Personal Finance Fail of the Week: Extended Edition


Normally the “Personal Finance Fail of the Week” runs in Adina’s Sunday Reader. She picks the fail and excoriates a writer for sins like poor content, bad advice, or selling out. This week was special: Adina let me, Joe, pick the fail and write the paragraph. And the paragraph turned into 800+ words. So, today, I’m sharing the PFFotW in an extended format.

The honouree is MoneyAfterGraduation written by the effervescent Bridget. Despite being in debt, she decided to get a really pretentious credit card with a $699 annual fee. Yes, that’s well over 1% of her gross, pre-tax income. So Bridget was all like…

Because adding a dumb GIF is the perfect way to defend a stupid decision - Personal Finance Fail

In her cognitive dissonance-laden post, she lists the card’s ethereal benefits — almost all of which will require increased spending to enjoy vapid experiential improvements. She seems to think the privilege of using a piece of plastic is worth the annual cost of two weeks of savings (or, in her case, debt repayments). Say, wasn’t she the blogger who openly mocked a guy for being enough of a douche to show off his AMEX Black Card?

But her tune seems to have changed:

Now, you’ve probably already guessed that I’ve been eyeing the Platinum card ever since I learned about the elusive black Amex/Centurion Card. While I still can’t stomach paying that annual fee for that titanium beast, I am wholly enchanted with the prospect of qualifying for that card — mostly so I can screech “I AM THE 1%” and post photos on Rich Kids of Instagram and do other such superficial things that are all part of being in a pissing contest with rich people. The Platinum Amex is my gateway drug to douchey affluence.

So when other people engage in conspicuous consumption, you resent their (likely pretend) success. When you blow money on a middle-of-the-road wannabe-rich person card, it’s awesome and we all owe you heartfelt congratulations? I see. Are you jelly because that guy still has a more prestigious card than you?

The truly offensive part of this terrible post is — as tends to be the case among Yakezie types — the fact that it’s being shared on an alleged personal finance blog. Would you:

  • Start a weight loss blog and proudly document your participation in eating contests?
  • Start a technology blog and brag about your 2002 Nokia flip phone?
  • Start a fashion blog and take pictures of yourself wearing a burlap sack?

And yet Bridget talks about her excessive purchases with stunning zeal. Only in the bizzaro world of personal finance blogs can somebody brag about destroying wealth and have 30 mouth breathing dumb***** chime in with “nice job sister” and “it obviously works for you” and “droooool”. What’s the point of sharing your journey if you’re going to actively sabotage your finances and react to constructive criticism with knee jerk malice?

Well, perhaps the point is to make a few bucks by running comically nonsensical (seriously, try reading it) sponsored posts. Lots of Yakezie Challenge clowns will pile in with bland one liners regardless of your content’s quality. Adina argued in her Reader last week that it’s one thing to monetize your blog, but there’s a line beyond which you sell your credibility. Then again, I’m not sure what credibility MAG has on the topic of building wealth.

Bridget is excited that, as a welcome bonus after spending $3,000 on her Platinum Card, she’ll get $500 in gift cards from a store like Banana Republic. Wow! All for the low price of seven hundred bucks. On Thursday, I’ll tell you how I got over $400 in bonuses from my American Express Gold Card among over $2000 in other free bonuses during 2012. My AMEX Gold Card’s fee is $0 for the first year, and I assure you it’ll be cancelled long before I pay anything.

I can already imagine the nauseatingly-predictable, poorly constructed defenses that will be presented here or elsewhere; I’ve listed them (adapted from real comments) and prepared responses (if you’re going to be as mindless as a Yakezie commenter, I’ll give a template rebuttal):

  • If you don’t like her blog, stop reading it!” First off, I don’t anymore, Adina sent it to me. Second: why are you reading TimelessFinance?
  • It’s not advice!“ Unless you say “this is a stupid idea,” sharing your stupid idea is a testimonial. There are plenty of clueless people on the internet without you, and it’s not helping them to read your awful opinion that lacks a balanced counterpoint. Consider writing a journal instead.
  • You are so judgy and mean.” You are preachy and self-righteous. Is it nice when writers encourage stupid behaviour and mean when I discourage it?
  • Everybody has their vices and judging others is wrong.” Criticism of an argument, work product, or action is not judgment of a person. It’s a lame, post-modern, pretentious argument that neuters constructive discourse. Sorry your feminist cultural studies prof let you get away with circular arguments. Thankfully I don’t suffer from the logic-debilitating condition of holding a B.A.

You might assume Bridget’s beauty means she’s dumb (in which case you’re sexist), but she’s sharp. It’s a good publicity strategy to share foolish decisions, create backlash, and respond indignantly. Everybody loves a flaming train wreck. That’s why The Superficial and Perez Hilton will always be more popular than any personal finance blog. And it’s the same reason people love the voyeuristic thrill of debt blogs. It makes for good filth. But it doesn’t make filth good.

Because I’m not one to offend and walk away — whether offence taken is legitimate or feigned — I’m going to offer Bridget a Christmas present. I ordered two copies of Control Your Cash, an awesome personal finance book. One is a Christmas present for a young man who I think could benefit greatly from its wisdom as he prepares to leave high school and head for post-secondary. The other is for Bridget. Will she take it? (If not, it’s yours Sara!)

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53 Comments… Share your views

  1. Aw snap! Them’s fighting words.

  2. Nice post Joe!

    What a ridiculous thing to do. Bridget your actions embarrass me. The thought of an almost $700 fee on a credit card makes me feel sick.

  3. Can we take a moment to talk about how terrible the phrase “YOLO” is?

    I wouldn’t even consider spending $699 to refinance my mortgage, which would surely save me over $699 in interest costs alone. I’d rather do a no-cost refinance where it immediately saves me money (since I’m lowering the rate)!

    • It is awful. SWAG and YOLO are enraging, although I try not to let their existence, or abuse by the lesser minds among us, troll me too much (and, actually, Robb of Boomer and Echo used it very intelligently today). And that’s why I like stopping by LeightTPF — I can agree with you like a mindless Yakezie idiot but only because you’re ACTUALLY RIGHT, not because I’m trying to selfishly pimp my website.

  4. Yea, I’m not sure why she’d write about this… $699 a year in fees.

    I’m not sure what a BA has to do with it? I think that general statements like this are over the top and unnecessary. They undermine your position of ‘expertise’.

    • If it was a blog post entry on a site about shopping, luxury (although the Platinum Card is certainly no Black Card — and I say this as a mere, pitiful Gold card holder), or other related blog it’d make sense. Or perhaps if it was a “Hey guys, I did something super stupid” kind of like how Sara admits to mistakes in her column, then it’d be a palatable read. But it’s the zealous ostentatious presentation that’s just so offensive; there’s not even room for “well, maybe it was a stupid choice it depends on your interpretation”, it’s just a cut-and-dry good choice because she “did the math”. Such bull.

      Sorry about the BA crack for those of us who have BAs, I meant it more in jest than as a harsh slam; unnecessary I know. I actually wrote in brackets “(Now THERE’S an example of a gratuitous ad hominem argument)” but deleted it for brevity. Still, I lol’d. Stay your jimmies, may they remain un-rustled.

  5. Well, if Bridget wants to pretend that she’s a baller, then a $700 annual fee is probably just the tip of the iceberg. I doubt this is going to be any kind of wake-up call. That CYC book can be put to far, far better use.

    • True. The first step to solving a problem is admitting it, and her blog’s trajectory seems to indicate she’s nowhere near that step. In fact, she continues to rip on real wealth builders as failing to live life. That’s just a brutal straw man argument; this blog and other good personal finance blogs are eminently reasonable and rarely tread into Trent Hamm-ian territory.

  6. Before I read that post I thought a card with a $699 annual fee was fictional, or at least mythical, like leprechauns. I mean, perhaps they exist, and maybe if you catch one you get a big treat like a pot ‘o gold, but who in their right mind would go hunting for one on purpose? The possible rewards just don’t meet the demands.

    $700 is more than what I paid for my computer. For a lot of people it’s a month’s worth of rent. Why drop $700 to get $400 in gift cards for places like Banana Republic or Coach, which is next to worthless when you consider that people don’t generally NEED anything from those stores. The rest of it just seems like perks that aren’t really giving you anything – room upgrades? Unnecessary. And as for the travel credit, well if you are traveling for work you should be getting reimbursed anyway.

    The danger with cards that give you these kinds of rewards is that they encourage you to charge more, and spend more, than you need to spend to get the perks – which are worthless. Perhaps I’m seeing this from a different perspective because I have a low income, but once my debt is all paid off, I’m looking for a credit card that will give me cash back, or points that will buy me gas or groceries. If I want a luxury vacation, I will save my money when my debt is clear and treat myself.

    Anyway, that being said, Bridget feel free to do what you will. I sincerely hope that the card does work out for you. I also encourage you to refuse Joe’s Christmas gift. I like free stuff that’s actually free, so if you wanna say no, I will gladly take a new book off his hands.

    • Also, fairies are highly unionized.

      • I KNEW IT! She didn’t apply for it at all, she just snuck into Kensington Gardens after lockout time with a bowl of sugar for the fairies and shook the **** out of Tinkerbell til the magical platinum fairy dust formed into a tangible wish. When fairy local 464 gets a hold of her, she’ll be sorry. They send bills.

        Lol, honestly though, until I clicked on a link Joe made to her post I had no idea such a card existed. I thought a $29 annual fee was bad enough. I never would have imagined that anyone would pay $700 for the privledge of spending their own money. (Or not, if she’s in debt and therefore has no money to begin with).

        • I am not going to be around when those fairies bring their enforcers…!!!!

          I usually just avoid anything that has a fee. When I hear “fee” at the bank, I ask if there’s a minimum to waive the fee. Otherwise, I ask if there’s anything else.

    • More importantly, if one spends a modicum of effort to do basic research, search services like Priceline, or negotiate directly with providers, it’s very possible to save a ton of money compared to their services to pay less and/or get various perks. Concierge-type services, by the way, are geared to the wealthy so you’re paying full MSRP; if you’re not rich you’re a sucker — exactly the type of aspirational spendthrift that the marketing geniuses at AMEX (Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway bought 13% of it for a reason!) want to hook.

  7. One time I was really stuck for a topic to write about and so I signed up to get my credit score from Equifax with the intention on subtly bragging how high my score is to my readers. Turns out, my score wasn’t really that great (780) – so it looks like I wasted $23.95 just to get a post written at the last minute.

    Oh wait, I just checked and that post has made $67.03 in Adsense so I guess it was worth it.

    Paying $699/yr for a credit card is dumb. You can get more rewards and better insurance protection with the Capital One Aspire Travel World MasterCard, which only costs $120/year and the annual bonus of 10,000 points offsets $100 of that.

    Then you can just use your natural charm to get hotel room upgrades.

  8. All I could think about when I read the end of your post was: “Judgey Wudgey was a Bear.. Judgey Wudgey had no hair…” :)

    The only thing I will say in a slight defense about those kinds of credit cards, is my friend and her husband took a card like that.

    They spent all of their personal and work expenses on it, and used the points to travel around the world to stay in super nice places all for free.

    They said that all the benefits they got from that $700 annual fee, were thousands of dollars back in flights and hotel costs. I think they went to something like 10 countries, even though they only stayed maybe a week at the most in each?

    The disclaimer on all that, is her husband is a consultant, so he was dropping at least $2-4K a week easily on his work expenses (or more), which helped rack up all of those points. He was also super platinum high level give-you-a-butler tiered due to his exhausting schedule, which I’m sure, helped grease the cogs at the hotel.

    Not many people have jobs like that to really take advantage of it, but they saw it as paying $700 to get 10 weeks traveling for free x 2 people @ $3000/week ($30K or more).

    Personally, I prefer free cards that give me money back in form of grocery points or hard cash.

    • lol I don’t know that poem but I think I immediately understand the thesis.

      There are some people with personal businesses who manage to earn literally thousands in tax-free bonuses each month because even though their profit margins only merit a meager salary, the overall cash flow through the business is gigantic. They’re gaming the system; I respect Pros who understand money like they do. But the system is set up to, largely, fleece the losers (the aspirational spendthrifts with more credit than sense).

      Cash is king. Amen.

      • The guy doesn’t own his own business. He’s just a consultant who gets flown everywhere by the client, and everything paid for and expensed through this particular card. He gets to churn the cash flow through and collect the points — one of the perks of being a consultant, actually.

        Also, did you see the income requirement?

        It’s not that high.

        It’s what made me suspicious of the whole thing in the first place (a consultant recommended the card to me a long time ago), as I always thought you needed to make a lot more to have that kind of card…

  9. WOW. What an astounding lack of knowledge about how the world of money works. Pretty much everything that’s wrong with our country can be traced back in some way to the kind of lefty, post-modernist and feminist garbage. There is no need for any other party in Ottawa besides the Conservative Party; and the only time the Conservatives have done wrong is by doing something that’s ideologically left-wing.

    Feminism has never done anything to make womens’ lives better. Feminism is not suffrage.

    Left-wing sickos have been riding the public gravy train for too long. I’ve seen her blog and it is insidious and ignorant. She doesn’t address ideas she disagrees with, rather she attacks the identities that hold them.

    Her left-wing hatred and ignorance is dividing our country and it shows in her vitriolic and self-aggrandizing ranting. She tells women who to vote for and baselessly accuses men of keeping her and other women down. What’s the proportion of men in her office? Do men doing the same work get paid more? No.

    Every other sentence on “I have a credit card with a $699 annual fee” begins with “I” and I think that’s clearly a sign of self-obsession. Healthy people don’t think about themselves to that extent. Forget about her stupid credit card! – She is just being totally guided by her ideology, her partisanship, and her Marxism anyhow. Read the subtext of her posts, she’s voting Dipper or Fiberal.

    Please apologize for insulting readers like that Bridget.

    • I’m going to quote Adina in saying “WAY HARSH”. I agree that postmodernism has done much more harm than good.

      I agree, also, on the wage “discrimination” issue and think her “YOU GO SISTER” analysis of it was laughable. Free markets set wages. Women self-select into more flexible, worse paid fields. As soon as social planners use the phrase “equal pay for equal value”, I immediately know they’ve never taken an econ course in their life; they’re completely incompetent on the issue but they don’t care because they put partisanship before facts. An administrative assistant and an auto mechanics don’t produce the same value, and their wages reflect that. The physical conditions are different, the risks are different, the flexibility is different, the hours are different, the necessary education is different, the product is different… and for feminists to say otherwise just makes them look stupid. Show me a job in Canada where men and women do the same work and women get paid less, or stop spouting off like an idiot.

      Control Your Cash (a blog you’d love) did a great post on this, “Women, Take Your 72 Cents and Be Happy With It“.

      • Actually, you’d be quoting Cher (aka Alicia Silverstone) in Clueless. Before your time, I know, Joe ;)

      • I actually think there are some jobs where women do the same work but get paid less (in executive finance positions, where I dwell) BUT it is solely because they don’t ask for more. Not because they couldn’t get more. I have a manager under me who is SUPER aggressive about asking for raises. She should do a seminar for women about getting raises. She’s tough as nails.

        • This has also been my experience so far, but I am not able to speak for all women… hence my hesitation.

        • And, when it comes down to a matter of negotiation, it means the system obviously isn’t sexist. It’s actually very egalitarian and, if anything, education is anti-women (e.g. by implying everyone will be treated well, regardless of choices and behaviour; but that’s the type of education socialists and social planners love). CYC covered that topic very well in his post.

        • This is my experience too. I don’t consider myself a pushover, but I am still so (comparatively) timid when it comes to negotiations of salary. A product of indoctrination that women are supposed to be “nice”, and nice women don’t talk about money. Ugh!

      • We partly don’t negotiate as well, but companies do this low wage balling to everyone, not just women.

        I have to negotiate a lot harder, and be a lot tougher when dealing with guys in my industry than let’s say BF when he goes in for the same contract. They think I’m some flighty young girl who should be happy with her “$0.72″ cents, and they make it clear in our talks.

        I just tell them to shove it, and ask for a premium above what the pay guys.

        There IS a discrimination, but you have to learn how to handle it.

  10. Have to agree with Joe and the commentors here. Sorry Bridget.

    The $700 fee is ridiculous for someone making $65k a year and with 5 figure non-mortgage debt, regardless of these ‘perks’. I’ve never paid an annual fee and still enjoyed some great reward cards.

    But the bigger thing is that while she jokes about it being a gateway to douchey spending, the truth is that it will very likely lead to her “YOLO” mantra coming true and overspending when she’s on vacation in the city staying at one of these big cities. She’ll try to act the part of a platinum Amex holder, who on average I’m sure makes 5-10 times her salary and has 50 times her net (tiny) worth. Spas, cocktails, champagne, have to have the right purse and wallet to whip that card out of…and don’t forget the shoes and clothes and make-up…

    • Adam, as probably my only friend who I think would be justified in holding a Platinum Card, I sincerely appreciate your opinion on the matter.

      And that’s part of what really got me going on the post. It’s one thing to be ignorant. It’s another to intentionally so, and to declare yourself immune from criticism by virtue of the matter being a “personal choice”. A credit card decision should be subject to rational analysis; it’s not like falling in love (although Bridget clearly has fallen in love with the faux-trappings of wealth) or a matter of personal taste.

  11. I have the mbna smartcash mastercard… It cost me $0.00/yr. Every two months I get a check for $50.00 because I run a lot of work expense. Then I get get reimbursed by work every month and subsequently pay off my card 100% every month. Why the **** would anyone pay for a rewards card? You can use that cash for anything.

    • Thank-you for self-censoring the swear word. And I agree, it is super ****ing stupid.

      I know we’ve discussed before, but I’m still forlorn about the MBNA SmartCash’s downgrades. I’ve got the 5% for another 6 months but, in the mean time, I’m hoping a new credit card provider steps up to siphon off refined users like us.

  12. And another thing … which is not directed at Bridget per se, but it comes out her post and it makes me shake my head. She writes that, when traveling for work, she stays at hotels like the Four Seasons. If I am not mistaken, she works for a university. Dear students-paying-through-the-nose-for-your-degrees: now you know what your money is subsidizing.

    • Yeah, in general there is a massive moral hazard in employee travel. The Broader Public Sector in Alberta, I think, may be akin to the wild west.

      Whenever I’ve traveled for work and booked my own accomodation, regardless of employer, I stayed in the cheapest reasonably close hotel possible. In TO, my record was like $70-ish (Bond Place). I’ve even done the friends/family accommodation for $30/night. My belief is that an employer, regardless of who it is, has an interest in getting value-for-money; staying at places like the Four Seasons is super disrespectful of that.

      • As someone who also works at a University I can tell you that we’re encouraged to stay at CAUBO preferred hotels (Google CAUBO Hotel Rates for a full excel sheet of hotels across Canada). To my knowledge these rates are as good as government rates. Four Seasons in Vancouver is $165 per night when a recruiter would be travelling (Sept – April).

        The problem is, CAUBO is not heavily enforced by University procurement officers. The other issue is that Universities should be issuing corporate cards to employees who travel frequently so they can collect the points for the institution. The fact that they don’t is ridiculous and it just emboldens the jet-setter wannabe’s to collect their own points on University business.

        Universities are bloated with excess admin staff and they’re horribly inefficient with resources.

    • In my industry, Hilton is the minimum when the client pays.

      I’d love to stay at the Four Seasons, but there is no company out there who will pay for that in addition to my hourly rate.

      Otherwise, if I’m on a project somewhere and it’s out of MY pocket, I go where it’s the cheapest. I’ve been known to go to the Econolodge at $60/night, I am THAT cheap with my money.

  13. I like how this article has an Amex ad at the top. Hey, it got me to click it, the annual fee is only $180, with the first year free.

    Hopefully you’re not lumping all of the people who commented on Bridget’s blog together with your mouth breather comment. :)

    • I believe Google Ads is not only contextual (based on the page content) but also partly based on your Googling history. My load displayed a FlightCentre ad.

      Also lol. *tugs collar* uhh, certainly not the visitors with discerning enough taste to visit / comment on TF. I do see you were one of the few to express any concern (and you were pretty much the only person NOT mindlessly promoting your own blog as a Yakezie “Challenged” blogger).

      I respect that bloggers want to promote their own website; I tried a variety of methods over the last 6 months. Short of SEO (largely irrelevant for comments) or being in Yakezie, simply submitting a “GOOD JOB” comment is NEVER going to get real traffic. You’ll get other bloggers, most of them leaving comments that are equally idiotic to your own. There’s just no point in it. Why bother?

      This site has been built (if you happen to think it’s an OK or good blog) by focusing on content. That’s #1 the be-all and end-all. Regular, researched, reasonably well-written content that will be at least somewhat interesting on the average day to the average reader and provide them with some sort of value in their own life whether it’s utilitarian or thought-provoking. #2 is cultivating relationships — getting to know other writers and readers, interacting regularly, and offering them something that THEY value before you ask for anything in return. No, that hasn’t included subscribing to a Yakezie Forum and saying “DERP IF YOU SAY GOOD JOB ON MY BLOG I’LL SAY GOOD JOB ON YOURS”.

      Reading debt blogs doesn’t offer real value nor genuine relationships; it offers a drivelous read drenched in gossip, and people will walk away without critically thinking about anything. As Adina always says it’s just voyeurism, and usually the subject is obnoxiously unapologetic. That’s just a total waste and something a consumer can get anywhere — and in more entertaining formats than a blog, e.g. television.

  14. Ironically, Bridget thinks she’s a Personal Finance blogger. She opens her post with, “Hello PF blogosphere”.

    Check out this quote from Bridget’s Nov 30, 2012 post.
    “I still don’t have the personality of an ardent budgeting machine, as befits a personal finance blogger. Actually, as time passes I sort of kind of care less and less about personal finance.”

    She’s not putting much business expenses on this new credit card, as her comment below attests.
    “Essentially I visit major Canadian cities (Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary) 1-2 times each per year.”
    So, I guess Bridget is putting a ton of personal stuff on this card, to gain all of those so-called gifts.

    It is clearly not a PF blog. Perhaps it’s a YOLO blog.

  15. $700 fee for a card? Yikes! That is my monthly rent and power bill! I just have no other though on that besides “Ridiculous”. Just shaking my head.

  16. Color me as naive in the world of reward credit cards. I thought $100 was the upper limit.

  17. I agree with you completely about the ridiculousness of a $700 fee for a credit card. Don’t be hating on us feminist cultural studies profs. We like smart finance, too.

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