From Broke to Financially Woke Interview Series – Vital Dollar
Today, I am launching a new interview series. The purpose of this series it to give hope to those struggling to escape from the not so secret group Broke Phi Broke. A group whose chant is, “We ain’t got it. Broke, Broke, Phi Broke! We ain’t got it. Broke, Broke, Phi Broke!”
To help me accomplish this goal, I have invited the best and brightest of the financial independence community here to share their stories. As you read their interviews, pay close attention to the mistakes they made. Take mental note of the success principles they used to turn things around.
When trying to apply these principles to your own life, realize that success in life is rarely linear. You will encounter some struggles. But stay persistent. Keep moving forward.
Our special guest today is Marc from Vital Dollar. He has over a decade of experience in internet marketing. And he is a guy who transformed his photography hobby into over $1 million dollars in six years. But before he became financially successful, he was a member of Broke Phi Broke.
Let’s learn what Marc did to escape and turn his life around…
Introduce yourself. Where do you blog? What are some of your interests outside of financial independence?
My name is Marc and I blog at VitalDollar.com. I’m 40 years old and I live in Pennsylvania with my wife and our two kids (ages 6 and 3). My favorite hobbies include hiking and landscape photography. I’ve been interested in photography for about 7 or 8 years, and getting to the spots that I want to photograph often involves a hike. After doing it for a while, I’ve grown to love hiking even aside from photography.
Tell us about a time where you were a member of Broke Phi Broke. How did living paycheck to paycheck make you feel as a person? At your lowest point, how much debt did you have?
The first few years after college I was living paycheck to paycheck. For a while, I lived at home with my parents so I could save some money, but my income was low, so even without paying rent I still wasn’t really getting ahead.
After that, I took a job in the Philadelphia suburbs, about 2 hours away from where I grew up. The cost of living in the area is on the higher side (although not nearly as bad as some cities like New York or San Francisco). I was living on my own and getting by, but I wasn’t saving anything.
That was the case for about the first 5 years after college. When I was 27 I got married, and with both of us working full-time, we were finally able to start setting some money aside.
I was fortunate to never have student loans or credit card debt. I had a car loan that pushed me into a negative net worth, but that was really my only debt until we bought our first house when I was 28 (it was a small condo in the New Jersey suburbs of Philly).
Those years were pretty rough emotionally. I was working hard and I felt like I was doing well with the different jobs that I had during that stretch, but I just couldn’t get ahead.
What are some of your biggest financial mistakes?
I consider my biggest financial mistake to be not starting my own business earlier. I had 4 different jobs in my 20’s after college. The last 3 jobs I had hoped would turn into something that gave me a chance to grow and advance through a long career with the company. Whenever I would get frustrated about a lack of potential, my response was to look for a different job.
Eventually, when I was 28, I started a side hustle designing websites for small businesses. That led me to launch a web design blog. The blog took off quickly and I was able to leave my full-time job when I was 30 years old.
For the past 10+ years, I’ve been self-employed as a blogger and internet marketer. While my 20’s were mostly a waste financially, my 30’s were much more productive. I wish I had started my own side hustle a few years earlier, rather than always looking for a different job to be the solution.
Describe your upbringing. Where did you grow up? What did your parents or teachers teach you about money?
Pennsylvania has been my home since I was 5 years old. My wife and I did live in New Jersey for 3 years, but it was just across the river and we always figured we would probably wind up back in PA at some point.
My parents are very well educated (both have PhD’s), but their income was low for most of my childhood due to their career choices. My dad worked in missions for a non-profit organization all of my childhood, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom until I was a teenager.
Although their income was low, they always made the most of their money. They followed the cash envelope system before Dave Ramsey made it famous (there was a guy named Larry Burkett who also taught that system back in those days). My parents taught me to respect money and not to spend money that I didn’t have. They also taught me that there are more important things in life than money.
How important is becoming financially woke to you? What steps have you taken to increase your financial knowledge?
Improving my financial knowledge has been important to me since I was in college and was transitioning to living on my own. My last year of college I lived off campus, and that was my first experience paying rent, utilities, groceries, and everything else. I didn’t have much to fall back on, so I knew it was important that I learn how to manage my money.
Also, as soon as I got out of college and started in the working world, I realized that I didn’t want to work until I was 65 or 70. I set my eyes on early retirement within my first year of working full-time, although I didn’t really have any idea how to get there.
Over the years I’ve learned by getting advice from people with more experience, reading financial books (mostly in my 20’s), reading finance blogs, and also through trial and error. I’d say managing my own money and making some mistakes along the way has been one of the best ways to learn.
What are some of the key principles you have used to improve your financial life?
Early on, budgeting and expense tracking were absolutely critical for me. I tracked every dollar I spent, and that helped me to know where I was spending too much so I could cut back. I still have a budget and still track expenses, but I’m more loose with it now because I have more cushion and it’s not such a desperate situation.
Saving and investing early on has been important. As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t able to save much during my 20’s, but I did save whenever I was able to. After my wife and I got married, we started saving right away. Once my income started to increase, I was able to save and invest more.
The biggest factor has been increasing my income. Once I started working for myself full-time, my income increased significantly over what I had been making. Most of the excess that I made was saved or invested. Over the years we’ve definitely had some lifestyle creep, but at a smaller pace than the increase in income.
My approach to increasing income has been to use my hobbies to make money. Originally, that started with a web design hobby. Eventually, I sold my web design blog and moved on to making money with a photography hobby. I had a few different photography-related websites and blogs that did pretty well for several years (I’ve sold them all now).
Saving and living below our means allowed my wife to be able to leave her job and become a stay-at-home mom six years ago when our daughter was born. We were also able to get our retirement savings to a very good place in our 30’s.
How often do you consume personal finance information? Name 3-5 of your favorites sources (books, podcasts, blogs, etc.).
Since I run a personal finance blog of my own, I’m pretty well surrounded by financial content. I check other blogs every day, browse social media, and listen to financial podcasts a few times per week.
To be honest, I wouldn’t follow the industry quite as closely if I didn’t have a finance blog, but even before I launched Vital Dollar I did browse and read finance blogs at least a few times per month.
I follow so many different sites that it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few favorites, but a few that I’ve been following closely are Wealthy Nickel (Andrew’s success with real estate intrigues me), ESI Money (his retirement is almost exactly what I’m shooting for), and the podcast on Side Hustle Nation (lots of great inspiration and ideas).
Where are you on the path to financial freedom now?
My goal is to be able to retire when I’m 55 years old, which gives me about 15 years. At that point, our youngest child should be graduating from high school, and my wife and I hope to travel a lot after retirement.
Although my goal is to be able to retire, I doubt I will truly retire because I need something to keep me busy. I’d like to have the freedom to work part-time and do something flexible, which would allow me to travel and take time off whenever I choose.
Right now, we’re just past halfway to our net worth goal for retirement. We’ve still got a ways to go, but with 15 years to reach it, I think it’s very realistic.
Is there any advice/encouraging words you can give those who are struggling to escape Broke Phi Broke?
My first piece of advice would be to get control over the money that you have. Even if you’re not making a lot, you need to manage what you have. For me, tracking expenses and budgeting was huge.
Next, find a way to increase your income. That may sound difficult, but there are a lot of possibilities. You could get a raise, work overtime, find a higher-paying job, or start a side hustle.
There’s never been a better time to start a side hustle. There are so many opportunities, both online and offline, that you can definitely find a way to make some extra money that helps you to turn things around.
Finally, I would also encourage you to think positively. It’s natural to get frustrated and feel defeated at times, but you need to be able to bounce back. I’ve found financial freedom quotes to be really inspiring and to help me stay focused on the right things, rather than focusing on my struggles.
How can the readers contact you?
The best way to get in touch with me is through email. If you go to my website and scroll to the footer, you’ll see a contact link. The other option is to reach out on Twitter.
Thanks for contributing to the series, Marc!
Questions for the Reader to Ponder
- What hobby of yours could you potentially monetize?
- Are you a fan of inspirational quotes? If so, share your favorite one in the comments section!
- Is tracking your expenses a priority?
- Have you been hiking before? (I went for the first time a couple months ago and it was fun!)
- Would you like to share your story of how you escaped Broke Phi Broke? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more interviews in the From Broke to Financially Woke Series.
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Jerry is a Business Insider Contributing Writer who is obsessed with personal finance. He believes you can improve your financial situation by applying principles taught by the financial independence community to your financial life.
If you are having trouble saving, he recommends that you join the SaverLife Savings program where you can get a $60 reward after six months (no income requirement). All you have to do is put a minimum of $20 a month into a savings account. Easy, right?
For a fun read, check out his article 10 Signs You’re a Personal Finance Addict to see if you are a personal finance nerd.
Before you go, check out the new From Broke to Financially Woke Interview Series.
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