Josh Anderson/AP/File
This 2009 file photo shows financial guru Dave Ramsey in his broadcasting studio in Brentwood, Tenn. Hamm argues that you can get most of the advice in personal finance seminars like Ramsey's through books and blogs (for little to no cost), but that such seminars can be helpful for those who learn through listening and asking questions.

Are personal finance seminars for you? The pros and cons.

Personal finance seminars should offer you something beyond what you can get for a very low cost through a blog or at the library. Especially for those who learn through listening, personal finance seminars can be quite helpful. 

Several months ago, I was contacted by a company that wanted to work hand-in-hand with me to develop a seminar series where I would take the ideas behind The Simple Dollar and convert them into a format not too unlike the seminars presented by Dave Ramsey and his group.

While I considered the idea for a while, I eventually declined the offer, mostly because of the enormous time commitment and time crunch that the project would entail. It’s just not something I want to add to my plate at this stage in my life.

The experience of considering the idea and drawing up a rough plan for it made me think quite a lot about personal finance seminars on the whole. If you’ve ever thought about attending a seminar by Dave Ramsey or something similar, here’s some food for thought for you.

A useful personal finance seminar has to give you something beyond what you can get from a blog or from a library. If you’re resourceful enough to have found The Simple Dollar, you’ve got what you need to seek out information online. Pair that with a trip to the library and you have access to plenty of low-cost information on personal finance.

Virtually every single principle that you might learn at a seminar is already available free of charge at one of these sources, so why would you pay for a seminar to just regurgitate those facts to you at a less convenient time and in a less convenient place?

The difference is presentation and coaching.

For starters, some people learn much better by listening than by reading. This can be addressed to a large extent by listening to podcasts and library audiobooks. If you primarily learn by reading, a seminar isn’t going to have a whole lot of value for you.

The drawback of audiobooks and podcasts for audio learning is that they make it almost impossible to directly ask questions.

If you’re reading and want to ask a question, you have Google. Just type in the key words in your question and you’ll likely get an answer pretty quickly. If you’re listening and want to ask a question, you either have to be willing to read for it or you need someone to answer your question.

I’ve been a “learn by reading” and a “learn by doing” learner all of my life. I often get very little out of audio presentations. When I was in college, I’d keep focused in lectures by producing the best notes I could possibly produce, which I’d study later. When I would attend academic conferences later in my career, I’d usually seek out the program ahead of time and print out the relevant papers by the speakers in advance to read during their presentation. When I want to learn a new skill, I’ll usually just take a how-to document, sit it in front of me, and start in on the task, turning to Google every once in a while if I have a question.

I don’t “learn by listening” very well, so seminars don’t feel very useful to me.

Chances are that if you’re reading The Simple Dollar, you’re probably someone who learns effectively by reading. That doesn’t necessarily mean you do not learn by listening, but it does mean that you already have a learning style that works for you.

If you can obtain all of the information you need for a relatively low price (in many cases, free) in a style that matches your learning, then there’s no need to invest your money into acquiring the same information in a different learning style.

In other words, if you’re reading this and you’ve consistently read The Simple Dollar or other personal finance blogs or books, you’re likely not going to get a great deal of added value out of a seminar. Everything that a seminar provides – general information, specific answers, and motivation – can be found in the written word online or at a library. Save your money and apply it elsewhere.

That’s not to say there aren’t people who do get value from seminar series. People who learn by listening and learn by doing without much emphasis on learning by reading are going to be the people that get more value from a seminar than anyone else. That group, however, has a very limited overlap with people who are utilizing reading to get their personal finance information.

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