You've probably heard the line about following your passion to the bank. Just do something you love and cash in...right?
As an astute reader of Get Rich Slowly, chances are you also know that there's more to it than that. Lots of people follow their passions and fail to make any money. Meanwhile, others are indeed able to craft a new life for themselves — and earn a lot of money — by pursuing something they love to do and finding a way to craft a business around it. What's the difference between these two groups? What separates those who fail from those who succeed?
Well, it's not about working less, manifesting riches, or waiting for wealth to arrive at your doorstep. It's about making something that improves the state of the world — or at least the lives of a small group of people willing to pay for it. It's about working more, but spending your time on the things you love to do.<
Working Away From Work
I got my start as an entrepreneur completely by accident. You can read the whole story here, but the short version is that back in 1999, I needed to make some money. The bills were due, my third-shift job wasn't going so well, and one day I took some photos of random stuff around my apartment and put it up on eBay. I made about $22 an hour right away, so I quit the night job and started building a wholesale business.
I've had a lot of different small businesses since those early days, including website design, publishing, and Google Adwords consulting. I've also had some crazy experiences along the way, and made a lot of mistakes.
Despite the mistakes and occasional uncertainly of not having a regular paycheck, my ten years of being out of the traditional workplace have made me a passionate believer in working for myself. I don't have a large business — I work at home, and I don't employ anyone directly. I have no plans to do that in the future either, because I'm comfortable with the super-small business model I call microbusiness.
My short life as a daytrader
In my second year of college, I decided to take out $10,000 in student loans and become a daytrader. I could earn far more than the low 4% rate the loans came with, and I planned to finance my education with the winnings.
Sounds like a great idea, right?
There I was, hanging out in the school library, taking up two or three monitors with stock tickers running across the screen and Excel spreadsheets tracking my trades. A copy of Barron's would be spread out beside me, and the Wall Street Journal wasn't far away.
So how did it go? Well, there were a couple of problems.
- Real-time trading was hard to do in 1997. Back then, the internet was up and running well, and Datek Online had just launched, but real-time trading was still restricted to people with a lot faster connections than my school library had.
- Apparently, the school library was not designed for my exclusive use. For some reason, the library staff grew weary of my hanging out in the library all day, taking up three computers. I tried to play it cool when they asked me about it — "Oh, is there a problem?"— but in the end I was put on library restriction: I could use only one computer at a time, and if others were waiting to do academic work, the stock trading would have to stop. Not wanting to pay for a better computer and connection at home, I finally gave it up.
Fast-forward ten years, and I haven't done any stock trading since then, but I've managed to choose unusual paths most of that time:
- I lived in West Africa for four years, working as a volunteer for a charity without taking any salary.
- I've worked as an entrepreneur for most of my adult life — ten years and counting without the dreaded “real job”.
- After spending so much time overseas, I've found that I really enjoy traveling to places most North Americans never go to, so I recently set a goal of traveling to every country in the world before my 35th birthday in 2013
Each of these experiences has taught me a lot about personal finance, and in a few important ways, my belief in unconventional living has carried over to how I handle money. I've made a lot of mistakes along the way, but I've also done a few things right.
With that in mind, I've written a two-part summary to explain more about how I handle my finances. While I don't expect that anyone will adopt my own system in full, I do hope that this summary may help others who see the world similar to the way that I do. My thanks to J.D. for providing a forum for this summary here at Get Rich Slowly.
Back to basics
First of all, I'd like to think that most of what the GRS site advocates — and what GRS readers consistently practice — represents a great start to a nonconformist approach to personal finance. Sadly, the majority of North Americans are woefully under-informed about financial matters and do not set savings goals.
Simply by planning and taking deliberate action with your finances, you are already in a league of your own.
Further, as different as I may be, I am an advocate of most of the basic financial advice presented here on GRS and in other like-minded publications. Some financial advice is fairly generic, but there really are some good principles that are true for everyone.
For example, I believe in:
- emergency savings funds
- paying off credit card balances every month
- being aware of all your expenses
- using a cash method for discretionary spending
- long-term index fund investing
I think of these things as The Basics. Simply following The Basics will put most of us far above the curve.
Also, I am generally skeptical about retirement as it's commonly defined (more on that later), but I am even more skeptical about Social Security. If you're under 50 years old, I don't recommend you count on Social Security for anything. Consider those payments you make each month as a parent or grandparent tax.
Where I diverge from the conventional wisdom is over the issues of debt, focused spending, home ownership, traditional employment, retirement, and charitable giving.