Beating Broke Interview

beating brokeIf it feels like there have been more interview posts than usual, well it’s true!  I’ve had the chance to interview some awesome bloggers and I plan on keeping this up as you have shown great interest in hearing from other people in the personal finance industry.

My next interview subject is Beating Broke.  Talk about a cool site!  Both Beating Broke and I are part of an elite group of PF bloggers over at Yakezie.  We have helped each other grow and plan to keep it up in the years to come.  Also, be sure to check out his guide “Your Credit Score” which breaks down credit scores in a “no-nonsense” format.

Enjoy the interview and a big thanks goes out to Beating Broke!

1- How did you get started with Beating Broke? Do you run any other websites?

To really tell the full story, I have to go back a few years before Beating Broke was founded. I started blogging way back in 2005. It was an instant addiction for me. A way to write, and be heard by hundreds (O.K. maybe tens) of people a day. Shortly after I started blogging, I discovered Dave Ramsey, and started a personal finance blog. I ran that blog for a little over a year before deciding that I had lost interest and selling it. About a year later, I discovered that I hadn’t really lost interest, so I started a new personal finance blog, Beating Broke. I’ve always wanted Beating Broke to be about my journey to save money, eliminate debt, and live a better personal finance life. Writing about the topics helps me to learn more about them, and also to find new ways to become a better financial steward.

I do run other websites. At the moment, I think my total portfolio of sites is at about 10-15 active sites, although none of them is as popular as Beating Broke is.


2- What’s the single worst financial mistake you’ve made?

I only get one? There are several that are really, really close. I think, though, that I would have to say that getting a credit card as a freshman in college and then using it in a terrible manner was probably the start of my financial troubles early on. Call it the gateway debt to mountains of other debt, if you will. Seriously, if you are getting ready to go into college, or have kids that are, you can’t spend enough time learning/teaching about responsible debt usage.


3- Do you have any long term financial goals?

Absolutely! They are necessary. How else will you know if you’re getting ahead? Unlike the Joneses next door, though, they have nothing to do with buying a Benz, or a McMansion. Living a responsible financial life is always a goal. But, I also have goals that are a little more easily quantified. Paying off all of my non-mortgage debt is the big one, and has been for a while, but we’re getting closer than we’ve ever been. Of course, if any of your readers follow my blog (they should!), they’ll know that I recently quit my job, so that goal is in a bit of a holding pattern while we weather the storm that created in our finances. I always have the goal to learn more about my finances. When I was younger, I knew very little past how to balance a check book, so I had a long way to go. I think I’ve done well and learned quite a bit, but I know there is a long way to go for that one as well.


4- If someone asked you how to invest for early retirement, what would you say?

First, let me say that Investment is one of the topics that I still have a lot to learn about. That being said, early retirement means different things for different people. How active do you plan on being during your early retirement? Do you plan on earning money from hobbies, or living off of your retirement savings? Retiring early is a fun idea, but the earlier you retire, the more you’ll need to support your lifestyle without major changes. If early retirement is in your future, I suggest you work like heck to earn as much as you can now, and put away as much of it as you can. My current thoughts are to invest the money into divident aristocrat stocks (stocks that have increased dividends year after year), and also to look into some alternative investment methods, like peer-to-peer lending. I’m an aggressive investor with a high risk tolerance, but, know what your risk tolerance is and make sure that you’re investments reflect that.


5- What are examples of your best posts on Beating Broke?

My current favorite, although I don’t know that it really is one of my best posts, is the post where I announced that I quit my job. I’m also fond of the post (and resulting series) about when my wife quit her job. The first, because it was something that I needed to do, and overcame the fear to do it. The second, because the series shows some of the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. My all time favorite post is Breaking up with Debt. It was a fun post to write, and put a lighter spin on the struggle that we all have with debt. And, finally, one of the best posts I’ve written is Want to save Money? Eliminate some Needs, because it really focuses on one of the biggest issues that many of us face, wants vs. needs.


6- What do you like to do outside of personal finance blogging?

I’m a geek at heart, so I like to play with computers. I also like to read quite a bit (about 35-40 books a year) and even dabble a bit in writing my own fiction occasionally when I get a break from writing for my sites. I’ve got two kids and a dog, so most of my nice weather time is spent out in the yard playing with them, and most of my winter time is spent indoors wishing it was nice so they could go outside. 😉 Spending time with family is (and should be) top priority.


7- Any pleasant surprises since you’ve started blogging?

One of the most pleasant surprises I’ve had is the reception that some of my writing has received. It’s one thing to write a blog and publish it to the world, but quite an entirely different thing to have people read and react to that writing. I have some great readers! I’ve also been surprised by the number of fellow bloggers that have become friends and the amount of support that they give to each other.


8- What are some common mistakes you’re seeing Americans make these days?

Debt. We’ve become a commercial society. We base our social statuses on what we own, or how much we make. Far too often, we run up debt just to try and climb that social ladder, only to have it come crashing down around us when we lose our job, or have a financial emergency. We stopped working for what we want and buy it all on credit. It’s a toxic mix, and if we want our economy to recover, we’ve got to stop it.


9- What is the most effective way to pay off debts?

First, stop adding more debt to the pile. The one step forward, two steps back method of debt that many use, just isn’t working. Second, find ways to make or save more money. Get aggressive about paying it off, and you’ll find that it disappears faster than you think it will. And, once it’s gone, you’ll find that you have far more money to spend on things that you truly enjoy than you’ve ever had before. One small tip that’s related to that, add up all the monthly debt payments you make. What would you do if you had that much money to do what you wanted with each month? Many will find that they could have $500 or more a month to spend. That’s not chump change, folks!


10- What’s in your wallet right now?

Oh my. I can’t begin to list it all. It’d be longer than the rest of this interview. I’m a bit of a pack rat, so there’s tons of receipts, deposit slips, and the like in there. I’ve got my debit card, a personal credit card for emergency situations, a business debit card, and business credit card, a couple of pictures of the kids, and two undeposited checks. Oh, and insurance cards, and a tiny bit of cash just in case I find myself someplace that doesn’t take debit cards.

Interview with Paula from Afford Anything

afford anythingThere are few blogs out there that catch my attention these days.  Paula from Afford Anything is one of the exceptions.  Her blog is dedicated to helping you achieve your dreams and finally conquering the things you want without going into debt for them.  I love the passion she has in her articles and personality that comes through her writing.  After getting to know Paula through this insightful interview, be sure to check out her blog!

1- Hello Paula, it’s a pleasure to interview you! I’ve enjoyed reading your blog Afford-Anything. Tell us about how it started and what your mission is.
In 2008 I quit my job, sold all my possessions â“ my car, my furniture, my phone â“ and bought a one-way ticket to Egypt. For the next 2 years, my boyfriend and I traveled across the Middle East, Asia, Europe and Australia.  Throughout that time, my friends kept saying: I’d love to do that, but I can’t afford it.❠ And yet, not a single one of my friends was working a second job and directing the money towards a travel fund (or towards a fund for any other major goal, like buying a house or a saving for a wedding.)

Instead of taking the steps necessary to achieve their dreams, many friends would let themselves off the hook❠by either assuming that I came from a wealthy family or that I was running up massive credit card debt to fund the trip. That’s not only false, it’s  dis-empowering.  So I started Afford Anything to show people that whatever you want â“ world travel, a nice home, a lavish wedding â“ can be yours. If you utter the words I can’t afford it,❠you’re selling yourself short.

2- Outside of your blog, what is your personal story? Give us a run-down of your life up until this point.
I was born in Nepal, a Himalayan country sandwiched between China and India. My parents and I immigrated to the U.S. when I was a baby.  At first we were typical hardworking, low-earning immigrants. Dad rode the bus almost 50 miles roundtrip everyday to get to work. Mom stayed at home to raise me. We ate mostly rice and lentils. Meat was a rarity. We never ate at restaurants or took vacations. We wore cheap clothes.

But as my Dad’s salary increased, our living standards stayed the same. He bought a used car to take himself to work â“ instead of the bus – because his time was more valuable. But we never took vacations or ate at restaurants. We never bought clothes from expensive❠stores like Old Navy or the Gap â“ those stores were too far outside our clothing budget. In short: we avoided lifestyle inflation.  Now my parents are 70 years old and they’ve just made a $150,000 donation to a charity that helps orphaned children in Nepal. They’re a true personal finance success story.

3- I know that you’re self-employed, how in the world did you do that?
Quite simply, I live below my means. (Far, far below my means). This helps me prepare for the income fluctuations that are incumbent with self-employment.  A lot of people live paycheck to paycheck. A guy who works at a car dealership told me that sales at his dealership peak after tax refunds are mailed out. That’s a great example of people spending money as soon as it arrives.  If you’re waiting for the next check to arrive in the mail, you’re spending too much.

4- You’ve done some extensive traveling. What countries have you been to and how did you afford these trips?
I’ve been to 27 countries. Here’s the list:
Asia: Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, India, Nepal, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma/Myanmar
Oceania: Australia, New Zealand
The Americas: Costa Rica, Colombia, Sint Maarten, Canada, Mexico
Middle East: Egypt, Israel
Europe: Czech Republic, Holland, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Austria, Germany

I afford to travel in the same way that anyone affords anything: by prioritizing it.  It’s funny that no one ever asks, How did you afford a car?❠or How did you afford a down payment on a house?❠These are big-ticket items that no one questions. People assume that you’ll save for purchases like this.  But the moment you start spending on unconventional experiences like world travel, the questions come out of the woodwork. If it’s conceivable that a person might save for the down payment on a house, what’s so different about saving for a two-year trip around the world?

5- What are some of your best articles on Afford Anything? What were your goals when you wrote these?
Here are my four favorites:
If I Had a Million Dollars, I’d Go Into Debt . This was the first post that put me on the map,❠so to speak. It describes my favorite passive income strategy, owning rentals.
Quit Your Job, Travel, and Live Remarkably. I was honestly surprised by how popular this post became â“ it seems to resonate with a lot of people.
Stop Crying That There Are No Jobs. Create One. This is easily my most popular post, and it describes why I ditched my job as a news reporter for the rough-and-tumble entrepreneurial world.
Find a Niche. Conquer It. Create Something Amazing. The title says it all.

6- What are some personal finance decisions that have kept you out of debt?
Simple: It’s not an option. I won’t consider going into consumer debt. It’s just not a choice that’s on the table. Discussion closed.  Once you remove debt❠from your possible choices, you re-arrange your life accordingly. Since going into personal debt isn’t an option, I’ve always learned frugal hacks, worked second jobs, and found joy in the simple things.

7- Do you have some examples of bad financial decisions you’ve made? If so, how did these affect your finances and how did you get out of the mess?
Probably my worst financial❠decision was going into a career that’s not lucrative â“ my first job was as a newspaper reporter. I’ve always believed that you should work jobs you enjoy, not golden shackle❠jobs that pay well but make you miserable.

But I never realized that there are best-of-both-world careers out there: work that you enjoy that also pays well. Job satisfaction and income are often presented as dichotomous, mutually exclusive options.  I also underestimated how being poorly paid for long hours can cause you to dislike a job that you once enjoyed.  I’m recovering from this now by focusing my efforts on building my own businesses, but I’m starting at 28 rather than at 22 or younger. That’s going to set me back several years.

8- Tell us about the real estate you own. As a renter, I’m on the fence about this type of investment. What are the benefits and has it worked out for you?
To put it simply: it’s awesome. There are many different real estate investment philosophies out there. To succeed in real estate, you have to choose your strategy.
Some people believe in flipping houses â“ buy low, sell high. Good for them.  But my strategy is specific: buy and hold. I’m the rare real estate buyer who doesn’t care if the market value of my property rises or falls. That’s theoretical. All I care about is the rental income and the operating expense.

The media hype focuses on the market value â“ the resale value â“ of property, so that’s what many real estate investors tend to think about.  If that’s your strategy, fine. But I ignore all the noise and clatter about resale value, and focus purely on monthly cash flow.  Think of flipping houses as stock picking❠and owning rental properties as buying bonds❠or other fixed-income investments. Stocks and flipped houses can make you a millionaire, but they require a much greater risk exposure. Fixed-income investments are a great way to slowly create passive income.

9- As a blogger, what advice would you give someone who is just starting out?
Like with real estate, you have to pick a blogging strategy and stick to it.  Some people want to make money through advertising impressions. If that’s your strategy, then page views are your most important metric.  Some people want to sell text links and sponsored posts. If that’s your strategy, then page rank (not to be confused with page views) is your most valuable metric.  Some want to gain the trust of their readers and sell affiliate products. This will take a lot longer â“ establishing that trust is an ultra-long-term strategy â“ but it might (or might not) pay off better in the end. If this is your strategy, then subscribers plus average time on site❠are your most important metrics.

10- We all want to know one last thing, what’s in your wallet?
Loads of receipts that I intend to process â“ that I intend to check against my credit card statements to make sure my charges are accurate â“ but that I never, ever get around to processing. They just accumulate into piles of well-intended trash.

An Interview with David from Money Under 30

money under 30 interview

I had the opportunity of interviewing one of my favorite personal finance bloggers, David Weliver from Money Under 30.  David’s articles are always jammed packed, full of information and you can tell that he spends numerous articles on his posts.  I’ve always loved his straight forward approach to finances and  encouraging  others to avoid the pitfalls of debt.  I hope you enjoy the interview and can get a glimpse into the life of one of my favorite PF bloggers!

1-     Give us a brief synopsis behind Money Under 30.  What drove the success of the site.

I attribute my success with Money Under 30 to a perfect storm❠of factors. Before I launched the blog, I had experience both as a financial journalist (at SmartMoney magazine) and in SEO (I worked briefly for a major SEO consultancy). Both of those experiences helped me get off the ground. I knew how to write an article and I knew how to get organic traffic to a Website.

Persistence has also played a big role. I’ve been successful because I never quit. As a blogger, there are days when it feels like nobody’s reading and you just want to give up. I still have them. But that’s when you have to hunker down and work even harder.

2-     Do you have a background in finance or have you learned it through the school of hard knocks.

My only background in finance, if you can call it that, was my entry-level job at SmartMoney. I was writing 150 word blurbs about how to save money on your next digital camera purchase, so it’s not like I got a formal education. But that’s where I learned what a mutual fund expense ratio is and the difference between a Roth and traditional IRA. It helped.

Everything else was school of hard knocks. Despite that job, I lived on credit cards for several years during and after college. Between those cards, student loans, and a car loan, I had $80k of debt at 25 and I was earning less than $30k as a journalist.

I was doing everything I could to keep my head above water. I was so stressed that my hair turned white. Literally: I developed vitilago, a permanent condition in which I lose pigment in random spots of skin that can be brought on by chronic stress. On top of that my doctor put me on beta blockers because my heart rate was through the roof. There was no medical reason. It was all stress because of my debt.

Long story short: I righted the ship as quickly as possible. I cut back, worked two jobs, moved to a really cheap rented room, and found higher paying day jobs. And then I started blogging.


3-     What are your favorite personal finance topics to write about?

I’m most interested in the human side of finance. I was a sociology major in college, so I like to explore why we do certain things and why we spend money in certain ways, both as individuals and a society.

These days I’m especially interested in financial prioritization. If you’re trying to get out of debt, pay for a wedding, and save for a house—how do you juggle and prioritize those goals? We all have multiple things we want to spend money on now and save for later, and I think most of us have a hard time making those kind of decisions.


4-     Give us some of your best and worst financial decisions you’ve ever made.

I made so many terrible financial decisions it’s hard to choose. Some big ones include: Getting my first credit card at 17. Getting my second (and third) credit card at 19. Cashing out my $11k 401(k) because my credit cards were maxed out at 23.

Fortunately I haven’t made an epically bad financial decision like that in a long time! Blogging has turned out to be the best financial decision of my life yet for three reasons:

One, it kept me honest and helped me stick to my goals as I paid off my debt.

Now, it’s an incredible third income for my family.

Last but not least, it’s an asset, because if something ever happened to me or I decided I no longer wanted to blog, it could be sold.

On another note, getting married was a really good financial decision too. (Not just because it’s more cost effective to be married, but my wife is less spendy than I am and keeps me in check!)


5-     What are some of your favorite budgeting tools for tracking your spending?

I think Mint is really cool, but at the end of the day I always come back to Excel. I try to pay for almost everything with only two credit cards. One personal, one business. Then I download the transactions to Excel and categories once a month. But I’m a nerd.


6- If you could teach a college course for one week, what would you teach and why?

The psychology of decision making. It fascinates me. I want to understand why we take risks when we do and why we don’t. Did you know, for example, that we get decision fatigueâ? The more decisions we make in a short period of time, the harder it becomes to make difficult decisions. We’re more likely to give into temptations and take the path of least resistance. At the end of along work day, it will be harder NOT to buy the candy bar in the checkout line or to decide, for example, to stand up to an overbearing boss. I could study and talk about this stuff all day.


7-     If you knew one financial tip when you were 18, what would it be?

If I had to pick just one, it would be how dangerous credit cards are. So basic, but it would’ve saved me so much money and, more importantly, allowed me to enjoy several years of my twenties that I feel were wasted working off my debts.


8-     If someone asked you to sum up advice in a paragraph for a successful financial life, what would it be?

Decide what’s most important to you in life, and then figure out what you need to do to make that financially possible. Too often we just start working and making money without asking why. Or we buy all the stuff TV ads tell us to buy without asking: Do I value this?❠Don’t get over your head in debt, keep enough cash in the bank so you can survive a year if you lose your job, and then work towards YOUR dreams. That’s it.


9- Suppose someone is reading this and they are an aspiring blogger, what advice would you give them?

  1. Write. A lot.
  2. Ask your readers what problems they have.
  3. Attempt to solve those problems.
  4. Write some more.


10- Last but not least, what is in your wallet right now?

Two credit cards: Chase Freedom (personal) and American Express Delta SkyMiles (business). Debit card. Free sandwich punch card from my fav local lunch spot. $16 cash.


An Interview With Flexo From Consumerism Commentary

consumerism commentary interviewI had the awesome opportunity to interview Flexo from Consumerism Commentary. Flexo’s articles are always personal and entertaining.  I was a fan of his all the way back in college.  So, to interview him today is so cool!  Enjoy the interview and enjoy!

1- Thanks for this awesome interview opportunity.   You’re known for running a pretty successful blog.   How did you get started in personal finance blogging?

I started Consumerism Commentary in July 2003 mainly as a way to hold myself accountable for my financial decisions. After college, I had made a mess of my finances, and it took a few years for me to really see the effect on my life. I started reading more about how to manage money, and I was fascinated. As a long-time blogger, I decided to start a new anonymous blog where I could post monthly financial reports to track my progress, write about my financial decisions, and share links interesting articles from the financial media.

There weren’t really many other blogs focusing on personal finance at the time, but before long, interest grew and there were dozens of personal finance blogs.


2-What are your favorite personal finance topics to write about?

I like writing about the psychology of money because this is the area of finance that most interests me. If people made financial decisions based on math alone, there would be fewer financial problems in the world, but there’s more to money than math. There is always something new to learn about when it comes to the way the mind operates.

I also enjoy looking at the way corporations interact with customers and the public. The needs of the corporation don’t always match the needs of the consumer, so it’s always relevant to highlight a situation where the two priorities are disconnected.


3-How do you manage your time and run your blog?   What type of balance do you have in your day to day life?

I’m no time management expert. I try my best not to waste time, but I find it difficult to stick to schedules and to-do lists. As a result, certain things often slip through the cracks in my daily attention. I’m always looking for new methods of getting things done efficiently, but in reality, I understand that my goal is not to be super-efficient. I only have one chance at living this life and I’m not going to add unnecessary stress.

Many people have a need for work-life balance. It’s a trend in the corporate human resources community. Companies want to offer work-life balance as if it’s a benefit. For many people it is, and there is a struggle to balance work with other things. For most of my time developing Consumerism Commentary, my goal was to find a way to balance my day job responsibilities with my desire to build something for myself on my own time. I had other interests as well, but did not try to find an equilibrium; I knew that if I wanted Consumerism Commentary to succeed, I wouldn’t be able to strive for balance between it and another activity, like photography, or even a family.


4-Give us your top two posts you’ve ever written.   What were the goals of those articles, and why were they so popular?

I’m a poor judge of my own writing. Two of my favorites are Wearing  Many  Hats: Specialism  Vs. Generalism and 3 Aspects  of  Your  Finances  You  Can  Control. I cite these two articles because they both deal with internal discussions I’ve been thinking about for the last decade.

I don’t normally write articles with goals in mind, but after the fact, I could say that both of these articles encourage readers to think about not only their finances but their life choices in a way they may not be considering. I wouldn’t say these articles were particularly popular; the ones I write that gain popularity, with several hundred comments in the discussion, tend to be controversial, overtly negative about my experiences with a company, or something technical like how to fill out a tax form to receive the Homebuyer Credit.


5-What advice would you give to a new blogger?

If you started your blog because you’re looking for a way to make money, do something else with your time. If you’re passionate about your writing and are interested in the topic, write as much as possible without sacrificing quality for quantity and don’t worry too much about anything else. Find — or even better, build — your community. Write articles you would want to read. Develop your own voice.


6-What were some of the best and worst financial decisions you’ve ever made?

I’ve written quite a bit about my worst financial decisions. For a few years, I owned a car without knowing how to take care of it. When the motor blew because there was no oil, I learned my lesson. Also related to driving, I made a habit out of ignoring speeding tickets, hoping they’d just go away. I didn’t have the money to pay for them, but I paid much more, particularly in lawyers’ fees, by ignoring the situation.

All of my best financial decisions are related to quitting jobs. Every time I’ve done it, it has been the best financial move I could make at the time.


7-If you wish you knew one financial tip when you were 18, what would it be?

The best thing I could have known at age 18 was that I had more control over my life, including my financial situation, than I believed. I did have mentors who did try to get this point across over the years, but it wasn’t until later that I discovered it for myself.


8-What are some of your favorite tools for budgeting and tracking spending patterns.

Now that I can afford the software, I am a die-hard Quicken fan — the desktop version. Before I could afford it, I used similar free software like GnuCash or MoneyDance. I don’t use Quicken as often as I used to, because I’ve found that tracking expenses to the cent is much more important when you don’t have many cents to spare. But as you become more financially secure, occasional updates are all that are necessary.


9-If you could teach a college course for one week, what would you teach to the students?

Music appreciation. But if you’re asking about financial courses that might come in handy, I’d probably like to cover the basics of money management since it’s unlikely they had any education in this subject. This would not exactly be a popular course, and many college students still don’t have the cognitive capacity to take these subjects seriously, so it might be a fruitless effort. Then again, so might be music appreciation.


10-What is in your wallet?

A personal credit card (ContinentalAirlinesOnePassPlus), a business credit card (American Express Blue Cash for Business), a back-up credit card (CitiDividendWorldMasterCard), a business ATM/debit card, a personal ATM/debit card, my driver’s license, my AAA club card, a MetroCard for New York City, my health insurance cards, a few loyalty cards, receipts from the last week, and less than $100 in cash. Someone commented recently that I have a Costanza wallet.❠It’s not that bad, but I’m attempting to condense as much as possible.


Thank You!

You’re welcome!

Betterment Interview With CEO Jon Stein

jon stein bettermentYou may have seen ads around this blog before.  In fact, I have one up on my sidebar right now.  Betterment is one of the few companies that I support and recommend all my readers to utilize in their total financial portfolio.

I was approached a while back to interview Jon Stein and took the opportunity to do just that!  I had the chance to ask some deeper questions than usual.  Jon Stein was a pleasure to interview and I love his passion for helping average Americans!  But first, here’s a short snapshot of his background from

Jon is the Chief Executive Officer of Betterment, which he co-founded in 2007. Prior to creating Betterment, Jon spent his career developing better financial products, platforms, and investment strategies for international banks, brokers and other financial institutions.

At First Manhattan Consulting Group, he counseled a number of the world’s most prominent financial institutions on issues ranging from product design to strategies to mitigate the risks inherent in their products. Jon is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), a Series 7 and 24 Registered Securities Representative, and a graduate of Harvard University (Economics) and Columbia Business School.

He has appeared on NBC, Bloomberg, and Fox and quoted in the New York Times, CNNMoney, and Investment News. His interests lie at the intersection of behavior, psychology, and economics. What excites him most about his work is making everyday activities and products more efficient, accessible, and easy to use.

Hopefully this Betterment interview gives you some more insight as to what Betterment is about and how their services can benefit you and your retirement goals.  Sit back and enjoy the following interview!

Hi Jon, thanks for this opportunity to interview you! I’m a huge supporter of what you’re doing over at  But first, tell us your quick background story. How did you get to where you are today?

At Harvard, I studied psychology and economics. So I’ve always been passionate about helping people make smart decisions with their money.

When I graduated, I had a little cash and I wanted to invest it. My first purchase? Enron. I knew better, and still I didn’t follow the best teachings of modern finance â“ diversifying, re-balancing, indexing.

Then, I spent years working as a consultant for big banks, and found that typical financial products were optimized for corporate profits, not for real people’s goals. Friends would ask me, What should I do with my money?❠Seeing no good answers, and knowing that Wall Street was not looking out for the average individual investor, I felt I had to create a better way.


What is the history of How did it start and what has the journey looked like up to this point?

In 2007, I left my cushy banking job and enrolled in the MBA program at Columbia. I knew I wanted to start a company â“ Betterment â“ I had the name already â“ but the details were still taking shape.

In August 2008, I brought in a few great colleagues who were experienced in financial services, technology, and law. So began our 2-year journey through regulators and technology. We actually finished our site a day before we launched to the public â“ it was down to the wire. We officially launched at Tech Crunch Disrupt in May 2010, where we were voted Best New York Start-Up.

Through my education and in working with large financial institutions, I learned a few things, one of which was that I was no smarter than thousands of others looking at the market, and I didn’t have better information. I was best off applying the concept of Modern Portfolio Theory â“ that there’s no better portfolio to own than the market portfolio â“ than trying to beat the market. So the principles of Betterment were in place long before we had a product.


What is the vision for Betterment?

Betterment’s vision is to make smarter investing accessible to hard-working, busy people like you and me â“ to make Wall Street work for the rest of us.


What is the structure of Betterment and why do you recommend it to the average American?

Betterment is smart investing made easy. We blend the simplicity of an online bank account with the higher long-term returns associated with investing in stocks and bonds. You can quickly and easily transfer money from your checking account by linking it to Betterment electronically. There are no minimum balances, no transaction fees, no holding periods, and no hidden costs. You’ll just pay a low annual management fee of 0.3% â“ 0.9% of your average balance.

As far as your portfolio, you’ll be invested in a blend of stock and bond Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs). With stocks, you’re invested in index funds that are chosen to reflect the U.S. economy as well as some select markets around the worldâ”it’s like owning a little piece of every company in America and then some. Your bond investment is made up of U.S. Treasury bond ETFs that are backed by the U.S. Government. You get to choose a blend that gives you the broadly diversified portfolio that’s right for you. We’ll also automatically rebalance the allocation you set in order to maximize your returns.

The coolest thing about our structure is that we are both a broker/dealer and a registered investment advisor. Because of this we can provide people with sound financial recommendations and the tools to implement those recommendations all in one platform. In just a few clicks of the mouse, your assets can be broadly diversified and invested toward your long term goals. And each of your goals can have a different plan. You set the timeline and asset allocation for each, and we advise you on how much to invest to make your goals reality. Whether you are investing for retirement or saving for a house â“ or both â“ we have you covered.

The other awesome thing is how efficient our platform is, since it’s all automated and built on the latest technologies. We pass the savings on to customers.

It’s the best way to invest â“ the highest risk-adjusted returns for the lowest cost. You save a bundle versus paying brokers to do all this stuff for you, and you don’t pay some guy in a suit to give you so-called advice.❠You invest in a smart way with tens of thousands of people like you. What could be better?


What are the choices for a typical investor?  Can you give us a brief synopsis of how a typical investor would go about starting an account and getting started?

Starting an account at Betterment could not be simpler (or faster). All you do is link your checking account, set your asset allocation using a slider, and then relax and let your money grow. There is no minimum balance and no paperwork to fill out. In about 5 minutes you can start your journey to become a better investor.


Is there any catch❠in terms of fees or trading costs?

At Betterment there are no transaction or trading costs and no hidden fees. All you pay is a low annual management fee of 0.3% to 0.9%, depending on your balance. For a balance like $100,000, the annual fee is $750, which is far less than folks pay for in-person advisory solutions, and all the execution is included.


For the readers out there, what type of protection do you provide investors in terms of insurance?

Betterment is an SEC Registered Investment Advisor, and Betterment Securities is a broker-dealer regulated by FINRA and the SEC. The securities in your account are protected up to $500,000 by SIPC. Betterment is simple and transparent. Your money is invested in well-established funds, chosen for their good management, efficiency, and long track records.


What mistakes do you see investors make and how does Betterment help investors avoid these mistakes?

Some common mistakes that come to mind are buying when the market is low and selling when it’s high, remembering our winners and forgetting our losers, and failing to adhere to good investment practices like re-balancing and dollar cost averaging.

Through our platform, we encourage our customers to invest for the long term. Accounts are based on goals and we ask for specific time lines to those goals. By focusing on long term investing, we steer customers away from trying to beat the market and from those irrational daily impulses. In addition we automatically re-balance all customer portfolios every quarter or any time an asset allocation moves 5% away from its target. And finally, we offer automatic deposit which allows customers to take advantage of dollar-cost averaging. By making automated, regular contributions to your Betterment account, you avoid costly and common timing mistakes.


Say, I open an account and start investing with Betterment. How do I adjust my asset allocation or is this automated?

Adjusting your asset allocation is extremely simple. Within your account you will find an asset allocation slider. You move the slider between stocks (more risk) and bonds (less risk). We encourage you to set the allocation you desire to start, and then sit back and relax. Frequent asset allocation changes typically don’t lead to higher returns. We regularly check to make sure your allocation stays on target, and automatically re-balance quarterly as well as any time it strays more than 5% away from that target.


With many people on I-phones and android devices, is Betterment integrated electronically to make balance adjustments or receive notifications?

We have an iphone app so you can do all the cool things you do on the computer right from your mobile device. You can add and withdraw money, set your asset allocation, and check your account activity right in the palm of your hand.


I’ve heard you use the saying social finance.❠What do you mean by that and what does it mean to investors?

At Betterment we are a community of savers invested in the broad stock market together. We provide tools such as peer comparisons to help each other make the right choices. You’ll be able to see for yourself how others like you (in your same age bracket, earning the same income, and with the same gender) are investing so you can compare and learn as you go. So if you aren’t alreadyâ”you’ll soon be an investing wiz.


Does Betterment offer training and education resources?

Our website provides a wealth of information about investing and why we’ve chosen the Betterment portfolio. If you aren’t familiar with ETFs, you can access our FAQ and get all of the information you need. Or perhaps you are an active investor who wants a little bit more knowledge about our portfolio. You can find a downloadable prospectus for each fund right on the website. Most importantly, we are always available to take customer calls and emails. We have a devoted customer service team, and we make sure that everyone at Betterment interfaces with our customers. If you have a question about your account, you might end up chatting directly with me!


What type of growth have you seen with Betterment and where do you see Betterment 10 years from now?

I am so happy with the growth Betterment has experienced thus far. We have more and more customers every day, and in just 6 months we have tripled the size of our team and quadrupled the size of our customer base! In 10 years I hope to see Betterment providing ideal investing solutions for tens of millions of people like you and me.


Jon, thank you so much for your time!  To end this interview, I have one last question for you.  What one piece of advice would you give my readers to be successful with their investments and retire without money worries?

Thank YOU, Jon. It’s a pleasure. The one piece of advice I can give your readers is to start now. Did you know that if you start saving for retirement when you are 25 instead of 35 you could end up with twice as much money?

It is important to focus on the long term, and if you want to maximize your investment returns and retire with cushion, invest in a diversified, liquid portfolio. Set it and forget it, and you will see your money grow.


Want to find out more?

I’m sure you’re super interested in what Betterment has to offer.  Who knows, you may even be starting the journey of saving for retirement and don’t know where to invest?  Betterment is the place to go if you’re feeling lost.  In fact, they are offering a $25 signup bonus right now just for singing up!  you can click the banner below to go straight to the bonus!

If you’d like to know more on their services, I wrote a review a while back explaining a little more in depth about what Betterment provides.  You can access that interview here.

Photo by TCDisrupt

Interview with Chuck Bentley: Root of Riches

root of riches bookToday, we have a very special interview!  I had the pleasure of interviewing Chuck Bentley.  He is the CEO of an awesome Christian organization that focuses on finances, “Crown Financial Ministries.”  Just recently, he launched his latest book titled “The Root of Riches.”  It’s a book that will transform the way you think about money.  I’m excited to share some of Chuck’s answers to my questions below.  Enjoy the interview!


1- Chuck, it’s truly an honor to be interviewing you.   Before I start on questions about Root of Riches, tell me a little bit about your background.   Give us a brief timeline of your life.

Jon, thanks for having me! It’s an honor to be a part of Free Money Wisdom.   Born in Texas, graduated from Baylor with a business degree. Married, 4 sons, a daughter in law and a grandson. Joined Crown 11 years ago.


2- When did your passion for writing begin?   What brought you to the point you’re at today?

I have a greater passion for reading than writing. The Root of Riches was a message that I began to teach after the Lord gave me an insight into I Timothy 6:10. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.❠Others told me I should write about it so I wrote from my passion for the message. I had a great team to help me get it done and I am excited to see how the Lord may use it.


3- Root of Riches❠is a pretty catchy title.   Tell us about how you came upon that title and the significance behind it.

I have known I Timothy 6:10 most of my life but I’d never considered the meaning of the word rootâ. Once I started down that trail I discovered that people, you and I, are often compared to trees in the Bible. That helped me to see that what we love actually determines our riches more than what we own or possess. I knew the message was taking me to the difficult task of examining what is in our hearts, thus the title.


4- What inspired you to write Root of Riches.❠  Tell us about your journey writing the book.

I don’t think of myself as a writer. However, my desire is to use the time, talents and energy the Lord has given to me to have an eternal impact for Him. Since writing a book is a very long, arduous journey, my motivation was to faithfully complete what I believed He wanted me to do. In a very real sense, the book was in my heart and mind; I just had to go through the discipline of writing it down. I was blessed to have a team that encouraged me to press on. I do hope to write more now that I understand the process.


5- You talk a lot about the meaning of rich.❠  What would you say America views being rich as?   And how is that different than what the Bible says.

I think Americans, and most people around the world, define rich as the accumulation of possessions. The more we have, the richer we become. The Bible refutes that definition in many ways: 1) In Luke 12:15 Jesus tells us that life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. 2) In Luke 16:11 he says that we must be faithful with worldly wealth❠to receive the true riches. Here, Jesus separates what the world can give from what only He can give and He defines what He gives as the genuine or true source of riches.


6- Regarding personal finances, share with us some of your failures.   And how did God restore you or bring you closer to Him during those times?

I have made just about every financial mistake there is but in the book I share my journey out of my worst mistake, the love of money. Money was my secret idol and it controlled my life in times when I had little or much. This led to many poor choices and a complete disregard for what the Bible has to say about finances. The Lord forgave me and ironically allowed me the opportunity to teach others about His principles. He is full of grace and mercy and my life is a testimony to that. On that financial side, I would never trade what I have gained from being in close fellowship with the Lord for any amount of money.   His riches have proven to be priceless.


7- What are your thoughts on Biblical stewardship are how it relates to our Christian walk?

The Christian life is stewardship. He is the Owner of everything including His people. If we fail to understand our role and responsibility to be faithful stewards, I do not believe we will hear the words, Well done, good and faithful servant.❠That’s how strongly I believe the importance of this topic.


8- Chuck, you use a tree with roots as the picture on the front of the book.   Tell us a little about this and how it relates to the mission behind the book.

We are either bad trees, what I call the ME Trees or we are  good trees, what I call  HE Trees in the book. One produces what the Bible calls evil and the other produces good fruit. We are all born as ME Trees and must be transformed at the root level to produce good fruit. Once I followed this theme in God’s Word  I realized that the Bible starts with a choice between two trees and ends with our reunion with Jesus as the Tree of Life.   The mission of the book is to lead people to become HE Trees, producing the fruit that will lead to the spreading of God’s goodness according to the prophetic words: They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.❠  Isaiah 61:3


9- What did you learn along the way while writing this book?   Did anything surprise you or come out of nowhere and make an impact on you?

Absolutely!   I was shocked by many new insights but particularly by the overall biblical correlation between ourselves and trees. I am much more committed to advancing correct (biblical) beliefs about money than I am advocating for correct behaviors that omits the core issues of the heart and mind.


10- What are your top pieces of advice for Christians who are seeking to live a rich❠life?

1)           Immerse yourself in the Bible. You are defenseless to the deceptions of worldly wealth without this investment to gain God’s wisdom.

2)           Love God, love people and love giving.


Thanks for the interview Chuck!  I highly recommend this book to anyone, go grab your copy today!

Interview with J. Money from Budgets Are Sexy

j. money


I have a very special treat for my readers this Monday evening.  One of the most  successful  personal finance bloggers over at allowed me to interview him.  His name is J. Money and has a passion for personal finance but likes to spice things up a bit at the same time.  So, please enjoy the following interview and head over to his blog if you haven’t already!

1- J. Money, thanks for this awesome interview opportunity. You’re known for running a pretty great blog over at Budgets are Sexy. How did you get started in personal finance blogging?

Thanks dude 🙂 Oh man, I got started when I bought a house w/ my wife 4 years ago and realized we didn’t know what the heck we were getting into! I started Googling for budget and mortgage help, and kept coming across all these sites that didn’t look like real❠websites, haha⦠After a few months of hanging out on these blogs,❠I realized I could put my own thoughts out there too and maybe add a different perspective to the PF world. So 2 weeks later I launched Budgets Are Sexy (originally titled Savings Are Sexy❠but it was taken!) and wrote my first blog post. Who knew I’d get addicted?


2-What are your favorite personal finance topics to write about?

Pretty much whatever pops into my brain at the time, to be honest with you. I don’t know If I have a favorite❠per se. I like talking about beer and lottery tickets though 😉 Oh! And also Net Worth â“ that would probably be my fave⦠I pretty much stick to anything that’s positive and just FUN to read about. I have major A.D.D. and I get bored easily. So if the topic at hand doesn’t interest me, there’s no way in hell I’ll be able to blog about it (I’m not good at how to❠articles for example, cuz they’re just not exciting to me). I’m very much into the personal❠side of personal finance.


3-How do you manage your time and run your blog? What type of balance do you have in your day to day life?

Very badly. I work about 75% of the day, and I have trouble eating properly and taking breaks 😉 Luckily I LOVE everything there is about blogging, but I definitely haven’t learned how to pace myself or get into a consistent habit yet. Though I’m currently on day #9 of waking up early, and without hitting the snooze button! That hasn’t happened since I was in high school 😉 If anyone wants to get better at it too, I highly recommend this article by Steve Pavlina: How to Get Up Right Away When Your Alarm Goes Off.


4-Give us your top two posts you’ve ever written. What were the goals of those articles, and why were they so popular?

1) I got fired. By far my most popular, and favorite (by me). I think it was the first time I really realized the power of words and storytelling. I remember sitting there for 4 straight hours trying to get my thoughts out properly, but it was the first time of my blogging life that I realized I’m a true writer. And I hate writing, so it was a big light bulb moment for me 🙂 I think people related to it cuz I was as raw as I could have been that day, and everyone realized from that point forward I went from side blogger to full-time. That was an amazing time in my life, and I think about it almost every day (it’s only been 8 months now, but I can remember it like yesterday!)

2) Are Protandim Pills a Scam? This is the first post in 3+ years that continue to get comments regularly. I think because there’s such a heated debate about it right now, and people are constantly researching and trying to determine all the time if it’s all really a scam or not. And actually, this is a guest post 😉 Oddly enough most of my most circulated articles are guest posts! I think because the other bloggers research and really teach my audience something I don’t do very well. I applaud all of them for how they do that, and I think that’s what makes our whole niche awesome. There are story tellers on all sides of the equation.


5-What advice would you give to a new blogger?

ALWAYS BE YOURSELF!! I can’t stress that enough. It is SO easy to compare yourself to others out there, or change the way you’re doing things cuz you think it’s the right❠way to do things, but the whole beauty of blogging is that it’s our *personal* views on the subject! That’s very very important, and the reason why your readers come back time and time again. And even for me this is hard sometimes. Every now and then I don’t think I’m doing as well as so-and-so blogger, and I start writing like them or doing something else they’re doing, and I get called out on it fast 😉 People can tell when you stray from your own entity. That’s not to say you can’t test things, or take some risks here and there â“ you HAVE to do that â“ but just that in general it’s always best to be yourself, and remain focused. There are a lot of other tactical things you can do to market yourself, and get picked up by search engines, etc etc, but I don’t think any of that really matters unless you connect w/ an audience. So just keep being YOU!


6-What were some of the best and worst financial decisions you’ve ever made?

Worst: Buying a house. It’s just not for me. Sure I save money not renting, and I have a butt-ton of mortgage interest I can write off every year, but emotionally it’s just not a good fit with me. I feel trapped, and now w/ the economy I can’t easily get out. I think something that people have to really realize is that our emotions play a HUGE role in all our major financial decisions. Just because something makes sense down on paper, or everyone else is doing it (or praising it – The American Dream!â), it doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for YOU. Always do your best to keep that in mind.

Best: Maxing out my 401(k) every year. I can’t tell you how AWESOME that makes you feel (and how FAST it adds up over time!). Even if you did nothing else at all â“ no more savings, paying off debt, etc etc â“ you’d have thousands â“ and eventually millions â“ of dollars saved up over time. It really is incredible. Yes it’s hard (it comes out to over $1,000 a month!) but if you can pull it off, you’d be sitting pretty for the rest of your lives. And if that’s too much for you, or you don’t have an option to invest in 401(k)s, try going for a maxed out IRA every year which is only $5,000. That’s a great starting point for anyone trying to really rock it. And by the way, back to the 401(k) stuff real quick â“ if your employer matches even just *anything* you’re now getting that free money added in on top of everything your putting in yourself. It’s all rather amazing!


7-If you wish you knew one financial tip when you were 18, what would it be?

That living paycheck to paycheck isn’t smart. I think everyone inherently *knows* that, but usually we don’t accept it until we’re older and/or set in our stubborn ways. The advantage we all have while we’re young is that of TIME. Time to save, compound, invest, pay debt, lower our lifestyle costs, etc etc. The sooner we allow ourselves to do that, the more power we have in the form of time and letting our actions play out. I was always good at zero’ing out my paycheck w/ my expenses, but you can’t live that way forever. Eventually you need to start saving/earning more than you’re spending, and enough to really cover yourself for all emergencies and retirement down the road. A lot easier NOW to realize this, but back when you’re 18 all you really care about are chicks and having fun 😉 I don’t know if anyone could have changed my mindset back thenâ¦


8-What are some of your favorite tools for budgeting and tracking spending patterns.

I track everything via google docs (the excel-like kind), and my USAA account. It’s crazy, and I don’t recommend it for everyone, but I’ve slowly xfered all of my accounts under one main financial roof. I have over 16 accounts w/ USAA now, and it makes it a TON easier to track and manage. I now have 1 main site to check every morning (because I’m addicted and a financial nerd, so I have to see what’s going on in there every day!), and then I only have 1 spot to manually enter my numbers. Most people are fine with or other equally as sexy (and free!) budgeting tools, but for me I need to manually do things so it sticks❠more. And really it only takes 15 mins a week for me to update the numbers and track my progress, so it’s not all too bad anyways. My brother used to write everything down on paper every month, which to me is just insane 🙂 But if it works, keep going with it!

(btw, here are my all-time favorite budget templates I’ve collected over the years â“ including the one I use!)


9-If you could teach a college course for one week, what would you teach to the students?

That smart financial planning opens up a TON of opportunities down the road. And that it really is easy as shit. (I’d curse all the time on purpose in my class, so students feel comfortable and know I’m one of themâ). I think kids are just bored to death with this stuff, and really don’t understand (or care) how it affects them down the line. They’ve got friends and parties and who knows what else on their mind, so if you don’t capture their attention and make it INTERESTING to them, it doesn’t matter what you’re teaching. They’ll do enough to get a good grade and move on, but then it’s out their heads and onto another class that excites them more. So I’d teach them about all the things financial freedom can bring: travel, perfect lifestyle, working a job because you CARE instead of for the money, and doing whatever hobbies you want forever because you’ve laid the foundation of a financially sexy game plan. It wouldn’t be easy, but it can be done. (it’s a shame I don’t like public speaking! Hahaâ¦)


10-What is in your wallet?

LOVE this question! I’ll tell you exactly (and I use a money clip, not a wallet):

– Driver’s license
– $31 in cash (3 tens and 1 one. Cash is VERY important to me, you always need to carry some on you just in case!)
– Mastercard #1 â“ For my personal❠stuff – anything non-household related
– Mastercard #2 – For our house❠stuff â“ anything home or family related
– Personal debit card â“ Only used to get cash out of the ATMs (I take out $200 every month for random expenditures)
– Amex – For all business expenses
– Starbucks gold card. Haha⦠yeah⦠ummâ¦. no excuses here 😉 (okay, I lied â“ you get a lot of discounts with that bad boy! I swear!)


Thanks J. Money!

Interview with Matt from Debt Free Adventure!

debt free adventure

I had the pleasure of interviewing one of my top favorite personal finance bloggers: Matt Jabs from Debt Free Adventure! Matt’s blog posts have shaped the way I view finances and have helped me “get back to the basics.”  Not only have my finances improved because of Matt but now I glorify God with my resources more than ever before.  Without further ado, here is my interview, enjoy!

Tell us about yourself Matt, career, life background (general).

Hello Jon and Free Money Wisdom readers… my name is Matt Jabs. I’m 35, married, and â“ as of 3/2011 â“ a full-time entrepreneur. I graduated with a BSBA from Central Michigan University in May of 2000 and worked as an IT administrator for 10 years before leaving for full-time entrepreneurship. I currently run and

How did you get started in personal finance blogging?

On January 1st, 2009 I created Debt Free Adventure to help my wife and I pay off debt, save, give, and live our mission. It has since morphed into a ministry where we help others pay off debt, save, give, and live their mission… and we love it.

How should Christians view finances?

The bible instructs us to, “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” To me that means to owe no man anything, put another way, have no debt. We also need to reaffirm daily that all possessions belong to the Lord and we are simply entrusted managers who are called to love God and love our neighbors with our finances and our lives.

Any tips for young married couples in terms of personal finances?

If you haven’t already, you HAVE to get on the same page financially – to do this I highly recommend taking Dave Ramsey’s FPU together. Betsy and I are living proof that Financial Peace University is worth the money. Be sure to have joint accounts. Create a real budget and stick to it. Pay off debt. Save money. Give joyfully every month, no matter what. Figure out your mission and start living it out.

How should a fresh college graduate invest?

If you work for a company offering a 401(k) match, contribute enough to get the full match – don’t throw away free money. If you have debt, pay it off – paying off debt is the one guaranteed investment you can make. If debt is paid off and 401(k) match is funded, be sure to have enough highly liquid money to live on for 6 – 12 months. If you have that done, fund other tax sheltered options like IRAs and HSAs. After that, look for high return investments like peer lending with Lending Club.

What is your take on emergency funds? How much is enough?

No amount is right for everyone, just be sure you have one. Betsy and I currently have 3 months expenses saved because $1,000 wasn’t nearly enough to make us feel good about it. Once debt is gone we plan to have a years worth of expenses saved.

If you received a tax free $5000 check, what would you do with it?

Me? I would pay off debt.

What are the top five topics your readers are interested in?

Paying off debt, saving, investing, giving, and living their mission.

If you could give one financial piece of advice, what would it be?

Pay off all debt.

Tell me about some of your favorite personal finance books?

My favorite personal finance book to date is “Early Retirement Extreme” by my friend and fellow personal finance writer, Jacob Lund Fisker. I like this book because it throws cultural norms out the window and challenges people to see their money, work, and possessions in an entirely new – and smart – light. I also like Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt because it gives the reader a wise view of economic policy and helps them understand why the current economic policy in the USA will end in collapse if not changed.

Thanks for the opportunity to share… God bless!