Guest Post: J. Money’s 7 Money Lessons from 7 Years of Blogging

With just under a week left in our month of financial fitness, we want to keep going strong with tips to help you save more, so we’ve turned to one of the pros.  Today, we’re thrilled to feature our first ever guest post from one of our favorite and, um…most creative, bloggers, our friend, J. Money of Budgets Are Sexy.  J is one of the most popular names in the personal finance blogosphere. He was recently featured in Forbes, saved over $400,000 in just 7 years, and used Republic’s affordable WiFi + Cell service to help get there. When it comes to financial fitness J knows “what’s up.” As a fellow Republic Wireless member, J. Money has graciously allowed us to share the 7 money lessons he’s learned after 7 years of personal finance blogging, which he originally posted here.  We found the lessons extremely useful in both our lives and our efforts to tone up our own finances. We hope you feel the same!  So, without further ado, here are J Money’s tips for life and money:


 

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Image courtesy of budgetsaresexy.com

As of today, I’ve been blogging for exactly 20% of my life.

TWENTY PERCENT.

That’s more than any years spent in early education, high school, college, at any job I’ve ever had before, any hobby I’ve ever enjoyed, pets I’ve kept around, and even longer than my marriage by a mere 3 months (fun fact*: I blogged while up on the altar!).

It’s safe to say I really like talking about money 🙂 Or rather, I enjoy talking to YOU about money. Since, after all, I owe all 7 years of success to those who come here day in and day out and encourage me to keep sharing my thoughts. It’s no fun talking to a wall – I’ve tried – so without anyone reading these words it would have been a lost cause at month 7.

So thank you for being here! And for always being so supportive!

I’ve learned a lot here over the years, in both life and in money, so today I thought I’d share some of these items with you to jump start our weekend on the right foot. Let me know what you think!

#1. Money never changes

While the economy, unemployment, interest rates, fashions, size of cell phones and internet companies have changed (Twitter was barely on the scene and MySpace was all the rage in ’08!), the fundamental rules of money have not. In fact, they haven’t changed in hundreds or even thousands of years. You might recall my book on Thrift I picked up from 1875:

Thrift does not require superior courage, nor superior intellect, nor any superhero virtue. It merely requires common sense, and the power of resisting selfish enjoyments. In fact, thrift is merely common sense in every-day working action. It needs no fervent resolution, but only a little patient self-denial. Begin is its device! The more the habit of thrift is practiced, the easier it becomes, and the sooner it compensates the self-denier for the sacrifices which it has imposed.

Sound like “spending less than you make?” Or “being frugal?” Or how about “Fruclassity” – a term my dear friends Prudence and Laurie have coined? Point is, money works the same back then as it does now. There are no secrets, or get rich quick schemes, or any of those magic potions we would just LOVE to turn out to be true. Only new ways of expressing ideas around finances in hopes they sink in and finally cause that epiphany. (So quit looking for the work around and just “begin its device!” 🙂 )

#2. Compound savings/investing is a BEAST

I won’t touch on this too much as I’m a broken record with this stuff, but had I not stashed any money away back in 2008 (and continually throughout), there’s no way I’d have nearly $450,000 to my name. I surely did not invest $450,000 into the markets, which means a large chunk has been given to me out of thin air by the power of compounding and believing in our country’s businesses.

(It would be interesting to see, though, how much I actually invested that turned into these thousands… Maybe $200k? Or $150k since I was taking advantage of FREE 401(k) matches for years?)

Regardless, I systematically put in the money and now, all these years later, with no additional effort on my behalf, it’s grown into a sizeable nest egg. I strongly encourage you start doing the same if you haven’t pulled the trigger as well. Even just doing ONE THING every year like maxing out your Roth IRA could make you a millionaire over time! It’s really not that complicated!

#3. Self-employment is awesome, but it’s also not awesome

This time of the year also marks 4 years of working for myself. And had you ever told me I’d become an “entrepreneur” I would have laughed in your face. I’m not a business man. Or an inventor. Nor do I want to run some large global company with millions of employees and bonuses being thrown everywhere. I’ve come to realize that I very much enjoy “just” being a blogger and living the lifestyle I enjoy vs. trying to take over the world. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but just that it’s important to know what you truly want in life.

And as much as setting your own schedule and typing in your undies is incredibly liberating (don’t worry, I’m partially clothed right now), I can tell you self-employment is definitely not for everyone. The money can be nice (like, really nice) It’s not always fun making decisions 24/7 or working 50, 60, 80 hours a week because you know no one else will do it for you. Nor is it that joyful when your website crashes or you lose major advertisers or people threaten your family and kids because you’re doing something with your life and they aren’t (+1 to being anonymous).

Owning your own business is rewarding, but it’s also a major work out on both your body and your brain. And I have a much bigger appreciation for both sides of the coin now, fully realizing there’s no shame at all in working for someone else. Despite what people might say. The shame comes in resigning yourself to being miserable for the rest of your life no matter what your employment looks like. This country is famous for giving us freedom, and it would be a disservice not to take advantage of the blessings we’re so fortunately offered.

#4. Your life is going to change, and so will your goals

The one thing that’s becoming more evident as the years tick by, is that life consistently changes and so do the things you want to get out of it. 7 years ago while still in my 20′s, all I really cared about was having fun and hitting up the bars. I had no kids, no real responsibility outside my 9-5 (which I put the bare minimum in to skate by), and certainly no vision for the future.

Now – in my mid-30s – I realize there’s more to life than just beer and goofing off with my friends, though I still very much enjoy that 🙂 And it hasn’t been an overnight change either.

  • In 2008 I wanted to learn about money and be more productive with my time
  • In 2009 I was addicted to earning and maxing out my 401(k) to aggressively grow my net worth
  • In 2010 I dreamed about working for myself and started shoveling money into my “dream fund
  • In 2011 it was all about surviving on my own and learning how to give back
  • In 2012 it was all about a different kind of surviving – being a dad 🙂
  • In 2013 it was more about living and less about working – resulting in a major drop of income
  • In 2014 it was all about challenging my expenses and my things, and becoming more aware of the “early retirement” movement and what that really means to my now family of 4
  • And in 2015, it’s shaping up to be the year of transition and laying the foundation of moving towards this E.R. lifestyle while stopping the hemorrhaging of cash.

While oversimplified, you can see just how different each of these years have been. Especially year #1 compared to #7. We went from not even knowing what we were doing with money, or online business really (I didn’t even know what a blog was??) all the way to becoming a family man with thousands in the bank and the vision for how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. That’s an incredible leap, and I bet if you went back in time you’d see a serious mind shift yourself.

What this means is that you should focus on what’s important in your life *right now* and understand that it’ll probably change later which is OK. Our priorities and circumstances shift over time, but as long as you’re always working towards improvement you can feel good about being on the right track.

#5. Money challenges can form pretty powerful habits

One of the first challenges I tried when I was ready to get serious with my money was trying a “no spend” month in 2008 over the 40 days of Lent. I had a nasty habit of going to the mall whenever I was bored, and when I took on this challenge it was a hard wake up call that I’d been spending aimlessly for years without realizing. I knew I was loosy goosy with my money, but I had no idea that I was leaking $200-$300 a month for nothing that great in return. From that point forward I was cured. 🙂

(Hint: the best way not to spend money? DON’T GO INTO STORES!)

Other challenges I’ve tried: tracking all my expenses for 3 months (your mind will be blown), selling 1 item a week on Craigslist (you already know how that’s going – we’re up $500 in 5 months!), and other kick-ass ideas that I can’t think of right now for the life of me.

(Update: You can now check out all my experiments over the years here)

Point is, getting outside of your comfort zone every now and then can do wonders to your finances. And since most only last a month or two anyways, they’re really not that hard to pull off. You can find 5 of my favorite challenges here, and of course the ultimate “Challenge Everything” one here.

#6. It’s not about the money

One of the first articles on this site was about how I wanted to become a millionaire and that I wanted it for you too. I created the “Million Dollar Club” so we could commit to the goal and root each other on (now with 146 members strong!), but as cool as that was, I now know it’s not the main point in the end.

We’d all be happy with a million dollar net worth, but we’d be even happier with FREEDOM. Freedom to live our lives on our own terms, freedom to spend more time with loved ones or on hobbies that enrich us, and freedom to even still work or volunteer or do whatever else our heart desires. We need money of course, but we can’t let it outshine it’s true purpose.

#7. Another 7 years will come again, and another 7 after that

If we’re so fortunate, we’ll have many 7 year stretches to come. And no matter how we fight it, time will go on with or without us. So our mission is to take advantage of this luxury and start DOING STUFF right away. Whether that’s saving, investing, paying off debt, starting a hobby, buying a business, switching careers, marrying your lover (how many people do you think will get proposed to tomorrow?), breaking up with your lover (how many people do you think will get dumped today? ;)), selling your crap, whatever.

We need to start NOW because a lot of this stuff takes time. And it’s much easier to do things in baby steps than it is to try and knock stuff out in one huge ass sitting. The passing of time is one of the only certainties in our life, so we have to take advantage of it where we can. You’d be looking at a blank screen right now had I not just up and wrote my first post all those years ago 😉 And I can guarantee my money wouldn’t be looking how it is now either had I not taken that chance! Half the time I behave with my finances just so I don’t look like an asshat in front of you guys! Haha…

But the point is I did it. I gave it a try and I started. And every single one of you have done the same and succeeded too. We just have to keep on going. Keep trying and failing and repeating the process while getting closer and closer to true financial freedom. It doesn’t happen over night, but it does happen eventually.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Carl Sandburg:

Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.

What has 7 years brought you?


A HUGE thanks to the man himself, J. Money, for guest posting these great lessons.  If you found J’s insights on life and finances as helpful as we did, be sure to check out three of our other favorites from Budgets Are Sexy as well:

“Retiring Early” Really Means “Being Financially Free”

My Answer to All Financial Debates

How Bad Do You Want It?

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