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One of the best things we did before retiring was learn to write. Even though it took us over 100 rejections, 7 years of blood, sweat, and tears to finally publish a children’s book, and I’ve wanted to quit so many times I lost count but I don’t regret it for a second. And while publishing a children’s novel never paid enough for us to quit our jobs (an acquaintance once asked “are you able to retire because of your children’s book?” and I laughed so hard I fell down), it did help us develop the skills we needed to start this blog and eventually get a Penguin Random House book deal.
Which is why I’m a huge proponent of starting side hustles. You will pick up skills and even though they may not seem valuable right away, you have no idea what it will lead to later on. Even if you don’t make enough to fully retire, you might just make enough to significantly reduce the portfolio size you need. And sometimes, you might even land a big enough deal to quit completely.
Today, we’re going to talk to a personal finance writer who did just that.
Meet Jim Wang, a personal finance writer for over 10+ years, who has been featured in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Marketplace Money, Entrepreneur, BusinessWeek, U.S. News and World Report, and more!
After starting a blog called “Bargaineering”, which has since been sold for a huge sum (as in 7 figures), he was able to quit his job. Now that he no longer needs to work, he’s working on his new passion project, Wallet Hacks, a personal finance blog. Now we get to look into how he was able to build Bargaineering, and how he grew it enough that he was able to quit.
Tell us a bit about yourself and Wallet Hacks.
Wallet Hacks is my personal finance blog where I share the strategies and tactics I use to navigate life and it’s many mysteries. I think that many aspects of life, but more so with money, are made to be complicated so that people can make money from folks who lack the intelligence, knowledge, or patience to learn it on their own.
You see it often with finance because it’s such an integral part of life. How many people are out there paying too much in fees to a mutual fund just because they don’t know that an index fund can cost as little as 0.14% a year? (that’s Vanguard’s 500 Index Investor shares, Admiral Shares and the ETF are just 0.04%!) I hope to use the blog to demystify money in a way that people who lack the time or patience can still benefit from knowledge.
How did you come up with the idea for Bargaineering, the website you sold?
It was a journal. It started at around the time WordPress appeared (2004) and I liked the idea of publishing online – I could write my little money journal, read it while I was at work, and all would be well.
When it started, I was trying to figure out my work’s 401(k), health plan, and all the other little money decisions that no class ever prepares you for. All the instructions seem to be meant for folks who had already filled it out – ever try to read the instructions for filling out your W-4?
As the site grew, I started reading and writing more about anything else money-related that I was pondering – mundane things like where to get my photos developed – and eventually it got big enough I could quit my job.
What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
I think I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. As a kid, I used to write Jim Wang Enterprises LLC on paper to make my own company stationary while I was watching TV.
What appeals to me about being an entrepreneur is that I don’t need the safety net and security of a full-time job (which, is hardly secure or safe if you really think about it). The safety net comes with a cost – you don’t capture 100% of the value you create (the company’s profit).
I’d rather surrender the safety net and keep 100%. Plus I really didn’t like implementing other people’s terrible ideas.
You write a lot about wanting to create passive income streams. Entrepreneurship is the exact opposite of passive. So what’s up with that?
It depends on how you view passive income. For me, passive means I don’t have to do active work to generate that income. When I invest in dividend stocks, it’s passive income even though I still have to manage the portfolio. It’s not a lot of time but it’s still time – it’s not 100% passive.
I have also reframed my view of work. I view blogging less as work and more as a video game. People have spent many many hours on their phones and computers building virtual farms, castles, islands, and armies … I’ve just spent that time building virtual real estate. My reward is money I can use in the real world.
Coming from an Asian background, my parents thought I was nuts for quitting a stable nine-to-five job with a steady paycheck. What resulted for me was a big fight and we didn’t speak to each other for almost a year. What was your experience like with your parents?
My parents were not the traditional autocratic Asian parents. They were far more pragmatic, especially when compared with my Asian friends’ parents. What also helped was that they were from Taiwan, probably one of the more forward thinking Asian countries when it comes to societal roles and expectations (I have not studied this, it’s just what I’ve seen having gone to various parts of China and Taiwan).
My dad just asked me “Are you sure?” It wasn’t in an emotionally subversively way, like “are you sure you aren’t making a terrible mistake you will regret for the rest of your life?”
He just wanted to talk it through because he wanted to understand. It was a helpful conversation because I had to explain it in a way that he could understand, which is how you ever know if you fully understand something!
At what point did you yourself find the confidence to quit your job? Was it an income target or what?
It really comes down to a feeling – quitting your job is half numbers and half confidence.
For the math, I needed it to hit an income target and have a cushion saved up. I felt that if the site made 5x my annual income, that bought me five years to fiddle around and keep going.
Even when it happened though, I didn’t quit. I was still a little scared to make that leap. I enjoyed my job, I enjoyed the people I worked with, and it was challenging me in other ways (the engineering side of my brain!).
Eventually though, the site made so much money that I had to quit to devote more time and energy to it. It gave me no choice because if the site ever fell apart or something, I’d have regretted NOT quitting.
Personally, the biggest difference for me from going from a regular job to doing something entrepreneurial is how many hats I had to wear. When I was working, I pretty much knew what my job was. As an entrepreneur, I had to do everything. Did you find that as well? And how did you cope?
Yes, 100%. Fortunately though, I found that I could ease into it and learn on the go. Anything I understood but didn’t want to do any more (like taxes and accounting) I could easily outsource to someone I trusted. Just find a few vendors, meet a few people, and pick someone to take it over for you. I understand my taxes and the various rules because I’m ultimately responsible but someone else actually does it.
And on that note, the other thing I had to deal with was learning to deal with failure. I cringe whenever I think of all the times I screw something up. Did you find that as well? And how did you cope?
I think there are big failures and there are little failures.
The big failures are the ones where you devote a ton of time (months and months) and the project you thought would be a big hit is a dud. I’ve been a part of several companies that have taken a ton of my time but they haven’t worked out. Sometimes that comes with a financial loss too.
The little failures are where you devote less time – like blog posts – but are still failures. You write a blog post, it falls flat, you move on.
I’ve learned two things about failure – the more you fail, the less it hurts. I’ve written a lot of blog posts that have failed. Some of them were good ones too! But if you don’t fail, you don’t learn about what works and what doesn’t… which is the second thing, you have to learn from your mistakes (I know, it’s a super old saying).
But by that I mean you have to learn what worked and what doesn’t, study what others are doing in your field, and try to make your next tries even better. Your fail rate will go down, you’ll string up a few successes and use that to fuel you forward.
What’s the biggest mistake you made as an entrepreneur?
I’ve been fortunate to avoid any critical errors that sank me but there is one “mistake” that stands out but that I was happy to make.
I remember seeing my friend’s J.D. Roth’s blog, Get Rich Slowly, ranking well in search engine results. I told him that he should put affiliate links on those pages and so he did and would eventually sell his site for millions. MILLIONS!
I take full credit for his success! (just kidding)
But it was a mistake because I should bought his site and put the ads on there myself!
Looking back though, I’m fine with that mistake. JD is a good friend and it’s fun to have a friend on the same entrepreneurial journey.
And as a counterpoint to that, what is the thing you were the most proud of? That thing you didn’t think you could do but you ended up pulling off with flying colors?
Two things honestly – first was the success of Bargaineering far exceeding any of my expectations. The fact that it would be worth millions of dollars still boggles my mind.
Also, Wallet Hacks is more popular than Bargaineering ever was and it’s only two and a half years old. The internet is bigger now, with easier ways of getting traffic, and the blogging community is far larger… so it all makes sense, but it’s kind of fun to “do it all over again.” I’m surprised I could start a new personal finance blog and not have it be crickets.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you have you given yourself back when you started Bargaineering?
Enjoy the ride more. The experience ended with me, at 30, holding a bag of money of a size I’d never thought I’d earn in a lifetime.
And finally, to all of our readers who want to start their own side hustle as a digital entrepreneur like you, what advice would you give them?
Start it right now and learn as much as you can. I needed a writing tutor to help me score high enough on the SAT II Writing exam so I could get into college. I write for a living now. You never know what can happen so just go for it… even if your first thing fails, it’s a testing ground for your next thing and next thing until you hit a success.
Sound advice from a entrepreneur who built up his site and sold it for millions. Have you ever wanted to side gig? What’s your biggest obstacle? Do you have any questions for Jim? Chime in below!
Want to find out more about Jim? Visit his blog Wallet Hacks where he shares tips on demystifies money, shares life hacking tips, and talks about passive income streams.
You can read his top 3 posts here:
Announcement: Starting this week, we will be temporarily stepping back from posting 3 times week to twice a week (Mondays and Fridays) to focus on writing our book. Wanderer will continue writing investment posts on alternating Mondays and the “Reader Cases” and “Let’s go Exploring!” travel series will continue on Fridays. See you on Friday and thanks again for reading and being a part of this wonderful community!
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