A few weeks ago, we asked you guys to help us out by responding to our second ONL reader survey, and a whopping 677 of you finished the whole thing, all the more impressive because it was not short, and it asked whackadoodle questions like, “If ONL was a car, what kind of car would be it and why?” (That was a real question. And y’all were total sports about answering it sincerely! Mostly. To the person who wrote, “Barbie Jeep,” I know who you are.)
We put the survey out there because, as the blog has grown, we feel in many ways less connected to you guys. We love all the emails (if you’re awaiting a response, I haven’t forgotten about you! I’m just slow!), and those are fantastic for offering a glimpse into your lives. Same with the comments here, though that mostly tells us which bloggers are reading. (You get lots and lots of bonus points if you comment as a non-blogger!) But before the survey, we didn’t feel like we had an especially good handle on who you are, what your life situation is, what you’re most interested in, and why you keep coming back. But thanks to you guys generously using your time to respond, we now feel like we know you so much better! :::group hug:::
Sometimes it’s pretty fun to live in a house full of nerds, if two nerds equals a full house. (Sadly, the dogs are very cute but also very dumb, so they don’t contribute to the nerdery.) And Mr. ONL, our resident nerdy data guy, is to thank for taking a lot of these findings beyond the basic Google Forms tallies (X percent this, Y percent that) to some interesting analysis.
Best of all: There are some big conclusions we can draw from the survey findings that impact all financial independence and early retirement bloggers.
The Basic Demographics
First up, the demographics on who you are and what your basic situation is:
The biggest surprise to me here is that the gender gap isn’t wider, given that I don’t pretend to write in a gender-neutral way (at least not since those awkward early posts when I couldn’t decide if I should write as “I” or “we”). So shout-out to the progressive dudes not threatened by strong women! And on age, I can’t even tell you how touching I find it that so many folks who are already retired find something worth reading here. (To those of you in your 50s and early 60s who often email to say your retirement doesn’t count as “early,” smack that thought out of your head! Every day you can steal back before 65 is a win worth celebrating!)
About three-quarters of you guys are working toward your big goal, whether that’s financial independence, early retirement or something else you haven’t quite figured out yet. And the remaining quarter are either recently or long-time retired/FI or in some other situation that applies only to you!
From day one, I decided that this wasn’t going to be an “early retirement 101” blog. This was going to be a place where we could go beyond the basics, or where folks who don’t yet know the basics could find the inspiration to go off and learn that stuff elsewhere. And the knowledge stats bear out that those of you who read fit that profile. About two-thirds of you consider yourselves moderately knowledgeable, and a full quarter consider yourselves to be financial experts. This is self-reported, of course, not based on a quiz I administered, and we’ll come back to this one in the analysis.
How You Feel About ONL
Two-thirds of you guys have been reading for less than a year, which probably explains why 2017’s stats are so much bigger than 2016’s. (So glad you’re here!) And a special shout-out to the 3 percent of you who’ve been reading from the beginning!
In other shocking news, I was surprised in the best way possible that a full third of you read every word of every post, especially because the average post length has crept up to almost 2200 words! (In fairness, 9 percent of you said you’d prefer fewer words.) I’m completely touched, though, that most of you are reading deeply one way or another — either mostly reading every post or reading every word of some posts. That’s the best news any writer can ever get!
As for what you’d change, lots of you would like more concrete financial posts, followed by those who’d like more thoughts and feelings posts. That’s an interesting needle to try to thread, so keep an eye out for posts in which we ask the S&P 500 Index if it feels fulfilled in life. (Kidding.) Plenty of you want more charts and graphs (liking this post so far??), and lots of you want to know more about us, all of which is coming soooooo soon after we give notice. (Less than two months. No, you‘re freaking out.)
In a finding that surprised me, a sizable majority of you cite your favorite blogs as ONL and Mr. Money Mustache. It’s not surprising in the sense of what we’re both writing about, but because I’m so unMustachian in so many ways. (Remember the confession about the $1000 dinner?!) Lots of other blogs big and small got shout-outs, too (most frequently cited: Mad Fientist and Frugalwoods), showing that this is a group that shares the love across the PF blogosphere.
We were so sure you guys would be most interested in where we live, but as the answers in some of the open-ended questions reveal, many of you already feel pretty confident that you know the answer. (Stay tuned for a contest on this in September!) So maybe it shouldn’t be too surprising that what you’re actually most curious about is what we do for work. Which we could tell you now, but then we’d have to kill you.
What the Car Question Was All About
On the car question, a little explanation. Questions like, “If ONL was a car, what kind of car would it be and why?” are called projective exercises, and they’re used to get deeper insights through indirect questioning than you’d get through the more direct form. So if I’d instead asked, “What’s most essential about ONL?” a lot of the answers would have been things like “early retirement blog,” “posts about feelings,” etc. And that wouldn’t tell us much, because that’s stuff we already know. And what we wanted to know is what your less conscious perceptions are. And boy, did you guys deliver!
Not surprisingly, lots of y’all think we’re a Subaru — outdoorsy, reliable, a good value. Lots of Hondas and Toyotas got shout-outs, too, (it’s like you saw our driveway!) along with Volvos and Jeeps. The Tesla answer surprised me most of all, along with all the others that mentioned “slick” or high-performance one way or another. I work hard on this blog, of course, but to me, I’m just chugging along, chronicling our journey and the things we’re thinking about at that point in time. I definitely don’t think of myself or this blog as “slick” or oozing in cool factor like a Tesla, but I’m going to take it as a compliment, even if I don’t totally get it. ;-) (Also, for future reference, even if you know exactly why they’re saying it, it feels kinda weird to have a whole bunch of people refer to your blog as “used.” Ha! Though one did say “a new car that smells great!” Thanks?) ;-)
The Deeper Analysis
Alright, here comes the fun part: Mr. ONL’s smartypants analysis! He’s out of the gate strong with this audacious claim:
I’m not sure I’m ready to make such a bold promise, but I’d be stoked if that turned out to be true. ;-)
Analysis of the data also tells us that:
The modal reader is a 30-something five to 10 years from FIRE.
Though, as we’ve already seen, ages are all over the map, which is awesome, and that’s also true for where folks are in the journey.
More from Mr. ONL:
- Male readers are generally farther along than women in FIRE journey: men (51%) more likely than women (36%) to be already FIRE or expect to be FIRE within 5 years.
- Women readers more than twice as likely as men to be “still formulating a plan” (25% vs 10%).
- As in most topics, men also claim to be more knowledgeable: 42% of men, 14% of women call themselves “professor finance.” [<– Mr. ONL’s words, not mine!]
- Men are bigger podcast listeners (PF or otherwise): 65% of men, 50% of women listen to PF podcasts.
- Women are a little more likely to be long-time and avid readers.
- 31% of women vs 26% of men read every word of every post. [Girl power!]
- 36% of women vs 29% of men have read ONL for more than a year.
Marital Status Differences:
- Men (68%) are more likely than women (58%) to be married with fully combined finances, which is a big boost on the way to financial independence.
- Married with fully combined finances: 15% are FIRE, 7% within a year. Everybody else: 9% FIRE, 4% within a year.
- Older readers are more likely to be married, which makes sense demographically (75%+ of readers age 30+ are married), but even among readers in their 20s, 43% are married, and another 11% are unmarried but in a relationship with combined finances.
Age and Generational Differences:
- Relatively few readers are already FIRE: 39% of those age 50+, but only 15% of those in their 40s, 3% of those in their 30s, and 1% (1 reader) in their 20s is already FIRE. [Matt, is that you?]
- Podcast audience is younger. 83% of 20-somethings, 76% of 30s, 69% of 40s, 49% of 50s listen to podcasts. Interest in a totally hypothetical ONL podcast follows suit. 23% of 20s, 15% of 30s, 15% of 40s, and 9% of 50+ would be super stoked.
- 20-somethings especially want to know about our careers in the reveal (and the dogs!), but are less interested in where we live. 30-somethings are most likely to care about where we live, and 50+ folks are most likely to care what we look like. [Why thank you, 50- and 60-somethings.] ;-)
Random Fun Facts:
- The farther away from FIRE you are, the more blogs you read. Those who are already FIRE’d or within a year read fewer PF blogs than people who are farther away from FIRE. Same for podcasts.
- Those who call themselves “professor finance” do, in fact, read more PF blogs: 22% of professors finance read too many PF blogs to count (vs 13% overall), and 65% listen to PF podcasts (vs 56% overall).
- The longest term readers are also the heaviest PF blog readers.
Big Conclusions for All FIRE Bloggers
There was plenty in here that I’m not sharing, because it’s probably only interesting to us — including several wonderful notes that totally made my day. But given the huge overlap between ONL and other personal finance and early retirement blogs out there, I think we can draw some larger conclusions that impact all of us bloggers writing in this niche:
- Don’t write only for the guys. Lots of ladies are reading and are interested in advanced financial content! And women have the potential to be the most loyal and long-term readers (true here!).
- People are reading all kinds of different blogs, including blogs that contradict each other. Let’s leave room for differences of opinion and different perspectives.
- As people begin their FIRE journey, they’re more likely to read a gajillion blogs and drink from the proverbial fire hose. As they get farther along, they are likely to be more selective about which blogs they stick with. If we want readers to stick with us, we have to keep things interesting for those who are likely as knowledgeable as we are (Hi, Professor Finance!).
- Folks who are already retired are reading, too! So there’s value in writing about post-retirement life, not just the journey. (This is my bald-faced plea to other bloggers not to quit after you hit the target!)
- We can all be Teslas. Aim high! ;-)
What did you think about the survey results? Any surprises? (Ahem, Tesla!) Anything you wish you’d shared on the survey but didn’t get a chance to? Care to make a case for any different answers? For bloggers, anything in here give you a different perspective on what’s important to your readers? Let’s dive into all of it in the comments!