My 2012: The Year in Review

Over the past week, I’ve been conducting my first-ever personal annual review. I’ve looked back over 2012 to see what went right, what could have gone better, and what I might like to do in the year to come.

It’s been fun to reflect on the past twelve months. For several years, I’ve been pursuing personal growth, and that growth really came to fruition in 2012. This was, above all, a year of change. It was a year of exploration and development. Today, on the last day of the year, my life is very different than it was at this time last December. Here’s a brief summary of the path my life has taken:


To start the year, I moved out on my own. After asking Kris for a divorce in November 2011, I slept on the couch downstairs for six weeks until she and I were both ready for me to move out. In early January, I packed most of my stuff and began life alone in an apartment near downtown Portland. Believe it or not, this was the first time in my life I’d lived alone. At first, it was tough. But I made a conscious effort to spend time with friends and to busy myself with work, which made things bearable.


After a few weeks by ourselves, Kris and I made a final trip together as a couple. During the summer of 2011, we’d booked a trip to Patagonia with our college alumni group. I gave her the option to make the trip by herself, but she wanted for the two of us to share one last adventure, so we did. We explored Buenos Aires, hiked Torres del Paine, and swam off the shore of Easter Island. It was a bittersweet epilogue to our 23 years as a couple.

Standing before Torres del Paine
Standing before Torres del Paine in southern Chile


After returning from South America, I tried to find some sort of rhythm in my new life. I continued exercising at my Crossfit gym, spent more time learning Spanish, and resumed writing for my personal finance blog. (My favorite article this year was the list of 43 lessons I’d learned in 43 years.) I also continued to see friends, old and new. My new life was simultaneously scary and exciting.


kimjdsmokingWith the arrival of spring, I decided to dip my toes into the world of dating. Actually, I dove in head first. I embarked on what I called my Extreme Dating Project, in which I went out with as many women as I could. My plan was to date for a long, long time, to learn more about myself and about relationships. But in the middle of April, my plans were de-railed. On a wine-tasting trip with folks from the gym, I started chatting with Kim, a woman I’d basically ignored for the the previous six months. We clicked on all sorts of levels. By the end of April, we were dating each other exclusively.


For the rest of the spring, Kim and I explored to what degree we wanted our relationship to develop. Meanwhile, I devoted myself to a final push for fitness. After losing forty pounds in two years, I wanted to get rid of ten more. Plus, I wanted to be strong. So, I decided I’d go to the gym “every day in May”. I almost made it. By the end of the month, I was sore and tired, though, so I had to take two days off. Still, I finished the month feeling fitter than ever. Meanwhile, I was beginning to realize I had nothing left to say about personal finance. After six years of writing about the subject almost daily, I was ready to call it quits. I just didn’t know how.


After focusing on fitness in May, I decided to eat “no junk in June”. I spent the month building solid nutrition habits. I also spent a lot of June finalizing details for the second annual World Domination Summit. As the weather warmed, I walked everywhere I could for transportation. Because my apartment was centrally located, most days I walked between six and twelve miles around Portland. I loved it.

J.D. Roth at World Domination Summit 2012
Taking the stage at World Domination Summit
(Photo by Tera Wages)


July began with a bang. After some on-again/off-again dating, Kim and I decided to give things a go without reservations. We spent Independence Day at a blues festival along Portland’s waterfront. She came to hear me speak at the World Domination Summit. And then we spent the rest of the month making short trips around the state, enjoying the start of Oregon’s short summer. On the last day of the month, we made things as “official” as they get these days: we confirmed our relationship status on Facebook.


During August, I spent most of my time preparing for my upcoming trip to Turkey. This meant writing articles in advance, plus preparing talks for the two conferences I’d be attending in the coming weeks. At the end of the month, I joined eleven other folks from the gym to run Hood to Coast, a 195-mile relay race from Mt. Hood to Seaside. Not everything was fun and games, though. I could tell I’d hit a wall in my Spanish classes, and that was frustrating.


September was full of adventures. To start the month, I flew to Denver for the second-annual Financial Blogger Conference. From there, I flew to Istanbul, where I joined my cousin Nick for a three-week tour of Turkey. We had a blast walking through ruins, wading through mineral pools, dodging carpet salesmen, and flying in hot-air balloons. In many ways, Turkey was the most foreign of the countries I’ve visited in the past five years. I both loved it and hated it. But the trip solidified my desire to travel.

The Muslim call to prayer in Istanbul


After touring Turkey, I flew to New York, where I spent a few days meeting with friends and colleagues. I also saw three Broadway shows in three nights. From there, I flew to Atlanta for the third-annual Savvy Blogging Summit, which is one of the highlights of my year. To end my five-week trip, I spent a couple of days in San Francisco before reuniting with Kim at her brother’s hotel just outside Yosemite. This was the month that I officially retired from Get Rich Slowly and turned my attention to More Than Money.


After months of transition, November was the first month that felt truly stable. I fell into a sort of a routine, working like mad during the week so that I could spend my weekends with Kim. I reached Inbox Zero for the first time in years (though I’m now back up to Inbox 113, which actually isn’t that bad), picked up some new writing gigs, and began work on next year’s World Domination Summit. I also started working with a personal trainer so that I could focus on building strength. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury sidelined my strength goals and forced me to focus mostly on rehab.


During December, I continued with my new-found work routine. I also hatched a new business idea with two colleagues, agreed to speak in Ecuador next summer, and began shopping for a house here in Portland. I also applied for a job for the first time in years. It’s a BIG job, otherwise I wouldn’t have pursued it, but it’s still a job. At the end of the month, Kim and I rented a home in central Oregon for a week, where we played in the snow and soaked in the hot tub.

Just another Christmas Eve dogsled ride with Kimmie
Dogsledding with Kim over Christmas break

What Went Well in 2012?

The past twelve months have been amazing. I’ve done a lot of things that make me happy.

  • I traveled to three new countries, including three weeks of travel where I got to practice my Spanish on a daily basis.
  • I spoke at three conferences, including one talk before an audience of one thousand people.
  • After finalizing our divorce, Kris and I have maintained a working friendship as we’ve both begun dating again.
  • Speaking of which, I’m in a constructive relationship with an amazing woman. Kim and I have a lot of fun together, and both look forward to exploring all life has to offer in the future.
  • I did all sorts of new things this year: learned to handle a firearm, got my motorcycle permit, began to enjoy beer and coffee, took hang-gliding lessons, rode a dogsled, and more.

Because I didn’t set any goals at the start of the year, I have nothing specific to measure success. I’m okay with that. I’m happy, and to me that’s the best barometer of all.

What Did NOT Go Well in 2012?

Though 2012 was a good year, not everything was perfect.

For one, my Spanish lessons got de-railed. I started the year with a great tutor, but we parted ways when I left for Turkey. She encouraged me to continue lessons with somebody else (or to take classes in a group setting), but I haven’t found the time. Then my English student returned home to Spain in December, leaving me without a single outlet for Spanish learning right now except my subscription to People en Español. I need more practice.

Also, I didn’t do a great job maintaining existing friendships. I spent a lot of time with new friends, it’s true, and I especially spent a lot of time with Kim, but after starting the year intentionally reconnecting with folks who are important to me, I lost my way later on — especially after returning from Turkey.

Finally, I’m not happy with how things finished with my physical fitness. I reached a peak level of fitness in early July, and I was making lots of smart choices. But then a combination of injuries, travel, and poor choices made me a little soft. I’m carrying an extra five or ten pounds now, and my fitness levels are lower than I want them to be.

Looking Ahead

Though I didn’t set goals for 2012, I have a few plans for the year to come. Tomorrow, I’ll share some of my goals, including the means by which I’ll measure their success.

What about you? How was your 2012? Are you happier now than you were the same time last year? Have you made progress on your personal goals? What went well for you this year? What could have gone better?

Happy Holidays!

Happy Boxing Day, everyone. I know I’ve been quiet around here lately but, as usual, that means there’s been lots happening in Real Life.

For one, the holidays have taken much of my time, as I’m sure they’ve done with you. For another, I’ve taken on some extra writing gigs to bring in a little extra cash. (I always try to follow my own advice about the importance of making more money!) Plus, I’ve been working on next summer’s World Domination Summit. I’m responsible for the content at the conference this year, and I want to make sure I get it right.

For the past few days, though, I’ve been taking it easy. Last Friday, Kim and I left Portland for central Oregon, where we’ve rented a small house (from a Get Rich Slowly reader, no less). We’ve been relaxing completely while ignoring the rest of the world. (At this very moment, we’re both waking up to coffee on the couch while puttering around on the internet.) Friends are stopping in to visit now and then, but for the most part we’ve been sitting in the hot tub, riding the dogsleds, and playing in the snow.

Just another Christmas Eve dogsled ride with Kimmie
On Christmas Eve, Kim and I went dogsledding on a cold, bright afternoon.

While we’re here, I’m going to conduct my first-ever annual review. Every year, my friend Chris Guillebeau spends a week in reflection, looking at what went right with his year, and determining what might have gone better. He also sets goals for the coming year. I’ve never done anything this formal with my own end-of-year self-reflection, but I like the idea. I’m going to try it to see how I like it.

I’ll share the results of my annual review in a couple of days. For now, though, I’m going back to my books and my coffee. Happy holidays, my friends. May peace be with you.

My Introduction to Therapy

I had lunch with a friend today. Let’s call him Tom. Tom is a colleague. He makes his living from a website. In fact, his site is probably the most financially successful site I know. For years, it’s had an income of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

You might think that with his financial success, Tom would be ecstatic. And there’s no doubt he’s a happy man, grateful for his financial good fortune. All the same, his wealth hasn’t made him happy. In fact, it’s caused him a great deal of stress.

For one thing, he doesn’t feel like he deserves the money. What has he done that others haven’t that he should have such a high income? (Never mind that he gives away tons of money to friends and family — and strangers — every year. Never mind that he employs a small staff of folks when he doesn’t really have to.)

For another, he’s worried that the flow of money will cease. “I have plenty saved,” he told me. “My site has earned me five million dollars since I started it, and I’ve saved about twenty percent of that.” Still, he doesn’t feel like he’s saved enough. Plus, he’s worried about his lifestyle. Is he spending too much? What if the income from the site were to suddenly vanish?

There’s no doubt that Tom has First World problems. He’s the first to admit that it’s crazy to have so much money and still be stressed about his financial situation. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s stressed. (Actually, lots of folks in his position tend to get anxious.)

“It’s gotten so bad that I’m seeking professional help,” Tom told me. “After lunch, I’m going to see a shrink for the first time. Can you believe it?”

“Actually, I can,” I said. “I just came from my own shrink. I’ve been seeing a psychologist for three weeks now.”


I have a degree in psychology. For a long time, I thought I was going to be a counselor. That’s what I trained for throughout college. In high school, I played amateur shrink for all of my friends (boys and girls alike), and I thought it made sense to take this “talent” and turn it into a career.

I never did become a psychologist. Instead, I ended up selling boxes for the family business. And, eventually, I became a financial writer (who specializes in the psychology of money). But even today I sometimes dream of returning to grad school and becoming a professional counselor.

Given this, you might think I would have seen a therapist long ago. After all, one of the first rules of therapy is that the therapist herself should also have a therapist.

But no.

Like many people, I’ve always had a stigma against seeing a therapist. I thought it would mean admitting something was wrong with me.

That view began to change about a year ago. When I asked Kris for the divorce, she urged me to see a therapist. I told my friend Michael about this (among other things, Michael is a family counselor), and told him I was reluctant to go.

“You’re looking at it all wrong, J.D.,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You’re healthy now, aren’t you?” he asked. “You’re physically fit.”

I nodded.

“Well then why do you still need to go to the gym? Why keep taking Spanish lessons if you know Spanish? Why ever use any sort of coach when you know what you’re supposed to be doing? Well, a therapist is the same thing. Yes, a therapist can help fix things that are broken, but a good one can also keep you functioning at the top of your game. A therapist is like a personal trainer for your mind.”

I heard what Michael was saying, but it wasn’t enough. I still wasn’t ready to talk to a counselor.


About a month ago, I was talking with another friend. Let’s call her Antonia. We were catching up on our lives over dinner when she mentioned that she’d recently started seeing a therapist.

“What for?” I asked, not one to mince words.

“No reason really,” Antonia told me. “I’ve been thinking about some heavy things lately, and I just wanted to bounce them off an objective third party. I tried to see one at my HMO, but they wouldn’t take me on. They said there was nothing wrong with me, and to go away. Fine. I asked a friend, and he recommended his own therapist. So, I’ve been seeing her for a few weeks. It’s interesting.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Well, I tell my therapist about the things that are on my mind, and then she gives me homework. It sounds goofy, I know, but it’s really helped me clarify some stuff. It’s helped me let go of some things that I didn’t even know were holding me back.”

As the conversation moved on, I thought about this exchange. At the end of the evening, I asked Antonia for her therapist’s contact information. I set up an appointment for myself. Two weeks ago, I saw the therapist for the first time. I’ve been back twice more.


I was half an hour late to my first appointment because I had the wrong address. Plus, I hadn’t filled out any of the paperwork I was supposed to have ready. Every other psych major reading those two sentences sees the same thing I do: My subconscious was doing its best to avoid the appointment. Crazy but true.

During that short first meeting, I gave the therapist some background on my life. I explained that for the past month, I’d been tense. Anxious. Stressed. I told her how much I hated uncertainty.

“Well, J.D.,” she said, “it sounds like you had a life full of certainty and you consciously gave that up. You’ve chosen uncertainty. You like some of what uncertainty brings, but you don’t like other parts. But you know what? You have to be okay with the unknowing. It’s part of the process of change and growth.”

Duh, right? And yet I hadn’t been able to see that. She gave me some breathing exercises and sent me on my way.

I was on time for my second appointment, and I had the paperwork I was meant to bring to the first. Plus, I brought a list of topics to discuss. Once again, we spent some time talking about my past and my present. And once again, my counselor connected the dots for me.

“It sounds like you have a tendency to overcommit,” she told me. “You take on too much. But more than that, you go big fast instead of taking it slow and steady. This can cause problems. It led to debt and being overweight. It can also cause problems in relationships, so be careful.”

“You’re right,” I said. “My attitude has always sort of been that if a little is good then a lot must be better. And it’s been tough for me to defer gratification.”

“Right,” she said. “You need to learn what my grandmother would have called temperance. Moderation. You need to learn finesse. You need to learn the importance of choice, of being selective. And remember: You don’t need to say every single thing you think.”

Duh, right? And yet I hadn’t been able to see these things, and I especially hadn’t tied them all to relationships. She gave me some things to practice during the week and sent me on my way. I spent the next three days deep in internal reflection.

Today, I didn’t need to give any additional background. My counselor asked me about my weekend. I told her about the things Kim and I had done, about how much I’d enjoyed just relaxing with her, being domestic. I also talked about how when I’m with Kim, I’m intentionally technology free. I put away the cell phone and the iPad and the computers, and I’m off-grid for 72 hours. It helps me stay present in the moment.

This led to a fascinating discussion of my memory. Why is it I can remember dates and names and the title of nearly every episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” — yet I can’t remember to turn off the bathroom light or shut the shower curtain?

My therapist told me that from what I’ve said and what she’s seen, I might have a mild case of ADHD. (This is no news to me. It’s also no news to you if you’re a long-time reader.) We talked about the other things I do that seem ADHD, and she told me some things I can do to fight them. I’ve noted, for instance, that I get more work done when I work in coffee shops. She said that’s probably because the external stimuli distract the part of my brain that wants to jump all over the place.

Duh, right? And yet I hadn’t been able to see some of this. We talked about some things I might want to work on, and she sent me on my way.


My therapy may be short lived and have no huge practical application in my life. Or maybe it will change who I am. I’m not sure yet. And it doesn’t really matter.

I went because something felt wrong, and I wanted to figure out what. I still don’t know exactly what was bothering me. I do know that after just two weeks and three sessions, I’m much more relaxed about everything in my life. I’ve been practicing breathing. I’ve been practicing finesse. Now I’m going to practice being more present in the moment, turning off the ADHD.

I find it interesting that whenever I mention I’ve been seeing a therapist, the person I’m talking with always says something like, “Oh! What’s it like? I’ve been wanting to do that but don’t know where to begin.” Is this one of those things that happens when we turn forty? Is this like needing glasses? I don’t know. But I’m curious to see what other things therapy will teach me about myself.

The Permanent Portfolio: A Fail-Safe Investing Method?

Investing is complicated. It’s difficult. You need expert help if you’re going to build your wealth so that you can retire on time. Or at least that’s what you’ve been told.

There’s a vast financial industry with a vested interest in convincing you that to be a successful investor you have to:

  • Follow the daily movements of the markets.
  • Learn how to analyze the nitty-gritty details of stocks and bonds.
  • Buy and sell constantly to maximize profit.

The truth is that none of this matters. The truth is that smart investing is simple. And easy.

Most investors are best off putting their money into low-cost index funds. (An index fund is a mutual fund that tracks the broad movements of a stock-market index, such as the S&P 500.) Over the long term, this passive investing approach has been shown to produce above-average returns for patient investors. Why? There are many reasons, but primarily because investing in index funds costs much less than nearly any other method.

In fact, Stanford University professor William Sharpe famously demonstrated that passive investing with low-cost index funds must produce better results than traditional investing. The average return of both methods is the average return of the market. But because traditional investing costs so much, investors taking that path necessarily see smaller returns on their investments.

But there are other ways to explore passive investing besides index funds.

Three years ago, I read a book called Fail-Safe Investing by Harry Browne. This tiny volume, first published in 1999, champions a method of passive investing that Browne called the Permanent Portfolio. And while it’s a little more complicated than simply investing in index funds, the ideas are still fairly simple.

According to Browne, the Permanent Portfolio should provide three key features: safety, stability, and simplicity. He argues that your permanent portfolio should protect you against all economic futures while also providing steady returns. It should also be easy to implement.

There are many ways to approach safe, steady investing, but Browne has some specific recommendations:

  • Hold 25% of your portfolio in U.S. stocks, to provide a strong return during times of prosperity.
  • Hold 25% in long-term U.S. Treasury bonds, which do well during prosperity and during deflation (but which do poorly during other economic cycles).
  • Hold 25% in cash in order to hedge against periods of “tight money” or recession.
  • Hold 25% in precious metals (gold, specifically) in order to provide protection during periods of inflation.

To use the Permanent Portfolio, you simply divide your investment capital into four equal chunks, one for each asset class. Once each year, you rebalance your portfolio. If any part of your portfolio has dropped to less than 15% of the whole, or grown to over 35% of the total, then you reset all four parts to 25%.

That’s it. That’s all the work involved.

Because this asset allocation is diversified, the entire portfolio performs well under most circumstances. Browne writes:

The portfolio’s safety is assured by the contrasting qualities of the four investments — which ensure that any event that damages one investment should be good for one or more of the others. And no investment, even at its worst, can devastate the portfolio — no matter what surprises lurk around the corner – because no investment has more than 25% of your capital.

Browne’s arguments sounded crazy at first — far too simplistic! — but with time, I’ve come to believe he’s on to something. In fact, over the past three years I’ve gradually realized that what I need to is move from investing in index funds to establishing a permanent portfolio for myself. Why haven’t I done so?

The high price of gold, for one. Plus, I’ve never really been sure how to implement Browne’s Permanent Portfolio in real life. I mean, what are the actual steps for making it happen? Fail-Safe Investing is a good book, but it’s long on theory and short on actual details. I’m not a professional investor; sometimes I need to have somebody hold my hand.

That’s where a new book comes in.

The Permanent Portfolio: Harry Browne’s Long-Term Investment Strategy by Craig Rowland and J.M. Lawson is an easy-to-access how-to manual for putting Browne’s investment strategy into practice. This book doesn’t just cover the theories behind this method; it also gives details for putting the theories to work in the Real World.

Here is the promotional video Rowland put together for his book.

Nobody knows where the economy is headed. Nobody knows if economic prosperity looms on the horizon — or if we’re in for decades of rampant inflation. And because nobody knows what’s ahead, nobody knows the best way to save for retirement (or any other purpose).

But with the Permanent Portfolio, you don’t have to see the future. You don’t need a crystal ball to divine the best place to put your money. Instead, you hedge your bets against all possibilities. Sexy? Nope. Safe? You bet. And now that Craig Rowland and Mike Lawson have explained exactly how to put the Permanent Portfolio into practice, I intend to do so. Perhaps you will, too.

Note: This essay originally appeared as the foreword to Rowland and Lawson’s book.

Animals Feeding Other Animals

One of my goals at More Than Money is to incorporate content from my many defunct blogs, including my favorite, which was about animal intelligence. I haven’t been doing this and it’s a shame. There’s some great stuff out there that deserves a wider audience.

For instance, I just found this video of animals feeding other animals.

I have a friend who insists all animal behavior is based on pure instinct. He can argue that if he wants, but I see no instinctual reason for a crow to feed a cat and a dog, or for the cat and the dog to let the crow feed them. To me, there’s something more going on. What? I’m not sure. But I like it.