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Psst: Want to Know My Net Worth?

Published: September 18, 2005

APRIL was a stellar month for Jim Wang, 25, a software engineer who has kept a scrupulous record of his struggle to save for a down payment on his first home.

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Jamie Rose for The New York Times

Jim Wang, a software engineer, used his blog to document his quest to save for a downpayment on a house.

Erich Schlegel for The New York Times

Neville Medhora said readers had criticized financial decisions that he described on his blog.

Mr. Wang, who lives in Columbia, Md., pared down his spending on groceries to just $53.98 for the entire month. He cut back on meals at restaurants and nights on the town with his girlfriend. He trimmed his utility bill by making sure the lights were off when he left his apartment. And despite an unexpected dental bill - $50 for the filling of a cavity in his right bottom molar - he managed to come in 28 percent under his monthly budget of $1,755. He put the extra $484.47 into his home-buying account.

How do we know all this? From his financial blog, an online document that manages to be confessional in tone without revealing all that much about his personal life. But it does tell more about his spending, savings and investment habits than many people know about their best friends'. The blogosphere is filled with forums on politics and music, and with intimate chronicles about relationships and sex. But for an increasing number of people, like Mr. Wang, blogging is all about the money. (His blog is at

Open talk about the details of personal finance may break a social taboo. It certainly seemed so when Mr. Wang first did it in April. "I'm going to take the plunge and join the level of financial transparency that other personal finance blogs are willing to reveal," he wrote. If other financial bloggers can "bare it all (and have for quite some time), I think I can do it, too," he said. "I'll detail, to the cent, my spending this month along with my budgetary targets."

He has done exactly that, while maintaining a considerable degree of privacy. Mr. Wang, who works for a military contractor, would not identify his employer, and he is known online simply as Jim. But he has shared details like his net worth - $58,520.26, which includes such assets as $47,057.96 in retirement savings and a 2003 Toyota Celica he valued at $15,285, as well as liabilities like student loans amounting to $24,348.77 in May. He has since bought his first home and has kept a record of that process.

His April posting acknowledged the difficulty of sharing such details: he asked readers who knew him in his "real life" to use discretion. "Please feel free to talk to me about it (just not with others)," his blog pleaded. For Mr. Wang, there is a benefit to such online openness. "It's a community where you share everything and you learn together and it's very open and honest," he said.

Others have had the urge to take their financial lives online. In July, for example, three software developers in Portland, Ore., started, which lets users track their net worth. The site is owned by their company, Fourio. So far, 239 people have registered, though none have chosen to allow their full names to be seen on the site, said Ryan Williams, 28, an executive partner and co-founder of Fourio. One participant, in the under-25 age range, listed assets worth $1,629. Another, in the 55-to-59 category, listed a whopping $19,826,216.

"The explicit details of all their account balances amazed me," Mr. Williams said. "I thought, 'Wow, these people are putting it all out there for people to see.' "

Sharing financial information with an online community is in keeping with the spirit of blogging, said Charlene Li, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, the technology and market research company. "It's the same reason why someone has a Web page or why people feel comfortable going on reality TV," Ms. Li said.

For some financial experts, running the show has its own appeal. Andrew Tobias, the author of "The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need," writes a column each weekday on Strictly speaking, he said, it may not be a blog, because he doesn't post throughout the day. In addition, his blog doesn't list his net worth. But Mr. Tobias, who has published widely, says he enjoys this medium's flexibility. He began his online career in 1996 as a paid columnist on the Web site of Ameritrade and got hooked, he said. So when that agreement ended, he decided to continue writing on his own site without pay, sponsorship or advertisements, for its own rewards, he said.

"It's complete freedom of expression, almost instant gratification," Mr. Tobias wrote in an e-mail interview, which he said he preferred to talking by phone. "No two-month delay until your magazine article appears or nine-month delay until the book comes out - and almost instant feedback. I have thousands of terrific readers, and I learn at least as much from them as they do from me."

When Mr. Tobias posted a request for opinions about why people read him, there were 60 responses.

David Morrison, who lives in San Diego, said that he read Mr. Tobias's column daily - and that if he missed a day, he caught up later. "Mr. Tobias provides a combination of humor, useful financial advice, interesting political perspective, links to other Web sites and articles, and, to some extent, a community of like-minded folks," Mr. Morrison said.

Of course, online feedback isn't always positive. Neville Medhora, 22, a senior at the University of Texas at Austin, began writing last November. On it, he has posted his running net worth: $27,810 at last count. He has also written that he bought a Toshiba Tablet, which is a sophisticated laptop computer, and wanted to buy a motorized scooter. The postings prompted readers to question about whether he should be buying such pricey things. But Mr. Medhora, who has identified himself fully on the Web site, says he learns from his readers and values their responses.

"To some people, I'm just a cocky little kid and to others, they say I'm their hero," he said. "Whenever you put yourself out there like this, most of your responses will be criticisms."

For some financial professionals, blogging may involve more risks than cranky e-mail messages, even when they don't write about their personal accounts. A year ago, Harold R. Evensky, a certified financial planner and chairman of Evensky & Katz in Coral Gables, Fla., began a blog that can be found at


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Photo: An early computer, the "mechanical mind" developed at MIT, 1927.
Photo: An early computer, the "mechanical mind" developed at MIT, 1927.