Zombies and Ghost Stories

With rare exceptions, I’m not a fan the horror genre. It’s a little too real for my tastes. Still, now and then, a little horror can be fun.

This year, Jennifer threw a late party for Kim’s 40th birthday. Because we held the event at the end of October, naturally she chose a funerary theme. For instance, she rented a hearse to transport Kim and me to the celebration:

The hearse that carried us to Kim's 40th birthday party

Brett and Vicki gave us (sort of) spooky masks:

Kim and J.D. celebrate her 40th birthday

And, of course, the cake (a “rice krispie cake”) was shaped like a tombstone:

Kim and Jen mugging it up before cutting the tombstone cake

Last weekend, we joined a couple of dozen other folks to play along in the gym’s second-annual “zombie apocalypse” game. The game involved lots of running for us humans, but the zombies didn’t get much of a workout. I think the zombies had more fun, though. Take a look at Kyra and Kim’s makeup:

Kyra and Kim, zombies
Nobody — not even her boyfriend or family — could tell which zombie was Kim

Kim and Kyra vowed that they were going to “kill” me during the game. I vowed they weren’t. Ultimately, however, Kyra prevailed and I was forced to join the walking dead…

All of this is prelude to the following: Although I’m not a fan of the horror genre in general, I do like ghost stories. Ghost stories are great fun. I like complex novel-length ghost stories (like Wilkie Collins’ wonderful classic, The Woman in White) and I like short, simple ghost stories — like “The Velvet Ribbon”.

When I was a boy, my sister Shelley had “The Velvet Ribbon” on vinyl record. It scared the hell out of me, but I listened to the story over and over. A few years ago, one of my readers sent me an mp3 file of the story. And now, in the age of YouTube, somebody has posted the story online:

Spooky!

If you’d rather read than listen, here’s a text version of the story:

The Velvet Ribbon
by Ann McGovern

Once there was a man who fell in love with a beautiful girl. And before the next full moon rose in the sky, they were wed.

To please her husband, the young wife wore a different gown each night. Sometimes she was dressed in yellow; other nights she wore red or blue or white. And she always wore a black velvet ribbon around her slender neck.

Day and night she wore that ribbon, and it was not long before her husband’s curiosity got the better of him.

“Why do you always wear that ribbon?” he asked. She smiled a strange smile and said not a word. At last her husband got angry. And one night he shouted at his bride. “Take that ribbon off! I’m tired of looking at it.”

You will be sorry if I do,” she replied, “so I won’t.”

Every morning at breakfast, the husband ordered his wife to remove the black velvet ribbon from around her neck. Every night at dinner he told her the same thing. But every morning at breakfast and every night at dinner, all his wife would say was, “You’ll be sorry if I do. So I won’t.”

A week passed. The husband no longer looked into his wife’s eyes. He could only stare at that black velvet ribbon around her neck.

One night as his wife lay sleeping, he tiptoed to her sewing basket. He took out a pair of scissors. Quickly and quietly, careful not to awaken her, he bent over his wife’s bed and

SNIP!

went the scissors, and the velvet ribbon fell to the floor. And

SNAP!

off came her head.

It rolled over the floor in the moonlight, wailing tearfully: “I…told…you…you’d…be…s-o-r-r-y!”

Tonight, I’ll be doing decidedly non-Halloween stuff. If it’s autumn, it must be time to plan next year’s World Domination Summit. The action team will be gathering at WDS HQ to discuss speakers, venues, and more. But when I get home, I’ll spend an hour or so reading ghost stories. Any recommendations?

Do the Work!

Do the Work! by Steven PressfieldSteven Pressfield’s The War of Art is considered a classic among creative types, including bloggers. This thin book argues that the biggest enemy to productive work is Resistance, which takes the form of self-doubt, procrastination, addiction, distraction, perfectionism, and so on. The War of Art is a call to ignore Resistance and to do the work you’ve been called to do.

In his 2011 book, aptly titled Do the Work!, Pressfield again assaults this monster called Resistance. This time, however, he offers a step-by-step method for slaying the beast.

Before I left for Turkey, I spent a Sunday afternoon reading and taking notes on Do the Work! What emerged was a sort of workflow for accomplishing creative goals:

  • Don’t prepare. Begin. Allow yourself, at most, to read three books related to your subject.
  • Stay primitive. Don’t get fancy. Don’t try to be sophisticated.
  • Swing for the seats. Aim high. Go big or go home.
  • Outline your project on a single piece of legal-size paper. Your entire novel, business idea, or whatever should fit on one page.
  • Use a three-act structure: beginning, middle, end. Start at the end. Climax first. Then beginning. Then middle.
  • Get the idea down. You can polish and rewrite later.
  • Fill in the gaps. Once you have your outline, fill in the blanks. Have 7-8 major “sequences” (equivalent to 7-8 major scenes in a film).
  • Now allow yourself to do research, but only early or late in the day, never during prime working time.
  • Get your shitty first draft done ASAP. Don’t worry about quality. Act, don’t reflect. Momentum is everything. Do not judge yourself or your work at this point.
  • There are two components to writing (or any other act of creation): Acting is putting words on paper (writing) and reflecting is evaluating what’s on paper (editing). Never act and reflect at the same time.
  • Keep working!
  • The most important question is: “What is this about?” Once you have your theme, write it down. Post it. Nothing off-theme goes into the project.
  • Ask yourself what’s missing, then fill that void.
  • The two tests of Resistance are: “How badly do you want it?” and “Why do you want it?” You must be totally committed. You must want it for fun or beauty — or because you have no choice.

Getting work done is no longer a problem for me — though it used to be. If anything, I have the opposite problem: I’ve become a sort of work-a-holic. (Actually, I work like crazy from Monday to Thursday so that I can completely relax Friday through Sunday.)

That said, I love reading books like Do the Work! They show me how other creative types get things done. More than that, they provide added motivation. After I read these sorts of books, I come away energized and ready to do Great Things.

In fact, Do the Work! is one of the reasons More Than Money is up and operational today. If I hadn’t read the book, I’d probably still be trying to come up with the perfect blog name and design. I’d probably still be agonizing over what sorts of things to write about. Instead, I’ve simply begun. I’m doing the work. I can worry about perfectionism later.

Related reading: In a way, this book reminds me of George Leonard’s Mastery, which is the best book I’ve never reviewed. When I talk to people in Real Life, I often say that Mastery is the best book about personal finance I’ve ever read, even though it’s not a book about personal finance. Maybe I’ll get off my butt and review the book for More Than Money.

Welcome to More Than Money

There are a lot of new readers at More Than Money in the past week. It’s gratifying that you’ve chosen to follow me from Get Rich Slowly. If you’re new here, please check out my first post, in which I laid out my mission statement for this site. An excerpt:

Here, then, is More Than Money at jdroth.com. Yes, I’ll still write about personal finance now and then. But as the name of the blog implies, this site will be about more than money. In fact, it’ll be a place for me to share all of my passions: animal intelligence, awesome people, far away places…and even spiral notebooks.

In short, the site’s name says it all. I’ll cover personal finance here, but I’ll also write about anything else that’s on my mind. I’ll try to keep the articles informative and entertaining, but there will be times that I publish things that are simply personal, as I did last month when my aunt died. Or as I will later this week, when I post some photos from Kim’s birthday party.

This isn’t strictly a personal blog, but it’s not just for business either.

A Brief Tour of More Than Money

More Than Money is built on a WordPress template I’ve been developing for years. There are lots of little things around here that I think are fun. For instance:

  • The upper-right corner features a rotating array of photos. All of these photos were taken by me (or taken of me), and they show different important moments from my life.
  • The Twitter section shows my latest tweet. In theory. In reality, it most often seems to be filled with blank space as the blog has trouble connecting to the Twitter API.
  • The Recent Comments section shows excerpts of the last five comments to More Than Money.
  • The Spare Change section shows the last five webpages I think are worth sharing. These will range from stories about personal finance to recipes to silly Flash animations.
  • Recommended Reading is a list of some blogs I read regularly, along with links to the last three posts.

If you have any requests for features, please let me know. I’m happy to make the site feel more like home.

Coming Soon!

I have lots more plans for More Than Money, including:

  • A contact page. Though my email addresses are easily guessable, I’d like to make it convenient for folks to contact me with questions and guest-post submissions. (Yes, I’ll publish guest posts here.)
  • Better archives. Right now, I’m using default archives, which aren’t very useful. I’ll set up something more easily-browsable in the near future.
  • Pages devoted to specific topics. I am a man of strong opinions. I like to share those opinions. Soon, I’ll have pages devoted to some of my favorite topics, such as writing and travel. I’ll share tips and tools that help me get things done.
  • Book reviews. In the olden days, I read constantly. As Get Rich Slowly grew, I ran out of time. I have more time, now, and I want to share some of the books I’ve been reading. Many of these will be productivity-oriented, but some will be just for kicks. And some will be outside my comfort zone. (I’m an avowed skeptic, but, on the recommendation of friends, I’m in the middle of a book about reincarnation called Journey of Souls. Completely contrary to my world view — but interesting. Maybe I’ll write about it.)
  • Long-term projects. For instance, during 2013 I will take my list of 43 lessons from 43 years and expand this into a weekly feature that explores my personal philosophy — in a way that’s useful for you, the reader. When I’m finished (in early 2014), I’ll collect these articles into an ebook.

Basically, I’m jazzed about this site. I haven’t been this enthused about blogging in five years. It’s great to be able to write what I want when I want, and to have some friends along for the ride. We’re going to have fun, you and I, so stick around.

The Secret to a Rich Life

Every week at Get Rich Slowly, I devoted Fridays to reader questions. I’d select one reader email to share, provide my own feedback, and then ask blog readers to contribute their opinions. It was one of the most popular features on the site.

I hadn’t planned to do that here at More Than Money. For one, I didn’t think there’d be many reader questions. Turns out I was wrong. Less than a week after this site’s “hard” launch, I’ve already received three great topics for discussion.

First up, my long-time friend P. dropped a line after reading the transcript of my WDS talk about personal transformation. She wrote:

I enjoyed your post yesterday, especially as I had my own Ulysses experience this summer. I realize you took significant action steps to get to where you are financially, but the whole time I was reading, I kept wondering how much of what you were able to do was based on money. (Please understand this is not criticism of you or your talk; it’s really just a philosophical debate.)

Certainly there are actions people can take to make themselves happier that don’t cost money (such as your examples from today), but even something as simple as saying “yes” often comes with a price. And so many of your examples were luxury items: travel to foreign countries, skydiving, getting tutored in Spanish. Even going on a massive dating spree.

Standing before Torres del Paine
Money has allowed me to see some amazing places

But as I said, this isn’t about you. Beyond the philosophical, it’s about me.

Mostly, I would say I am happy and lead an awesome life. The one hiccup to me is my job. I can say nothing negative about my job: It pays buckets of money, it has great benefits, great hours, prestige, lots of vacation, and nice co-workers. But it’s not something I’m passionate about. I probably once was, but it’s too familiar now, or old hat, or, perhaps, boring. I feel like if I didn’t have to work as much, I could spend more time doing the things that truly add joy to my life. But many of the things that bring joy to my life, I couldn’t do if I didn’t make this money.

And of course with kids, the ability to take big risks decreases a lot.

Again, I’m not really unhappy, nor am I looking for you to solve my job issue (retiring Dec. 31, 2015!), but I wondered: If someone can’t make a living doing what they love, or make a lot of money, how much of what you talk about is unavailable to them?

This is a great question, and one we’ve tackled many times over the years at Get Rich Slowly. (For instance.) Fortunately, there’s actually a solid body of research into the relationship between money and happiness. Rather than re-invent the wheel, I’m going to share my summary of the subject, which was first printed in the July 2011 issue of Entrepreneur magazine.

The Secret to a Rich Life

There’s a strong correlation between wealth and happiness. Rich nations tend to be happier than poor nations, and rich people tend to be happier than poor people. But money’s impact on happiness isn’t as great as you might think. If you have clothes to wear, food to eat and a roof over your head, more money has only a marginal effect on your sense of well-being. Other factors are more important.

In a 2005 issue of the Review of General Psychology, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Kennon Sheldon and David Schkade looked at years of research to determine what contributes to long-term happiness [PDF]. They found that about half of our happiness is biological, determined by a sort of happiness “set point.” About 40 percent of happiness comes from the things we choose to do, like exercising, setting goals and building friendships. Only about 10 percent of our happiness is based on circumstances like age, race, gender — and, perhaps surprisingly, financial status.

Although your financial situation plays just a small role in your overall happiness, it does affect it. According to a paper published in the April 2011 issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology, some financial habits bring greater satisfaction than others [PDF].

“If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right,” write authors Elizabeth Dunn, Daniel Gilbert and Timothy Wilson.

They offer several principles meant to maximize happiness, including:

  • Buy more experiences and fewer things. Material goods depreciate. The day after you buy something, it’s probably worth less than you paid for it. Experiences, on the other hand, appreciate. Your memories of the things you do — vacations you take, concerts you go to — tend to become fonder with time.
  • Use your money to help others. Personal spending has only a small effect on happiness, but pro-social spending [PDF] — money donated to charity or used to buy gifts for others — consistently produces strong, positive feelings.
  • Buy many small pleasures instead of a handful of large ones. This one’s tough to hear on a personal level, because I tend to forego daily indulgences for big rewards. But, in the words of the authors, people are usually happier with “frequent doses of lovely things rather than infrequent doses of lovelier things.”
  • Pay now but consume later. Buying today but paying tomorrow leads to debt — and to unhappiness. Deferred gratification makes us happier, and not just because we avoid debt. It also builds anticipation (which is itself pleasurable) and usually leads us to make smarter choices.
  • Beware of comparison shopping. If you’ve read The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, you know that people tend to be happier with fewer options. With fewer choices you’re less likely to make a “mistake” while shopping, and there-fore less likely to suffer buyer’s remorse. Plus, it can be tough to know which features actually matter most. Find a good option, go with it and don’t look back.

What’s the best way to be sure money will make you happy? At the 2010 Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders meeting — also known as “Woodstock for capitalists” — Warren Buffett’s business partner, Charlie Munger, shared a pearl of wisdom: “The secret to happiness,” Munger said, “is to lower your expectations.”

If you can’t be content with what you have, you’ll never lead a rich life, no matter how much money you earn.

Happiness in Real Life

DSC_1608All of that is theoretical, of course, and P.’s question involves the real world. In the real world, I’ll admit: Much of the change I’ve been able to accomplish, and much of the happiness I currently experience, is because I have the money (and the time) to spend on activities that bring me joy.

What’s more, having savings gives me a safety net. It comforts me. I know that if I take a risk and something goes wrong, I have options.

That said, the things that make me happiest have nothing to do with money. I enjoy writing. And reading. I love working out. And, most of all, I get pleasure from spending time with family and friends — especially time with The Girl.

Related reading: Just yesterday, Paula at Afford Anything published a nice look at how wealth buys time. In many ways, that’s what I’ve been using money to do recently — to buy time. And that’s not a luxury everyone has.

The bottom line? One of my fifteen money mantras is this: It’s more important to be happy than it is to be rich. Money doesn’t matter if you aren’t pursuing a meaningful life filled with family and friends.

Fortunately, P. is already doing that. She’s happy and wealthy. She’s in a good place, and she knows it. In a follow-up email, she wrote:

For now, I’m finding my happiness by getting through my work and living passionately on the weekends (and Thursdays, because I only work four days a week!) and through vacations. My plan is to retire in three years, four tops (my husband is stuck on five — that’s our one money argument). Having a “finish line” also makes it easier to get through.

Since this is my first “ask the readers” column here at More Than Money, I want to turn this around now and ask you what you think. What’s the secret to a rich life? To what degree do you need money to be happy? If you’ve experienced both wealth and poverty, how would you compare the two? What was happiness like in each state? And to get back to P.’s original question: What are some of the best ways to find meaning and joy on a limited income?

Note: Do you have a question for the More Than Money community? Send it in. I don’t have a contact form yet, but my email addresses aren’t hard to guess. (Hint: I have a gmail account.) And the great thing about doing “ask the readers” here? We can cover all sorts of topics, not just personal finance. If you want to ask about blogging or travel or dating or donuts, those are all fair game.

Seven Principles That Guide My Life

When I was younger, I made fun of self-help books. I thought they were cheesy. They didn’t seem to have any utility for my life. But now that I’m older, I’m also a little wiser. I’ve discovered that at the right time and place, certain self-help books can be valuable.

How I Found Freedom in an Unfree WorldMy favorite book of this type is Harry Browne’s How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, a 38-year-old treatise on personal responsibility. This book changed my life.

But last winter, as I was working through some of the heavier things from my divorce, I found solace in two other books: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. These are just the sorts of books I used to mock, but I’ll admit that I found they held profound truths for where I was in life. They still do.

These, for example, are the four agreements (with a bit of rephrasing by me):

  • Be Impeccable With Your Word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid speaking against yourself or gossiping about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
  • Don’t Take Anything Personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own experience. When you’re immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
  • Don’t Make Assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama.
  • Always Do Your Best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you’ll avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

The fourth agreement wasn’t really a problem for me. I always try to do my best. And the first one wasn’t really an issue either. Yes, I fib now and then, and yes, I can gossip at times. But mostly I try to steer clear of these things, and I generally try to tell the truth (I’m a horrible liar).

But the second and third of Ruiz’s principles? Well, those are problems. I do have a tendency to take things personally, and I do often make assumptions. For all of 2012, though, I’ve been working hard to change both of these habits. In fact, I’ve noticed that if I’m feeling unhappy, it’s usually because I’m taking something personally or I’m making assumptions.

Or maybe I’m unhappy because I’m not present in the moment. I have a rich internal life, and at times I can get lost in the web of my own thoughts. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily. This rich internal life is the source of my imagination. It’s helped me succeed as a writer. But it becomes problematic when I’m stuck in my head instead of mentally present with my friends. (And being stuck in my head sometimes makes it tough for me to answer questions or to tell stories.)

That’s why I’ve also spent this year trying to remind myself of the “power of now”, as Eckhart Tolle calls it. Here’s my summary of his philosophy:

  • Be present in the moment. Accept life for what it is, without labels or judgment. Yield to events; don’t block them. Go with the flow. Nothing exists outside the present moment: Don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future. Improve the quality of the here and now.

I love that last bit: Improve the quality of the here and now. How can I make today better? How can I make this moment better? That’s what I need to focus on in my life. And I have been, for the most part. Sometimes I forget to do this, and that can lead to unhappiness — for myself and others. But I’m committed to making this a way of life.

Finally, here are a couple of other pieces from my personal philosophy. I call the first bit “Michelle’s Law” after the friend who helped me articulate the idea:

  • Create your own certainty. Don’t allow your well-being to be dependent on the choices of others. Be proactive.

Make your own way in the world, and choose happiness.There’s a lot contained in those few words. I’m instantly reminded of Harry Browne (whom I mentioned earlier) and of Ayn Rand. Both advocate living in such a way that your health and happiness aren’t dependent on the actions of others. Obviously, you can’t be completely disconnected (nor would you want to), but to the degree that you can act independently, you have greater control over your future happiness.

Speaking of happiness, that brings me to my own maxim, something I call “J.D.’s Law”. If you’ve read me for a while, you know that I consider personal happiness one of the highest ideals (and perhaps the highest ideal). In this way, I’m similar to Aristotle. In fact, I very much like Aristotle’s conception of happiness, which he called eudaimonia. To him (and to me), happiness wasn’t just about hedonistic pleasure. It was also about pursuing excellence and living in a way that is congruent with personal beliefs. (I think of his eudaimonia as being similar to Csíkszentmihályi’s flow.)

So, my fundamental law is this:

  • Choose happiness. Do work and play that brings fulfillment. Spend time with people that build you up, not those who bring you down. Strip from your life the things that take time, money, and energy, but which do not bring you joy. Focus on the essentials.

My personal philosophy is constantly developing. It is not fixed. As you all know, I’ve changed much in the past twenty or thirty years. I’m certain I’ll change more in the years I have left on this earth. Ultimately, however, my aim is to be the best person I can be — now and in the future.

Footnote: For an extended look at the principles that guide my life, check out my list of 43 lessons from 43 years, which I published at my personal finance blog last March.

Change: The Art of Personal Transformation

Note: While working on the videos for World Domination Summit 2012, I had a chance to watch a bit of my own presentation. Because it does a good job of capturing who I am at this moment and what I believe, I wanted to share it here at More Than Money. The text version of this talk first appeared at Get Rich Slowly in July.


My talk about personal transformation from World Domination Summit 2012

My name is J.D. and I am an introvert. Or at least I used to be. As a boy, my introversion created problems. I was awkward physically and I was awkward socially. I was strange.

My awkwardness only increased as I grew older. I hung around with the other strange kids. We were nerds. There was a band of us, about six boys, and as we progressed through the grades, we gravitated toward each other. In our free time, we’d hang out to read comic books or play Dungeons and Dragons.

This was back during the late seventies and early eighties, and we were among the first to have computers. While other kids were doing what other kids did, we were home learning to write our own computer programs, reading Superman and Spiderman comics, or pretending to be barbarians or wizards or trolls.

At the time, I didn’t know I was different from other kids. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I liked what I was doing and I liked my friends. Life was good.

I was an awkward boy.Things changed, though, when I got to junior high school. Gradually I became aware of a certain social hierarchy. What’s more, I became aware that my friends and I were at the bottom of this social hierarchy.

We were always the last kids picked for kickball teams. Nobody wanted to be our lab partners in biology. When my pal Jeremy carried his Dungeons and Dragons books from class to class, the other kids would knock them to the floor if he got up to sharpen his pencil.

One day in algebra class, the girl behind me — Janine was her name — the girl behind me wrote something on the back of my shirt. I kept turning around to ask her to stop, but she kept writing. The other kids kept snickering. After class, I went to the bathroom to see what she’d written. There, in big block letters, was the word DICK. She’d written DICK on the back of my shirt.

That’s who I was. I was the bottom of the junior-high pecking order. I was a nerd. A geek. A loser. The other kids thought I was a dick. And slowly but surely, I began to believe them. In fact, as eighth grade progressed, I sank into a deep depression. I missed school. I withdrew. I became suicidal.

I remember coming home from school after one particularly horrific day — maybe even the same day Janine wrote the word DICK on the back of my shirt — I remember coming home to our trailer house, searching the cupboards for something to eat. I opened one of the kitchen drawers, and there I found a sharp knife. I took it out and sat at the table. For maybe five or ten minutes, I sat staring at the blade. I ran it over my wrist once or twice. “I could kill myself,” I thought. “I could kill myself and this would all be over.”

Fortunately, I didn’t have the guts.

Instead, I put the knife away and went to my bedroom to read X-Men comic books.

That was a turning point for me, a key experience in my young life. As I sat at the table with knife in hand, I made a decision. I knew I wasn’t a dick. I knew I was a good guy. Why didn’t other people? I decided to change. I decided that the next year, when I started high school, I’d do new things. I’d make new friends.

And so I did.

Continue reading

I’m Retiring from Get Rich Slowly

This post from J.D. Roth is part of the reader stories feature at Get Rich Slowly. J.D. founded this site and acted as editor for six-and-a-half years. He now writes at More Than Money.

First, the short version: I’m officially retiring from Get Rich Slowly. I may write an occasional guest post here, but from today forward, my online home is at More Than Money, where I’ll write about personal finance, yes, but also travel and fitness and books and philosophy and dating. Plus, of course, my old standbys: cats, computers, and comic books.

This news probably shocks nobody. Before I leave, here’s a longer version of my history here, the story of Get Rich Slowly from Day One.

In the Beginning
I never set out to be a personal-finance blogger. Though I always wanted to be a writer, I always thought I’d write poetry. Or science fiction. Throughout high school and college, I took whatever writing class I could. I edited the school literary magazines. I wrote for the school papers.

During college, I made some dumb decisions. I came from a poor family, but was a at a school with a lot of wealthy kids. (Or kids who seemed wealthy, anyhow.) I desperately wanted to fit in, but couldn’t afford to do so. But then I discovered credit cards.

I started with store credit cards, which allowed me to purchase clothes and cologne. Soon, however, I had signed up for a Visa with a $300 limit. I maxed that out in no time. And so my credit habit started. By the time I graduated from college, I had no student debt but I had plenty of consumer debt.

From there, matters got worse. When I graduated, I had no job and no prospects, so I took a miserable job selling insurance door to door to little old ladies in eastern Oregon. I bought a new car and a new wardrobe. I was essentially paying for three different places to live. In other words, I was digging the hole deeper.

In desperation, I took a job at the family business, a small box manufacturing company in rural Oregon. I was the salesman, but I wasn’t any good at it. I made a meager income, with which I made minimum payments on all my credit cards. I never paid the balances down, though. Any time my credit limit was raised, I simply spent more. I was dumb.

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul
In 1998, I had more than $16,000 in credit card debt. I applied for — and was granted — a home equity loan. I used this money to pay off my outstanding debt. I cut up my credit cards. When I was certain that my balances were paid in full, I cancelled the accounts.

I paid faithfully on this loan for five years (it had a ten-year term). But when my wife and I bought our new home in 2004, the intricacies of the transaction (read: my lack of savings) forced me to fold my previous home loan into a new HELOC: $21,000 at 6%.

Couple this with a car loan, a computer loan, and loans from assorted friends and family, and I had accumulated over $35,000 in consumer debt. I was in bad shape. I felt as if I were drowning.

Seeing the Light
Fortunately, a couple of friends threw me life savers. They’d been watching me struggle, and were waiting until I seemed like I finally might be ready to listen. This was the time.

One friend loaned me Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover. Another steered me toward the classic Your Money or Your Life. I read them both, and then went to the public library to borrow more books about money. I devoured personal finance manuals. As I read, I began to notice a stark pattern. “It’s impossible to get rich quickly,” these books seemed to say, “but it is possible to get rich slowly.”

Spurred by what I’d learned, I wrote an article for my personal blog that summarized the information in these books. It was a braindump about money. I called this article “Get Rich Slowly”. I had no idea where this would lead.

Getting Rich Quickly
A year later, in early 2006, I was well on my way to paying off my debt. I’d cut my spending in many areas, and was looking for ways to earn more money. “What if I started a personal finance blog?” I thought. “It could be the first personal finance blog on the internet!” Little did I know that there were already dozens — or hundreds — of other personal finance blogs.

On 15 April 2006, I started Get Rich Slowly — this blog. My goals were to:

  • Share what I was learning about personal finance.
  • Help others improve their financial lives.
  • Improve my own financial life.

I wanted to make money from the blog. And I did.

At the start, I made a few pennies every day. Before long, those pennies grew into dollars. And as my audience grew, so did my income. Within a year, I was making as much from Get Rich Slowly as I was from day job, selling boxes for the family business. After about eighteen months, I had eliminated my debt. After two years, I was able to quit my job to blog full time. And within three years, I had sold the blog for more than money than I thought possible.

Sticking Around
When I sold Get Rich Slowly, I thought I was done with the site. Because of turmoil in my personal life, I wanted to quit the blog. I wanted to walk away. To do something else. Anything else. In fact, I turned down a bigger offer that required me to stick around the site for three years. I wasn’t willing to make that commitment.

Turns out, that was a mistake.

The thing is, I loved Get Rich Slowly. I loved writing for the site, and I loved the community. I felt a responsibility to the readers. Get Rich Slowly was my baby, and I wasn’t ready to leave. So, I stuck around for three-and-a-half years, writing and editing and performing PR.

I always knew, however, that the day would come when I had to step away. To that end, I worked with the new owners to create a smooth transition. We hired new writers. We tackled new topics. Gradually — very gradually — I stepped back. I wrote Your Money: The Missing Manual. I began to speak at various conferences. I met with GRS readers and began to help them pursue their dreams.

By the beginning of this year, it became clear it was time for me to leave the site completely. All year long, I’ve been working to make that happen.

Moving On
Now, the time has come. There’s a solid core of staff writers here. There’s a new editor. The audience no longer expects this to be a blog about me and my journey. (And, in fact, when I do write about myself, I get plenty of cranky comments. That’s a good thing! It means the shift has been made.)

Note: Again, I want to stress that although I’m leaving Get Rich Slowly, I’m not done writing for the web. If you’re one of those who likes my voice, and you’re willing to read about a variety of non-financial topics, go check out More Than Money, the site I started six weeks ago. I suspect many of you would enjoy both that blog and this one.

It feels liberating to have made this decision. Get Rich Slowly has been an awesome gig, the best work anyone could ask for. I love you, the readers, and I love the work I’ve done. I feel as if I’ve done something good for the world, you know? But I think there’s more good in me. I want to continue helping others. Doing what? I’m not sure. But I’ll noodle that out in time.

For now, I’m happy to learn Spanish, build muscle at Crossfit, and travel the world. I’m also eager to continue meeting GRS readers in person. It’s a blast to exchange ideas and to help others follow your dreams. If you’re ever in Portland, let me know.

Finally, I should note that although I’m done writing and editing here (except for an occasional guest post), I’m not completely done with the site. I’ll continue to act as the site’s face. If a newspaper needs a quote, I’ll give them one. If a conference wants a speaker, I’ll be that guy. I’m proud of the site that I created and helped to build. I want its success to continue in the years ahead.

More than that, I want your success to continue in the years ahead. Be well, my friends, and always remember: The fundamental rule of personal finance is to spend less than you earn.

Permission to Ride

Losing things is one of the hazards of travel.

I’ve heard horror stories of people who have lost their luggage, for example. Or had it lost for them. Last autumn, for example, I was fast asleep in my room in Lima when my roommate arrived.

“Sorry, mate,” Steve announced as he turned on the light. It was 2am. “My plane just got in from Australia, and my luggage isn’t with it.” For the next three weeks, Steve was constantly on the phone with the airline trying to track down his bags. He never found them.

Other times, folks lose things to pickpockets.

Me? I have a tendency to lose things to carelessness. I get distracted and leave things behind.

I did great on my recent trip to Turkey, though. I made it through Denver, two weeks in Turkey, and four days in New York, and I didn’t lose a single thing. Not until the airport, anyhow.

At the TSA checkpoint, I showed my driver license with my boarding pass. I passed through the scanners, gathered my things, and flew to Atlanta. When I went to show my ID at the hotel, my driver license wasn’t there. Crap.

Then, on my last night in Atlanta, I was upstairs in the bar, dancing with the ladies from the Savvy Blogging Summit. I was hot, so I pulled off my sweater (my $180 sweater) and tossed it on a nearby sofa. Not a smart move. Guess where that sweater still is…

This week, my first week back from my trip, I’ve been running all sorts of errands. Top on the list, of course, was obtaining a replacement license.

Oregon motorcycle manualI stopped by the DMV yesterday at lunchtime. I pulled number 116 and looked at the board — they were only up to 79. It was going to be a long wait. I sat down and looked around. There, before me, I saw the Oregon Motorcycle Manual.

“What luck!” I thought. “Don’t I want to get the motorcycle endorsement for my license?” Indeed, I do. I picked up a copy of the manual and started reading.

Much to my surprise, I found out that you can actually get a motorcycle permit in Oregon. That’s right. If you pass a written test, the DMV will give you a motorcycle instruction permit, just like you might get when you’re learning to drive a car. On a whim, I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I looked at the board — they were only up to 84. I began to read as fast as I could.

Forty-five minutes later, I had skimmed the motorcycle manual twice and could answer the practice questions with ease. When they called number 116, I stepped forward, applied for my replacement license and asked to test for the motorcycle permit.

“You want a motorcycle permit?” the woman asked. She seemed skeptical.

“I do,” I said.

And so I took the test. There were 25 questions. I could miss five. Which I did. But in the end, I passed and was awarded the prize:

My motorcycle instruction permit

The thing is, this permit is nearly useless. All it does is let me ride a motorcycle as long as a licensed motorcyclist is riding near me.

In order to get the actual motorcycle endorsement for my license in Oregon, I need to complete a motorcycle rider education course through the one organization in the state that offers them. Without completing this course, I can’t legally ride a motorcycle by myself.

When I showed the permit to Kim, she was baffled. “But you don’t even know how to ride,” she said.

“I know,” I said. I don’t even know how to turn a motorcycle on. The permit is useless, but it’s fun to have. And one of my goals is to actually be able to ride a motorcycle come spring. This winter, I’ll take the motorcycle rider education course, and when the weather warms, maybe I’ll be buzzing around the backroads of Oregon on two wheels.

Buying Gifts for The Girl

Note: I’ve been back in the United States for almost two weeks, but still have one last story to tell about my trip to Turkey. I haven’t been able to share it before now because some of it was secret.

Sometimes it feels like Istanbul is one giant flea market. People are selling things everywhere, not just in shops, but also on street corners. Istanbul is home to the Grand Bazaar, which is basically a 1000-year-old shopping mall where men sell carpets, fake watches, and cheap scarves. It’s a tourist trap. But there’s a dizzying array of other vendors throughout the city. It’s crazy.

When I was getting ready to travel to Turkey, I asked Kim if she wanted me to bring her anything. “Some nice, fluffy towels,” she told me. No problem. Or so I thought. But with so many people selling things, it’s hard to know who’s selling quality goods and who’s just ripping you off.

Fortunately, one of my guidebooks had a paragraph about a new shop selling towels, a shop known for its quality. The place was called Jennifer’s Hamam. Jennifer is from Canada and “hamam” is the Turkish word for bath. Just my luck: Jennifer’s Hamam was within walking distance of the hotel in Istanbul.

When Nick and I were in Istanbul at the start of the trip, I stopped by Jennifer’s Hamam. It was filled with towels and soap and scarves. I spent half an hour talking with Jennifer herself. She explained that the’s the only store in the world working with the last of the Turkish families who make these products by hand using the old methods and all organic materials. She demonstrated how the products she sells are superior to the cheaper things in other stores.

I wasn’t ready to buy then, and I told her so, but I promised to come back when I returned to Istanbul at the end of my trip.

Before I left, Jennifer suggested I stop by Denizen Coffee, a place that serves American coffee (impossible to get here) and owned by a couple of guys from San Francisco. Before I left for central Turkey, I stopped in twice and chatted with Ken, one the owners, while drinking coffee and eating chocolate.

As Nick and I traveled around Turkey, I looked for other towels and scarves. Nothing I found matched the quality in Jennifer’s Hamam. I found some nice scarves to give to friends, but nothing like the ones Jennifer sells. So, when I returned to Istanbul, I went back to Jennifer’s Hamam and made a big purchase.

I bought Kim the towels that she requested…but I also bought nice scarves for Kim and for Kris (my ex-wife).

Gifts for KimA pile of gifts for Kimberly

At this point, I thought I was done shopping for The Girl. I was wrong. On my last afternoon in Istanbul, I was taking a break at Denizen Coffee again, just as I had the day before. As always, Ken started chatting with me.

“You look glum,” he said.

“I miss my girlfriend. I haven’t seen her in three weeks,” I said, and I explained the situation, about how I planned this trip before Kim and I started dating.

“You should get her something nice,” he said.

“I have,” I said. “I got her some silk from Jennifer’s Hamam. I wanted to get her some jewelry, but I don’t know anything about it. And everything I see in the shops looks fake. It’s all the same.”

Ken smiled. “I know just the place for you,” he said. “Do you have some time?” I said I did. “Good,” he said. “Stay here. I know an artist who makes real jewelry.”

A few minutes later, a woman appeared in the store. She introduced herself as Nazan. “I’m a sculptor,” she said, “but I can’t make money in Turkey with my art. Turkish people don’t appreciate it. So, I make jewelry instead. Every piece is hand-crafted. When I can, I re-use antique stones and metal. Come. Follow me to my house. I’ll show you.”

She led me through Istanbul’s winding streets. After ten minutes, we reached an unassuming door. She opened it and ushered me inside. “When I bought this place, it was a ruin,” she said. “I remodeled it myself, the design and the work.”

I ooohed and aaahed. The place was beautiful. The entryway was made of stone pebbles that looked like they’d been taken from the nearby seashore. Blue rocks were interspersed with the grey to create a pattern. The two flights of stairs were made from gorgeous, golden wood. Everything was perfect — except the door to her outside balcony, which was only about 5-1/2 feet high, causing me to bump my head pretty hard.

“Sit,” Nazan said, motioning to a chair on the balcony. “I will bring you my art.”

She brought out a box filled with ziploc bags. Inside each ziploc bag was a piece of jewelry she had made. Some bags contained necklaces. Some contained earrings. Some pendants, some bracelets, some rings.

“How much are these?” I asked. “They’re beautiful.”

Nazan shrugged. “All different prices,” she said. “How much do you want to spend?”

“I spent all I wanted to spend yesterday at Jennifer’s Hamam,” I said. “But maybe I could find a few hundred dollars.” That would mean changing some of my other plans, but I wanted to see what she was offering.

“Let’s look,” she said, and she began pulling jewelry from ziploc bags. The stuff was gorgeous.

“Can I take photos?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “Please no.” (But you can see some photos on Facebook.)

I spent an hour going over Nazan’s jewelry. I loved it. I’m not a fan of jewelry, actually. (I do like Kim’s taste in jewelry, but that’s unusual.) Nazan’s jewelry was different. I felt drawn to it, as if it had some sort of vital energy. But everything was so expensive!

“Don’t think about money now,” Nazan told me, which made me laugh. She frowned. “Think about what you like. Think about money later.”

I could go on forever describing the time I spent on Nazan’s balcony. It was a unique experience. Eventually, I found two necklaces and three bracelets that I thought Kim might like — and that I could afford. Ultimately, my decision came down to the two necklaces. I was sure Kim would like the less expensive necklace. It featured two yellow eye agates, one above the other. It would have been perfect.

The necklace I likedBut I really liked the second piece: An uncut garnet still in its motherstone, which was set in a silver frame with four interesting symbols. This piece was more expensive, and I wasn’t sure that Kim would like it. I mean, it seemed like something she’d wear, but what if I misjudged?

In the end, I bought the necklace. I loved it, and I wanted to see Kim wearing it. We arranged a price, but there was a complication.

“All of my money is at the hotel,” I said. “It’s ten minutes away by foot.”

“No problem,” Nazan said. “Here, take the necklace. Go get the money. Meet me at the coffeehouse.”

An American shopowner would never do such a thing, but in Turkey? It happens all the time. There is a strong cultural taboo against theft here. It’s unthinkable, and it creates a strange sense of trust. (On the other hand, anything goes before you agree on a price. A Turk will think nothing of charging you $100 for a $10 lamp. That’s fair. But once the deal is made, it’s a case of complete trust.)

I walked back to the hotel and then up to the coffeeshop. I gave Nazan her money and thanked the owner of the coffeehouse for connecting me with her.

Necklace for KimNazan shows off the necklace I bought for Kim

And note that all of this started — the towels, the coffee place, and the jewelry woman — because my guidebook said that to get good towels I ought to go to Jennifer’s Hamam.

Footnote: I’m pleased to say that the Kim likes the necklace — and it looks great on her!

Unlimited Bacon

Yesterday, during my one full day in San Francisco, I squeezed in three meetings.

First, I met with the folks from QuinStreet, the company that owns my personal finance blog. We met at the Mission Beach Cafe, where we had a fantastic breakfast. I ate pancakes with vanilla creme and bourbon syrup. I also had a side of the best bacon I’ve ever had. And I’ve had a lot of bacon in my 43 years on this planet.

Next, I dropped by Twitter HQ to meet GRS-reader Mark Christian and a few of his fellow geeks. I ate lunch in the cafeteria, where Mark showed me what has to be the best perk of all time. Twitter employees have constant access to an unlimited supply of bacon:

At Twitter HQ, employees have access to unlimited bacon.
At Twitter HQ, employees have access to unlimited bacon.

Finally, I walked over to the offices of Lending Club. Lending Club is a peer-to-peer lending platform. In plain English: It’s a company that lets regular folks like me lend money to regular folks like you, but in a way that spreads the risk. I met some of the Lending Club folks last month at Fincon 2012, and they asked me to stop in so I could learn more about their operations. I have to admit: I used to be a skeptic about peer-to-peer lending, but I’ve changed my tune. I’m going to try it out, perhaps even in a big way.

It was a good day. Along the way, lots of little things went right for me. But perhaps the best part of the day was witnessing the never-ending bacon supply at Twitter HQ. If I ever own a tech company, I’m going to offer that perk to my employees, too.

Postscript: Do you tweet? You should follow me on Twitter here.