The post contains affiliate links.
J.D. Roth from Get Rich Slowly is one of the OG personal finance bloggers (I felt really awkward using OG in a sentence…like a white guy from the suburbs trying to pretend he’s cool when everyone knows the truth.)
But for real, he’s a big deal.
He’s been blogging for over 20 years, which in blog years makes him like, if my math is correct…well you get the picture. He’s been around a long time.
That fact he’s been writing for so long means a couple of things:
1. He’s been insanely successful. Since the half-life of a blog is around 20 seconds and most bloggers give up before the end of their first year, lasting for 20+ years is an accomplishment in and of itself.
But J.D. hasn’t just survived, he’s crushed it!!
He sold Get Rich Slowly for an undisclosed amount of money (but come on, he’s got his own writing shed in his backyard so it must’ve been a pretty penny)! and then started another blog, Money Boss. After writing there for several years, he’s now back at Get Rich Slowly, producing the killer content and in-depth analysis we’ve all come to love and expect.
2. He’s old(er) (read WISER). In his own words, at FinCon this year he “came to the startling realization that I, as a man nearing his fiftieth birthday, really ought to be working with AARP, the national non-profit whose mission is to “empower people to choose how they live as they age”.
In the blogging world, the wisdom that comes with age is something that at times can be in short supply. There aren’t many who have the life experience of J.D. behind them when they make the kind of bold assertions we see consistently in the online world.
In this edition of Band of Bloggers, J.D. brings not only the wisdom gained from a life’s worth of ups and downs, but he also gives us his unique against the grain take on many problems bloggers face when trying to build a successful business as he has.
On a personal note, as I started working to get my name out in the blogosphere, I was cold-emailing different blogs looking to guest post. I knew J.D. had a massive following and that he was HUGE in the personal finance space. I doubted I had a snowball’s chance in Hades of guesting for him, but I’m a huge believer in us not having because we don’t ask. I figured all I had to lose was a bit of time and self-esteem so I wrote my pitch up and sent it off.
When I heard back from him that he wanted to have me guest post, I was THRILLED!!
It was real validation that what I was writing was interesting to more people than just my wife, mom and I.
After the guest post, I figured I try for one more ask of him…to participate in Band of Bloggers. And you can imagine how JACKED I was when he agreed to be part of the feature!!
It’s a huge pleasure to welcome J.D. to Band of Bloggers.
He brought sooooo much wisdom and depth of thought to his responses, this is a MASSIVE post!! But trust me when I say, it’s SOOOOOO good!!
I know you’re going to devour all that J.D. brings to the table in this edition of Band of Bloggers!
J.D. from Get Rich Slowly
Tim Ferris says that “Life punishes the vague wish and rewards the specific ask.” What is one vague wish you were punished by or one specific ask you were rewarded for?
Hmmm, I’ve never heard this claim before. I’m not 100% sure that I agree with it.
There are plenty of vague wishes that get fulfilled, and many more specific asks that go unrewarded.
Having said that, I guess I appreciate what he’s trying to say: The more specific and deliberate you are about your desires, the more likely they are to come to fruition.
I can’t recall that life has ever punished me for a vague wish (I really can’t wrap my head around that concept — I don’t believe it happens), but I will say this: In the olden days, before I became serious and methodical about money, my approach was filled with vague wishes.
I wanted to get out of debt.
I wanted to be rich.
I wanted to be happy.
But I didn’t take action on these desires, and I didn’t have a plan. As a result, nothing ever happened to further my progress. Life didn’t PUNISH me per se, but it certainly didn’t help me. The universe was indifferent to my vague wishes.
Once I developed a plan and acted on it, things started to happen. And quickly.
Me (in red…as always) I love how J.D. worked his way towards answering this question. While life may not actively “punish” vague wishes, the lack of progress people make when making vague wishes is a form of passive punishment.
It’s similar to how your body punishes you when you aren’t intentional about eating right or exercising. Is it an active punishment, with a timely cause and effect relationship, like your body beating you up?
No, but indirectly your body punishes you when it starts to break down with age and inactivity when you gain too much weight and your arteries start to clog, and as your health slowly (but surely) declines.
The vague wishes of getting out of debt, becoming rich and being happy were just too unclear and not well-defined. There was a WHAT but no plan for HOW to achieve these things.
Even when asks are specific, there has to be a defined plan in place so that navigating to the destination is possible.
You may know specifically where you want to go but without a map, you’re never going to get there.
What is the one book (or books) that you have given to your friends?
The book I most often give and/or recommend to friends is How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. This is one of those “secret” books that many top financial independence bloggers live by: MMM, Jim Collins, etc. The personal principles espoused here are POWERFUL, and they’re very useful when trying to live an unconventional life.
Having said that, please don’t take this as an endorsement of the book’s politics.
Harry Browne, the author, progresses from personal libertarianism to political Libertarianism. I don’t agree with his logical leaps, and I don’t endorse his political philosophy. However, I believe his personal philosophy can be liberating.
Hmmm, interesting. I’ve never actually heard of this book. I’ve never seen it referenced in any posts I’ve read or anything. I’m going to definitely check it out!
(Sidebar: One of the things I love about Band of Bloggers are all the book recommendations I get from the participants. Just last week was teacher appreciation day at our local bookstore and I dropped some cash on some past recommendations Purple Cow by Seth Godin, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and one I’ve been eyeing for a while, Principles by Ray Dalio.
What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last year (or in recent memory)? The more specific details the better!
Honestly, this question stumped me for a while. But I’d say the most useful thing I’ve purchased in the past year for under $100 is my Felco F-2 hand pruner.
We bought a new home on July 1st, and it came with an acre of land. There are a LOT of plants here, which means I have to do a lot of pruning. These little pruners are excellent. I use them all of the time!
How has a failure or apparent failure, set you up for success later? Do you have a favorite success?
Ah, now this question I can answer.
When I was younger, I was deep in debt. I spent compulsively.
Obviously, these habits aren’t good. They made me miserable. For seventeen years, I felt like a failure because I was deep in debt.
In retrospect, however, I would not be where I am today without having made those mistakes and learned from them.
If I hadn’t lived in debt so long, if I hadn’t spent compulsively, I would never have begun to read and write about money, and I would never have put myself in the position to be where I am today.
There’s a saying in Spanish: “No hay mal que por bien no venga.” In English, that translates as: “There is no bad from which good does not come.” (Kind of like “every cloud has a silver lining”, but less froofy.) This is a prime example of that.
Couldn’t agree more with this sentiment. This is growth mindset in action. I love it!
Rather than letting the negativity of his past choices continue to drag him down, J.D. used it as fuel to power his life transformation.
Resilience is a tricky thing because it’s often only when looking back on a terrible situation that you can see how it was actually good for you and made you into the better version of yourself that you are today. A big part of having a growth mindset is trusting that what is hard today will be a blessing tomorrow.
J.D. gets this, not as some froofy pie in the sky idea, but deep in his being, because he’s living proof of it.
What is a quote that you live your life by or that you find yourself repeating to yourself?
My favorite quote is a short “poem” from the Persian poet Hafiz:
“The small man builds cages for everyone he knows. While the sage, who has to duck his head when the moon is low, keeps dropping keys all night long for the beautiful rowdy prisoners.”
I cannot convey to you how much I *LOVE* this quote and the philosophy it embodies.
I’m a pretty positive guy. I believe in the abundance mindset. Not in a mystical kind of way, but in a real, “we all profit from sharing” kind of way. This quote captures so much of what I think and feel.
I have to say these aren’t just words for J.D. He really lives this out.
When I was guest posting for him he took the time to help me edit my piece. And it wasn’t just the kind of casual “you missed a comma here” type of editing. He was really trying to help me grow as a writer. He gave me tips and ideas on how I could improve my ability so that down the line I’d be more polished and better able to communicate my ideas with my audience.
I so appreciated this from him. Goodness knows he’s a crazy busy guy with all that he’s got going on. But he took the time to “drop keys” to me along my journey, something I’m very grateful for.
What’s one of the best or more worthwhile investments you’ve made (money, time, energy, etc.)?
The best investment I’ve ever made with time and money is physical fitness. This is ironic considering I’m currently out of shape — too much beer — but it’s true!
In 2010 and 2011, I poured thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into my health and fitness. I spent on high-quality food. I joined Crossfit. I bought a new bicycle. As a result, by the summer of 2012 I was in the best shape of my life.
This had HUGE benefits of all kinds, both mental and physical. I need to remind myself of this. The expense of money and effort was well worth the investment.
That makes two of us who need to remind ourselves of this.
After my stress-filled first year of college, I topped the scales at 242 lbs. It wasn’t pretty and I’ve got the pictures to prove it (no you may not see them 🙂
Through a series of events (read not having a girlfriend for way too long and getting tired of not being able to see my feet) I started to get my weight under control.
It wasn’t a dramatic “I lost 100 lbs in 3 months” or anything, but over the course of the next 5 years, I got my weight, and my health, under control. It culminated for me in completing my first triathlon and weighing in at 175 lbs.
Now since then, a couple of things have happened: I’ve gotten married (I eat a lot better than I did as a bachelor), I’ve got kids (a bit less freedom to workout), I went on a cruise (still haven’t recovered from those INSANE dinners) and I’ve gotten busier with work and life.
But what it all boils down to? I’ve gotten more excuses.
But that’s just what they are. Excuses.
And a heart attack or stroke doesn’t care about the excuses I’ll make.
I need to get my butt in gear.
That’s why last Band of Bloggers I committed to doing another triathlon this spring.
It’s going to be crazy training, being a good husband and dad, working, blogging, and having some time for myself.
But my health is too important to me and my family to neglect any longer and my excuses aren’t getting anymore persuasive.
In the last 5 years, what new belief, behavior or habit has most improved your life?
This might sound silly, but the best change I’ve made in the past five years is acquiring a dog. Picking up a three-month old puppy requires a HUGE change to your habits and routines. It’s not as big as having kids, but parents tell me that in some ways it’s not that much different. (I have no frame of reference so don’t care to compare kids and puppies.)
My dog — who is two now — loves routine. She MUST be walked at certain times. She MUST be fed at certain times. She MUST be played with at certain times. It’s her life.
At first, I saw this as a nuisance and a chore. (Getting the dog was my girlfriend’s idea, not mine.) Now, however, I take a more zen approach. I’m grateful for the dog and have learned to appreciate rather than resent the time she requires.
I’ll take J.D.’s word for it. The last thing I need right now is another mouth to feed or family member whose bodily functions I’m responsible for ensuring don’t take place in our house.
Good on you J.D.
What advice would you give to a smart, industrious, newbie blogger as they start out?
My advice for new bloggers (and old) runs counter to much mainstream advice.
I say forget about the business side of things and focus on the editorial side. Tell stories. Hone your writing skills. Build a community. None of these things offer any sort of measurable monetary reward, yet I feel they’re vital to long-term success.
This is refreshing advice, and very similar to what Bobby from Millennial Money Man shared a few weeks ago.
In the blogging world, there is such a HUGE emphasis on turning your side hustle into your full-time job, that the push to monetize FAST is ENORMOUS.
But J.D.’s advice should cause us all to pump the brakes a bit. It’s not that building your blog as a business is bad. It’s not. It’s what I’m trying to do.
It’s maybe just that building it ONLY as a business is short-sighted and doesn’t take the long view into account.
And J.D. knows about thinking long term. It’s no accident that he’s been successfully blogging for over 20 years. We’d all do well to pay attention to his sage insight.
What common advice should they ignore?
Forget any blogging advice that says you MUST do X, Y, or Z to achieve success. When people preach the importance of social media or SEO or whatever, they’re doing so because they’ve succeeded with those methods.
And that’s fine.
But that doesn’t mean there’s only one approach to blogging. And I’d argue that you’ll have greater long-term success by focusing not on the technical details of blogging but on the process of writing.
Blogging may not be dead (or dying) but it won’t be around forever. Writing will be. If you learn to write, if you learn to tell stories, if you learn to engage an audience, then you’ll ALWAYS be able to transfer those skills to whatever new medium comes along.
SEO? It’s constantly evolving.
Social media? Digg is dead. Livejournal is dead. MySpace is dead.
Facebook may be dominant now, but how many REALLY believe it’ll be this dominant ten years from now? I don’t.
And Twitter? Its fate seems even more fragile to me.
Focus on the things that’ll provide the best long-term results.
Case in point, this is what we were just talking about. J.D. takes the long view here, and he’s right.
Social media is HUGE right now, and in the future, there will be some other form of connection between people, but who knows what it will look like.
The ability to communicate, to tell stories and connect with people will never go out of style. Whether it’s Shakespeare 400 years ago or John Grisham or J.K. Rowling today, people crave stories. If you can write, speak, or heck, even mime and communicate deeply with an audience, you’ll always find work!
What are 1-3 apps/programs/plugins that have allowed you to maximize your time/energy?
Honestly, apps and programs and plugins don’t maximize my time and energy. They get in the way of productivity.
The older I get, the fewer tools I try to use. I used to be a PC guy, but I moved to Mac because I don’t have to fight with the operating system. (Not trying to start a platform war here. If PC works for you, great. I like that the Mac OS stays out of my way.) I moved from a word processor to a text editor so that I don’t have to fight with formatting. I just type text.
I keep as few apps on my phone as possible. There are SO MANY demands for my time and attention that I want to remove as many barriers as possible.
But hey, having said all that, I really love a Mac app called Kiwi for Gmail. It does only one thing: Gets Gmail out of your browser into a separate app. It’s like a browser ONLY for Gmail. Sounds dumb maybe, but I’ve been using it for three years and I love it.
That’s cool, a technology minimalist. It’s so contrary to most of the answers bloggers give here. And while I try to leverage technology to make my life easier, J.D. is right that often it just gets in the way. Again, something we could learn from him here.
What one thing has been most effective for increasing traffic on your blog?
The most effective way I’ve found to increase traffic to my blog is to forget about SEO and monetization and just write about stuff that matters, stuff that people want to read.
I’ve been blogging for more than twenty years now. I have some readers that have been following me for nearly all of that time. I certainly have Get Rich Slowly readers that have followed me for 12+ years.
Why? Because I don’t do b.s. Nothing is a ploy to get more money or traffic. It’s therapeutic for me and/or helpful to my readers.
If what I write makes money, great. If not, that’s fine too. But the funny thing? I’ve literally made millions with this “who cares?” attitude.
One thing I’ve really noticed about J.D., and about a lot of successful bloggers actually, is they don’t follow conventional wisdom.
And yet, I find myself so often sucked into following conventional wisdom. I think it’s because as humans, we like following plans because plans give the illusion that success is guaranteed.
But, as anyone who’s ever tried to put together Ikea furniture, having a plan is absolutely no guarantee you’ll get where you want to go.
Maybe I need to zig a bit more when others zag. Maybe I need the who cares attitude when it comes to writing content.
Sure, there’s a time and place for SEO, Facebook ads, Pinterest, etc. But I’m getting to the place where I just want to do and write what I want, what I’m passionate about.
It’s why I wrote a piece about how my Grandpa impacted my life.
That’s why I’m working on equipping parents to teach their kids about money.
But I have to be honest, it kind of scares me to do this. It doesn’t feel “mainstream enough”. It feels like I should be optimizing for SEO and researching keywords and targeting the topics my ideal reader wants.
But maybe I shouldn’t be so scared of doing this. Maybe I should just do it and say screw it and see what happens.
What do you think?
What does resilience mean to you? When have you had to be resilient?
Resilience is the ability to bend but not break. It’s the ability to withstand hardship without being destroyed by it. It’s a word I think about all of the time because it’s something I need all of the time.
I struggle with chronic depression. It sucks. If I’m not careful, it’s easy to descend into dark, dark thoughts. But if I focus on being resilient, then I can allow this darkness to pass through me and fade away. I bend but I don’t break.
Haha. It sounds like I’m being a downer here, but I’m serious. Have you ever read Hyperbole and a Half? It’s a fantastic blog about fighting Depression and coming through the other side. I *heart* that site.
I am so grateful for J.D.’s honesty here. It’s so refreshing to have someone share about how they don’t have it all together. In this Insta-world where we’re always only putting our best foot forward, hearing someone share something “real” is a breath of fresh air.
Which is better? A goal that is smaller and you achieve it, or one that is too big and you don’t? Why?
I thought about this for a while and my answer is unhelpful: I don’t think either one is necessarily better. They’re both good. 😉
What is one thing you have an abundance of and one thing you’re working on building an abundance of?
I have an abundance of ideas. I always have. I’m an idea guy. However, I lack discipline, and I know it.
This goes back to my Depression and my ADHD. (These two things are related, by the way.) I have SO MANY IDEAS — files full of them — but I don’t have the willpower or focus to follow through on them.
That’s okay. Even at age 49, I’m working on building better habits to help me improve the areas where I struggle and make motivation more automatic.
Ideas are easy. Follow through is the tough part and where the rubber meets the road. It’s also the thing that most people struggle with.
People think ideas are valuable. And they are…sort of.
But ideas are a dime a dozen, even good ones. What separates a good idea from a great idea is execution. Plain and simple.
It’s something that I’m working on right now.
I’ve got great ideas for my upcoming course. Lots of ideas, seemingly too many at times. It’s hard to keep them all organized in my mind.
I have no doubt they’re GREAT ideas. But what I’m really trying to focus on is how to organize them in a way that makes sense and is super helpful for people.
The jury’s out on whether I’ll accomplish this. If I do, not only will people be served, but I’ll build my business as well.
Tell us about a time when you were REALLY scared to do something. How did you handle it?
Hahahaha. Sorry. I laugh because I’m often scared to do things. See this article: https://www.getrichslowly.org/building-confidence/ — But if I had to pick one thing to focus on, it’s public speaking. (I know I’m not the only one!)
I’m fine in front of a small group. I’m fine on stage in front of thousands if I’m presenting with a partner (or if I’m part of a panel). But I hate hate hate being put on stage before a big audience and presented as an expert. That stuff sucks.
So, for instance, in 2012 I was the closing speaker at World Domination Summit here in Portland. I had to talk in front of 1000+ people. It was nerve-wracking. But you know what? I did it. And for the past decade, I’ve always done it.
I have a policy. If I’m scared to do something, I do it anyhow. This policy has led me to go skydiving, to ask women on dates, and to accept speaking engagements.
These things have been uncomfortable, but they’re less uncomfortable as time goes on. The more I speak, the more comfortable I get. I still don’t enjoy it, but now I understand that it’s possible to get on stage in front of 5000 people and not die of embarrassment.
This is a killer policy. If you’re scared of something, it means one of two things:
- This is something you need to AVOID because it could legitimately cause your demise. In this case, the benefits DO NOT outweigh the costs.
- This is something you need TO DO because the perception of it causing your demise is greatly exaggerated and the benefits far outweigh the costs.
Most of the time the reason we don’t want to do things, like speak in front of people for example, it’s because we feel like it’ll be a terrible experience. We let our minds wander to the worst possible outcome, which almost never happens (it’s just simple probability).
Rather, what we should be focusing on is thinking probabilistically, as described in Charles Duhigg’s AMAZING book Smarter Faster Better.
In basic terms, when you’re faced with a situation and you’re not sure what to do, think of all the possible outcomes, estimate the probability of those outcomes occurring, and act based on the most probable outcome.
So in J.D.’s skydiving example, the chances of dying in a skydiving accident are about 1 in 100,000 or 0.001%.
For those of you keeping track at home, it’s pretty much a sure thing that it’s not going to happen. Or for you glass half full people, there’s a 99.999% chance you’ll be fine and have an awesome time!
From a probabilistic point of view, this is a no-brainer – JUMP!!
As I’ve thought about this more and more, it just makes sense. May there be times when things blow up in my face? Sure, that’s life.
But thinking probabilistically is a way to stack the deck in your favor. You are quite literally giving yourself the best odds of a favorable outcome. It’s like gambling and getting to choose the cards you’re dealt!
How has generosity been a part of your life (someone generous to you or vice versa). What impact did it make?
See the quote about dropping keys. People have been generous with me all of my life. As a result, I make an effort to be generous with my time and energy. I hope that in some small way I’m able to make a positive impact on the world.
The most recent prominent example I can think of is my birthday.
I turned 49 on March 25th. On that day, I spent four hours helping a friend move. Then I spent two hours meeting with a reader. Then I came home and deliberately answered as many reader emails as possible. I made a point of making my birthday a “day of service”.
It felt awesome.
As I mentioned above, J.D. lives and breathes this. He helped me out tremendously as a new blogger and was incredibly generous with his time and energy.
I love the servant attitude he has. If we all (bloggers, business owners, people in general) tried to serve a little more and be served a little less, I think we’d find ourselves not only happier and more fulfilled, but more financially successful as well.
What are the top 3 most common money problems you’ve seen people consistently fighting to overcome?
I believe there’s really only ONE money problem: desire.
People want more than they have. Now, desire can be a good thing. It motivates us. It gives us direction. But it can also be a bad thing.
The problem is when we’re unfocused with our desires. If we’ve REALLY dialed in on what gives our lives purpose and fulfillment, then pursuing those particular desires is awesome.
But when you want everything just because your friends have it or television tells you that’s what people should want, then it becomes an issue.
As my cousin once told me, “You can have anything you want, but you can’t have EVERYTHING you want.”
This is really profound wisdom. There are two sides to the coin of desire – good and bad.
When our desires align with our priorities, we are living in what is referred to as congruence…and this feels very good, very good indeed!
If, on the other hand, we want what advertisements tell us we SHOULD want, or what our friends have and we FEEL that we should want, but these aren’t things that really give us purpose or fulfillment, well, then we’re living incongruently. Our actions and desires aren’t lined up and we feel an intense sense of disconnect between our inner self and outer life.
This can lead to depression, anxiety, chronically low confidence, and troubled relationships.
When we look at our desires in light of this, it just makes sense to live in a way in which our actions are aligned with our true desires. Then and only then can we experience the fulfillment and joy of a life well-lived.
J.D. Roth – Bringing It All Together
Wow, wow, wow.
So many nuggets of wisdom stand out that it’s hard to just choose the highlights, but I’ll try.
First, I love how J.D. practices what he preaches. I find the personal finance world to be amazing when it comes to this, but the blogosphere, in general, to be a bit scant in this regard. I so appreciate J.D.’s transparency when it comes to his struggles and where he’s working to grow and improve his own life.
Second, I’m sensing a theme amongst successful bloggers. It’s that they didn’t follow the standard build a blog advice to grow large followings. They didn’t focus on Pinterest. They didn’t do loads of keyword research. And they didn’t join “how to build a blog” blogging groups.
Now, this may be because they started blogging before a lot of these platforms and techniques were in vogue. But I suspect the reason they’ve grown successful blogs is that they were just themselves, and people connected with them.
We all need to remember this.
People will like you and connect with you. They will. You just need to find out who “they” are and where they’re at.
They’re out there. They are. It’s just a matter of time.
Thanks again to J.D. for this incredible interview. It was SOOOO amazing!! I so appreciate the time and effort he took in crafting his responses. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.
J.D. is a longtime blogger and founder of the personal finance site Get Rich Slowly. He’s been providing his unique take on personal finance and in-depth analysis of all things money for over 20 years.
Do you want help passing on winning money values to your kids? Sign up below for my FREE course How To Teach Your Kids About Money! And share in the comments what quote you find yourself using for you or your kids to build resilience. You can also join the conversation on Twitter @method_money or on my Facebook page Method To Your Money. You can also find me on Pinterest.