YNAB Podcast Episode 68: Budgets Are Sexy (Interview with J. Money)


Hello YNABers. My name is Jesse Mecham and this is podcast number 68 for You Need a Budget, where we teach you four rules to help you stop living pay check to pay check, get out of debt and save more money.

Today I have a very special interview with J. Money of my favorite named blog of all time: budgetsaresexy.com. J. Money has been blogging for about five years, named his blog the best name I am yet to find, and I instantly liked him. And then I met him at FinCon last year and I really did like him. So, fun guy, and we cover all sorts of different topics, jumping from side gig to full-time, hustling for money with all sorts of strange tactics, and just trying to find things that you enjoy doing, understanding that money isn’t everything and having a good time while you’re making it. Here is the interview:

J: Alright, I’m here with J. Money from budgetsaresexy.com. J, thanks for coming on the Podcast.

JM: Yes, thanks for having me. This is cool, man.

J: Alright. So, where do you hail from?

JM: I am talking to you from right outside Washington DC area, the East Coast.

J: Specifically I mean what man cave do you hail from? I want you to tell people a little bit about your man cave, because I want to post some pictures.

JM: Yes! I went on a DIY Target binge with shelves and I started making a whole wall full of my personal library kind of deal. I kind of wanted that Ron Burgundy feel where it’s like old school but a little funny in a way; so I have a fake fireplace in there and some pipes, even though I don’t smoke pipes; some liquor, even though I don’t really drink that while I’m working. You know, all that kind of stuff, just to make my little blogging environment fun and cool and exciting, as much as you can be down in the basement.

J: Yes, exactly. So how long have you been blogging now?

JM: Man, you know, this month will be five years – the middle of February – all from just sharing some thoughts out there on money. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and here we are later and it’s now my full-time gig.

J: So you picked money. You seem to be a person of varied interests.

JM: Yes.

J: So why money? What was it about that topic that kind of pulled you in?

JM: I think it’s probably a couple of things, but the main thing was we bought a house in the middle… you know the peak when everyone was buying and flipping and all that stuff, and I thought, “Well, all my friends are buying a house – I need to buy a house.” And I’ve always been okay with money; I’ve never been really good or really bad, just middle line. Bought a house and I was like, “Ah crap! I don’t even have a budget, I don’t…” I didn’t put any money down; we just signed on the dotted line. We actually went to rent a one-bedroom apartment to save money, my fiancee and I at the time; and in 48 hours ended up buying a house.

J: Oh my gosh.

JM: $360,000 on a whim. Which is… My personality is very all over the place, and I grew up from the military lifestyle so I’m moving all the time. Anyways, long story short, I started researching online how do I get a budget and all that kind of stuff, and I kept coming across all these personal stories and diaries online. I was like, “What are these?!” I’ve never [?? 0:03:46] blog, and I kept getting drawn to people saying, “Hey! Here’s how much I made, here’s my story.” And I mean, I’m full of crap – I can tell my story just like everyone else did. And I don’t like writing, I don’t like editing and all that stuff; I just created a blogger profile or whatever, a blog, and started writing. That’s how I got started. But that’s why money became number one – because we bought a house. And I’ve always enjoyed talking about money and trying to figure out ways to make money, even though I wasn’t really good at it at the time. So that kind of started… you know, once you get going you get excited about stuff.

J: Yes, you kind of notice that your interests broaden a little bit.

JM: Oh yes.

J: You say you don’t like writing, but you mean you don’t proofread and make sure your commas are all squared away and…? You just throw it up there.

JM: Yes, in the beginning I just said, “You know what? I’m going to make it a point not to edit, not to… like I would not even capitalize “I”s and stuff – I was horrible! I personally liked it because I could pump out my thoughts in minutes. Then as time went on, a) a lot of people started complaining, and then I got one email from someone who had a really large website, like a news media outlet, that was like, “Dude, I love your stuff but you curse all the time, you don’t punctuate. I can never take or promote you because it’s bad for my audience.” And that one thing, in a way, made me… I guess you could say sell out a little bit; I started dedicating more time on cleaning up and polishing my stuff. I didn’t change my style of writing, but I changed how it got put out there. J: Well, I’m glad you haven’t sworn yet! I had a webinar years ago with [?? 0:05:36], who tends to swear. I don’t swear, so apparently I also attract people who don’t care for the swears. And I had this webinar with [?? 0:05:45] on there and it was really good content; he was talking about earning extra money and giving really good tactics, but he was swearing. So in the comments for the webinar, streaming in, people were like, “Stop swearing!” because it was all for people who liked YNAB and all that stuff. So in the end we had to clean it up and, you know, make sure it was kosher.

JM: For you I made a point to try and catch myself from swearing. I’ve already caught it twice since starting! Which I normally don’t do, so…

J: We all appreciate it.

JM: I don’t like to write in… I like to get my thoughts out; now it takes me… you know, I did a post today and it took me two and a half hours. And if you look at it it’s really like, “This guy did it in 15 minutes.”

J: Was this the rollerblading post, or have you already put that one up?

JM: That one already went up, but that took me two hours. I actually wrote it in ten minutes, but by the time you clean it up and you get pictures and you edit it, all that stuff… But you know, it all helps to grow your business and that’s… if you want that, then that’s what you have to do.

J: I think if you were to look only at the internet commenter population you would be convinced that nine out of ten people are grammar Nazis, you know. So I had a guy that was yelling at me… I wrote this really great thing about Roth IRA versus traditional IRA – you know, how do you make the decision, blah, blah, blah – and the guy could not get off my use of alright as one word. It’s not one word, apparently.

JM: What?! Like a-l-r-i-g-h-t?

J: Yes! You can’t use that. It’s not allowed. So you better do a big database query, find all your posts with that in there, switch that. Anyway, he was really offended at that, so content aside, the alright usage was too much for him.

JM: Alright. Now I’m going to remember that because I say that probably two times every post. I start my sentences with “so” or “but” or “and” all the time!

J: So despite your lack of English as a professional background and all that stuff, you’ve been doing the blogging thing. And I wanted to talk about your series on your site – this is budgetsaresexy.com, in case anyone’s forgotten – but the series where you talk about the hustling for money; and to just share maybe some that you’ve attempted or some that people have shared with you that’s PG-rated. I know in your email you sent me there were some pretty weird… well, not weird, but definitely not mainstream tactics for getting money on the side.

JM: Yes. It all started with this woman… As the years have gone by, and as you know, you can say a lot of stuff about money but over time you’re like, “Ah, I need to spice it up a little bit.” I started requesting more guest posts so people can get different perspectives on stuff, and this lady said, “Hey, I want to write about my chicken farming that I do.” And I was like, “Chicken farming?! Well, there’s no farm… I mean, none of that over here.” I was like, “That is interesting and different, and I bet no blog has that!” So she wrote just a synopsis on how she makes money through chicken farming; and it was really cool and interesting and pictures. So when I saw that, that was the day I said, “Well, I’m going to call this the Side Hustle series, and I’m going to start getting more of this kind of stuff.” So that started it. And then from there it went onto, you know, I always wanted it to be like, “Hey, I’m a [blank],” you know, “I’m a sample passer-outer at CostCo,” “I work on a food truck,” “I’m a bouncer,” “I’m a yoga instructor.” So that’s the general gist of it, and I’m going through my site now to find the ones that I like the most. One of them by Sam at Financial Samurai did one on… He’s not a watch dealer as in selling it in the store…

J: Like trench coats, open up and you’ve got watches all on the inside!

JM: So he just… his passion is watches. He loves watches, like high end ones and quality ones. So he goes… he has his contacts in the watch world, he picks them up and then he sells them – not on the street or down low or anything, but to other people that are specifically looking for a specific watch that’s no longer made but is worth $1,000 or $2,000. So he flips watches, which I thought was pretty cool.

J: That’s nuts.

JM: Yes. This week we had someone that… he’s a big… he flies all over the world, he can max all your mileage any which way you want. He charges $50 or $100 and he’ll… you’ll say, “Hey, here’s my mileage, here’s what I want to do,” and he calls and does all the legwork so you don’t have to be on the phone with him trying to figure out what miles can I use, how far, how much does it cost – all that annoying stuff. He does it and LOVES it. I didn’t even know that was a thing!

J: So he’s like a credit card miles concierge.

JM: Yes.

J: Oh my gosh.

JM: That’s actually a better way… He calls it a Frequent Flier Miles Specialist, but your way is probably a little bit more easy to remember.

J: So he obviously has experience in this little niche, and now he actually markets himself as that; people pay him just to handle the hassle.

JM: Yes, and he’s always… This guy is probably one of the only ones that’s ever done two Side Hustles for me. I think a year or two ago he did one, he bought a house and he rents all the rooms out and lives [?? 0:11:04]

J: So he’s like a boarder? Okay.

JM: He maximizes everything. But the whole point for him is… He loves money, of course, but he wants to travel and experience more in the world; so he uses all these ways… That’s what he does with his money; that’s his priority. And that’s really… I had a post saying how much, like it’s not, you know, it’s not bad to say you really want money; a lot of people say, “Oh, you’re the Devil, it’s greed and this,” but really money is a tool to do whatever. If you want to give it to charity, if you want to travel the world, whatever it is, it’s a tool to help you get there.

J: Yes, absolutely.

JM: And then some others are like, “I [?? 0:11:43] counting worms for fishermen, how many worms are in the thing. I got paid 20 cents…” every hundred she counted or something.

J: Oh my God!

JM: I mean, they’re really cool. There’s stuff that you don’t think about in a normal day. And so that’s what I liked about the series. You know, some of them are more fun and silly that people don’t want to do but… That’s the point of it – it’s to say, “Hey, there’s a billion things you can do to make money. Find what you’re good at and what you like, and there’s always some way to parlay it into revenue generating, if that’s what you want out of it.” Some people don’t. Like when I started the blog I had no intentions of making money – I didn’t even know you could make money, you know. I just wanted to write; that was fun for me at the time. And then over time it changes, so…

J: When did you decide to go full-time with the blog? You were going with it and all of a sudden it was like, “Oh, wait a minute,” you know?

JM: Yes, towards the end of the first year I started making money. People would email me, “Hey, can I put an ad up?” $50 a month or whatever. And I was like, “Oh, man, sure, yes, cool! I just get free money!” So I did that and some stuff was good, some stuff was bad as far as just, “Well, should I put these on versus these other ads?” whatever. But after the first year I realized you can make money. I was working a nine to five at a start-up, and as the years progressed and I spent more hours every day on the site I thought, “Well, can I amp this up enough so I can do this for a living?” And it was just an idea at first, and then another year went by and I made triple the money, and I was like, “Now it’s like a side job,” you know, and just money to go spend at the movies or whatever. And then towards the third year, or maybe the end of the second year – something like that – I thought, “You know what? I’m going to save up money,” like $50,000 – it was an arbitrary number. “As soon as I hit that, I’m going to put it in my two weeks.” And this was about July or August of 2010 or 2011 – I don’t know, I’m bad with time – and I said, “Well…” And I got to $40,000, and things at my company were kind of really shaky and people weren’t paying on time, and I thought, “Oh no. Something’s happening,” smelled it in the water. So I just told my wife, “I’m scared, but I’m going to go in tomorrow and I’m going to put in my two weeks,” and I think I was at $42,000 saved up. I was just going to risk it, but I was really nervous. So I go in, and… this is in downtown DC, I’m on the Metro and I get an email on my iPhone that says something like, “Hey, we need to meet. We can’t pay payroll or whatever, but don’t worry, we’re working on it,” and I was being a smart-ass and said something to everyone like, “Look, is the company going down? Tell me now,” kind of joking around. I had no idea what was going on. I get called in, the same day I was going to put in my two weeks’ notice, and I get laid off right there! And I’m like, “Holy crap! That’s my ideal!”

J: So you couldn’t quit. Did you think, when they were like, “Hey, you’re laid off,” and you’re like, “No, I quit” – did you try that? JM: I thought about it, but I thought to myself, “Well, if I get laid off then maybe there’s…”

J: Some severance or something.

JM: Severance – not realizing I got laid off because there was no money. But it helped me because I already knew I wanted to do it; I just needed a sign or something to push me. And I was [?? 0:15:10], so this was a perfect getaway because I didn’t have to make a decision – it was done, I was out and I was like, “Now this is real.” I packed up my stuff, literally an hour later I moved into an office that my friend have, and she was like, “Hey, just rent out this desk from me and start your company here.” And I said, “Great!” So within an hour I already had the plans in the works. Yes, it’s pretty crazy when things happen like that.

J: Yes. It’s nice, in a way, it is nice to have your decisions kind of made and kind of push you a little bit into an unknown. So when you jumped full-time… Because there are people listening to this that probably have side things, and I was the same when I was working for KPMG, and it was a horrible job – I’ve never told anyone otherwise, but… But I think they start everyone out at… or back when I started it was $48,000 beginner accountant type thing, and you’re working 80-90 hours a week, so you’re making a McDonald’s wage if you break it all out. And then it’s all about, “Well, you’ve got to climb the ladder and make partner – you’ll be making whatever.” So I was having a hard time. I would work on YNAB from four to five in the morning, and then I’d usually try and get to the gym and then I’d get to work by 6.30.

JM: WOW! That is [?? 0:16:27]

J: It was awful. So I’m not seeing my two kids; my wife and I were living in this new city – we were down in Dallas – and it was awful. So I go and talk to this guy who I saw… He was through my church; I saw him as a pretty successful entrepreneur, and I’m like, “Hey…” And he would console married couples, like counseling and stuff; so I’m like, “Hey, let me set up an appointment with you.” So when I come in, he’s thinking I have marriage issues because that’s what he’s used to having these appointments about. It’s like, “Okay, we’ve got a young husband coming in. Oh great – what’s he going to say?” And I sit down and he’s pretty somber, and he’s like, “Yes, let me know what’s going on,” and I’m like, “I’ve got a question. I’m making money at my business…” and he’s suddenly like, “Wait – what?” And I said… And I was making about triple what I was doing with KPMG, and so I tell him that. I’m like, “It’s about triple what I make.” And I didn’t have any employees or anything and all that, and his face just lit up – he was so happy that I wasn’t telling him I was having marriage issues.

JM: Awesome. Having triple is a great…

J: But he… I should have done it earlier, I guess is the end of the… The end result is I never should have taken the job. I should have just worked on my side thing and gone after it. But I don’t know – to each his own, you know. I’m kind of risk averse. You sound kind of risk averse as well – you saved up a big pile of cash and…

JM: Yes. I think, you know, it’s funny; because you look back and you’re like, “What I would have changed differently.” But at the time, like with you, you know, having triple the amount. For me, I just wanted to break even – that was [?? 0:18:10] risky. Like, I think I was at 80% of what I was making at my job. I think my job, I was making $75,000, and I think my blog – and I had some other sites at the same time too – was maybe $60,000 bringing in. And I said, “Okay, that’s close.” And then I get fired so it doesn’t matter anyways, but… But I think that was for me. So for you, having three times… Maybe some people are like, “Oh dude! You’re crazy!”

J: I know. That’s what I was feeling.

JM: Yes, you know, we’ll get there when we get there. The important part is that we do reach our dreams, or at least have the dreams to shoot for.

J: Absolutely. I like this… I want to encourage everyone to check out the Side Hustle thing, only if it kind of opens your mind to, “What could I do?” And it’s important, I think, for people to realize… I mean, when I first started the software on the side it was a couple of hundred bucks a month, I would just pour it back in. It doesn’t have to be a big amount to really change… have a big impact on your finances. And it can be… $500 is big. You can make some serious headway with debt or putting it away or whatever; or just having fun with it. It could be impactful.

JM: Yes. Well, I’ll tell you this too. At first, for me the blog was just fun and games and stuff; then when I made money it started to be like, “Okay, now it’s half fun, half money.” But now, I mean, I do have fun, I do make money – that stuff is great; but now, four or five years later or whatever, the most important I’m realizing is it opens you up for so many other opportunities. I’m not like a big, “Oh, you have to go network and schmooze,” and all that kind of stuff – that stuff is good in any business. But to give you an example, two weeks ago I got asked to apply to a public radio, to be a host for a radio show that’s nationally syndicated. That’s just an interview – it wasn’t a job offer or anything – but I was like, “Holy crap!” I would never even have guessed about this! And I realized it wasn’t for me, which is fine. And then last week I get an email from a talent agent in New York City that’s asking me if I want to apply for something; but these are all things that you can’t plan for and you can’t say, “Oh, I’m going to sit down and build a blog and then I’m going to go, and this is going to come from it.” So the opportunities, like meeting you at the Financial Blogger Conference – you know, we just sat next to each other, it just happened to be that way – and now we’re becoming closer and more friends… But I think it opens up for so many other things outside of money and outside of the actual tasks you’re doing. Like my best friends are all because of blog and Twitter. My best friends are from Twitter – which is CRAZY talk.

J: And there are some people that definitely… When you just said that, they do think you’re crazy.

JM: I know! But my wife… You know, more people call my house and email me under J. Money than my real name – because, surprise, that’s not my real name! And I’ve actually this week – because my goal for 2013 is to focus and simplify – I’ve just been getting rid of all the clutter… You know, I have double the email accounts for my real life and all my blog email alter-ego; so I got rid of my personal Facebook this week, personal Twitter, personal LinkedIn – which is HUGE, because that’s a part of you. And I have to say, I mean, it’s only been a week, but I feel SO good because I decided I’m going to concentrate on this alter-ego which I love and enjoy more anyway. And it’s still me; it’s just not…

J: It’s more anonymous

JM: Yes, it’s more anonymous. I can do more stuff and not have to worry if it’s going to affect my other life. And it’s a divider, because as you know, we work hardcore, all hours of the night.

J: It’s just what criminals do. It makes perfect sense!

JM: Actually, when we… Not to get off topic or whatever, but when we started…

J: Like we have a topic! But yes, go ahead.

JM: Last year when we did Love Drop – that charity were raising… going round the country or whatever – one of the biggest things that I had to deal with was putting my face out there, because we filmed everything. Like we’d go to someone’s house, give them a card, film it right there, and that was our way of letting people know, “Hey, your money you’re giving us, you can see us giving it to them,” to motivate them more. But that was the number one concern from a lot of people. Like, “There’s this anonymous guy taking our money – how do I know what he’s going to do with it?” Filming helped, but then my face was everywhere. And if we got media stuff, a lot of people don’t want to use your anonymous thing. But I had to consciously make the decision, “This is important to me to have this.” And in a way it helps me…like on my site I do my net worth every month and I put it out there; “I have X thousands of dollars in debt, thousands in savings,” you know, my whole financial history on my site. And if I had my name out there, it just gets a little…it’s already a little creepy, but that really changes things. So I can be more open because I’m anonymous.

J: Otherwise it’s like awkward Thanksgiving dinners, you know…

JM: Yes, it’s already awkward. Some friends now have… I accidentally slipped in, said something about my site, so… unfortunately.

J: Yes, that’s something that’s impossible to… Hey, I was one time, I was in a restaurant… this is talking about… I’m moving into celebrity sightings now. I was in a restaurant and I’m wearing one of my YNAB shirts – like this Nike golf shirt my wife gave me with a little logo on it – and the cashier, when the food was ready, they were like, “Hey, Jesse,” and I could go up and grab it. And this guy comes up to me – because he sees my shirt, hears my name called – and introduces himself, tells me he loves YNAB. It was my first celebrity… I got to be the celebrity! So that was pretty cool.

JM: That’s awesome! I love that.

J: Man, I think that’s cool you shut down your personal on your Facebook. So, I just yesterday morning deleted Facebook from my iPhone.

JM: Really?

J: I’m doing baby steps, you know. Because I get home at 5.30 and the kids go to bed at 7.30, and yesterday my wife’s like, “Hey, this is really… this is like sacred, holy time, from 5.30 to 7.30. So if you’re pulling out your phone, even if it’s legitimate or whatever, it cuts into it.” And she called me out on it in a nice way, and I was like, “Yes, she’s right.” So I get home, I put my phone up in my bedroom, and then I’m ready to go for the evening – and it feels good.

JM: Yes, it feels good. It’s really hard to do, but it feels good.

J: So, simplify – you’ll have to tell me more about your simplification when we chat at FinCon, because you’ll have months under your belt.

JM: I’ll have my Facebook accounts back online!

J: I’m going the other direction – I have 4,000 friends and counting! Well, it was fun to talk. I love the name of your site – budgetsaresexy… yes, I almost said it wrong, sexybudgets.com – that’s probably owned by someone else.

JM: I think I own it, actually!

J: Oh, good! You’re cornering the sexy budgets market domains.

JM: That’s right.

J: So, how did you pick the name, really quick?

JM: Actually, you’ll probably like this because it’s more… not a religious thing, but when my wife and I were engaged we went to… I think it was called Engaged Encounters or something, like where you go for a weekend just to make sure everything’s good before you actually get married, and you talk about living situation and money – it’s all really good stuff. Anyways, on our break there I’d been, of course, thinking about blog stuff and wanting to do one; so in my 20 minute break I just listed a billion names. The top one, I think, was Saving is Sexy – that was taken. And budgets, you know, I didn’t have one but I knew I needed one, so I just chose that. And I thought because it starts with a ‘B’ that maybe if everyone puts it in their blog roll I’d be at the top! That was pretty much the basic [?? 0:26:15] and that was that. The important bit was the “sexy” though, because for me, I like information out there… Like if I’m looking to open up a Roth IRA account or something, I would like to read this in-depth thing but I don’t necessarily do it for joy or entertainment. So my site is more fluffy or motivational and more fun to read; so I wanted something that’s catching and something that says, “Hey! This has flair – it’s not going to be your ordinary site.” And then from there, of course, it was good.

J: I think my favorite part about your site is the quote from Ben Franklin.

JM: A lot of people do ask if it’s real!

J: It was awesome – when I first saw it I was laughing. That was good.

JM: Oh, that’s good. I was thinking of changing it because it’s been there for a couple of years.

J: No!

JM: Maybe I’ll just leave it for a little bit longer.

J: You’ve got to, at least for a little while longer.

JM: There you go! Awesome.

J: Okay, cool, man. Well, have a good weekend. Thanks for doing this very topically-focused podcast interview. And yes, we’ll get this out there, and everybody visit J’s site – budgetsaresexy.com – and you get to see some pretty creative, light-hearted, fun stuff about money. I like it.

JM: I like that too. Thanks, guys.

J: And we’ll see you at FinCon if not earlier.

JM: Alright, buddy. I’ll talk to you later.

J: Alright, later.

JM: Bye. Until next time, follow YNAB’s four rules and you will win financially. You have not budgeted like this.