After working for The Barbara Walters Specials, CBSNews.com, and "every bloody morning show," Ronni Bennett got laid off. Still brimming with ideas, she retired and, in 2004, started what she calls an "elderblog"—a blog by someone 55 or older dealing with issues important to that age group.
Bennett, 67, quickly realized there were only about a dozen elderbloggers out there. And no one was talking about money. Since Bennett created TimeGoesBy.net, she has seen about 250 other blogs about aging crop up. But, Bennett says, unlike younger bloggers, "we all came to the Internet in midlife. We bring our social sense of [what things are] proper to talk about in public—and finance is not one of them."
Of course, many more older Americans are likely to read blogs than to write them. A Cogent Research study released this spring found that 18 percent of adults 50 and older are using social media such as blogs and message boards. But only 2 percent are writing for such sites. A Weber Shandwick study found that "despite their extensive dialogue on other topics, [baby] boomers follow a 'code of silence' when it comes to financial services." Only 5 percent of those surveyed had made a recommendation in the past year about financial services.
With people living longer (U.S. life expectancy is now 79 years) and facing long retirements in which they'll be expected to manage their own investments more than ever before, there should be a premium on financial know-how. Yet, the number of financial advisers in the United States actually declined from 2005 to last year, according to research firm Cerulli Associates, and in a 2007 AARP test of financial literacy, half of those 40 and older failed to correctly answer 50 percent of the questions. But none of that is apparently enough to break the taboo on talking openly about one's finances.
"Most older people hit that Google button, and in some ways it confuses them more than it enlightens them," Seattle marketing expert and blogger Chuck Nyren, 57, says, "because there's so much crap you have to wade through to get something that is truthful or helpful."
Older Americans may be missing out on some much-needed financial advice, says Greg Womack of Womack Investment Advisors in Edmond, Okla. The AARP website would be a great place to read about basics, Womack says, but what older people really need is more advice for personal problems: "They want to know how the average Joe dealt with the same problems they have."
Womack says connecting to social networks like LinkedIn or Facebook can foster that kind of intimate dialogue. He adds that sharing financial ideas doesn't have to be unsafe. "You don't want to get on the Web and lay out your personal situation," he says. "But by being connected with social networks that are legitimate 'gatekeepers'—that's where I would go."
Bennett knows there's a need for more money talk among her peers. In a study of her blog's readers, Bennett found that 38 percent are retirees and a quarter of the readers live on less than $25,000 a year, with another quarter making do on $25,000 to $50,000. Bennett sometimes writes about Social Security and Medicare—"anyone who comments complains about those"—but doesn't delve much deeper into financial topics. When it comes to finances, she says, "we're going to go to our grave not being as open and loose as the younger generation."
Meanwhile, younger people are baring their investment accounts in blogs like Blueprint for Financial Prosperity, which tracks and explains one 20-something's every financial move—down to the penny. The blog tracked creator Jim Wang's purchase of a $295,000 home and all the details of offers, counteroffers, and closing costs. These younger bloggers believe that if you share your tricks, readers will have more financial options, too.