Today on the Financial Independence Podcast, I’m excited to have personal-finance icon, J. Money, on the show!
I was actually the very first interview guest on their new show so make sure you go check out that episode (The Mad Fientist Reveals the Science of Financial Independence) after you listen to this one. They ask me some great rapid-fire questions at the end so definitely listen to the whole thing!
J. Money has become a good friend over the years so I was excited to get him on the show to talk about the many benefits that come from challenging everything in your life (he’s definitely inspired me to do more of this), what he’s learned writing about personal finance for the last eight years, and how personal finance has changed over that time!
- The importance of tracking your net worth
- How not to buy a house
- The importance of side hustles
- Why J. Money is the Miley Cyrus of personal finance
- How to live like Benjamin Franklin and why you should try it
- The ways personal finance has changed over the years
- Why you should challenge everything in your life
- Leave a review for the show on iTunes!
- Budgets are Sexy
- Rockstar Finance
- The M.O.N.E.Y. Podcast
- Become a Mad Scientist w/ Your $$$
- Republic Wireless
- Zero Waste Home
- Being Benjamin Franklin for a Week
- J. Money’s February Net Worth Update
- The Ultimate List of Blogger Net Worth
- J. Money on Twitter
- The Skimm
Before we get started today, I just wanted to thank everyone that’s left a review on iTunes. There’s quite a few that popped up in December. That really helps I think spread the word about the show. After releasing my last episode, I looked and I was almost in the top ten of all investing podcasts on iTunes which is absolutely crazy considering how little I actually podcast. So thank you, guys, one, for listening and two, for taking the time to leave a review.
If you’re still interested in leaving a review, that would be great. I’ll put a link in the show notes and you can just click like that and say hopefully something nice about the show. That’ll help spread the word some more.
So today on the show, I’m excited to introduce my guest, J Money from BudgetsareSexy.com and RockstarFinance.com and soon-to-be a new podcast with Paula Pant from AffordAnything.com. I’m sure you guys remember that I interviewed Paula quite a while ago talking about really interesting things like real estate investing and pursuing financial independence.
I’m really excited that these guys are teaming up to produce their own show. And they were actually kind enough to interview me for the show a couple of weeks ago. I’m not exactly sure when that’s going to get released. But I imagine it’ll get put out before I put this show out. So just take a look in the show notes and there should be link to that episode and to the new podcast.
I’m pumped that J is here with me today though because this is a long time coming. I first met J back at a conference I think back in 2013. And man, just the nicest guy. This is back before I even considered myself a blogger and I felt awkward being at a financial blogger conference to be honest. I was like, “Man, my site is small. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
But J was one of the first people I met. He was just so nice. He was saying really nice things about my writing and stuff. It was the first time I actually felt like I was part of the community.
We’ve been good buddies eversince. We always meet up at least once a year for beers at these conferences. I was excited to just have a chance to sit down and pick J’s brain because he’s been in the game for a lot longer than most people. He’s seen lots of changes happen over the years. I just wanted to talk to him about that and talk to him about all the stuff he’s learned after writing for nearly eight years.
So yeah, without further delay, J, welcome. Thanks for being here.
J. Money: What’s up, Mr. Fientist.
Mad Fientist: Not much, man. I’m really glad we’re getting the chance to do this. We’ve met and hung out quite a few times in person already, so it’s about time I got you on the podcast to really dive into your brain because when I see you in person, it’s just usually beers and you’re getting pulled in 5000 different directions.
J. Money: Yeah, I’m a chatty Cathy.
Mad Fientist: Yeah, you are what I aspire to be at conferences. So if anyone out there goes to any conferences where J. Money is at, you just need to look at him and he’ll teach you exactly how to do it. I’m still practicing, but it’s amazing what you do in a short weekend there.
J. Money: Well, man, I’ll tell you, I’m good at the socializing part. Doing the business which a lot of people are doing, the actual work, I’m not so good at. We pick and choose our skills and what we like to do.
Mad Fientist: Absolutely! You’re building relationships. That’s the important thing.
J. Money: Yeah! I mean, honestly, at the end of the day, with all these blogging and podcasting and everything, I just love the community.
Mad Fientist: Absolutely!
J. Money: …talking about money, ideas, crazy stuff. And if you could do it with a beer in your hand, face to face, man, it’s awesome. I love it.
Mad Fientist: That’s the best part. Yeah, I completely agree.
So yeah, for people who may not know about your site (which are probably few and far between at this stage), can you just talk about what is Budgets are Sexy and we’ll start getting into how you got there.
J. Money: Yeah, I started BudgetsareSexy.com back in 2008. And it pretty much was my – I mean, honestly, like a diary of my money. It’s pretty personal. I’m not good at like, “Here are the 10 tips to do this.” I’m not a writer at heart. I like just getting ideas out though. I like starting conversations with money.
So usually, what happens is something in my day life, whether I do something awesome with money or stupid with money, I’ll blog about it and then let it open for discussion. And we have a good community of people that ask questions and tips and stuff in the comments. But yeah, it’s just pretty much my avenue to get the discussion going.
Mad Fientist: And you’ve been doing it since 2008, is that correct?
J. Money: Yeah! So 2008, my fiance and I at the time bought a house. We’re pretty much like when the peak of the market happened and then it dropped a little bit. We’re like, “Oh! We should buy a house. All our friends are doing it. It’s like the next step to do.” This is before I knew anything with money or early retirement or any of that stuff. I was just pretty much going with the flowing and copying people to be honest with you. I was trying to figure out how to be an adult.
Mad Fientist: Yeah, right.
J. Money: So we actually started looking for a 2-bedroom apartment to rent, randomly stumbled across a house and thought, “You know what? Let’s buy this thing.” Within 48 hours, no money down (literally, I didn’t put a penny down on it), we bought a $350,000 house in the DC area. I was like, “Oh, I should probably…”
I was never bad at money, but I was never good. I was just kind of even all the time. I thought, “Let me google budgeting. I should probably have a budget, right?”
And I kept coming up with all these stories of people’s money online. “Here’s my net work. Here’s how I saved $10,000.” I don’t know, me, I connect with people more than companies or organizations I guess. So that really, for me, hearing one-off a person as if we were having a coffee together just telling me their journey, it was really influential for me.
And after a couple of months of reading that, I thought, “You know what? I’m just going to talk about my journey.” All these people write so well. They’re very conservative. I was like, “I’m just going to be me.”
I started cursing and talking about beer and saving and all these kind of stuff, which was fun for the first few months and I started getting an audience. And then, once I started getting an audience, I was like, “Man, this is addicting!” It was fun!
And then, after six months, advertisers were like, “Hey, I’ll pay you $20 for this.” I was like, “What? I’m going to get paid? This is awesome!”
So it kind of just snowballed from there. That was seven years ago. And after about two to three – I think after three years, I went self-employed and I’ve been self-employed for about four years now just blogging and doing online projects.
Mad Fientist: That’s amazing! So what were you doing before you made the switch to full-time blogging?
J. Money: I was kind of a job hopper. My dad was in the military, so I was just traveling every year two years. I was leaving at home. And after I got out of college and graduated, I kind of was like, “Oh, I’m going to go and move to New York City and be a famous graphic designer.” That’s what I went to school for.
And then I got to New York and I was like, “Uh, people are really good here. They really care and they’re hustler.” And I was not at the time. So I ended up working customer service for Old Navy for quite a while.
And then I went back to the Virginia DC area and I started doing – like I worked with eTrade for a couple of years. I was trying to get my first nine-to-five job. I somehow stumbled across the [Starbucks] scene.
Back when the green tones were really big, I worked at a couple. And those companies were good. And when that was my foray into not like a suit-and-tie kind of job I guess. And that’s when I started to blog really.
I didn’t have a job more than two years in a row probably. So the blogging, for me, which is like seven or eight years has been a big thing. But yeah, I’d say, overall, my background has been in customer service and low graphic design work.
Mad Fientist: Sure. I think read somewhere you had 38 jobs before you started blogging?
J. Money: Yeah, that sounds about right.
Mad Fientist: That’s pretty good.
J. Money: Everything from cashwasher to dishwasher to Old Navy. Man, I worked at a stamp factory once? It’s crazy! The security at stamp factories, I mean, you couldn’t have pockets because to them, the stamps were kind of like currency. So if you were to steal one handful of stamps, it could be like a $5000 order because they’re tiny [and packed]. So security guards, metal detectors, it was crazy! Oh, man!
Mad Fientist: That’s cool! So you started to blog. You were doing it for a couple of years and you’re starting to see that you’re actually making some income. So how did you make that full-time switch to being a full-time blogger?
J. Money: Two things happened at once. The more that the blog was taking off, the more time I started dedicating to it. And at one point, I was probably working about 40 hours a week on the blog like nights and weekends. And then, I had my nine-to-five too. Sometimes, I would do my blog work there too.
But eventually, I was working like 70-80 hours a week. And my wife noticed that I was starting to burn out. I started paying attention to work more than life. And she said, “Look, you got to make a decision here.” I figured, “Well, I can’t stop the blog because it’s taken off and it’s like the only thing I’m actually passionate about.”
So I started saving. My goal is in six months to save $40,000 – $50,000 in cash and quit. And then, I had a little emergency fund saved up. I can try and see if I can do it full-time.
I’d go into work and all these people were staring at me. It’s like this weird – I don’t know, it was really weird. I’m like, “Man! Everyone knows. I’m going to put in my two weeks.” Maybe they caught on to the blog. So I would blog at work. And that’s why I was anonymous, so that I can say whatever I wanted to say and be totally transparent about work, about money and everything, but none of them knew at work.
So I thought I was caught. So, I’d go in – I actually got called into the office and I get laid off. I’m like, “What the hell? I don’t know what am I supposed to be doing?” So literally, that day forward, I was a full-time blogger…
Mad Fientist: That’s amazing.
J. Money: …which is big because I hate decisions like big decisions. I like them made for me in a weird way. So that pushed me out the door and my wife was like, “You know what? Let’s try this for six months. If it doesn’t work, go get a job.” I didn’t have to get one yet.
Mad Fientist: That’s amazing, yeah. And not only have you been blogging for what, seven years now, you’ve been blogging a ton. I’ve been doing this since 2012 and I think I have a total of 63 posts or something. That includes all the podcast episodes and everything else. And you, you were doing what, six a week, for the first how many years? And then now, you’re down to three a week or…?
J. Money: Yeah, I was doing about five to six every week for six years. In the last year or year and a half, I went down to three.
And I think, for me, again, I’m not much of a writer and big picture thinker kind of person. I admire people like you that can sit down and just have this really detailed, super helpful, powerful punch. For me, if I sit down and try and do that, I just can’t. I don’t work that way. I like kind of fun blurbs here and there, I guess I would describe them.
And so for me, just getting in the habit of writing every day is like the only thing that kept my site going and the only success that I’ve had was just from keeping that habit.
Mad Fientist: That’s amazing!
J. Money: And I can tell just from going from five to three, it’s harder for me to write now.
Mad Fientist: Really?
J. Money: It’s a lot harder, yeah. Even though I do less because I have those days in between and then, for some reason, like I get lazy – or I don’t know. I think I have 1900 posts now.
Mad Fientist: Nineteen hundred?
J. Money: And a lot of them weren’t that great!
Mad Fientist: That’s amazing! No, I completely agree with you. Actually, over the last few weeks, I’ve been wanting to focus more on some of my bigger goals and make a little bit of progress toward them every day. I set aside an hour for each of them every day. And yeah, it’s so much easier to just like, “I know exactly what I’m doing at this hour of every day.” I don’t have to make that decision or I don’t have to find the motivation because it’s like, “Well, that’s what I’m doing.”
Getting started is the hardest part. And then, once I’m started, I get a lot done. I think that’s made a big impact to me. So I can see what you mean about blogging every day and how it would be easier.
J. Money: I think it’s like a habit thing too. There was a Jerry Seinfeld thing. I can’t remember exactly where someone had asked him…
Mad Fientist: Oh, yeah, yeah.
J. Money: What was it like?
Mad Fientist: Don’t break or something, yeah.
J. Money: Yeah, don’t break the chain. Someone asked him what his best tip is for a comedic writer. He said, “Write jokes every single day. Don’t ever skip a day of writing jokes.” And it’s great. It’s true! It helps form habits too.
When I was working the 80 hours a week too, there were days when I didn’t want to write. And this is where some bloggers differ. Some people are like, “I’m only going to write when I have something awesome to say.” And then I say, “No, I’m going to write because I have a scheduled post to do.”
So there are going to be times when it’d be midnight in the early stages, I’d go to bed and then be like, “Crap! I totally forgot to write my post for tomorrow” and I’d get out of bed and make sure I do. I would not go to bed until it was done because I knew if I skipped one, it would just be a downward slope.
Mad Fientist: Oh, absolutely!
J. Money: So, yeah. It’s just been fun.
Mad Fientist: Yeah, that’s amazing. So you’ve been doing it so long and you’ve had, whatever you said, 1600 posts or something crazy. You’ve obviously probably seen some trends in personal finance over the years, maybe the early retirements obviously taking off over the last few years. And even I’ve seen that since 2012. Is there anything else that you’ve noticed or anything that you’ve picked up along the way that you want to share? Obviously, you have a ton of experience in this space.
J. Money: I don’t know about trends. I was going to say the early retirement, I don’t remember any of that when I started in ’08. I think the only trend that I’m seeing – I kind of don’t like it because this might sound hypocritical.
Nowadays, I see a lot of bloggers starting to blog to make money. They’re in it to like, “Oh, I know you can make money blogging. It sounds like a fun, easy job. I’m going to go do it. And all the articles are all on my pimpin’ stuff to make money.” And obviously, I make money doing it so I can only say so much.
But all the people that are successful that I know write like you, Mr. Money Moustache, even the earlier simple dollar, get rich slowly, these are all people that started blogging because they were passionate because they wanted to get the idea out. They didn’t do it to make money or to create this awesome business online.
And I think, for me, that’s the biggest difference. I coach bloggers every now and then for over a few years. And as soon as someone says, “Hey, I want to make money blogging,” I’m like, “You know what? There are so many other avenues. You can make money faster and a lot more than blogging. You better love it!”
Mad Fientist: Oh, exactly! If I calculated my hourly rates for what I made, I can’t even imagine how low that would be. But yeah, you’re exactly right because there’s no way you could – especially at the output level that you’re at, even at mine, I couldn’t do it unless I really was interested in it.
And so I imagine these sites would probably just fizzle out after a while unless they started making a ton of money. And then I guess that would motivate anybody to keep going.
J. Money: And it is a super slow – because there’s a lot of things that I know that I can write about. I’ll put a product on my site today and, literally, if I really wanted to, I can make five grand today if I wrote this thing. But then, it goes against – there are some things that make money that might not necessarily be in the best interest of what you believe or your readers. And so it becomes a super slow –
I knew someone back in, man, 2009 or 2010, they had an awesome community – engagement. It was just a really awesome site. It was fun to read, I was learning. There was a lot of good people there. And then the person found out how to make money (which is fine, again, if you do it in the right away), and this person just went all out – and I met them in person years ago. They said, “You know what? It was honestly a decision between do I want community and fun or do I want money?” They consciously made the choice of money.
I think they were making $150,000 to $200,000 off of this thing a year.
Mad Fientist: Oh, geez!
J. Money: And today, they didn’t care about the community of the people, they wanted the money and so they consciously made that switch which is, again, that was their decision. But for me, I’m not in it for the money. I probably made ¢15 an hour actually trying to do it.
And I also don’t take advantage. The nice thing with blogging, if you have an idea to say and you’re passionate about it, mostly, a lot of people make money off of stuff outside of the blog whether they’re freelancing or speaking or coaching or writing books. So there are tons of opportunities to make money, not even on the blog which is awesome.
That was the number one thing for me, opportunity. I had no idea the opportunities online if you had a site, nothing. I didn’t even know you can make money when I started online to be honest with you. But the opportunities that come are huge.
So if you are passionate about a subject, it doesn’t matter if it’s money or whatever, and you become someone online that people look to you as an “expert” or whatever, you have a shot at doing pretty well. But you’ve really got to live and breathe it and be happy about this, talking about this stuff.
Mad Fientist: No, I completely agree. And yeah, as you’ve said before, the in-person connections that you make through the site are definitely the most rewarding thing about it. So choosing an extra $500 and selling out your audience to make that money, that just doesn’t make sense when the most rewarding part that I found definitely is the people and getting cool opportunities to hang out with interesting people.
J. Money: Oh, hell yeah. Yeah, all my friends are online. More people call me J Money than my real name.
Mad Fientist: That’s so crazy!
J. Money: And I’m okay with it, at least we’re all in the same kind of path.
Mad Fientist: No, I completely agree. I just went to a meet-up recently and met a lot of really cool people and yeah, they asked for my Facebook account, my personal one. My personal life and my Mad Fientist life had been pretty separate, but I realized, “You know, I really connected better with these people than I do my real friends these days because we’re just such on different paths.” I was like, “Yeah, of course.” Of course, I became friends with these people on Facebook or whatever, share my personal email and stuff. It just makes a lot more sense because I just connect so much better and we have much more things in common. So it’s very cool.
J. Money: Oh, yeah.
Mad Fientist: So that’s one bad trend. Obviously, you write about a lot of really cool technology that’s emerged in personal finance and stuff. Are there any standouts there?
J. Money: Yeah, that’s a good one. Yeah, the last year and two, I’ve been counting. The first five or six years I’ve been blogging was just going with the flow and talking about money as I come across it kind of thing. And the last year, I realized, “You know what? I should probably as a financial blogger pay attention to the new technology that’s out there.”
And I don’t know if it’s lazy, but if I find something that I like, I stick with it and I usually ignore everything else. But because of that, if I had kept doing that, I wouldn’t have found the early retirement community. I wouldn’t have done a lot of these challenges and experiments I’m trying now.
So one of them I’ve been trying to do is just sign up to a lot more technology stuff to give them a test. And so, a couple that I’ve done this year that I just love is Digit and Acorns.
Digit, what it does when you sign up to your checking out, pretty much, their algorithms will analyze your spending and income and every few days, it will literally transfer out $5, $6, $12, little, incremental amounts into a savings account for you. And that’s it!
You just sign up once. And if you literally did nothing else, you’d have this account that just builds up by the month depending on how you’re spending in income and everything, right?
So it’s really automatic. All it uses is text messaging. So every morning, it’ll text me what my checking account balance is, so I’m always in the know. You can transfer the money out any time you want.
It’s just a really good tool to save if you suck at saving or you need to be better or you’re just trying to trick yourself into stashing money aside for a vacation or whatever it is.
It’s really cool! And what I like the most is that this is just the beginning. So full transparency, I started using the product, I fell in love with it. The founder, he said, “Hey, look. You want to come onboard as an advisor. Help us. Finesse us a little bit and maybe stay. Be like the point of contact for the financial blogger world.”
And I only said yes because I freaking love the product. I think I have $2300 saved in the last ten months. And I feel like I’m pretty good at savings. So that tells you, if I sucked at it, there’ll be a lot more.
And so, what about it I liked is that the guy, Ethan, he’s like, “This is the beginning. It’s just saving.” Imagine if we automate it like other departments in our life like in banking. You’ve got debt, right? Millions of people are on crazy debt. You’ve got investing. You’ve got insurance. You have all these different avenues. The idea that you can save this money aside right now, it’s just sitting there.
You can pull it out any time you want or whatever. But what if that money was then optimized to, let’s say, pay off debt or invest in your behalf?
You could see the vision of what the future could be in banking in general. And these guys are the ones that are trying to pioneer and disrupt the stupidness of how banks are today pretty much.
Mad Fientist: Nice. That’s really cool. And how about Acorns?
J. Money: Yes! Acorns is similar in that it’s automatic. What they do is you set up your account with them one time. And any time you make a purchase, they’ll round up to the nearest dollar and drop those pennies or quarters into investment portfolio for you depending on how much you shop of course. I average around $20 or $30 a month just from my spare change going into investment account. And they help you with, “We’re kind of risk tolerance” and all that kind of stuff. But if you suck at investing or just need to get started, that’s an easy way to do to it too.
Mad Fientist: That’s cool. I remember back in the day, Bank of America used to do that with their debit card for like a few months or something and…
J. Money: This is not going anymore?
Mad Fientist: I don’t think so. I think it may be still going, but they used to match it. So if you spend $1.99 from your checking account, they’d go and they would match that 99¢. I became obsessed in that. I just went mental with it. It was completely insignificant amounts of money, but I was like, “Free money from Bank of America,” this is the best.
J. Money: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Mad Fientist: That’s cool, man. I’ll put links to both of those in the show notes and people can go check them out.
J. Money: I think the technologies now are trying to make it super – especially with smart phones. Most people, it’s not that we’re lazy. But some people just need to be told what to do or just do it for them.
And that was the biggest thing when I started coaching. I did money coaching too for a little while. And maybe smart people like lawyers, doctors, people making hundreds of thousands, they were just making so many decisions on a daily basis, they knew they had to be better with money, but they were just like, “Look, I need you just to tell me. You know my goals. Tell me what to do. I’ll just do it.”
And it’s crazy because these are highly sophisticated people that suck at managing their money, but they were tapped out with trying to optimize and make every decision of their whole, entire life.
That’s why you see Obama and all these people wearing the same outfit all the time. That’s a whole new trend too, minimalism. You wear the same outfit everday the whole year, it’s one less decision to make.
Mad Fientist: Yeah, exactly.
J. Money: I love it!
Mad Fientist: Decision fatigue and all that, yeah.
J. Money: Oh, yeah. I love that, man. So minimalism is the new trend I’ve seen that’s crept into the personal finance. And even a more extreme one that I just stumbled across a couple of months ago is the no-waste or zero-waste movement. I don’t know if you’ve heard about that one.
Mad Fientist: No, tell me more about that.
J. Money: This girl, Bea, ZeroWasteHome.com I believe it is, she has a family of four. And in one year, the amount of trash that she produced filled in one tiny mason jar. For the whole family of four in one is insane!
Mad Fientist: Wow! Zero Waste Home?
J. Money: Yeah, Zero Waste Home.
Mad Fientist: Alright, I’ll link to that as well.
J. Money: But the concept is that a lot of us just throw away stuff, we don’t pay attention to what we buy and consume. It all goes in landfills, it’s bad for the environment and all that kind of stuff.
And I’m not like an environmental – I try my best, but I think what’s interesting about this is that it just gets you to stop and make conscious choices of what you’re doing. I started doing composting because of her. Just the idea that you can put something into the ground and have it be good, all these little things like, “Instead of the trash, I just put it in a composting pit.” It’s real simple to do.
But actually, her and her family, when she got down this path, when they started saving, I think they saved 30% or 40% if not more just based on changing habits. They had a big home. They minimalized their home to have less output.
It’s really interesting that there are a lot of hardcore lifestyles.
Mad Fientist: Yeah, exactly, yeah.
J. Money: Even early retirement.
Mad Fientist: Right, right. I’m sure there’s quite a bit of overlap with early retirement and zero waste home. I’m sure, yeah, they match up nicely. It’s fun reading about. You may not want to be that extreme, like extreme early retirement or anything, but it’s good to realize that there are people out there doing those things. So when you feel like you can’t cut back as much as you think you can, then these people push you to just do a little bit more which is great.
J. Money: Yeah. And I think you hit the nail on the head. If there are certain lifestyles that you like – I mean, I like minimalism, I like early retirement, I like zero waste. I can’t do any of those to the extreme especially with the kids and a wife that aren’t as far away from my lifestyle, my mentality. So you pick and choose the ones and combine them into a better lifestyle for you.
Mad Fientist: That’s great advice. And you mentioned challenges.
J. Money: Yes.
Mad Fientist: That’s something else I wanted to talk to you about because you wrote an amazing post called Become a Mad Scientist with Your Money. And not just because you gave me a really good shoutout at the beginning, but that actually is one of my favorite posts you wrote. So that was definitely icing on the cake, so I appreciate that.
But yeah, you’ve just been challenging everything over the last year. You’ve definitely inspired me to start challenging more because I realized I was pretty much set in my ways. Can you talk a little bit about what you’ve been challenging and what the outcome has been?
J. Money: Yeah, in a nutshell, it was something Mr. Money Moustache said. I’ve always been on the side of earning more income most of my life. I thought the more I earn, the more I can save and do everything else. And I think like people that are in this early retirement thing, it’s kind of getting me to think more about the expenses part.
So, to unwind that a little bit. For one year, I decided to challenge most ofmy recurring bills. So my iPhone at the time, my car insurance, my cable, stuff that’s like every month, I’m still used to over the years without thinking. I paid $170 or o$180 a month for iPhones for like five years or four years or something. And it was just the way it was.
And so Mr. Money Moustache one time said, “Hey, every amount that you don’t have to spend to live” or what is it? “As much as you cut off in expenses, you don’t need to earn to live down the road,” something like that. I’m totally butchering it.
Mad Fientist: Right, right. So you not only saved the money upfront, but you don’t have to accumulate money to pay for that expense for the rest of your life pretty much.
J. Money: Yes, exactly, yeah. That’s why you’re the podcast host.
Mad Fientist: So, when I saw that, I said, “Oh, I never really thought about that. I just assumed that I was going to need millions of dollars to retire one day.” But it’s true. If my lifestyle costs $1000 a month versus $10,000, I can retire a lot earlier.
And so I just started looking around in all the things in my life that I took for granted that I could probably be better if I actually paid attention. The iPhone was first. I kept hearing about Republic Wireless. I was like, “You know what? All I care about on this phone is I needed to call, I want to text, I want to send pictures. And because of our lifestyle, I want Internet.” So I went with Republic Wireless which is a famous, popular one amongst us financial bloggers. So I went down from $180 down to $50 for the wife and I, which is $130 savings every month which is crazy.
And at first, my wife was like, “No way in hell. You’re not getting rid of my iPhone.” I thought the same thing. That was it! There was no question about it. So what I did is I created a separated account and every time I cut back expenses recurring, whatever the difference was, I would trasnfer into a separate account, so I could watch it build up.
And that one habit alone changed everything because I saw every month that I had Republic, that I was saving $130 or whatever it was adding on top of each other. And so any time my wife was like, “Oh, this phone doesn’t do what the iPhone did” or whatever, I’ll go like, “Well, look at our bank account, there’s like $500 in there. What would you rather have, $500 or this one feature of the iPhone?”
Mad Fientist: That’s really good. That’s really good.
J. Money: It’s crazy! So that, over the year, between the phone, cable stuff, I started selling stuff. I literally look around my home and I think, “What would I rather have? That item sitting here collecting dust or cash?” And mostly, I think cash.
So in the year I’ve been doing this challenging, all these aspects of my life, I made $5400 something which pretty much was almost exact to max out our Roth IRA, so I got like a free Roth IRA.
Mad Fientist: Yeah, that’s amazing. That’s really good. And you’ve even gone crazy with it though, right? We were chatting at the last conference in Charlotte and you were saying you’re even considering selling things that you think you really, really want or really enjoy or really enjoying having just to see what it’s like. Talk a little bit about that.
J. Money: Yeah, so there are certain objects that we all have. It’s kind of like the iPhone, knowing how we’d ever get rid of that. But once I got going with the easy stuff – because there’s a lot of stuff we have in the basement and stuff that we could easily get rid of and we won’t miss it. But you only have so much stuff until you’re done with that.
So I started looking at pictures on the wall or things that I really liked a lot that I didn’t necessarily want to get rid of all the way, but I wanted to see how I felt if I did.
So I started with one or two things. Maybe I just got on a high, but I started not caring about things in general because it’s just crazy.
My bookshelf, I have three bookshelves next to each other. I wanted to make it like an old vintage, old-school library den kind of place in my house. It’s packed to the brim full of old books I’ve never read just because I liked the way they looked. Now, I’m down to 15 instead of 300, for example.
So I had the cash, which is fine, but then I started thinking, “What do I actually care about in my life that’s a physical item?” I care about my kids and my wife. But the only other thing left is – I’m a coin collector. I love coins and the history of coins. I have this tobacco box full of old coins from 1718, early 1900s. They’re worth something. They’re maybe a few thousand dollars worth total, but not worth a ton. But they’re something, right? I collected them over the years.
The idea I had was what if I got rid of the one thing that I care about the most that’s an item? What would that look like?
And so I’ve been flirting with this idea. It’s been a few months, I still haven’t gotten rid of them. But that’s the ultimate thing where I feel like I’m really challenging all the parts – at least in the things that I own.
Someone said it might be good to pass them down to my kids to enjoy the hobby of coin collecting. And that whole sentimental thing is another part that’s hard to grasp all the way I’m working on.
But in general, challenging your bills and your things, for me, it started infiltrating my life more even to the point where I’m now challenging, “Hey, how long do you want to blog for? Do you want to do this? Do you want to do that?” It gets you in a mindset of just doing status quo all day long until you wake up and you’re like, “Oh, shit! I’m 60. I haven’t paid attention.”
Mad Fientist: And you’ve even done some lifestyle stuff like you started waking up at 5 a.m. everyday. Are you still doing that?
J. Money: Benjamin Franklin! Yeah, today was number 79th. It’s the 79th workday in a row waking up at 5 a.m. Sometimes, I lay in bed at 5:30 and physically wake-up. So now, when I wake up early, I notice I set the nice tone for the day. Everyone is sleeping. You can have peace to think, to pray, to strategize or whatever you want. It’s your time that no one could take away from you.
Mad Fientist: That’s really cool. So you’ve been loving it?
J. Money: I’ve been loving it. And one reason I noticed day number 79 is I have a journal. Every day, I’d write the date just to make me feel good. It’s like a habit. If I sleep at night – I do sleep in on the weekends because my wife said (and I agree), I’ll probably get too hardcore about it. But come Sunday night, it’s amazing how excited I am to wake up at 5 a.m. which is crazy!
Mad Fientist: That’s so good, man. Have you any other ones that I may not have read about it ta are worth mentioning or…?
J. Money: I was bad at drinkin water. And so my brother found this water bottle jug that had eight cups worth of water you could fill in there. I’m like, “Why are you bringing this big-ass bottle wherever you go?” He’s like, “I fill it up in the beginning. And at the end of the day, it has to be drunk, the whole thing. And then, I know I got my proper water amount.”
And so I started doing that. Literally, it’s right next to me right now, it’s still really full. But that’s the only way for me to be totally hydrated, just by filling this one thing out. And at the end of the day, it’s gone. That’s really helpful.
Mad Fientist: Yeah, that’s so good. And that’s an important lesson I think, to set yourself up…
J. Money: …the easy way.
Mad Fientist: Right, the easy way not to fail or easy ways to succeed just like your diet battle isn’t fought in your kitchen. It’s fought at the grocery store. Just don’t buy the stuff and set yourself up for failure.
J. Money: Oh, gosh!
Mad Fientist: So that’s a really good lesson, that’s awesome. So that’s been going strong too.
J. Money: Yeah, that’s been almost two years now. Yeah, last week, I dropped it on the floor by accident and it broke and shattered all over the place. So I went like three days until I went back to the store to buy one and I felt like crap, man. I drink a lot of coffee. And without the water hydrating, it was – so yeah, I got to that store.
And they had mini-bottles for kids. I have a 3-year old and 1 ½. They love water bottles. They keep wanting to drink my big one, but they topple over. It’s so big! I’ll make two mini-ones. They’re so cute! They go walk around, drinking their little water.
Mad Fientist: Just like that…
J. Money: Oh,yeah. Pulls me, man.
Mad Fientist: That’s awesome! That’s really good.
J. Money: So there are a lot of habits that it’s funny when you stop to pay attention. I think one that I would really want to try is stopping and using the credit card and just using cash or debit and seeing – because there’s always those things. You spend 40% more if you use credit cards even if you pay it off, all those kinds of studies. I haven’t tried it yet, but that’s the one I’m toying with.
Mad Fientist: Nice! And the other ones that are on the horizon there?
J. Money: I feel like there is. I just can’t think for right now. I haven’t drink all this water, my coffee is shrinking my brain.
Mad Fientist: That’s awesome, man. Yeah, I know. That’s a great thing. I’m definitely going to be trying to do more of that.
And actually, talking to you in Charlotte is a reason why I’m doing a lot more of these podcasts and stuff. I’m just challenging doing more and these daily habits of, like I said, an hour a day for each of my big ones. I think you’ve inspired me. You challenge everything. I’ll start doing better habits. You know, habits, once they’re habits, it’s a piece of cake, which is good.
J. Money: Oh, yeah. Yeah, that’s the hard part, getting to that point of wanting to do it or seeing. I think seeing the progress – you know, I did start something else too. Because we’re online so much, you consume so much. Actually, any person, whether you’re a blogger or not, you have Facebook and you have ads and then you have all the news sources. You’ve got so much stuff that’s cluttering your brain.
And so, in my personal life, I got rid of Twitter. I got rid of all the things that were just making me feel worse like when I was there. Even Facebook today, if I get on there for my blog stuff, for whatever reason, I never leave Facebook happier than when I got there. It’s really crazy.
So I’m more in tune on what’s making me happy even if they’re like – sometimes someone will say something positive they did. Mostly, I’m a positive guy. I’m like, “Yeah! Way to go. Congratulations!” But sometimes, you get jealous, right? It’s nature.
And so, even when I catch myself being jealous all the time if I’m doing something, I just have to stop doing it because it just kills me, it eats at me – or if you’re being negative all the time.
So anyways, I try and stay away from social media as much as possible outside of work-related stuff. But because of that, the downside is you never know what’s going on in the world. I never know if there are earthquakes, if there are these ISIS stuff. It took me forever, like days, to find out that. The Paris thing, I didn’t know for a while.
And so what I’m kind of stumbling across is there’s a lot of like – my curation is really big online now. And I even have RockstarFinance, which I curate the best personal finance articles. It’s like the whole theme of that site. I found places where you can get news that’s like, “Someone else out there is seeing it all, digesting it all and then presenting it to you in an email really nicely and simply, so you don’t have to scour the web for the news pretty much.”
Mad Fientist: Oh, that’s cool. That’s a great – how did you drop Facebook, your personal Facebook? Did you just stop posting? Did you delete your account?
J. Money: I deleted the whole thing.
Mad Fientist: Nice! I’m so tempted, yeah. It’s exactly what you said. I never leave there happier than when I got there. But it’s so easy to just get on there and just try to see what everybody is up to. But it’s just terrible.
And even the happy stuff, then you’re comparing your normal life to somebody else’s highlights of their life. And that’s not good.
J. Money: Exactly! And most people only share the awesome kickass things. “Oh, I went to a trip to Peru! Oh, I made a million dollars!” But they fail to put all the crappy things that are going in their lives so you feel like they’re awesome.
Mad Fientist: I think I just accepted another one of your challenges. I think I’m going to just delete the whole thing. And it’s not productive at all. I would rather see my friends or call them and get a proper update than just eavesdrop on whatever highlights they have.
J. Money: Yes, yes, yes. Oh, and along that line, if you want to take it hardcore, you can also not pick up your phone in your house. That’s really unlike your cellphone. But you can call when you can’t get on the Internet or check email or instagram or Twitter or any of that stuff.
I started not doing it. At night and in the morning, I’m not allowed to go on there. When I’m around a physical human being, whether it’s my kid that doesn’t even know what I’m doing, I’m not on the phone. That’s a really big helpful tip.
Honestly, people are just so addicted. And I was too. Only because I’ve been challenging stuff, I’m realizing how addicted I was to all these stuff that doesn’t really matter in life – even like waiting in lines.
The worst is like you wait in line at the cash register or a shop or whatever you’re doing and you look around and everyone is on the phone. It makes sense. You don’t want to be bored. And so now, it’s even more annoying for me because I’m not on there and I see everyone else doing it. No! Oh, gosh!
Mad Fientist: Yeah, I know. That reminds me of another challenge that I’ve started trying to do since I saw you on FinCon. Just be more personable.
I’m the guy that comes into the store and borrows the thing and just gives the money and doesn’t really say anything. But I’ve really started trying to make an effort to engage normal strangers in conversation. And it’s been amazing! You have all these really nice, little parts of your day where you’re actually talking to people and connecting with people on a nice level. It’s obviously not a deep level, but…
J. Money: Oh, yeah, dude, that’s a great one. I like it!
Mad Fientist: That’s been great. And obviously, the phone would get in the way of that big time, but it’s…
J. Money: I like that one.
Mad Fientist: Cool, man!
J. Money: You know what’s funny with that one? When I lived in New York years ago, this used to be before cellphones, but everyone’s always in a rush and going fast pace, walking down the streets and what-not.
And I remember one day, this pretty girl, admittedly, walked by and I said, “Hi!” I don’t know why. I just looked at her and I said hi. I kept walking and she stopped – this is like no joke. She stopped and hugged me and said I was the very first person that talked to her living there.
She was living there for a whole month and no one ever said hi to her or said anything to her in her whole month of living there. I was the first person.
Mad Fientist: No way!
J. Money: Oh, yeah!
Mad Fientist: That is amazing! That’s a good…
J. Money: Crazy!
Mad Fientist: That is cool! Yeah. Hopefully, you’re already starting the movement away from looking at your phone and obviously being personable at these conferences. Hopefully, it spreads. But yeah, I think that’s a great call, just setting down your phone.
I’ve been trying to take all that sort of stuff that is not productive off of my laptop. I only do things on my phone. I only consume things on my phone because usually, when I’m on my phone, it’s in some sort of place where I couldn’t be productive anyway.
But I like the idea of just not consuming as much in general and then using those times when I would be looking at my phone to engage other people around me which is a lot more rewarding.
J. Money: And my biggest fear especially with kids is how fast time goes. It just speeds up. Especially if you wake up and you’re on the phone checking and then you rush and then you get to work and you’re doing more work, then you’re home and then you’re checking at night – it just never ends. It keeps going.
And when you’re off of the phone, even though it’s weird because it’s quiet especially if you’re in bed, it’s your only time to think because you’re not looking at your phone or maybe doing other stuff with your partner, it just slows down and you just appreciate it more.
And that’s the biggest thing with the 5 a.m. thing. It’s just appreciating time. That’s the slowest moment of my whole day, when it’s dark and I’m sitting in a chair by myself and my thoughts.
Sometimes, I get antsy. I’m like, “I’m done” and I hop on the computer. But I try and last really long. And so, that slowing down of time. I feel like if you could slow down time and then have more time, you don’t need to rush to the finish line of early retirement or your career. Whatever it is that we’re always go-go-go after, our goals, it helps live more I guess.
Mad Fientist: Absolutely! I definitely don’t take time to just sit there and think about – like you just said, maybe that’s the next thing I should try.
J. Money: You should try it. We’re on different timezones, but I’ll text you or whatever it is to make sure you’re awake.
Mad Fientist: Yeah, we’ll see about the 5 a.m. thing. Let me try that. One thing I’ve been doing is no screens after 10 p.m. and that’s been amazing because I’ve just been reading a ton of books lately. I can fall asleep so much easier without a bunch of stuff on my mind. It’s been good. So that’s been great. That’s something I do do everyday, but I will see about the mornings. That would be a big challenge. But as you’ve said, yeah, challenge big.
J. Money: When you start reading, do you notice anything different when you’re asleep like dreaming? Do you dream more by any chance?
Mad Fientist: Oh, I don’t know. I haven’t noticed, no.
J. Money: With me, because I start waking about five, I have to go to bed earlier because I go to bed like 12:01 usually. So now, I’ll be in bed between 10, 10:30 or 11. But for whatever reason, whenever I’m sleeping until five, every single night, I have vivid dreams every night. And I remember them.
Mad Fientist: Oh, really?
J. Money: I don’t know if it’s because of the timeframe I’m sleeping or with REM or however that stuff works, but it’s…
Mad Fientist: Did you used to not wake up with an alarm and now you are?
J. Money: I don’t know. I used to wake up from my babies crying.
Mad Fientist: Oh, right, yeah.
J. Money: But it’s weird. I just have the most vivid dreams which is like a really random thing that happen. I mean, they’re good. Some of the dreams are bad dreams, but for the most part, they’ve been good.
Mad Fientist: That’s really cool.
J. Money: And I wake up to go pee every night for some reason which I never think before.
Mad Fientist: Because you’re drinking a big tank of water every day?
J. Money: Yes, exactly. No, challenging yourself up. Man, if you can just stop and look around, I don’t know, even stupid little things and stuff, me a year or two years ago, I wasn’t this person. It always feels like I’m a hypocrite or something.
Once you find something that you love, of course you want to share it with the world. So you’re trying to help a little bit.
Mad Fientist: That’s cool. Yeah, I’ll link to the Benjamin Franklin 5 a.m. post as well because that’s a good one. That’s awesome, man.
So I’m going to do a quick little rapid fire since I know some of your interests. Tupac or Biggie?
J. Money: Oh, that’s a hard one.
Mad Fientist: I’m coming in for heat today, boy.
J. Money: I like Tupac’s lyrics better, but I happen to blare on more of Biggie’s music than I do Tupac.
Mad Fientist: Alright, Snoop or Dre?
J. Money: Snoop.
Mad Fientist: Eminem or Jay-Z?
J. Money: Jay-Z.
Mad Fientist: Bone Thugs or Wu-Tang.
J. Money: I used to be Bone Thugs. I listened to Wu-Tang for the first time the last six months and I listen to him almost every single day now, so I would say Wu-Tang. They were the smartest rappers I’ve ever heard in my entire life. They’re so smart.
Mad Fientist: Really? I have never got real big into Wu-Tang. I was a big Bone Thugs fan. But I have to put that…
J. Money: They’re smart. They’re smarter than you and me and all our audience combined. I can’t even get over it.
Mad Fientist: That’s awesome! Alright, I’ll start checking them out during the day.
Cool! And I usually end all of my interviews with one piece of advice you’d give somebody on the path of financial independence. So what would it be?
J. Money: The famous one that helped me the most – and just like a little background. A lot of you guys and the people you’ve had on the podcast are already in early retirement or can hit the button any time you want. I’m like still far, far away, like ten years out. And so for me, the number one thing that really helped me manage my money and get motivated was tracking my net worth.
That’s the first thing I recommend to anyone. If you’re like starting out with money or trying to do better, just know what your net worth is which is your assets minus your liabilities. It’s a real simple calculation. But knowing that number was instrumental for me because every month, I update it and every month, I can tell if I’m doing better or worse and why. If a debt comes up, then obviously, I’m spending more than I should, right?
And so I like it because if you’re paying off debt, it helps you. And if you’re saving or investing, it helps because there are two sections to the equation. But knowing that number, it encapsulates everything. Your financial picture is all in the net worth. I think a lot of us have ideas in our head of how well we’re doing or what our situation is, but the numbers, man, the numbers don’t lie. It is what it is as long as you’re not cheating and you’re copying and pasting the real numbers in there.
So that’s been the biggest thing I’ve ever done for my money.
Mad Fientist: Absolutely, yeah. I completely agree. And if you want to see J Money’s net worth, he’s been tracking it since January 2008 I think, and as you’ve said, every month. I’ll link to his latest net worth statement in the show notes.
J. Money: Cool!
Mad Fientist: And you’ve also started collecting a ton of – how many bloggers? That’s up to a hundred and something now?
J. Money: Yeah. On RockstarFinance.com, I have a net worth tracker of other bloggers that are sharing their net worth. I think it’s 185 or something like that. Everything from -$130,000 I want to say to $2 or $3 million. So that’s really good.
So no matter where you are in the stage of the game, you can find the people above you to motivate you and under you to make you feel a little better. We’re all on different phases.
I mean, there are so many variables that you can’t ever compare apples to apples. But you can learn a lot from the people how they’re getting there or getting out of debt or into the millions by following some of these people.
Mad Fientist: That’s awesome. Yeah, that’s really good for…
J. Money: I’m waiting for yours to be in there.
Mad Fientist: Yeah, I’m trying to decide which way I want to go. If I release my real name, then there’s absolutely no way that I’ll be sharing that. I’m just too proud. I hate talking about money. I’m mortified that some of my family members even know that I’m the Mad Fientist because they sort of then know, they have a rough idea of where I’m at financially. It just makes me so uncomfortable to think about.
So I don’t know, either I’ll stay completely anonymous and share it or I’ll come out with my real name and not share it. So I’m still deciding what to do.
J. Money: It’s a a hard one, man. Even if you are comfortable and it didn’t bother your people, some people get weird in real life with money. Actually, I’ve been anonymous too. And my wife still cringes when I post my net worth updates.
And I’m not anywhere near a lot of these people. Mine’s like $450,000 or $500,000, around there. But as time progresses and as I have kids, all that privacy stuff gets weird in real life. You can always divulge more, but you can never take it back.
Mad Fientist: Right, right. Exactly! That’s what really freaked me out. I told my mom just because it was becoming such a big part of my life like I was going to a conference or something and I was staying with her first. I was like, “I got to tell her” and I told her. She did the proud mom thing and she sent it out to every one of the family. I was just mortified.
Luckily, I don’t think a lot of them read it or have kept up with it. But yeah, I’ve had some weird conversations with certain family members that I’m like, “Am I weirding this out because it’s in my head that I know you know or is this actually weird?”
J. Money: I will tell you that most people don’t care or they don’t understand what you’re talking about anyways. They’re like, “Oh, this is boring. I don’t care about money.” They don’t even know how far you’re actually going and helping people.
I have friends, I’ve told people eight years ago and they still ask me what I do for a living and what my blog is. They don’t care. People just don’t care.
Mad Fientist: Right, that’s very true.
J. Money: Some people do obviously. I don’t have some stalkers. And some people, I wish I didn’t tell. But yeah, you’re doing good. Don’t let me pressure you. But if you want to be on that list, I’ll gladly put you on.
Mad Fientist: Awesome, man, thank you. And speaking of Rockstar Finance, we haven’t really been to that very much, but it’s an amazing site. You curate three articles a day. Is it just five days a week?
J. Money: Yeah, Monday through Friday. I have a friend who helps me scan 200 or 300 different articles and pick out the three favorite on money. That part hurts with the consuming part. That’s the next step.
But yeah, the point is just to share cool stories on money and motivate you, but not all from the same blog.
You and me, we have good articles and we have bad articles, but not everything we do is awesome. And even if it was, we wouldn’t have the same thoughts on it. So this is a good chance for you to get to know other types of bloggers and journeys that are going on, a really simple, easy way.
And what I’m finding is a lot of the bloggers are – man, someone yesterday emailed me and said they’re going to be on the Today’s Show now and the person found them through Rockstar Finance. I just love it!
Mad Fientist: That’s amazing!
J. Money: I sent people away to blogs. You’re not supposed to do that in the blogging world. It’s just to keep people on your site and grow your page views. The whole site is set up to send people away.
Mad Fientist: That’s awesome. No, I love it because as I’ve gotten busier and I can’t read as many things as I used to be able to, it’s so good because you do a little snippet and then I can see within three seconds whether I should click through and read the actual article or not because when I get a full article, I feel like I’m obligated to read the whole thing for some weird reason. I can’t skim very well and I can’t just ignore stuff really well, so it’s perfect for me.
And you’re curating links of your favorite blogs as well which is great. Thank you very much for putting mine on there as well.
J. Money: Yeah, dude. I like your stuff, man. Your stuff, it’s a lot of numbers and smart stuff in there. For ADHD, it’s not the best. But you are better with pictures and graphs and stuff.
Mad Fientist: Yeah, I’m trying, yeah. So yeah, anywhere else people can find you? Obviously, BudgetsareSexy.com, RockstarFinance.com. Is that the best way? Is there your email address there if anybody wants to get in touch or…?
J. Money: Yeah, yeah. I have JMoney.biz which is just like one page of everything that I’m doing, projects I’m working on or consulting on stuff. But yeah, any of those sites, you can find me. And I’m on Twitter at BudgetsareSexy. Twitter is the one thing that I do spend time on. I like that.
Mad Fientist: Cool!
J. Money: But thanks for helping me, man. And if anyone has questions, feel free to ping me. I’m happy to help however I can.
Mad Fientist: Nice, yeah. I’ll link to all those sites and your Twitter account on the show notes and everything, so people can…
J. Money: Oh, link? Link to Daily Skin or is it BestSkimn.com? That’s the newsletter I get that tells me the news.
Mad Fientist: Oh, cool. Alright, yeah. What is it? BestSkimn or…?
J. Money: It’s S-K-I-M-M, skimm. I think it’s theSkimm.com, something like that.
Mad Fientist: That’s okay. I’ll google S-K-I-M-M and then I’ll put the link in the show notes.
J. Money: Yeah, yeah. Even Oprah reads it. It’s like every morning, it’ll send you an email of all the news that you need to know pretty much in a fun, snarky way.
Mad Fientist: Oh, nice. Cool, man! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. This is a lot of fun. I’m glad we finally got around to doing it. I really appreciate it, man.
J. Money: Cool, man. Have a good day. Thanks so much.
Mad Fientist: Bye!
J. Money: Alright, bye.
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