OurNextLife.com // Blogging Anonymously, The Science of Blogging Anonymously, The Art of Blogging Anonymously, Maintaining Anonymity on a Blogthe process

The Non-Science of Blogging Anonymously

… Or, Should I Buy Myself a Mask for #FinCon? ;-)

We’re now almost 200 posts in on Our Next Life (this is #188), and since we’ve been blogging anonymously from the beginning, it’s not something I really even think about anymore. Except when something cool happens and we want to share the picture with you guys, but then can’t because it’s obviously us — but that doesn’t happen very often. Mostly we just have a good groove of the things we share, the things we don’t because they’d make us easy to identify, and we keep on keeping on.

But, next month I’m doing something that I’m super excited but also a little nervous about: I’m going to FinCon, the financial bloggers’ conference. I’m excited on basically every level, and nervous on just one: the photos.

Though we’re close enough to retirement to feel like it’s getting real, we’re also still far enough away that our plans could be seriously derailed if our employers found out and decided to cut us off. So even though the odds are low that someone would take a picture of me at FinCon which would then be spotted by someone I work with, and that they’d then connect that back to the blog, the consequence of getting found out is extremely high. Low risk, but high penalty.

So all of this has us reflecting on everything we’ve learned about blogging anonymously so far, things we’re still wresting with, and questions we’d love your help answering (that’s at the very end). So if you’re thinking about blogging anonymously, or you’re just curious what goes into it all, read on!

OurNextLife.com // Blogging Anonymously, The Science of Blogging Anonymously, The Art of Blogging Anonymously, Maintaining Anonymity on a Blog

We aren’t planning to stay anonymous forever, which is a big part of why we don’t share our numbers. As soon as we give notice at work, we’ll unveil ourselves here, maybe through an extended reveal of fun facts, and perhaps through a contest. (Steve chimed in with one idea for a contest last week — share any others you have in the comments. Or maybe we’ll do a contest about the contest? How meta.)

But since we’ve always planned to reveal ourselves at some future date, we’ve wanted to make sure that, even though it’s currently anonymous, the blog still sounds and feels like us, so that when it later becomes obvious that it’s us, it doesn’t feel any different than it did before, except that we’ll actually be in the photos, and we can stop calling each other Mr. and Ms. ONL. (Though if the Frugalwoods are any gauge, the monikers just might be here to stay, even post-reveal.)

So for us, our general, highly non-scientific approach to blogging anonymously has been about sharing as much of ourselves and our voices as we possibly can without running into that high consequence of getting found out.

Getting the Basics in Place

I’ll cover the basics quickly:

Register your URL as private — When you register your blog URL, you have the option to make your WHOIS information public or private. Making it public opens you up to boatloads of spam anyway, not to mention the potential for identity theft, so there’s no reason not to go with private registration, even if you’re planning to blog openly. Private URL registration isn’t a fail-safe (there are ways around it), but the majority of people won’t go to that level of effort.

Get a not-your-name email address — The blog will be a place where you’ll interact with folks, as might whatever social media platforms you choose, but you’ll probably end up using email a lot, too. If you don’t want people looking you up on LinkedIn and maybe finding you (or if you’re emailing with other anonymous bloggers who, for all you know, could be your boss!), play it safe and get an email address you only use for your blog. Ours is “ournextlifeblog” at gmail.

Decide what you’ll share — “Anonymous” means something different to everyone. Some people share darn near everything — where they live, what they earn and spend, what they do for a living, just not their names. Others share next to nothing. Decide what you’re comfortable sharing and not sharing, and decide how to work that in to your blog. If you decide you want to share numbers, make sure you think that through — you can’t put that genie back in the bottle, and sharing numbers now might make it tough to unmask yourself later. There’s no right or wrong answer here — just make sure you’re at peace with where you draw your lines.

Don’t put your name or face on your blog — Obviously. ;-)

Bringing the Blog to Life

Once the basic infrastructure is in place, then it’s time to make an anonymous blog come to life. And it’s harder to bring a nameless, faceless, placeless, numberless blog to life than it is one with a real person on the cover. But a few things help a lot:

Use real photos — There are a lot of good reasons to use stock photography on a blog, and if you go for a similar theme with all of them and apply a consistent set of filters, stock photos can be helpful in branding a blog. But if you are blogging anonymously, stock photos can also make it feel generic quickly. From our first post, we’ve made a point of using our own photography here, never stock, because we want to share a glimpse of our world with you, and because they help personalize the look of Our Next Life.

… But not too real — The flipside is that photos can be a giveaway about where you live, which may or may not be an issue for you. Plenty of anonymous bloggers share where they live. We don’t, and we avoid sharing obvious local topography features, or hope that certain things would only be recognizable to people who are familiar with the area anyway. (We also use tons of photos from places where we do NOT live.) We haven’t gotten this right in every case, and know some stories we’ve told have accidentally included giveaway clues, but we try hard not to let our photos or stories betray us.

Personalize your design, and make it consistent — Using a common blog template and just changing out the name is another surefire way to telegraph “generic” to readers. Remember, the burden of anonymous blogging means you have more hurdles to climb over than other bloggers do, and the more steps you take to personalize every aspect of your blog, the better. Fortunately, customizing a blog doesn’t have to be costly — we use a free WordPress theme and a logo I made in an ancient version of Photoshop using photos I took on our trips. We purposely chose a theme that makes the header photo big and prominent instead of itty-bitty, and we’ve started adding pinnable images into each post that infuse more of the feel of the header photo. We also use a consistent font and text weight in all of our headers and images so that everything feels related, along with a consistent color palette in graphics we create for posts.

Write with your own, authentic voice — You’ve heard this advice before, but I think it’s even more important for people blogging anonymously. Without a name or a face to go on, it’s hard for readers to connect to you if you’re writing in a way that isn’t completely true to yourself. That stuff comes through. If you’re trying to emulate someone else’s style or use all the 50-cent words, that’s obvious to readers as well. Everyone has their own approach to this — mine is to write the way that I’d talk to someone familiar — but don’t be afraid to let your own voice come through. That’s what draws people in and makes them come back.

Tell the real stories — To me, this is the second most important piece of blogging anonymously, behind writing in your own voice: Tell stories. Lots and lots of them. They are the most personal thing you can share, and if you get in the habit of telling them, we’ll all get to know you even if we have no idea what your name is or what you look like. Stories tell us about the lens through which you view life, what your assumptions are, how you make decisions, and all those other wonderfully messy and complicated things that make us human. Bring all of that forward, show us your vulnerability, admit when you were wrong or changed your mind. That’s the best stuff there is.

Take a stand — We all have opinions on things, but sometimes it feels risky to voice those opinions on a blog for fear that it will alienate some readers. But taking a stand and voicing how we feel about something lets readers get to know us so much better than they will just from reading a financial update or a rundown on how to optimize some aspect of life. Don’t just tell us what to do — tell us what you believe in your heart and how you came to that conclusion.

Really engage — We are total evangelists for responding to all comments, and when you’re blogging anonymously, it’s even more important. The post itself is only a one-way conversation, and when readers comment, that’s when it actually gets interesting, and the back-and-forth can be the best part. Same goes for conversations on social media (I mostly use Twitter for ONL) — just blasting out new posts is fine, but actually engaging in conversations is where people can get to know you, and where you can actually dig in on questions. When we change our view on something these days, it’s often because of a conversation that starts in the comments here, or in some back-and-forth on Twitter.

Of course, all of these tips could be applied to non-anonymous blogging (say “non-anonymous” five times fast), too, but they’re all the more important when you’re holding back on sharing the elements of yourself that make it easy for readers to feel like they know you.

Coping With FinCon

So back to FinCon and my photo anxiety. First, a plea to those attending FinCon: no photos, please. I can’t wait to meet everyone (and, fair warning: I’m totally a hugger), and hope to be able to do photos next year, but for this FinCon at least, we can’t risk ’em. And if you happen to get me in a photo, please no tagging. Now with that out of the way, a question we’d love your input on:

For real, should I bring a mask to FinCon? Or temporarily dye my hair like Harley Quinn? Or wear a disguise, like a Groucho Mark glasses-nose-mustache setup? (I’m inclined to say no on that one.) ;-) Hold up an auction paddle in front of my face when the cameras come out? Tackle people who take photos and steal their phones?

What would you do in our situation? Let’s hear your best (and wackiest) suggestions in the comments.

What Would You Add?

If you’re contemplating blogging anonymously, what else do you worry about? For those who already do it, what else have you learned that we missed? Hit us up in the comments!


Don't miss a thing! Sign up for the eNewsletter.

Subscribe to get extra content 3 or 4 times a year, with tons of behind-the-scenes info that never appears on the blog.

No spam ever. Unsubscribe any time. Powered by ConvertKit

95 replies »

  1. I was anonymous for my first nine months of blogging. Addison Cash was my alias and I chose the name because it’s gender neutral. It’s funny because a lot of people assumed I was a man. Anyway, once I got to FinCon in New Orleans people started asking me my real name. It gave away my real identity with about an hour. Oops! Shortly after, I had some big press mentions and it was no longer possible to keep my blog a secret. Obviously, it’s a personal decision. But I’m glad I’ve “come out” of the anonymous blogging closet. It’s opened a lot of doors for me as a blogger, freelance writer, and social media consultant.

    • I could definitely see myself giving things away instantly at FinCon if I didn’t have a huge motivator to keep it private! I am so glad for you that “coming out” has paid off so much! We can’t wait to unmask ourselves… just can’t do it *quite* yet. ;-)

      • Pretty simple, actually! Pseudonym on your nametag and then just duck photos. ;-) I did it last year, and it was not a big deal at all.

  2. Love it and I guess I am only “half” anonymous since I use my first name everywhere. And since I’ve shared pretty much where I live and where I got my doctorate, etc. – I’m guessing a google search would give me away. I had a former student like something on twitter one day… but only my brother and our best friends know about the blog. I am a school leader right now of over 200 staff members and we have 1600 families in our school. I could have a lot more people looking – just not there at sharing it yet… maybe when this temporary gig is done. I would hope folks at FinCon “get it” about the photos. Skip the paddle idea – maybe a small branch with a few leaves :) Love your points about making it real even when anonymous – you have certainly mastered that!

    • As I remind myself when I look at our visitor stats, the odds are INCREDIBLY low that anyone I work with would even stumble across the blog, and I’m sure there’s very little risk for you in putting your name and location and work out there. Plus, you’re already FI, so you have a lot to fall back on! :-) And I think you’re right that people at FinCon will get it and be respectful. :-)

  3. First, Groucho Marx FTW. I’d totally do this just for fun with you.

    Second, I’m a hugger, too! Big huge for my long time ONL blog friend.

    Third, cat’s out of the bag for us, which is fine since I’m making a big change soon. For the other half, recent references to FIRE that his boss made indicate that someone may have put it all together. Haha. So far, so good.

    • Okay, I’m definitely going to do the Groucho disguise. That’s how you can come find me. And I would LOVE if you do it too! Then they can call us the hugging Grouchos. :-) How exciting that the cat is out of the bag for you! I can’t wait until we get to that point — I think that will feel like a huge weight off our shoulders!

  4. If someone cared enough they could figure us out pretty quick, it’s one of the reasons I have all my personal social media profiles locked down (and I’m sure someone could even get passed that if they really wanted to)

    Temporary face tattoo is my vote (that is assuming you don’t already have a face tattoo I suppose)

    • I know that someone determined to do so could find us out, and that’s just a risk we live with. Fortunately the need to stay under wraps ends relatively soon! Any votes on type of face tattoo? A giant dragon, maybe? Or a bunch of Sesame Street characters? A dragon eating Sesame Street characters? Haha.

  5. Great tips! I enjoy blogging anonomously as I’ve found it makes me more willing to be honest, which seems counterintuitive.
    Love the paddle and face tattoo ideas :)
    Have fun at fincon!

    • Haha — I’ll see if I can find some temporary face tattoos. :-) And I think it makes total sense that you feel you can be more honest anonymously. We’re talking about a taboo topic here (money)!

  6. I’m so excited that you will be at FinCon. I will be living vicariously for all of you. I was thinking a lot about that even with bloggers suggesting mini-meet ups. I do think you can blog anonymously and still have an authentic voice (your blog is exhibit A in this case!). It gets interesting when sharing stories and trying to keep things anonymous, though.

    • I wish you could come too! One of these days we’ll be in the same place at the same time. ;-) And yeah, sharing stories does get tricky, but I think you are awesome at that too! I always love your stories and point of view, and that comes through loud and clear without knowing your real name or what you look like. :-)

  7. First, thanks for the insight and all the tips. As a non-anonymous (newbie) blogger, I still have a lot of work to do and am trying to get to a much more personal and less generic place, so this is all very helpful.

    I spent some time debating whether to be anonymous. I opted against it, mainly because in the short term I felt like a lot of people that I know could benefit from some gentle prodding and would be more likely to read me than to find personal finance blogs on their own. I have found that it limits what I can say a lot, though, at least for now.

    As to identity-hiding, I am always in favor of a fake mustache. A disguise and an ice-breaker all in one!

    • You’re welcome, Matt! I do think all the tips apply even with your name and face on your blog. :-) Your reasons for not being anonymous make total sense, and though it limits what you can say in some ways, I’m sure it gives you opportunities in other ways that you wouldn’t have if you were blogging anonymously. And I’m seeing this note on the fake mustache enough that I’m going to have to go with some sort of disguise. :-)

  8. As an anonymous blogger that shares more than most maybe, I figure if we get found out, whatevs. Anyone that knows us that happens to stumble across the blog would recognize us as we don’t hide our faces in all pictures.

    Plus, they could just google, geologist – living in Houston, that likes craft beer, and fishing, and then search those hits.That ought to narrow it down, lol.

    But then, I’m also of the mindset that if my current boss found out, he’d be more impressed rather than wanting to let me go. Also, noone really believes that someone would walk away mid-career, near the peak of earning potential with a lot of those $$ incentives on the table so I don’t see it being a work killer. I could just be naive though.

    For the identity – I vote going the Claudia route and carrying around coffee mug and use that to “drink from” if someone tries to get a pic. Otherwise, I vote the hairdye AND the Groucho marx getup. But then I’d really need to see a picture.

    Mrs. SSC was suggesting I go out to FinCon next year, this year just wasn’t happening, so maybe I’ll plan for that. Fingers crossed it’s not in Houston… Hahaha

    • I’ve also encountered disbelief when bringing up the topic of walking away early. For several of the friends that I’ve mentioned it to, it’s way too far outside the realm of possibility. Especially if there’s anything unvested on the table.

      • I’m so intrigued by this, because we almost never get that reaction from people. Maybe we make it too obvious with our beaten-down appearance how unhealthy our jobs can be, and that earns us a different reaction. Lesson: Look more stressed out and exhausted before you tell people. Hahaha.

      • Seriously, I mentioned maybe retiring at 50 (10 yrs after my planned date) to a coworker last week and he was shocked and thought I was some financial genius being able to “pull that off”. Maybe it is just my naivete, but I also have a co-worker turning 67 tomorrow. 60 friggin’ 7. Geologists never retire… hahahaha

      • I have some colleagues too in their late 60s… And it’s great inspiration for me to remember why I don’t want to work that long! :-) The disbelief, though, is something that I have never experienced… But there’s probably some massive selection bias in whom I’ve told so far.

    • Okay, I think I have to do the Groucho thing. :-) And maybe bring a wacky wig AND a big mug. If that pic happens, I’ll email it to you. ;-) I DO hope you’ll come to FinCon next year! I’ll report back on this year’s, and it seems like it’s due to travel back east or south next year!

  9. I think for peace of mind coming up with a semi disguise is often enough that you won’t be noticed in pictures. Fake glasses make a huge difference on being recognized. Different hair styles for women is huge, a wig or extensions may be easier than temporary dye. I figure Wonder Women was never recognized back in the day, and neither was Clark Kent.

    • Haha — I joke now that I have glasses that I’m basically like Wonder Woman. I take them off and BAM! Super hero! ;-) I might just bring a wig and some outrageous glasses just in case!

  10. I started ‘Journey to FIRE’ blog anonymously too. I kept it completely quiet from coworkers for 15 months using a lot of the strategies you mentioned. After I gave formal notice, I shared the blog with colleagues, friends & family – boy, that was SO much fun! When you early retire, many people fear you were fired from your job (and might have done something stupid to cause it). It is great to be able to share your journey to FIRE by directing them to your URL. Interestingly, I still keep the blog pretty anonymous. I’ve let some personal details go out, but not enough that any random person could really ‘find me out’. No reason – just feels more comfortable.

    • Oh, I can’t wait to do what you did and share the blog with friends and colleagues! I’ve only told a very select few so far, and they are inherently the ones who know us the best and aren’t surprised that we would pursue this path. But I can’t wait to see what others think! So curious to know if they’ll be surprised, or have a reaction more like, “Yeah, that makes sense.” The point about people thinking you might have been fired is one I hadn’t thought about, and what a great way to counter that then to show the documentation of the journey!

      • People were very surprised that I retired early. Even now, five months later, I still get emails that say “What?!” It’s nice to say “you can check out the whole secret plan to quit corporate life at MrFireStation.com” :-)

  11. I’m weirdly unworried about anonymity, but that’s because I’m also uncomfortably transparent in real life. That’s also easy to say since I’m easily over a decade from FIRE. I can see how once my net worth starts to climb, it would be uncomfortable to keep sharing real numbers. But who knows? I’ve got a while to decide.

    I think I’d advise a “no photos please” sticky on your badge (I’m assuming there are badges?), as well as maybe different outfits from what you’d normally wear? If you have a signature style, that’d be worth covering up. Baggy tees and schlumpy jeans all the way ;) You could also flip your hair over your face during any unintended photo ops. Cousin It is a hot look for every anonymous blogger.

    • I do think being farther away from FIRE makes a difference, as does the nature of most people’s work where job-hopping is expected, and so leaving in a year or year and a half isn’t so earth-shattering. And I love the idea of a “no photos please” sticker or something on my badge. I’m totally going to do that! :-D And then go for the Cousin It look if all else fails. ;-)

  12. I was wondering how you were going to approach this issue when I read you’d be attending in an earlier post. I can’t imagine an employer letting a high producing, effective employee go because that employee has future retirement plans (doesn’t everyone, at some point, anyway?), but if it’s a realistic concern it certainly needs to be addressed. You’ve mentioned you’d love to dye your hair some fun color, so maybe go with a temporary version of that. If that’s too much hassle, inexpensive wigs are all over the web. If your hair is short, I’d go long just to switch things up. If you wear glasses, switch to contacts. If you don’t, get a bogus pair. Change your makeup as well, you seem like you probably don’t use a lot so possibly go crazy with false lashes and the like. Get your eyebrows professionally threaded! Makes an incredible change for very little money. Wear clothes you wouldn’t typically wear or even own (thrift shop haul time). Don’t wear shoes anyone might recognize. If you don’t get manicures, get a crazy one. Have fun with it!
    In all seriousness though, if you truly feel there is even the slightest chance that having your identity revealed could jeopardize your plans (and your entire financial future), and you can’t create an alter ego that firmly disguises your identity that you’re comfortable with, I wouldn’t go. Nothing is worth derailing your “retirement” this close to the finish line.

    • I actually think Mr. ONL would be fine if his boss found out (he probably doesn’t agree with me!), but that I wouldn’t. Just the nature of my work. And you totally called it that I don’t do any of that stuff on my personal appearance (like I maybe put on mascara for a meeting sometimes, but now that I have glasses, I don’t always even do that). ;-) I might have some fun and bring a disguise just in case the pics get intense. But the folks there will be financial bloggers who we know to be good, kind, understanding folks. So I also trust on some level that a “no pics please” request will be respected.

  13. I’m amazed you done such a good job of remaining anonymous so far, it’s not easy! I think once you can reveal your true identity, a whole new world of topics will open up. I can’t wait to meet you at fincon, although it might take me longer to find you. :)

    • Don’t worry, I’ll come find you! Haha. And there is definitely stuff that we want to share and can’t — that’s probably the hardest part!

  14. I’m not going to FinCon this year, but the photo problem worries me greatly. I don’t reveal what city or industry I’m in. I am also careful with what I reveal that could be put together by an observant person. This is a habit I’ve grown due to dating a closeted woman. No where on the internet (even my non anonymous internet) do I ever use her name. I also am careful with details about her. Once she’s outed, it can’t be undone. Knowing the dangers there, I am far more careful with the dangers to me as a blogger. I’m a woman (fears of doxing), I’m a lesbian (fears of harassment), I have an abusive family (fear of them finding my success), and I’m an atheist, which is one of the most hated social groups in the world. All of these are great reasons for keeping my life private as possible.

    • Those are all legitimate reasons to stay anonymous, and there’s never any pressure to put your actual name or face on your blog — we’re excited to show the real us, but that’s just our situation! Of course I’m sad for you that you’ve *had* to develop these habits — sometimes I’m proud of society for all the progress we’ve made, and other times I think, “Seriously?! In 2016, we’re still talking about this?!”

      • Society has made a ton of progress. Definitely. But folks are still being murdered. I’d rather be safe than dead. So many women get scary stalkers, too. I have done some work helping folks who were trying to get away from domestic violence, and that permanently altered my level of comfort with having information available about me.

        I also have a lot less fear of a libel suit. If you don’t know it is me talking, you don’t know what bad coworker I’m talking about. There is some protection there. This will come in handy as I’m writing a memoir. ;)

  15. I suppose I didn’t intentionally set out to blog anonymously. It just sort of happened. Probably not too hard to track me down either. I’m sure I’ve had missteps along the way somewhere.

    Mostly I keep it this way out of modesty. Our next door neighbors are both teachers and have a similar debt situation as to when I started. They just don’t have the income to make the kind of progress that I have as rapidly. I’m fine talking finance with them and trying to help, but I don’t want my situation to be a sticking point. Maybe I’m just paranoid!

    I am taking to heart the points about using an authentic voice and telling real stories. I may not get as much content out as a dry boring status update, but it’ll be worth it. Thanks!

    Have fun tackling people at Fincon!

    • If your neighbors are anything like most teachers we’ve met, they are fully aware that they earn less than everyone else in order to do something they love and find ultra-important. So my guess is that you don’t have to be quite so delicate about it — but then you know your actual neighbors, and I don’t! :-)

      And yeah, I think showing more of yourself in ways that don’t give you away are the best ways to connect with readers. We’d all love to get to know you more! :-)

  16. I agree with the Accidental Retirees. If you really believe that being outed will seriously jeapordize what are very important life plans, please don’t go to FinCon.

    If FinCon is like any conferences I attend, I am sure it requires you to fully embrace the spirit of the meeting to get the most out of it. And that may involve interactions (photos, discussions or otherwise) that put you more outside your comfort / safe zone.

    Just like retirement planning, it is impossible to plan for every eventuality. Go roll with what FinCon has to offer, throw yourself into enjoying it, have some fun and the results will be infinitely better than you ever imagined. Just my 2-cents worth.

    • I would only worry about FinCon bloggers outing us (me) if I thought they were a disrespectful bunch, which I know for a fact they are not. I’ve talked to several bloggers who went in the past and didn’t have their identities spoiled, it just took a firm backbone about pictures. :-) But I’m purposely not moderating a session or sitting on any panels, that’s for sure!

  17. I definitely remember seeing a photo or two of Mrs. Frugalwoods at FinCon last year. She wasn’t tagged, but “Frugalwoods” was in the description on Instagram. I don’t use my blog as a business, so that plus blogging anonymously is a huge part of why I don’t want to go to FinCon. It does make me a bit sad to miss it, but I can’t make it anyway.

    I sometimes wonder if I should have stopped sharing numbers a while ago, but then I don’t think that was the right answer. I’ll probably just stay anonymous for the duration of my blog.

    P.S. I clearly shouldn’t comment on blogs when I’m tired because I almost used my real name on someone else’s blog this morning!

    • Yeah, I saw that too, which freaked me out a little. But then it turned out that the FWs were closer to outing themselves than they’d been letting on in the blog, and so it made me wonder if they were actually casual about photos. I talked to others who were stricter about photos, and they seemed to escape without their identity leaking. (Plus, let’s be honest, the FWs are more “famous” than I am! Haha.)

      I’m not going to FinCon to build the business (since we earn $0 here), but just to meet people I’ve known in the community for what feels like a long time now. I’ll report back on how it goes. :-) And whoops re: almost using your real name! New rule: no blogs before coffee! ;-)

      • I don’t drink coffee ;) I’m pretty sure I would have put my real email address though had I put my real name so it might have been okay, just would have been a new commenter!! Lol. I’m excited to hear about your experience!

  18. I’m completely with you on this.

    While I took several step to make us anonymous, I did share the blog with a few select people, and this makes the possibility to be uncovered, since we cannot totally control what those will say.

    We did one phone interview about our blog with a journalist, and at this point, I resolved in relying on the person integrity to keep our identity secret, since I did not want to go through the trouble of hiding my phone number.

    As for the consequences, beside the workplace issues, we share mainly our expense numbers, which are quite low, but any person with a bit of mathematical sense can at least put a lower bound on our net worth when reading our blog.

    I suspect that some people will have difficulty seeing anything but the numbers and juste label us as “rich”, without taking into account that the main difference with others is the way we decided to save most of our income along the years.

    And that for us to be FI will means to keep a low expenses level in the future as well, so it makes the “rich” tag a bit relative… I would rather say we are Free !

    So I’m not in a hurry to disclose our identity to everyone ! But we will see!

    • The numbers question is tough, and the ability to extrapolate one thing from another is a big reason we just decided not to share any numbers, only percentages. I definitely understand not wanting to be seen as “rich” when you know you can’t go out and blow all that money you’ve saved at once! And we did one media interview, too, but it was by email, and we made them swear in advance that they’d keep everything anonymous.

  19. As a newbie blogger, I wasn’t quite sure about whether I should be anonymous or not. I wanted to share information about what I was making and net worth and things like that, but didn’t want to make myself a target or risk anyone getting upset at me. At the same time, I wanted people to be able to “see” who was writing.

    Ended up sorta taking a middle route and used a cartoon picture of myself. It’s sort of me and yet…not exactly. Not quite sure what I’ll do in the future quite yet, but your post is helpful for me to think about.

  20. So tricky! I got a PO box because any emails to my subscribers are required to have an address. And I set up an LLC for the coaching part, which requires my real name and address to be published online and in the newspaper. Boo! I get that it’s for consumer protection, but…
    I’ve had a stalker in the past so I’m very much pro-privacy and think that having to publish my home address is a bummer.
    As for photos, hopefully the folks you meet at FinCon will be respectful and understanding. I tried to avoid photos when I had a stalker, and it made for some very awkward conversations because then people wanted to know why I didn’t want to be in the photos and then of course there was a huge reaction if I told them. So glad that’s over.

    • I think the PO box was a good call! That would feel super weird to send out your home address to strangers! :-S I agree that I’d expect fellow FinConers to be respectful about photos. I’m so sorry you had to deal with a stalker — that sounds so awful! :-(

  21. No matter what disguise you pick, I hope to see a pic with the result. I imagine a blond or blue wig, sun glasses all day long and a big mug with fake URL just in case. Good luck with it!

    What name Will you use? Ms ONL. Go for a fake first name?

    The anonymous approach here is similar. Over time, i plan to stop giving progress Reports on the amberindex and i am open for suggestions on passive income.

  22. How about we get a picture and I don’t share it? I’m very much into taking momentos with people. But! I’m also respectful and ask if it’s ok to share before I tweet it or put it on my blog.

    I decided to start out semi-anonymous. You could probably figure out my real name and place of employment easily, but I don’t think anyone really cares that much. I just use my first name for everything and leave it at that. People who I interact with on a deeper level get more details. I started out with name and face because I knew I’d slip up at some point and put something up, so I just chose it from the start.

    Have you looked into one of those anti-paparazzi scarves? the one with reflective filaments in it that ruin any photo taken? they look nice and ruin pictures :)

    • Thanks for being respectful! I also just kinda hate being in pictures generally, so there’s that. ;-) I think it’s awesome you’ve found your comfort level with what you share and what you keep private… and that you have some folks you’re comfortable sharing more with! And that anti-paparazzi scarf idea is hilarious. I am not picturing getting mobbed by screaming fans. ;-)

  23. For me, I’m just going to use my name right off the bat. Part of that is that I haven’t been creative enough to come up with something better. But It’s also kind of fitting with just my life change of forging my own path rather than sticking to the familiar and the comfortable….and trying to keep me internet shenanigans distances from the family name. But more than that…if it actually does get a noticeable following, I wouldn’t ever be tempted to cash out on my own name. Proactively Protect myself from myself. :)

    I won’t be sharing all the numbers, obviously, but I think it will be fun to keep track of my expenses during that nomadic period of life, which would mostly be for me, but I know others can get a bit creeper-ish about that sort of thing.

  24. As you commented on my recent blog post, this is pretty funny timing, since I just “came out” on my blog. But your tips and pointers here are great for anyone, not just anonymous bloggers. I don’t think I tell enough stories on my blog… something to work on…

    But, for FinCon, I think that you should make up a paddle with some celebrity face on it. And then when there is a photo-op, you pull up that face and everyone can be excited that they got a photo with a celebrity!

    • It’s so easy to assume that people “know us” when really, we’re all still these little mysteries. ;-) So yes, I agree — good for all of us to share more! And I love your celeb paddle idea, haha!

  25. I’m a bit disappointed that I won’t be going to FinCon this year. Originally I had a business trip to Europe the week after, so being away from home for almost 2 weeks isn’t ideal, given we have 2 little ones. Now the Europe trip is cancelled, I was thinking going to FinCon. But given I’m already going to Canadian Personal Finance Conference, the cost is going to add up to attend FinCon. Not to mention that I get dinged by the US CAN currency conversion rate. I guess there’s always next year so I can meet my fellow awesome bloggers.

    For your desire to remain anonymous… you should wear a mask like this one. It’ll totally scare off people wanting to take a picture of you. :D

    • I was super lucky that I bought FinCon tickets the first week after the conference last year, so got a HUGE discount. Then I used free flight certificates earned from taking bumps from oversold flights to book my tickets. So it’s pretty cheap for me… but sounds like it would be quite costly for you! I can definitely see having to weigh that (especially with two little ones at home!) and whether it’s worth a few thousand bucks for a glorified party. :-) But I hope to meet you one of these days! And I think your mask pic didn’t come through, but I’m using my imagination! ;-)

  26. This post is so timely for me! I was just chatting with a friend about how to do a facebook page without anything linking it to my real FB account and my former employer just asked if I would do an article about my blog that they could post on the intranet.

    I’m struggling with how open to be–so far I’ve been semi-anonymous. I don’t want my posts to come off as being boastful and we have always been private about our finances. It feels uncomfortable to be as revealing as I have been with my name attached. Seriously, my husband used to lie to his mom and make up car loan interest rates and terms when he bought his cars for cash.

    You’re smart to be concerned about being discovered. I’m sure you’d keep your job but you may lose out on opportunities because you aren’t going to be there long-term. I missed out on a significant promotion because I was too open about my future plans “I know the other candidate will be in this role for 10 years or more . . . “.

    I love a good hug too and look forward to meeting you at FINCON! I promise no pictures :)

    • Oh, Facebook has gotten so bad on that stuff! It used to be that you could select “use Facebook as” and totally switch over to your page identity… but no more. Now I’m pretty scared to use it as ONL for fear that it will leak over to our IRL profiles… and that’s not an option!

      That’s crazy that you’ve felt you had to lie about your financial things for family and friends’ sake! How stressful! And yeah, I think you’re right — I don’t think we’d get sent packing if work found out, but our bonuses (which are a big part of our income) would certainly shrink a lot if not disappear entirely. And hooray for FinCon hugs!! :-)

  27. Wear a stylish, huge hat (Kentucky Derby style) – and anytime the cameras/phones come out at FinCon, cover your face in a sophisticated way with the brim of the hat! :) So excited for you guys to get to FinCon, wish I could have made it this year!

    • Ha! I love that idea. I don’t think I’m sophisticated enough to pull it off, though. ;-) But yeah, I’m super duper super excited for FinCon! Hope you can make it next year!

  28. I’ve taken a very similar approach to you guys in remaining anonymous. I was found out within 6 months of starting my blog by a friend in my homebrew club who read my Q&A at 1500days.com and recognized my answers and story. Small world.

    I’ve become a bit looser with some pictures of my kids here and there, and I imagine I will eventually come out of the anonymous blogger’s closet, but with a few years to go, I prefer to have the blog be our own little secret.

    Thanks for sharing your insight. I’ll probably make my Fincon debut in 2017. Assuming I’m still blogging anonymously, I’ll have to consider how to handle that.


    • How wild that your friend found you through 1500days! Small world indeed. And I do hope you’ll come to FinCon next year… would be great to meet! And then I can share what I learn this year. :-)

  29. ONL,
    Deep breath… Do not worry about being outed at Fincon. First of all, there aren’t a lot of pictures taken. There may be some official photography, but there’s 1000 people. Easy to steer clear. Not a lot of group selfies either. The Fincon Facebook group I’ve heard posts pictures and tags. But don’t join and you’ll be fine. Attendees are respectful of your choice to stay anonymous.

    Even if your picture was shared somewhere, it’s highly unlikely someone you know would see, let alone out you, other than to maybe mention it to you.

    The conference is a blast! You are on my list of people I’m looking forward to meeting at Fincon! First name only basis, of course :)

    • I’m glad to know that I don’t need to be concerned — especially since you’ve been there and know from personal experience! Also, congrats on being a finalist for Plutus again! So awesome. Glad we’re not competing this year — haha. ;-) And I’m super excited to meet you, too! Let’s DM on Twitter so we can actually find each other, otherwise it might turn into, “Hey, have you seen Retire Before Dad?” “Um, what’s his name? What does he look like?” “Uh, yeah… no clue!” Hahaha.

      • Well on the other hand, the Plutus Award winners get their photos taken. So when you win it this year, watch out! Twitter is good, and they used an app last year that made it really easy to connect. See you in San Diego!

  30. I wouldn’t bother with a disguise. If it’s noticeable, you’ll get noticed and probably photographed even more! As others mentioned, even if someone photographs you and somehow gets linked to your twitter page or elsewhere, the odds that someone else recognizes you and ties it back to your employer are small. And combine that with the small cumulative probability that your employer will take adverse action against you if they find you’re seeking FIRE and you will probably be fine. :)

    After all, no butthead manager that plans on working forever will ever be able to wrap their tiny brain around the concept of FIRE, so they will just think it’s something fanciful and eccentric that you’re up to in your free time. :)

    • Haha — a great point! And I’m definitely not an attention seeker, so maybe that’s what’s been behind my aversion to a disguise, much as people seem to want to see pics of that. ;-) I think your point about odds is a good one, so it’s just the high potential penalty factor that we consider. And as to your point about managers, we fortunately don’t work for tiny-brained buttheads (LOL), so that does make things a little more interesting sometimes. ;-)

  31. Still bummed we won’t be meeting you this year. When we registered, I used our real names figuring there would be a super low likelihood anyone we know would possibly see us.

    I definitely get the balance of whether or not to share personal info. I’m still debating how much to share now. Regardless of what you decide to do, I think the FinConners will respect your wishes and your anonymity will stay safe.

    • I’m bummed not to meet you guys, too! Of course, I am super excited for you, and the new adventure you are on, but it would be fun to meet one of these days. And yeah, I think odds are very low that anyone at FinCon would out us, but all the same, it has crossed my mind. ;-)

  32. Man after reading horror stories of how people have gotten fired for having a blog, I am really terrified that someone out there knows my blog’s existence. I took measures to make sure that I am anonymous but I just don’t know what’s out there on the internet for the whole world to see. I hope it doesn’t happen soon!

    • I think most of those firings have happened because someone was actually blogging about the work they do, or problems with the company or other things that companies wouldn’t be thrilled getting out there. I think if you’re blogging about your own finances and not kvetching about work, then you’re most likely fine. But yeah, we obviously share a lot of the same concerns, and that’s why we are still anonymous for now!

  33. I vote for a Groucho Marx mask!! :)

    I hear ya about blogging anonymously. I guess for me, I just don’t like posting pictures of myself either on my blog or on Instagram. And I also use pictures on my blog that I personally take so that there is some personalization :)

    • Okay, that’s three votes for Groucho now! :-) You’re raising a good point, which is that I pretty much never like to be in pictures anyway, so it probably won’t change all that much after we quit!

  34. My wife and I literally just started out blog (yet another personal finance blog!) yesterday and we’ve decided to stay anonymous. We have many of the same concerns that you do at ONL.

    We are thinking about divulging a bit more information than you do here on ONL and we just don’t want to risk having co-workers, bosses, etc. stumbling across our blog and realizing it’s us.

    I hope you enjoy FinCon and can maintain your anonymity!

    • Welcome to the blog community! The good news is that the odds are incredibly low that anyone you know would ever find the blog… but the price could be high if they do. We are definitely trying to err on the side of caution, at least for now. :-)