Fact: Virtually everyone individual who runs a blog eventually writes meta-articles on what it’s like to author one, how things are going, why and how you might become a blogger too, and so on.
Here’s one of Mr Money Mustache’s. RootOfGood used to publish regular updates. And there have been more than a few from Early Retirement Extreme. I could go on but my internal sense of laziness, which I trust utterly and completely to guide me through most decisions, tells me that this is enough proof to sufficiently make the point.
At any rate, this entry should fill the requirement for this incredible blog ‘o mine. About half of this is going to read like fairly generic why-you-should-or-shouldn’t blog advice, while the other half shares some of my personal thoughts and experiences related to running the site.
Let’s get started.
Reasons To Maybe Not Blog…
I’m going to cut right to it and get the negative stuff out of the way first.
#1) If you don’t have much interest in writing and sharing, you probably shouldn’t blog. Full stop.
For example, if your primary motivation is to create an income-producing side hustle to aid you in your Early Retirement Quest but you have a great deal of difficulty a) putting sentences together and b) revealing anything of interest about yourself or your finances, I strongly recommend you find a different hustle. It’s not going to be a great fit.
I don’t say this to be mean — I’m trying to save you some pain. Your hourly wage would be a lot better slinging rock on a street corner, and you’d doubtless find the experience to be more rewarding, too. At the very least you’ll meet some interesting people.
I unfortunately see this all the time. Early-Retiree hopeful says: I’m going to make it rich blogging and that’ll allow me to quit the 8-6 grind forever. A site is erected, ads are placed everywhere even before any real traffic is recorded, and five months later, it’s over, put to an end before it even began. This type of blogger is not really passionate about the blogging process itself — they just want money. Because: Money.
#2) You are potentially opening yourself up to criticism, ridicule, and shame. Some people fear exposure (says the guy who runs a fully-anonymous blog.) You might occasionally get nasty messages or find that some people think your style is cynical, rambling, or completely incoherent. (On a personal note, I gotta say, this type of negative feedback turned out to be a big positive for me, as it riles me up in a fun way. Fuck you, too, internet!! 🙂 )
#3) Related: It can be challenging to work past internal resistance to document your thoughts and experiences, which of course opens yourself up to scrutiny. This can sometimes be a little nerve wracking if you trend toward introversion. On the other hand, if you’re a super-confident extrovert — I’ve been told they outnumber my type by a significant margin in the wide-wide world, so odds are good you’re one yourself — this will end up being a positive bullet item. Look at me! I’m so great! Look at all of the things I’m doing to make my life even more perfect than before! YOU COULD BE JUST LIKE ME HERE’S HOW!!! And so on. (Oh boy. There’s that cynicism again. Sorry about that, I really don’t know why these sorts of outbursts continue to occur.)
#4) It takes some amount of time and discipline to regularly blog. If this doesn’t sound exciting to you, it probably isn’t worth the investment of hours. Readers expect fairly regular content. My suggestion would be aim for two or three decent posts a month, particularly over the first year or two as you’re working to build content.
#5) You will undoubtedly have to occasionally deal with unexpected technical issues which have nothing to do with writing/sharing/connecting with the community. Trust me, this kind of sucks. Examples of this kind of thing include fixing missing images or your RSS feed, deleting spam comments submitted by internet robots, figuring out what the hell a trackback is and what to do about them, and so on.
Reasons to Maybe Blog!
All right – now we can get into the fun stuff.
#1) The superset of blogging is simply writing, and writing is a fantastic thought tool. Something happens when you clear time to write. Your brain slows down and you stop seeking continual input and stimulation. Instead, the challenge becomes sifting through data you’ve already collected to discover your own opinions on all sorts of topics.
#2) Blogging is perhaps better than merely writing for yourself in a place that no one can see (e.g. a journal). This is because when you write something with the knowledge that other people are likely to read it, you think harder. You clean up content, sharpening your message until it adheres to some minimal socially acceptable standard of coherence, automatically revising your thoughts to the point that they’re worthy to share. (If you are me, you also remove about 90% of the swear words.)
#3) If you are lucky enough to have readers, the potential connections to be made with them are very rewarding. (That being said, most blogs do not have a ton of readers. More on this later.)
#4) Curiosity: You enjoy reading other peoples’ blogs and wonder what it’d be like to produce one yourself.
#5) Money. Although this isn’t a good primary motivator to blog in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with it being part of the mix. Making a couple of bucks is not a bad thing and people deserve to be paid for their work.
#6) You’ll feel good about giving back to other people. Sharing your own journey and experiences can make a substantial, real difference in the lives of fellow freedom seekers.
#7) On the subject of sharing, if you meet someone in real life and tell them about your plans to retire early and they look kind of interested, you can give them a link to your blog to review further details rather than talk their ear off in person until they become glassy-eyed and require the use of smelling salts to be revived.
#8) It can be a platform to share details about your life that are not welcome on other forms of social media. For example, you might not want to post monthly net worth updates to your Facebook account where your Auntie Clarie can see them.
#9) You will literally have a web-log of your journey. If you’re posting reports of one kind or another, you’ll be able to look back at them in a few years and see your progress. If you’re trying to increase your savings rate, a blog is a great place to dump monthly spending summaries so you can see exactly how things have been going with a few clicks. Way back in 2003 or so when I started my own financial independence journey, I posted my own spending reports and savings rates on charts on the wall of my apartment to help with motivation and keep me on the right track. Had I begun in, say, 2013, I probably would have dumped this info into a blog instead.
#10) Accountability and Inspiration. It’s known that humans have an easier time following through with commitments to other people than we do to ourselves. We don’t mind letting numero uno down, but on the other hand, if we’ve told lots and lots of strangers that we’re going to do something, then dammit, we’re going to do that thing because we don’t want to look stupid or lazy. For example, if you have a blog and state that you’re going to quit working in early 2015, you’re more likely to create plans and follow through to do exactly that. (Not that I would know.)
#11) Blogging is a potentially terrific past-time. It helps you kill hours not just when you’re writing but also when you’re out and about — you’ll think of post ideas, or ways to improve an existing draft you’re working on. Also, if you have a desk job like I did, you might even be able to do some of it at work, making it something you can more easily fit into your day-to-day activities. Fact: I’d sometimes work on blog entries during hideously boring meetings where I was not actively involved but still expected to attend. I’d bring my laptop into the meeting room, angle myself away a bit so other people couldn’t see my screen, and bang away. Once in a while someone would ask what I was doing and I’d deadpan “Troubleshooting our Enterprise Service Bus,” which is office-speak for “Leave me the hell alone, I’m doing more important shit than paying attention to this moronathonic meeting right now.”
#12) Skill Acquisition. Maybe you want to become a better writer. Blogging is a perfectly good way to develop your own voice and hone your craft. You may also find that some of your posts require you to perform research and really dig into a subject or two. Good stuff.
#13) You’ll likely become more involved in the personal finance community, and you never know where that will lead.
I’m not super-plugged into the PF blogosphere anymore, but I remember a time — perhaps five years ago — when my appetite for this sort of thing knew absolutely no bounds. I read everything I could get my hands on that was even remotely related to personal finance — the more personal, the better. I wish there were as many blogs back then as there are now, and I remain grateful to the people who took the time to write their own thoughts, strategies, and experiences down to share them with the world.
All of them.
And you could be one of those people. Pretty nifty.
A few gentle suggestions when it comes to evaluating the worth of your blog.
Don’t measure success in terms of the numbers of readers you have.
Or the number of comments you get.
It’s difficult to build up an audience. The first year in particular can be rough going, as most people don’t like to get involved with a new blog until it’s been around for a while and there’s a solid amount of content to raid.
Readers also want to see that the author is committed to the subject, and the easiest way to eyeball commitment is to take a look at the total number of articles produced.
Think of it from the point of view of the reader: You happen upon some happy dude/dudette’s blog detailing their own financial journey, but there are a total of five posts and the current one is seven weeks old. It seems well written enough but it seems there just isn’t much meat on the website yet.
Are you going to read all of their content? Probably not. There are a million articles on the internet all vying for your attention, so if you think that someone’s blog isn’t all that interesting, you’ll move on pretty fast. Why should you expect anything different when it comes to people browsing your own blog?
So the first year, I would recommend measuring your success not by external validation metrics but rather by what you are personally getting out of it. Is the process of writing enjoyable? Is it helping you on your own journey?
And are you motivated enough to continue blogging consistently, as its own end?
I’ve done very little promotion for this blog. But there are tricks to getting readers.
The easiest way to get a few viewers is to comment on other peoples’ blogs. Make sure they’re meaningful comments only!!! Don’t leave comments purely to leave click bait droppings. The authors of other blogs may see through your trickery and have the right to delete your comment and ban you from the site. All you have to do is actually read their article and mention something about it that relates to you to show that you appreciated their post and found it meaningful.
Some people get really into the popularity and publicizing aspect of the blogging game. They get concerned about their SEO or Alexa rankings, looking for ways to boost traffic. There are a ton of websites out there offering advice on how to increase viewership, if that’s your solitary goal.
Have at it.
Try to limit the scope of things. It can help to create a mission statement of sorts. If you’re creating a personal finance blog, don’t continually jump subjects. It’s fine if you have a post here or there that sort of goes off the rails — god knows I’ve been guilty of this myself, and this particular post coincidentally backs up my assertion — but generally speaking, if you’re running a blog about the intersection of personal finance and your unmatched love of Care-Bears, make some effort to touch on these topics in your posts.
Share things that are difficult to share. People like a fair bit of detail, and revealing points of difficulty or conflict gives readers a chance to connect emotionally. Most of the authors of popular early retirement blogs reveal some aspects of their family lives, child-rearing, vacation experiences, these sorts of things.
Write articles that you wish other people would have written for you. Or investigate a topic that you’re genuinely curious about. Writing is a great tool for exploring areas of uncertainty.
Above all, make sure that you are interested in your own content. If you can’t read your own blog post again after you’ve written it, consider the possibility that no one else is going to want to read it either.
On the day or days you’re going to write, I strongly recommend you do not read other peoples’ blogs.
If you download another author’s style into your head, their own content and style will start to interfere with your own internal voice. You may become uncertain as to your own message, or insecure that you’re simply repeating content, or, worst case scenario, you might even unintentionally plagiarize an entire blog post that you just read four hours ago simply because it’s on your mind.
So if you want to write about something, picture the topic in your head, open up a text editor, shut the rest of the internet off, and start writing.
It can help to outline things, to give you some sense of structure — the beginning, middle, and end of things. (You may not believe that, given the ridiculous length of many of my posts, but I actually do this.)
Many people also find music to be helpful. If you’re going to go this route, try playing tracks you’ve heard a billion times before so you’re not paying too much attention to the music itself, though. If you instead put on Bruno Mars for the very first time ever before you sit down to write, I’m go out on a limb and guess you’re going to be highly distracted and won’t get much done.
Save drafts. Lots of them.
Edit the living fuck out of your drafts before publishing. Please please please make sure you don’t have spelling mistakes. Readers will forgive occasional errors in punctuation, or a repeated word here and there, but multiple egregious spelling mistakss followed by sentence fragments; and strange ForMating? will turn a lot of people off. Don’t let your syntax’s quality distract from your content.
Use a semi-consistent structure for all of your posts.
Write around the same time every day — define a routine for it and force yourself to stick to it. It’ll be hard at first — and then it’ll get easier.
Think about your post for a while before writing it. What are your main points? If you’re working on a particular article, it’s common to have additions and odd thoughts during the day (when you’re not actively writing) that you want to make it into the final product. When these thoughts hit your brain, don’t lose them: take out your phone and type them into a memo program, or jot them down in a physical notebook, whatever it takes. Then that same day, when you’re back in front of a computer, make sure to pull up your notes and transfer the content over into your draft.
Give yourself time to make posts. These things don’t write themselves. Don’t get down on yourself if you sit down to write the most amazing blog post the world has ever seen and after three hours you’ve written a grand total of two paragraphs. Save the draft, congratulate yourself on doing some work on it, and set another day to work on it. And between writing sessions, think about the post. Why did it give you so much trouble? Most of the time you’ll come up with a solution to your blocker prior to resuming work.
On that subject, when you leave your desk, set another time to return. And then stick to it. This will put you in a routine of writing.
Last note: Don’t worry about the length of the post. Some incredible posts are quite short (all I need to do to remind myself of this fact is to browse good ‘ol JLF’s Early Retirement Extreme blog) and others are monstrosities. Write as much as you believe is necessary to cover your topic in your own voice — no more or less. I found that my own voice contains swearing, bad jokes, some unpleasant personal reveals, abrupt topic shifts, and occasionally heartfelt stories.
Eventually I learned to accept these as features of my writing rather than bugs, and if you blog, you will probably make this transition successfully, too.
If you are going to start your own blog, the top level decision you’ll have to make is whether to host it yourself or go with a hosting provider.
Most people will go with a provider. It’s easier by far and requires absolutely zero computer expertise outside of having a basic understanding of the internet. If you’re going to go this route, check out tumblr, google blogger (formerly known as blogspot), or wordpress.com.
You’ll likely be using wordpress as the platform for creating and maintaining your blog. It’s not that hard to learn the UI and you can use google to answer loads of questions about initial site setup and configuration.
Once you have your site up and running, you should make some attempt to customize it to suit your own purposes. Wordpress has this idea of a ‘theme’ which is basically a layout template that defines the basic look and feel. Play around with a few. Reference blogs you like and copy parts of their style that you enjoy. Do you like their menu structure? Their subscribe widget or the row of Follow icons (RSS, twitter, FriendFace, etc?)
Smack a custom image header on the top to brand your site, and you’re all set.
You can get the basics going in an hour or so if you’re not too picky about how things look.
Blog Costs (Financial)
I read this all of the time online: Blog hosting can’t be cheap!
The thing is, it is. Very cheap. You can do it for free, if you like. All of the sites I listed above allow you to create your blog for absolutely nothing.
If you go with wordpress, for example, you could instantly create the following:
For a bit extra — about $25 a year or less, depending on the domain name service provider you use and whether or not you can get a deal — you can get a domain name and map it to your site, which makes things look a bit more professional.
It can get a little more pricey if you want to find a an alternate hosted solution that allows you to customize advertising. But in the event that your blog becomes popular and it looks like you might make a few bucks from the endeavor, you can always do a trick called export-import and simply move your blog to another provider which offers more robust solutions in this area.
Hell, you can also move your blog to a self-hosted site for full control and flexibility when it comes to plugging into modules to generate revenue. It doesn’t take that long and the required tools are all embedded in the wordpress administrative UI.
Blog Costs (Personal)
As I’ve already mentioned, blogging can eat a lot of hours.
You think about blogging. You blog. You respond to comments. You think about the next post. You wonder why that old post you drafted about how much puppies cost to feed never got published and beat yourself up for it. How could you have just let that fall off? Because you’re a worthless piece of garbage, that’s why.
You stare at the blogging statistics page and wonder why you don’t have more readers.
You wonder what the deal is. You begin to suspect that you’re turning off Republicans because you acknowledge the truth of man-made climate change or is it instead Democrats because you are fiscally conservative or maybe your casual comment about enjoying matzoh balls in soup in that old post is turning off thousands of potential German readers, or perhaps your comment about turning off German readers because you made a reference to something that Jewish people stereo-typically like unfairly categorizes Germans as Anti-Semitic Nazis when in fact they’re some of the most progressive people in the world, and then you’re crying for several hours in the fetal position in the corner of your home office, certain you’ve fucked your blog up for good and hoping that nobody can hear your pathetic wails — all the while still wishing you had more readers.
You reveal some detail about your life that your SO doesn’t like and you have a tiff over it. Or, alternately, your SO doesn’t read your blog at all and that makes you feel unloved and hurt. Your friends occasionally browse pages as a laugh, solidifying secret suspicions held for years: You are a bona-fide whack job.
There are costs to blogging and they’re not all financial.
Just something to keep in mind.
The Blogging Experience
When I first started writing this blog, I had loosely formed goals. Mostly I wanted to put my story out there — to create a repository to hold the events that drove me to seek early retirement, and list out resources I’ve used to help me along the way.
So initially I found myself writing about my financial background and (lack of) education re: handling money.
I penned a few articles on why I don’t think it’s necessary for people to spend a lot in order to be happy, and asserted that most people that live in developed nations can achieve this goal, if they put their minds to it.
Along the way, I dumped out the entirety of my work history which sufficiently answers the whole “Why did you want to do this thing, anyway, homey?” question that some people have.
Then I got into some hazy territory that was quite unexpected and I could not have predicted going into this thing: Quitting work was hard after being immersed in the safety and security of office environments for long. I struggled with the exit itself — with giving myself permission to quit.
And the post-work experience was, while incredible, also somewhat different than what I anticipated, so I wrote about it with as much honesty as I could muster, despite the fact that some of the stories have me coming off pretty bad. The shock of losing my sense of busyness and routines — even routines I hated, like sitting in traffic every day or attending meetings — surprised me, even though the payoff was what I craved the most in life: complete freedom. (And that payoff remains incredible, btw. No regrets – not working is great.)
At any rate, looking back, a large section of the blog ends up reading like a how-to-finally-pull-the-trigger-and-quit rollercoaster of lifestyle and mental challenges as I worked through the adjustment.
And it’s been fascinating to write about it all and have a record of the transition. I recently went back and re-read some of the quit-series posts and it almost didn’t feel like I wrote them. I found myself wanting to shout: Jesus, who is this indecisive idiot? It’s SO SIMPLE, he wants to quit, he should just quit! Why is it so hard for him?
That’s what happens when you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, though. Life starts to seem a lot simpler. Decisions become easier to make. I’m starting to more completely understand how and why guys like Tim Ferris and Pete at MMM appear so confident at all times. It’s happening to me, too.
As a general statement, the farther you are removed from reporting to someone every day, the more self-assured you become. And it’s been a long time for those two. They probably barely remember what it was like to take orders.
Because once you’re only taking orders from yourself, you involuntarily start to distance yourself from the version of you that waffled and occasionally displayed signs of weakness and indecision, exactly the same way you instinctively shuffle away from that dude named Asher that you just met at a party but won’t leave you alone and insists on talking non-stop about his rare and completely boring collection of empty liquor bottles.
It’s almost like that past incarnation of self was never really you to to begin with.
I’m Never, Ever Monetizing
I could. Might even make a few thousand a year. Maybe more.
But I won’t.
Some people might view this decision as stupid. Doom, you’re leaving money on the table! What is wrong with you? Take some cash for your work, for chrissakes! Donate it to charity if you don’t need it!
Somewhere in my head, I’ve convinced myself that I am making the following points:
I don’t need the <expletive> money. I don’t need it to supplement my retirement savings. I don’t need it to achieve any other goals in my life — my financial picture does not restrict my pursuit of happiness. And I already give enough of myself — money, time, and blood — to charity.
I will not become someone who suggests that it’s probably OK to live off 4% a year while at the same time personally living off .5% because I make a shit-ton off of my blog.
I have enough already and I trust my plan will work.
And I’ve blogged because I wanted to write about the experience, not because I wanted to make money.
So, yeah, I have strong feelings about this.
End of story.
This Turned Out to Not Be A Blog About Frugality
Over the years, I wrote a handful of articles about how I feel about spending money.
When I was younger, I spent on auto-pilot, without giving things much thought. I had money, I spent it. Eventually, though, I learned to spend consciously.
But the driver to spend consciously was a desire to solve a problem in my life. The problem was: I wasn’t free. The problem was: I envisioned a different life for myself than being stuck working all day every day. The problem was: Even though I liked what I did at least some of the time, I did way, way too much of it, and on someone else’s terms. The problem was: Work was forcing me to become someone I didn’t want to be. It was taking over my identity, slowly morphing me into yet another adult who does nothing but work and think about work and talk about work and oh maybe that boat and the summer-home I visit 1 out of 52 weeks a year and the incredible home theater in my basement that I purchased with the proceeds from work. That identity change was scaring the absolute shit out of me — it was horrifying to feel this thing happening to me that I used to mock other adults for doing and becoming. I was turning into a stereotype, and I decided I would not allow it.
It was never the plan when I was a teenager, you know. To allow a profession to define me for life. I don’t think it’s the plan for just about anyone. But this sort of transition happens to virtually all of us, because life and our economic and cultural systems naturally funnel us in this direction. You must take conscious and consistent steps to avoid getting swept up in the current.
Look, the point I’m trying to make is that although I didn’t capture this idea early on in the blog, I don’t particularly value frugality as an ideal in and of itself. I’m not that interested in spending less money purely for the sake of spending less money. Like: As its own end.
This fact, for better or worse, appears to be a differentiation between myself and many personal finance bloggers. I think: If you have money and you want to blow it, go ahead and do exactly that. There’s very little moral issue in my mind here (other than the fact that most consumption has a negative impact on the planet. If you’re aware of this and DGAF — meaning: there is no internal value conflict here — then have at it. You are free to live your own life and pursue happiness in whatever law-abiding way that you choose.)
My view is that money is a tool to do what you want, and enough of it will ultimately provide you with something resembling complete freedom — assuming that’s how you decide to spend it.
Frugality is no different. It’s another tool to help you maximize the utility of your money, to spend more effectively, ultimately allowing you to pursue alternate larger-scale goals with a smaller enabling asset pile.
With enough money (or less money and more frugality to offset the lower dollar totals), you can eventually do something else with your life instead of working-for-pay for the majority of it.
To belabor a point: Frugality was a means to an end for me, rather than the end itself. There’s a fairly good chance I would not have learned these skills if the ultimate payoff wasn’t there.
And that view is probably why I didn’t wind up writing a lot of articles on the subject of frugality. I don’t consider it to be a defining personal trait.
I mention all of this because when I started writing, I thought there was a decent chance I’d produce substantial content related to the logistics of reducing spending. But it didn’t happen. I tried writing a few and quickly found that the underlying interest required to create decent blog posts wasn’t there.
On the flip side, here’s what this blog is about.
Living life on your own terms. Being free. Rejecting dominant paradigms, for no other reason than because you want to. Not allowing your identity to be defined and ruled by others. Leading a life rich with variety and fulfillment. Not worrying about money or stuff much. Using your freedom to cut out the bullshit in life that makes you unhappy. Focusing instead on things that both science and your personal experience tell you are pleasurable and provide contentment on a daily basis, like relationships and learning new skills and exercise and spending time out of doors and having the abundance of cycles which allow you to exist peaceably without feeling like you always must be moving, moving, moving, just to survive.
(It is also about run-on sentences.)
Living a FI Statistics
Holy shit, folks. Much to my surprise, somewhere along the way in 2015, this site became kinda-sorta well-known.
I chalk this up to a few things happening:
#1) I actually pulled the trigger and retired, rather than continuing to hem and haw. My suspicion is that early-retiree hopefuls put more stock in the blogs of people who have made the leap. (I consider this to be a form of winner’s bias that works to my benefit. Huzzah!)
#2) A few of the posts were linked to by Rockstar Finance. (Thanks to J-Money for the unsolicited support.)
#3) Somehow — probably prompted by some of my awesome readers — this blog got perma-linked to by both ERE and the FI Reddit forum: Totally and completely boss. Thanks to whomever(s) made this happen.
It sure as hell wasn’t me.
Closing out a Blog
All blogs come to an end.
There’s a natural life-cycle to it. Blogger starts out super motivated. Blogger puts out lots of content as they explore subjects of interest. Blogger reaches definite conclusions. Blogger maybe makes substantial changes to own life, asks others to consider doing something similar. Blogger evaluates changes and realizes: Great. This phase of my life is now over. Blogger becomes somewhat bored with subject, puts site on auto-rotate in an attempt to keep things looking fresh for new readers and/or generate income. Blogger moves on to live rest of life.
On the reader end of things, it’s the same story. Reader finds new-to-me undiscovered blog. Reader thinks: Holy shit, this is amazing. It’s just like another blog I know and love but the voice is a little different and some of the subjects have a unique feel to them as a result. Plus there are a few articles that are totally nuts, nothing like anything else I’ve read. Reader binges historical content, follows blog for a year. Reader eventually finds voice of said blog author stops feeling as unique or powerful. Reader begins to nitpick over some of the author’s viewpoints. The message of the blog having been internalized, reader stops getting value, eventually moves on to other blogs or that new miniseries on Netflix that’s totally awesome or <insert_shiny_thing.>
I’m not at the end of writing this one yet, but it’s getting close. This year I am virtually certain to do the real last post, instead of the unintentionally fake one I did toward the end of 2015.
My expectation is that others will continue to step in to fill the void that departing bloggers create.