


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