My Take on Popular Financial Magazines

As a personal financial blogger and wannabe money nerd, I do my best to stay up to date with the financial media.  I flip to CNBC when I have some spare time, I try to read personal finance books, and I subscribe to three different personal finance/investing magazines.  These three magazines, Money, SmartMoney, and Kiplinger’s, are among the biggest names in personal finance media, and their influence leads to ripples almost everywhere.  (Among other things, I’ve previously been inspired to write blog entries off of information I’ve read in these magazines.)

I’ve been subscribing to all three of these magazines for at least three months, and have developed some thoughts on each of them.  I actually have taken to viewing each magazine sort of like a person, with their own talents, focuses, and personality.  Here’s how I view each one:

Money: I see money as a middle-aged, single woman with kids (a bit like my aunt, who actually introduced me to the magazine).  There’s not much of a focus on investing in Money, and when the subject does arise, the advice given is almost the same: invest in mutual funds, not individual stocks, choose index funds whenever possible, and dollar cost average your way into the investment using regularly contributions.

This advice doesn’t take up all the space in Money, though, which also covers topics like best ways to improve your house, tips on getting a new job (the July edition had a ten page special on makeovers for three eager job seekers), and how to talk to your kids about money.  In fact, helping your kids to get a better financial start is one of the most frequently reccurring topics covered by Money.  It also has a tendency to get deeper into the morals and ethics of money decisions than either of the other two magazines.  This last issue, for example, there’s an article about trying to do the right thing (financially) during a recession, from how to decide who to fire to what to do about friends who cause you to spend more of your money.

Overall, I think Money is my favorite of these magazines, but it might be a little broad for some people.  It provides good, solid advice, but don’t expect too much in the way of analysis of individual companies, for example.

SmartMoney: SmartMoney makes me think of the young, eager stockbroker characters you sometimes see on television and in the movies. It focuses primarily on stocks (as you might have assumed from something billed as ‘The Wall Street Journal Magazine’). One pretty typical feature is ‘Buy-Sell-Hold’, which looks at three stocks in the same field (for July, it was energy stocks) and lists one worth buying, one that should be sold, and one that can be held (for now). It does provide a great deal of good background information into the companies it covers, very much a value based investing approach.  On occasions where mutual funds are mentioned, they typically tend to be actively managed, rather than the index funds preferred by Money.

But SmartMoney isn’t just about stock picking.  They also do quite a bit of work looking into broader economic conditions and attempt to provide advice about what the market will likely do in the future.  It, more than either of the other two magazines, has been stressing the possibility of inflation as a result of the government spending to fight the recession, and giving recommendations to fight it, like investing in TIPS and commodities. Not bad advice, by any stretch.

I like the advice that SmartMoney gives, and especially the sharp contrast it offers compared to Money, but it’s not really the best for me. If you’re a more active investor, someone looking for deeper commentary about the companies you are considering, then SmartMoney would be a good choice for you.

Kiplinger’s Personal Finance : Kiplinger’s is choke-full of information on almost every page. The density of the information is impressive, but can make it a bit hard to read and digest everything. Kiplinger’s is very fond of recommending both stocks and mutual funds, in rather impressive numbers. Overall, it reminds me of the overly brainy kid in class, who would study up on everything and throw himself into every assignment.

Kiplinger’s also has a tendency to get into more complex investment strategies than either of the other two.  In one article in the July issue, it brought up the idea of buying put options (which allow you to sell your stock at a set price) as a way of hedging against falling prices.  The plan they suggest is pretty straight forward, as options trades go, but still a bit more tricky than the average person would care to try.

If you like your magazines heavy on the research and numbers and light on commentary, Kiplinger’s might be for you.  Some of the strategies and investment it discusses go beyond my comfort level, but the overall level of scholarship impresses me.  (It also seems to have fewer ads than either of the other two, which might be one reason it seems so packed with information.)

There you have it, my thumbnail reviews of three popular investment magazines. I hope, if you are trying to figure out which one to subscribe to, that this article has helped you learn more about each one.

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