Note: This article is from J.D. Roth, who founded Get Rich Slowly in 2006. J.D.’s non-financial writing can be found at More Than Money.
Eight years ago today, I started a new blog. Inspired by the success of a popular post at my personal site, I sat down to create what I thought would be the first personal finance blog on the Internet. (I was wrong, of course; there were plenty of similar blogs before mine.) I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
In the beginning…
In April 2006, I was still deep in debt. I’d begun to turn things around, but I still felt overwhelmed by how much I owed. I was also still selling custom boxes for my family’s box factory, doing half-ass work at a job I hated. My personal blog had a modest audience (mostly friends and family who didn’t mind reading about my obsessions with cats, computers, and comics), and I figured it’d be fun to start another blog: a blog about money.
Now, eight years later, my life has changed completely.
- In December 2007, I paid off the last of my consumer debt. At last, after 20 years, the burden was gone.
- In March 2008, I quit my day job. Since then, I’ve been writing full-time.
- In April 2009, I sold Get Rich Slowly, a move that allowed me to focus more on the writing and editing while off-loading the business stuff to somebody else. For the past five years, GRS has been owned by somebody other than me.
- At first, I wrote solely for Get Rich Slowly. Gradually, though, I branched out. I wrote Your Money: The Missing Manual. I have a monthly column in Entrepreneur magazine (and had a weekly column at the Time magazine website until the workload became too great). And I’ve contributed to NPR, CNN, the Time website, CNBC, and many other books and magazines.
- In the autumn of 2012, I “retired” from this site to write full-time at my personal site. This allowed me to spend more time working on other projects, such as public-speaking appearances and my upcoming guide on how to become the chief financial officer of your own life.
- Last fall, after one year away, I “un-retired” from Get Rich Slowly. I found I still had things to say, so I returned to write a few times each month.
When I started this blog, I didn’t have a coherent financial philosophy. I was making things up as I went. I read books and blogs and magazine articles — basically, I read everything about money I could find. In time, I developed a set of personal financial guidelines.
The Get Rich Slowly Philosophy
Based on my research — and my experience with what does and doesn’t work — I’ve compiled a list of 15 tenets that form the basis of everything I write. Some of these rules draw on age-old wisdom: “Saving must be a priority” is just the ancient truth that you’ve got to “pay yourself first,” for example. But other rules — such as “do what works for you” — I came up with on my own.
The Get Rich Slowly philosophy comprises these 15 tenets:
- Money is more about mind than it is about math. That is, financial success is more about mastering the mental game of money than about understanding the numbers. The math of personal finance is simple — spend less than you earn. It’s controlling your habits and emotions that’s difficult.
- The road to wealth is paved with goals. Without financial goals, you have no direction. If you have no direction, it’s easy to spend money on things you’ll regret later. But if you’re saving for a house, your daughter’s college education, or a trip to Europe, your goal will keep you focused, making it easier to spend on what’s important and ignore the things that aren’t.
- To build wealth, you must spend less than you earn. Basic math, yes, but it’s important. Successful personal finance is all about building positive cash flow. By decreasing your spending while increasing your income, you can get out of debt and build wealth.
- Saving must be a priority. Before you pay your bills, before you buy groceries, before you do anything else, you should set aside some part of your income. If you have to start small, start small. Even $25 a month is good. As you earn more and develop better habits, save as much as possible. (My ex-wife saves nearly a third of her paycheck!)
- Small amounts matter. Your everyday habits have a huge impact on your financial success. Frugality and thrift help build good habits, and make a real difference over time. Plus, there are tons of opportunities to flex your frugal muscles.
- Large amounts matter, too. It’s good to clip coupons and to save money on groceries, but it’s even better to save on the big stuff like buying a car or a house. By making smart choices on big-ticket items, you can save thousands of dollars at once.
- Slow and steady wins the race. The most successful folks are those who work longest and hardest at things they love to do. So try to find ways to make frugality fun, and recognize that you’re in this for the long haul. You’re making a lifestyle change, not looking for a quick fix.
- The perfect is the enemy of the good. Too many people never get started putting their finances in order because they don’t know that the “best” first step is. Don’t worry about getting things exactly right — just choose a good option and do something to get started.
- Failure is okay. Everyone makes mistakes — even billionaires like Warren Buffett. Don’t let one slip-up drag you down. One key difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is the ability to recover from a setback and keep marching toward a goal. Use failures to learn what not to do next time.
- Do what works for you. Each of us is different. We have different goals, personalities, and experiences. We each need to find the tools and techniques that are effective for our own situations. There’s no one right way to save, invest, pay off debt, or buy a house — and don’t believe anyone who tells you there is. Experiment until you find methods that are effective for you.
- You can have anything you want — but you can’t have everything you want. Being smart with money isn’t about giving up your plasma TV or your daily latte. It’s about setting priorities and managing expectations, about choosing to spend only on the things that matter to you, while cutting costs on the things that don’t.
- Financial balance lets you enjoy tomorrow and today. You don’t have to choose between spending today and saving for tomorrow. You can do both. Strive for moderation in all things: Pursue your goals, but don’t forget frugality; be frugal, but don’t forget your goals.
- Action beats inaction. It’s easy to put things off, but the sooner you start moving toward your goals, the easier they’ll be to reach. It’s better to start with small steps today than to wait for that someday when you’ll be able to make great strides. Get moving.
- Nobody cares more about your money than you do. The advice that others give you is almost always in their best interest, which may or may not be the same as your best interest. Don’t do what others tell you just because they hold a position of authority or seem to have a persuasive argument. Do your own research, get advice from a variety of sources, and in the end, make your own decisions based on your own goals and values.
- It’s more important to be happy than it is to be rich. Don’t be obsessed with money — it won’t buy you happiness. Sure, money will give you more options in life, but true wealth is about something more. True wealth is about relationships, good health, and ongoing self-improvement.
In the past, I thought “do what works for you” was the most important tenet in this list. It was this site’s unofficial motto. Recently, though, the site’s theme has changed. Now the core value here is “nobody cares more about your money than you do.” Smart money management is all about taking an active role in your financial future, about becoming your own financial guru.
The Stages of Personal Finance
A few years ago, I tried to outline what I called the “phases of personal finance”.” These are the stages people pass through in their relationship with money.
- In the zeroth stage of personal finance, a person doesn’t exercise any sort of financial skills at all. Often, he isn’t even aware that he should. He uses money without thinking. And, more often than not, he lives reactively, spending in response to outside forces.
- The first stage of personal finance is all about learning the basics: understanding compound interest, reducing debt, beginning to save.
- The second stage involves putting the basics into practice: choosing to live frugally, saving in earnest, and pursuing financial goals.
- The third stage means doing more of the same — continuing on the path to financial success. But it’s here that you can start asking yourself why you’re doing this. Why are you saving? What’s next? It’s here that you begin enjoying the fruits of your labors while continuing to save for the future.
- The final stage of money management is Financial Independence, as defined in Your Money or Your Life. This is the point at which you have “enough” and then some.
Though I haven’t revisited these stages, I think about them every time I write an article. Maybe it’s time for me to cover them again?
Now, as we do every year, let’s take a trip through the GRS time-machine.
Get Rich Slowly: Year One
When I started Get Rich Slowly, I made several posts per day, most of which were short summaries of things I’d read elsewhere or glimpses at interesting personal-finance products and tools. It was several months before I found the pattern that lasted for the next several years: two posts per day, with the early post being a longer entry.
Most of these early articles were about my personal history, and about the tools and techniques I was using to get out of debt. Here are some of my favorite from that first year:
- The Entrepreneurial Spirit, a Tribute to My Father — My father was an entrepreneur. He was always starting businesses. He was always selling things.
- The Worst Job I Ever Had — I made some poor choices at the end of my college career; as a result, I graduated without a prospect for work. No matter — I lived off my credit cards for a few months, basking in the glow of adulthood. Eventually I realized that I needed to find a job.
- Money Blueprints: What Our Parents Taught Us About Money — I had dinner with two friends from high school last night. We shared good wine, good food, and, especially, good conversation. We talked about how we perceived money when we were younger.
- Which Online High-Yield Savings Account is Best? — The most-commented post ever on this site, and one folks refer to again and again. It’s not story-oriented, but is simply a resource for finding a good online bank.
Get Rich Slowly: Year Two
The second year of this site saw a creative explosion. As the GRS community grew, it fed me new ideas. And as I defeated debt after debt, I found inspiration all around me. Success with personal finance led to success in other areas of my life. By the end of 2007, I’d managed to pay off the last of my consumer debt; a few months later, I quit the day job to blog full time.
Some of the best stories from this site’s second year include:
- The Power of Yes: A Simple Way to Get More Out of Life — For much of my adult life I’ve been shackled by fear. I’ve been afraid to try new things, afraid to meet new people, afraid of doing anything that might lead to failure. This fear confined me to a narrow comfort zone. Recently, however, I made a single small change that has helped me to overcome my fear, and allowed me to get more out of life.
- You Are Your Own Worst Enemy — My friend Gillian called the other day– she’s been having money trouble and was looking for help. “I’m not really a financial advisor,” I told her. “I write about money, and I try to help people at my website, but I’m not qualified to coach you one-on-one. ” Still, she’s a friend, so I resolved to at least give her some advice.
- Free at Last! Saying Good-Bye to 20 Years of Debt — It took a lot of time and effort, but these actions have finally paid off. Today I wrote a check for the last of my consumer debt. I’m now debt-free, except for my mortgage. I’ve been walking around in a happy little haze all day long.
- Luck is No Accident: 10 Ways to Get More Out of Work and Life — Dale Carnegie once said, “Happiness doesn’t depend on any external conditions — it is governed by your mental attitude.” Some people might dismiss this as bunk, but research bears it out. Don’t worry about circumstances beyond your control. Learn to control the things you can, including your reaction to the world around you. How you respond to an unfortunate event is often more important than the event itself.
Get Rich Slowly: Year Three
The third year of Get Rich Slowly was turbulent, though most of this occurred behind the scenes. The blog grew rapidly, and I realized it had turned from a hobby to a business. This was both a blessing and a curse. I felt like there was way too much for one man to take care of, so I began to cast around for solutions.
Meanwhile, I found it difficult to find financial balance. I’d been pinching pennies for a long time in order to pay off my debt, and it was tough for me to loosen up. With your help, I eventually realized it was okay to use money to have a little fun. To add to this year’s ups and downs, my best friend died. This had a profound impact on my life and on this blog.
Here are some of the top stories from Get Rich Slowly Year Three:
- A Real Millionaire Next Door — Kris and I love our neighbors. One of our favorite neighbors is the old guy next door. Let’s call him John. He’s a man who has lived the philosophy I’ve adopted for myself, who has lived the philosophy I espouse on this website. He’s lived this life and has been successful. He’s a man who is happy and fulfilled. He’s a real-life millionaire next door.
- You Can’t Always Get What You Want — It’s okay to have something in your life that you hate. And it’s okay to have something you want. It’s natural. The problem is that once you get that thing, you’re just going to hate something else, you’re just going to want something more. It’s not want that’s the problem, but the habit of constantly satisfying wants.
- The Razor’s Edge: Lessons in True Wealth — My friend Sparky made what I thought were odd choices. He lived like a monk while at home so that he could spend his money on travel and other things that were important to him. This article describes the lessons he taught me.
- How to Build Confidence and Destroy Fear — Without self-confidence, we have a tendency to make poor decisions. We make choices based on fear instead of what’s best for us. If you lack confidence, you might fill your life with self-destructive behavior. You might work at a job you hate. You may allow yourself to get deep in debt. You may find yourself moving from one bad relationship to another. Without confidence, you don’t allow yourself to pursue your dreams. Here are a few courage-building techniques I’ve picked up over the years.
Get Rich Slowly: Year Four
My fourth year at Get Rich Slowly was one of great personal fulfillment — and great personal struggle. As a result of my best friend’s death, I made some big behind-the-scenes changes so that I could free some time to pursue other life goals. First, though, I wrote Your Money: The Missing Manual, which consumed six months of my life (and led me to gain 20 pounds).
One of the most notable changes this year was the addition of staff writers. This helped take the load off my shoulders, and introduced some new voices around here. The blog also moved to a “one long article a day” format, which most people seem to prefer.
Great articles from Year Four include:
- How to Negotiate Your Salary — I don’t think people spend enough time looking for ways to boost their income. Learning how to negotiate your salary is one of the best ways to improve your financial well-being.
- Understanding the Federal Budget and The Truth About Taxes — We cannot have informed discussions about taxes and government spending if we don’t have the baseline information. Because my own education on this subject is weak, and because I want GRS readers to be informed, I spent 12 hours last week researching a variety of tax topics. These two articles record my attempts to discover that baseline information.
- The Paradox of Choice and the Dangers of Perfection — While it’s true that some choice is a good thing, too much is not. It’s easy to pick the best option from a pool of three, but it’s difficult to find the perfect choice in a pool of 30. “Perfect” is a moving target. It’s better to make a solid decision today than a perfect decision next week.
- Spend Based on Who You Are, Not Who You Want to Be — Buy things as rewards, not because you expect merely having them will change who you are. Another way to think of it: Buy things as you need them instead of buying them with the expectation that you’ll use them.
Get Rich Slowly: Year Five
In its fifth year, I finally admitted the truth: Get Rich Slowly was no longer about me. Get Rich Slowly is a group blog. Mine is the strongest voice, and I provide the editorial vision, but the multi-author format is here to stay.
This format allows me to incorporate more reader voices. I’ve said all along that you folks are what make Get Rich Slowly great. It’s not me. It’s not the other writers. It’s the community that has grown around this site. I love how freely everyone shares their tips, stories, and experiences. It’s fantastic. Over the past couple of years, I’ve worked to make your voice more prominent on this site, incorporating features like Reader Stories and regular Ask the Readers questions. Lately, I’ve made a couple of other small changes, such as introducing follow-ups to past discussions and making a conscious effort to weave continuity from post-to-post.
Here are some of my favorite stories from Year Five of GRS:
- The Rewards of Frugality and Thrift (or Why We Scrimp and Save) — I write about thrift and frugality a lot, but it’s only because I recognize their value in helping me obtain my goals.
- Action Not Words: The Difference Between Talkers and Doers — If there’s something you want to be or do, the best way to become that thing is to actually take steps toward it, to move in that direction. Don’t just talk about it, but do something. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Just take a small step in the right direction every single day.
- From the Rich to the Poor (or What I Learned in Africa) — My trip to Africa changed me. I want to do more with myself. I want to help others, if I can. I have some ideas on how to do this, but time will tell just where this experience will lead me.
- Earning, Spending, and Saving: The Building Blocks of Personal Finance — This article shares a subtle re-structuring in the way I view personal finance. Subtle, but important.
Get Rich Slowly: Year Six
This site’s sixth year was characterized by change, especially in my personal life. This personal change bled into the blog itself, and not always in good ways. As I felt, so did Get Rich Slowly. These growing pains were exciting and scary, both at once. During this year, I wrote less at this site, but many of my articles were more intensely personal than ever before.
Here are some of my most important stories from Year Six:
- Drama in Real Life: A Place for Mom — My mother has struggled with mental health problems for over a decade. After a few years of increasingly erratic behavior, my family finally had to take action, we had to help her find a new place to live where she could receive constant supervision.
- America’s Love-Hate Relationship with Wealth — While writing about money here at Get Rich Slowly for six years, I noticed that people in general (and Americans in particular) have a complex love-hate relationship with wealth. People want to be rich — but they’re suspicious of those who already are.
- A Place of My Own — The toughest blog post I’ve ever had to write: After months of hinting at things, I revealed that my wife and I were getting a divorce, and that I’d moved into an apartment of my own. This post explored some of the implications of that decision. (For the record: Kris and I continue to work to maintain our friendship.)
- How and Why I Sold Get Rich Slowly — After years of ignoring offers to buy this site, a close friend’s death (and a fear of burnout) prompted me to sell the blog. This post explains how and why I did so.
- This I Believe: 43 Lessons from 43 Years — My favorite post of the year: I shared the lessons I’d accumulated throughout my life in the hopes that I could help you lead a happier, more productive life.
Get Rich Slowly: Year Seven
During the seventh year of Get Rich Slowly, I retired. Or, more properly, I took a sabbatical. I’d grown weary of writing about money day in and day out. Plus, I needed to get my personal life in order. And, of course, I wanted to spend my time writing at More Than Money. So in October 2012, I took a break. Before I left, though, I wrote some good stuff. (Plus I popped in now and then to share guest articles.)
Here’s the best stuff from Year Seven:
- Just One Thing: A Simple Way to Make Changes to Your Life — Often when people are unhappy with life, they try to make many big changes all at once. This method rarely works. Instead, it’s often better to change one small thing at a time. This idea meshes well with the whole “get rich slowly” philosophy. It’s an effective way to create long-term change.
- The Power of Personal Transformation: Change Your Self, Change the World — In July 2012, I spoke at World Domination Summit. This is the written version of that speech, which was all about overcoming fear, finding focus, and taking action. I argued that by finding the courage to change what’s wrong in your own life, you’ll not only improve yourself, but improve the world around you.
- Reader Story: I’m Retiring from Get Rich Slowly — After more than six years writing and editing this site, I decided to call it a day. This post summarized my experience here and talked about my plans for the future.
Get Rich Slowly: Year Eight
Year Eight was a hell of a lot of fun. After my year off, I came back rested and ready to write about money. Part of this was because I’d spent a week in Ecuador discussing personal and financial freedom with Mr. Money Mustache and a bunch of other smart folks. I realized that there still are new things to say about money, and new goals to share with readers. This was the year I realized the importance of saving rate and began my push to get people to manage their personal finances as if they were running a business. It was a good year, and it was tough to choose my favorite articles.
That said, here are a handful of my favorites from the past 12 months:
- You Are the Boss of You: How to Find Success With Money and Life — My first post back at this site was a sounding call for personal responsibility. I’ve always said that nobody cares more about your money than you do. But during my year off to think deep thoughts, I’d come to realize that nobody cares more about you than you do. The key to success — in every area of life — is to understand that you control your own destiny. I love this article. I was just thinking of it today…
- Thoughts on Financial and Personal Independence — After a week in Ecuador filled with “crazy rich person talk,” I felt like my entire financial philosophy had been put into a blender, scrambled, and then reformed into something different. It still contained the same components as before, but it was better. This article offered some of the best insights I had on my trip.
- How I Sold My Comic Books (and Why) — After collecting comics my entire life, I sold my entire collection. This article — which is just a story without any moral — describes what it was like to gather them, sort them, and sell them online. It was fun to write and, apparently, it’s fun to read.
- What Are Savings For? — Last November, I wrote about a meeting with my financial adviser. In that article, I made an off-hand comment about spending a lot on travel. Many readers were worried that I’d “relapsed” and was in danger of falling into debt. In “What Are Savings For?” I argued that money is a tool. It’s not an end in and of itself. Once you have it, there’s no sense hoarding it. It ought to be spent to help you achieve your goals and dreams.
- Several of my recent articles were actually stealth excerpts from Be Your Own CFO, the guide included in the new Get Rich Slowly course, which will be released a week from today. I used this blog to noodle with ideas that I was working on for the larger project. Examples of this include:
- The One-Page Guide to Financial Independence
- Big Wins: The Quickest Way to Wealth
- The Opportunity Fund: How to Be Prepared for Lucky Breaks
Revised versions of these ideas and articles appear in Be Your Own CFO.
What does the future hold for Get Rich Slowly? And for me? I’m even less sure of that. For now, I’ll keep writing about money at GRS a couple of times per month. Plus, at More Than Money I’m in the middle of a year-long series of articles about overcoming fear, choosing happiness, and achieving freedom. Readers seem to love the posts, and I certainly enjoy the conversation.
Next week, of course, I’ll be launching the Get Rich Slowly course, which includes the Be Your Own CFO guide. After that, I have no major projects on the horizon. A few speaking engagements, yes, and continued meetings with readers. But I’m gradually tapering my responsibilities so that Kim and I can take an extended vacation in 2015. I’ve decided that, for me, 2015 will be the Year of Nothing! I can’t wait!
Thank you for eight great years! I’m happy to have helped so many people, and I appreciate how much you have helped me. I look forward to continuing this journey together.
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