In our 9th edition of the “Best of the Best” Blogger series, we’re talking to Len Penzo of LenPenzo.com.
Len has a penchant for covering personal topics in, shall we say, an off-beat manner. He covers a wide range of topics with a genuinely unique viewpoint, with subject matter that includes things like a surefire way to beat the lottery, the most valuable grocery store items known to man as well as a discussion of why the most valuable Monopoly property is NOT Boardwalk.
Len has been featured on CBS Moneywatch and high profile sites such as LifeHacker and the Consumerist. He’s also a featured writer for MSN’s Smart Spending blog.
Len has quite an eclectic background as well. He’s a former musician who once harbored a secret desire for rock stardom (me too). Nowadays, Len’s full life includes being the father of two great kids, including a daughter who’s also an aspiring blogger. Even cooler still, in his day gig, Len’s a rocket scientist. (No kidding. In his day job the dude’s a rocket scientist. Seriously.)
We caught up with Len this week to talk about life, personal responsibility and Chunky Monkey ice cream.
Q: What was your inspiration behind starting Len Penzo dot Com?
A: A big reason was I got tired of writing op-ed pieces and then having them rejected by major newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal, so I started up my own website. I figured as Editor-in-Chief of Len Penzo dot Com, I’d have a pretty good chance of getting at least a few of my pieces published.
Q: You’re an electrical engineer in the aerospace industry … so you’re a rocket scientist, right? How in the world does a rocket scientist become a personal finance blogger?
A: I guess, technically, I am a rocket scientist – although I never refer to myself as one. I find the title to be quite pretentious, actually. I have a lot of avocations too. After I graduated from college, I spent the rest of my twenties in a rock band – in fact, I plowed about $25,000 of my own money into the production of an album that went absolutely nowhere. After my kids were born, I began focusing on my other love: writing.I started writing a personal finance book, but life got in the way and I never finished it. When I first started Len Penzo dot Com, my original plan was to cover politics and personal finance. But over time, my personal finance articles ended up attracting the bulk of my traffic – so I dropped the political commentary angle, save for a small portion of my off-beat weekend Black Coffee feature.
Q: You’ve managed to get some impressive media coverage on sites like LifeHacker, The Consumerist and CBS MoneyWatch. You’re also a featured writer on MSN’s Smart Spending blog. For all those aspiring personal finance bloggers out there, what’s your secret to getting such great PR from these big online media brands?
A: Yes, I’ve been very fortunate in that regard. There are so many blogs out there; it’s really tough to get noticed. When I was first starting out I know I certainly wasn’t shy about sending Ben Popken (the editor-in-chief for the Consumerist) emails explaining why his site would be interested in an article I had just posted on my site. I did the same for Lifehacker too.That being said, I think the most realistic way to corral that kind of big-name high-traffic online media coverage is by figuring out a way to make you stand out from all the other bloggers out there. Two of the best ways to do that is by finding a unique niche within your blog’s main focus area, and honing a voice that readers can really relate to and only get from your blog.
I look at it this way: Blog posts are like ice cream, and media brands like MSN and Yahoo prefer flavors like Chunky Monkey and Heath Bar Toffee Crunch. If all you’ve got on sale is vanilla and chocolate, then you’re going to have a much tougher time getting their attention!
Q: One of your central themes on the blog and in your life concerns personal responsibility. How much of a role does personal responsibility play in your own financial success?
A: Personal responsibility is, without a doubt, the bedrock for my financial success. My folks raised me to always take responsibility for my own actions and impressed upon me the importance of being financially self-reliant. That mindset makes it very easy to effectively manage my personal finances, and find the wherewithal to live within my means, keep more than six months of living expenses in the bank for emergencies, build up my retirement nest egg and still have enough money left over to take a nice family vacation every year.
Q: What’s the single greatest gift that you’re blogging experience on LenPenzo.com has given you?
I can’t describe the joy I feel when people write me to say that I’ve inspired them to get their finances in order, or that I’ve reaffirmed for them that they’re not suckers for living below their means. It’s just amazing.
Q: How do you feel about the use of credit cards? Good, bad or somewhere in between?
A: Credit cards don’t amass enormous personal debt – consumers do. The fact is, credit cards are a consumer’s best friend when used responsibly — and by responsibly I mean only charging on them what you can pay off in full at the end of the month. I’ve never paid a cent of interest to a credit card company, but I’ve earned thousands of dollars in cash dividends for using them instead of cash. Your credit card company is also a terrific consumer advocate if a shady vendor has ripped you off.
Q: How do your kids feel about Len Penzo the rock star blogger? Cool? Whatever? Complete dork?
A: Matthew, my teenage son, is completely indifferent. However, Nina, my 12-year-old daughter, loves that her dad is a blogger! In fact, she has written two guest posts for Len Penzo dot Com over the past year, including one she did for me just this week. She’s a pretty good writer for her age and I suspect it won’t be long before she’ll have a blog of her own!
Thanks again to Len of LenPenzo.com for a revealing discussion and an outstanding interview.
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