Money story: I was a frugal jerk

This guest post from the Frugal Jerk is part of the "reader stories" feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success -- or failure. These stories feature folks from all stages of financial maturity. Today, the Frugal Jerk -- who has asked to remain anonymous for now -- shares his story about going from internet entrepreneur to busted and broke.

You might know me. I’m a blogger and entrepreneur. I've had tens of thousands of customers during the last decade, so it's very possible that you've purchased something from me in the past.

I've been read by millions of readers on my own sites and I’ve appeared as a guest writer on popular websites you’ve surely heard of. I've also been featured in New York Times bestselling books that may sit on your shelf. At my peak, my income was $300,000 per year. By many accounts I would be considered successful. But I’ve made many dumb mistakes with money.

We’re not going to bury the lede: At a certain point, because of a perfect storm of mistakes and problems, the smartest move was to foreclose my home. This move may have even saved my life. This is that story.

What's interesting about all of this is that I grew up fairly poor and conservative with money. If I couldn’t pay for something in cash then I didn’t buy it. I didn’t make stupid financial decisions. Those decisions were for idiots. I was no idiot! (Reality check: Everyone is an idiot sometimes.)

Buying the Hype

When I bought my home, everything was going great. In the run-up to the U.S. recession, houses wouldn't stay on the market for long. If you remember those days, you know that you could go to a first open house and the house would often be sold before you got there. It got to the point where houses were regularly selling for more than asking price. Bidding battles were not uncommon.

This should have been a warning. But I was young and dumb and flush with cash. I had a business generating almost $1,000 in profit per day. Mostly automated. All online. What to do with all that money? Home values always go up, right? It’s always smart to “Buy! Buy! Buy!” isn’t it? We all heard it daily. (You might still hear it regularly since the economy has improved lately.) Plus, it’s the alleged American Dream. Quite literally everybody around me told me to buy, particularly those who knew my income. Parents, friends, the echo chamber in the media. I didn’t hear a single dissenting opinion. (Besides my own, which I steadfastly ignored.)

So I bought a home.

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Budgeting Dilemma: How Do You Decide What You Can Afford?

This article was written by No Debt MBA, who is trying to pay for an MBA from a top-five business school without student loans. This is a post that asks questions but offers no answers.

My significant other and I had an interesting discussion the other night. We were trying to make plans for a week of vacation this summer and were deciding between two different options:

  • A cross-country trip with plane tickets where we'd spend some nights staying with friends and spend days touristing and eating out.
  • Driving to a nearby state or national park and camp or backpacking for a week.

I'm headed to business school in the fall, and my first tuition bill is due in a few weeks. Can you guess which option I advocated?

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How to cheat on your taxes legally

tax tips on how to cheat on your taxes legally

This is a Guest Post by Richard Close. As a former IRS Revenue Officer, Richard "stole" $10 Million for the IRS. Now he works to help American taxpayers and has had a partnership with Tax Defense Network and has offered advice on how to cheat on your taxes legally to GRS readers below.

Ah, tax season. That time of year where people grouse about the greedy government. Some folks are so in need that they start looking for ways to cheat on their taxes. Here's a hint: Never cheat on your taxes. The risks far outweigh the rewards. How do I know? Because I used to work for the IRS, and I saw first-hand what happened to tax cheats.

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How to use a commitment contract to change your habits

This article was written by Pop at Pop Economics, a great new blog about investing, personal finance, economics, and more.

It's now 9pm on August 30th. I'll finish this article by 11:59pm on August 31. I know this, because if I don't, I'll lose $1,000.

Call it an incentive. I've written about behavioral economics over at Pop Economics for three-quarters of a year now. There are an infinite number of subjects to cover, but they all boil down to the same idea: People respond to carrots and sticks.

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How much life insurance do you REALLY need?

On Friday, I shared a guest response to a reader question about life insurance. Many GRS readers rightly complained that it didn't do a good job of answering the question. One reader — Mike from Four Pillars and ABCs of Investing — took it upon himself to write this response.

One of the most common issues that people with any kind of dependents face is, "How much life insurance do I need?".

This is a tough question to answer in a simple equation; there are quite a few variables which affect the amount of insurance needed. First off, I'm only going to discuss term insurance. For most people, that's the only type of insurance to consider.

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What Marriage Has Taught Me About Money

This article was written by WC, a guy in Chicago that writes about money at The Writer's Coin.

In May, I will celebrate my two-year anniversary with M, my favorite person in the world. I thought I knew a lot about everything before we got married, but now I'm wiser. So for all the newlyweds out there, or the ones thinking of walking the plank getting married, here are some things you should know.

There is no I

Marriage is all about the "we". It's not "your" money or "my" money, it's "our" money. It isn't your retirement, it's our retirement. It's not an easy concept to grasp, but you'd better adjust because when you get married you really don't have a choice. The sooner you accept it, the easier it will be. Don't fight it...As you'll see, this will become a recurring theme throughout your married life.

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Why do you want to be rich?

I'm not the only one who has been thinking about the relationship between money and meaning lately. This article was written by CJ at, who is trying to live a rich life even as he works to pay down debt.

“Wealth and riches are not synonymous. Wealth will get you riches, but riches will never make you wealthy.” — Dr. Edwin Louis Cole

I love this quote from Dr. Edwin Louis Cole because it gives me a heart check. It helps me understand my motives for doing what I'm doing.

You see, my goals are to become completely debt-free. I'm getting closer and closer to that goal. Within the last few months, I downsized my house, doubled my income, and was able to pay off all of my debts except for the mortgage. So now all I have left is about $100,000 to pay off before I am completely debt-free.

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An introduction to life insurance

Many of you have asked for life insurance information, so Ray from Financial Highway offered to provide this article on the subject. This is new info for me, too.

Protecting your family from financial disasters is one of the fundamental components of financial planning. Life insurance should be a core part of that planning process. This article is a basic primer on life insurance, which should introduce you to the concept and give you an idea of how life insurance works.

What is Life Insurance?

Most people have a basic understanding of insurance. You receive financial compensation when an insured event occurs. Consider auto insurance, for example. If your car is in an accident or stolen, your insurance company provides compensation according to the terms outlined in your insurance policy.

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Saving money and the environment: Where green and frugal meet

This is an article for Earth Day from Beth H., who writes about saving time, money, and the environment at Smart Family Tips.

Going "green" has a bit of a bad rap. As soon as marketers realized it was profitable to be green, suddenly all sorts of products flooded the marketplace with eco-friendly claims. It can be overwhelming. Is it really necessary to buy all this "stuff" to be green? Are these products really as green as they say they are? We're in a recession — I can't go into debt to save the planet!

The good news: At its most fundamental, being "green" is nothing new. It's actually built around a very old philosophy of consuming less, buying only what you need, using things until they're worn out, and wasting not. Unsurprisingly, frugality and green-living are closely tied. You don't have to buy expensive "green" products in order to be environmentally friendly. The real goal is to mind your consumption, and that's good for your wallet and the planet. Continue reading...

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The per-diem system: An easy way to budget your spending money

This article was written by Spencer, a GRS reader in New York.

As a guy who just finished paying off $14,000 in credit card debt, I wanted to share one tip that helped me get over the bad debt hump. I allocate my spending money on a per diem system. At the beginning of each cycle of my monthly budget, I set aside funds for:

  • Every fixed expense that I have (rent, cable/internet, groceries, power)
  • Any unique expenses (a plane ticket, for example)
  • And, of course, my savings (about 8 percent of my after-tax, after-401k income)

After allocating this money, I go to the bank, withdraw the remaining funds in cash, and divide it among envelopes for each day of the month. Each day, I open an envelope and add the day's cash to my wallet. For me, the physical parceling of the cash is an important psychological step.

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