Expert Interview with Bobby Lee on Finance Basics

Despite the fact that he's developed a following dishing out money-management tips online, Bobby Lee says there's no one you should trust more to handle your finances than yourself.

"Much like retaining a tax accountant or a lawyer, it has somehow become a symbol of success to say that you have someone managing your money for you," the founder of 2 Minute Finance says.

"Whether that is a person, a system, a service, or a website, they do not necessarily have your personal interests at heart."

But actually, the goal of being financially successful and making sound money decisions is completely incompatible with "outsourcing" your financial management tasks, he adds. While these consultants can offer some basic advice and planning resources, we as individuals need to take charge of our own financial life, Bobby says.

To get started, you can check out 2 Minute Finance, where Bobby offers educational videos on understanding basic personal finance. Here's what else he has to say about how to take ownership of your money:

Tell us about 2 Minute Finance...when and why did you start the site?

2 Minute Finance is an educational video blog that teaches basic personal finance skills in two-minute videos. I started the blog in 2008 as a go-to resource to help out friends who were looking for answers to common money management questions.

Due to the recession that had just started, many of my college friends and I were beginning to re-examine our finances. Most of us were recent graduates in our first jobs (or soon-to-be graduates), and I realized that none of us were taught how to manage money properly. We faced questions that were very daunting to us at the time, like figuring out what those mysterious abbreviations and acronyms on our paystubs meant, how to best handle our student loan debt and what to do with our existing credit card debt.

After being bitterly disappointed by the lack of comprehensive online resources around financial literacy, I saw an opportunity to create something to fill that void. By using my background in finance and media, I came up with the idea for 2 Minute Finance and have been successful ever since.

Who should be visiting the site?

The ideal visitor would be anyone who has a basic personal finance question, but doesn't have a lot of time to learn the answer to it.

2 Minute Finance is neither a definitive nor complete guide to getting your finances in order (although I'd love for it to be). However, my goal with the blog is to make personal finance concepts less daunting by talking about them in a plainspoken way. I endeavor to jump-start a constructive conversation about money and to help motivate my viewers to taking immediate action with their finances.

What's your background in finance, and why are you so passionate about sharing your expertise than others?

My bachelor's degree was in finance, and I am a life-long individual investor. In fact, for many years, I had wanted to use my skills to become a financial or investment advisor. But midway through my undergraduate studies, I realized that wasn't what I wanted to do for my whole life.

At the same time, the journalism bug had bit me, and I decided to explore business journalism as a possible career choice. I quickly realized that the fields of finance and journalism were not mutually exclusive areas of interest. So I searched for ways to bring my two passions together.

After seeing a large number of my friends and peers struggling with financial management concepts, I knew helping to improve the conversation around financial literacy in America was what my skills and passion were perfectly suited for.

Most recently, I took a yearlong break from 2 Minute Finance to complete my graduate studies at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School for Public Communications. During my time there, I was able to further research how the media influences financial decision-making, consumer behavior and money management. The lessons that I have learned have been helpful in further stoking my passion for solving America's financial literacy crisis.

Why'd you pick two minutes? Why is it a good time frame for your audience?

It took a lot of experimenting to finally arrive at a two-minute length for my videos. In every screening of my test videos, most viewers started to show a glazed-over look in their eyes about a minute-thirty to two minutes in. That's when I knew two minutes was a perfect amount of time.

Besides the attention span issue, two minutes is the perfect time frame for my viewers because it allows me to break down financial concepts into bite-sized, digestible pieces. Any viewer can learn a concept without having to invest a lot of time just to get a simple answer.

In the class personal finance 101, what subject areas are on the syllabus and what classes are the most important for your students to show up to?

The fundamental topics to understanding personal finance can be grouped into general subject areas: earning, spending, saving, investing, borrowing, protecting your money, and basic economics.

The subjects are broad in nature, but so is the number of ways that finance and money affects our everyday lives. They're all equally important because they form the basic foundation of understanding, from which one can decipher, analyze and take action on money matters.

What's been the most popular piece of advice you've shared with your readers? What's garnered the most feedback?

One of the most popular pieces of advice was one of the first pieces of advice I shared involving how to reduce the interest rate on a credit card. In that video, I role-played with a friend about how to have a conversation with your credit card company and negotiate a lower rate. I received feedback from a number of people who were surprised it was that simple and how it successfully it worked for them.

The video that has garnered the most feedback was a news story I highlighted involving a new Credit Union that Occupy San Francisco was trying to start. Hands down, I have never seen so many emails in my inbox either asking for more information or deriding me for giving the Occupy movement more publicity. Frankly, it was a very creative and interesting effort that deserved some attention.

What are some unique ways you've found to save and earn money?

Saving money is the easy part. A unique piece of advice is to find "affinity groups" that you can join to find hidden discounts. Retailers, airlines and everyday businesses give discounts for being a member of a group of like-minded people. Whether that is your local athletic league, a professional industry association, an automobile association or even an online meet-up group, these discounts are available in the least expected places.

Earning money is the harder part. I find that becoming an entrepreneur is a great way to earn extra money, gain financial independence and find personal fulfillment. Whether that is starting a crafts business on the side, running a small baking company from a once-a-week rented commercial kitchen, or using your skills toward service jobs, like tutoring or home organizing, you'll be surprised at how much extra money you'll earn by working an extra hour or two a day at something you really love to do. And if you become really successful, you can take what you enjoy and make into your career.

So what's your take on your fellow financial gurus who turn to video - either on the web or on cable news? Who's worth watching (in addition to you, of course)?

I'm glad to see more financial experts turning to video as a way to deliver financial advice, increase financial literacy in America, and to reinforce good financial habits.

However, not all advice is created equal. If you look at much of the advice dished out on cable news networks and broadcast shows, it's oftentimes created to reach the widest number of viewers possible. Nowhere in that equation does your own (unique) personal financial needs factor in.

So take that advice under consideration, but not to heart. Use it as a jumping-off point to do your own research, formulate your own opinions, and find ways to make it relevant in your life. As I mentioned previously, you are your own best advocate when it comes to managing your money.

As for experts that I follow, I'm a particular fan of Farnoosh Torabi, Erica Sandburg, Kit Yarrow and the Marketplace and Planet Money shows on NPR.

As for unhelpful advice, I will say that there are some on-air experts who have a mass market appeal but whose advice should really only be heeded by a very specific audience. Much like how you wouldn't go to a doctor for auto repair advice, why would you listen to a day trading guru for retirement advice, for example?

If you could go back in time, what spending/saving/investing decision would you want a do-over for? Why and what would you do differently?

If I could go back and make a financial decision differently, I wouldn't have invested so heavily in my old company's stock through the Employee Stock Purchase Program. Conceptually, it's a great idea to own a part of the company you work for via stock purchases. It's even more tempting because of the purchase discount most employees typically receive. But once you start accumulating shares, it's very easy to over-purchase. And when you over-purchase, it leaves you over-exposed to the many risks that publicly traded companies face financially and in business.

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