In a couple of weeks, I’ll be celebrating my 4th anniversary of Financial Uproar. We’ll be celebrating by going for Chinese food, then maybe a Blizzard afterwards. We’ll end up back at my place, and since I don’t want to kiss and tell, I’ll just stop the story right there. But I’ve totally restocked my condom supply, just in case.

But I’m not just a writer of PF blogs. I’m also a consumer of them, reading dozens of different ones everyday. I’ve subscribed to some for the whole time I’ve been blogging, and some for even longer than that. Some are mostly good, others are just okay, and some sit in a Google Reader folder called “terrible blogs.” I am not kidding.

I’ve noticed a few things about these blogs. Over time, they tend to either repeat themselves, or they farm out the content to staff writers. The quality almost always drops off, but it does so gradually, almost too slowly to notice. Then one day it’ll hit me. This blog is crap. That’s when it gets moved to the terrible blog folder.

Here’s the other thing I’ve noticed, and it’ll be the main point of this post. I’ve mentioned it before, so you all probably won’t be surprised, but here goes. (Remember when I said blogs start to repeat themselves?) I’m constantly amazed personal finance bloggers don’t ever expand their knowledge to the next level.

It’s not just bloggers who are guilty of this, so are many of my readers who don’t bother to write about finances. Most people grasp the basics pretty quickly. They start contributing to their retirement, they pay off their debts, get an emergency fund, and so on. And then they stop. They never take that knowledge to the next level.

Don’t believe me? A few months ago, I wrote a post outlining the basic steps to becoming a private mortgage lender. It got one comment, which basically said that you shouldn’t bother and just invest in REITs instead. I can see why someone would think that way. Investing in a REIT (or a basket of REITs) is the easy way to get exposure to this market. But is it the best way to maximize your investment returns?

I’ve invested in private mortgages for almost a decade now. I’ve gotten terrific (as in, high) interest rates on deals that had almost zero risk. I’ve also had the opportunity to charge these borrowers lender fees, increasing my already sweet returns. Do you know why I was able to get these returns? Because I know the mortgage market better than you do, and I’ve figured out a niche that traditional lenders won’t touch. 

I wasn’t born with that information. Nobody came up to me and whispered it in my ear. I figured it out because I took the effort to analyze the market. I read a lot about mortgages. I asked questions to smart people. I spent the time to understand my local real estate market, unlike some people. It’s not rocket science, but it took a lot of work.

The work has paid off. I’ve made handsome returns on my private mortgage portfolio over the years, and haven’t lost a dime of principal. I’ve killed the performance of most real estate investors over the same time period, and my method is about as passive as you can get, once you’ve done the initial analysis.

I’m not expecting you to become an expert. Sure, I’d like it, but I realize most of you will burn out long before becoming an expert in anything finance related. Chances are most of you aren’t so hardcore into this stuff. And hey, that’s cool. But you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t ever take that next step.

Want to start investing? Go to the library, and start taking out books, or, better yet, take online mba classes so you really understand how a business works. Once you get the basics down, start actually analyzing individual stocks. There are thousands of them that the big guys ignore. Start with those ones. Or the big ones, what do I care? Just start the steps to move up to the next level.

I’m guilty of this too. My knowledge on bonds and options is somewhat lacking. Yeah, I know the basics, but I don’t know enough either asset class to execute anything but very basic strategies. Neither of those investments are very exciting, but I owe it to my portfolio to find out more. All it’ll cost me is some time.

You should do the same. Most of you aren’t experts in stocks, so that’s a terrific place to start. Figure out how to value a balance sheet. Look through an earnings report and try to figure out what’s important. Learn how to actually analyze an individual stock. Even if you’re an index investor, the knowledge you obtain will help your personal finances.

I’m tired of reading the same old basic stuff. Other finance bloggers, here’s the deal. Yeah, a lot of our audience is incestuous, (as in, they have their own finance blogs) but you’d be surprised at the number of lurkers you have who legitimately look at your blog for financial advice. I have readers who have actually bought stocks because I suggested them. That boggles my mind.

You don’t have to be perfect, or replace someone’s financial advisor. But you owe it to them to expand your knowledge. You owe it to them to give them content that is well researched. And if you expand your financial knowledge, maybe you’ll bring all of them up with you.

Nobody wants to stagnate at their job, or in their relationships, or in their life in general. Everybody wants to grow. It’s time to make the effort to increase your financial knowledge. Stop treading water, it’s time to swim.

Tell everyone, yo!