I’m happy to share a nugget of success with you today: This little blog is now getting enough traffic that credit card companies have started to take an interest in us. We recently had a call with one, and the prospects of turning this site into a very significant source of passive income were looking pretty great.
It’s not our main goal, but we’re always glad to make money from this website whenever an easy opportunity arises (because why not?). As an obvious example, you’ve probably noticed a banner ad or two on most pages. And occasionally, we’ll recommend products we like (e.g. bicycle accessories) using affiliate links, and we get paid a small commission when people use them. Neat.
But in all of this, we follow some simple rules pretty strictly. One of those rules is that we’ll never suggest anything to our readers that we wouldn’t also personally recommend to our closest family and friends — regardless of whether we’re getting paid.
Update, May 2021: To take this policy a step further, we now dedicate 100% of the profits we make through affiliate links to charity.
Unfortunately, our policy of honesty ran us into some trouble with the aforementioned potential credit card partner.
Recommending Credit Cards Responsibly
On most personal finance websites, recommending credit cards is the single largest source of revenue, dwarfing display ad income and affiliate product sales. We’ve always encouraged everyone we know to use credit cards strategically for cash back and travel rewards, so we were pretty hyped about the prospect of finally having credit card referrals on our site.
On the verge of making a deal, the company we were negotiating with told us we’d just need to remove one article from our blog before moving forward.
See, we have a bit of an unusual take on how credit cards should be used. By gaming the rewards programs, you should be making money from the banks, not the other way around. We would never tell someone to sign up for a credit card without first understanding this concept.
It would be pretty irresponsible for us to recommend credit cards without absolutely insisting that paying any interest or recurring fees is insane. And it wouldn’t feel right to hold back the way we use credit cards to make money, while our readers signed up for them without that information.
So we said no. We offered to keep their credit card referral links off of the one page they had a problem with, but we refused to remove the article from our site, since that wouldn’t be in the best interest of our readers. Here’s the reply we got:
And that’s it. The potential for hundreds (or maybe thousands in the future) of dollars per month in passive blog income evaporated instantly.
But honestly? Losing out on a paycheck has never felt better.
FU Money and Freedom to Say No
We’re really not trying to disparage other websites here. Some bloggers are hustling to make money any way they can, and that’s a reasonable goal. It’s just not really our goal with this site.
The point here is that by reducing your expenses and increasing your investing, you can eventually stop needing to make money. As you work toward that point, you’ll also start to feel more freedom to say “no” to your parents, your boss, or, like…a credit card company who wants you to delete stuff from your blog.
Personal finance author JL Collins calls this buffer of savings and investments “FU money.” Sometimes it lets you take a six-month vacation just because you feel like it. In more significant cases, it can allow you to avoid compromising your integrity, morality, or other personal beliefs in the interest of making a buck.
Some people claim that money is the root of all evil, but when used as a defense shield, a big pile of money can actually help you be the type of person you want to be.
This Blog’s Future
Saying “no” doesn’t actually have to come in the form of “FU,” by the way. We’ve always just politely declined offers (and orders) that weren’t to our liking. It’s allowed us to maintain part-time freelance relationships with former employers and leave the door open for cooperation in the future.
We would love for our website to make more money. Who knows? If this blog’s readership increases tenfold in the future, maybe a big bank will be willing to accept our terms, and we’ll get some credit card affiliate links* (like what happened to Mr. Money Mustache). We didn’t burn any bridges.
But regardless, you can be confident that when you read a recommendation for anything here, it’s a genuine one. You can be sure that when you see guest content on this site, it’s from someone whose opinion we actually value. We hope to earn your trust so that you can read without having to be skeptical of our motives.
This place is special to us. It’s a place we get to say the things we want to say. And we prefer to keep it that way.
* If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you probably remember seeing a few credit card referral links in the past. Those were just personal “refer-a-friend” links we got by having the cards ourselves, not actual affiliate partnerships. They capped out at 10 referrals per year, which isn’t exactly a sustainable source of income — but they also didn’t come with any stipulations about what we could publish! We’ll continue to use those whenever we have access to them. Maybe later we’ll be able to negotiate a permanent credit card affiliate relationship that works within our standards.