Getting Rich Slowly: Interview with JD Roth

By Andrea Karim on 25 October 2007 (Updated 10 May 2009) 9 comments

JD Roth is a familiar face in the world of personal finance blogging. He started his site, Get Rich Slowly, in 2005, writing about his own experiences in trying to build personal wealth without gimmicks. He has since developed a loyal following readership, and has continued to build his site around personal finance. I asked JD to tell us a little about his personal transformation into a money-wise, financially-savvy blogger.

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You write one of the most popular personal finance blogs on the internet. What do you think it is about your content that people respond to so positively?

I think there are several things at work here. First, I'm just an average guy. I'm not some financial guru. I wasn't born to wealth. My family was poor, and I made things worse by making stupid mistakes when I was a young adult. I've been where a lot of my readers are now. People can relate to my journey.

Also, I tend to write about a variety of subjects. If I were writing about the best credit card deals and high-interest savings accounts all day, it would bore me to tears. Don't get me wrong, there's a place for sites like that, but I couldn't write one. I think people like seeing personal finance covered from a variety of angles.

Finally, I've been fortunate to pick up a large readership, one that includes some great folks with interesting financial experiences. I'm very open to sharing reader stories on my site. If somebody makes a great comment on a post, I will sometimes work with the author to turn it into an actual article. I field reader questions. I accept guest posts. I think all of these things help foster a community of like-minded people.

Oh yeah -- I like to think that I write well. Maybe I'm fooling myself, but I work hard to be a clear, effective communicator. That helps.

Are you actually rich? Do you believe that you, personally, know what it takes to accumulate wealth? In other words, what makes you so special, finance-wise?

Ha!

Okay, maybe that's not a funny question. My first reaction is, "No way! I'm not rich!" But when I think about it, maybe I am. Certainly I am when compared to most of the world. But to answer the question I think you're asking:

Before starting Get Rich Slowly, I was an average middle-class guy struggling to make ends meet. I was living paycheck-to-paycheck. As I mentioned before, I was raised in a poor family. Through hard work and good fortune, I've managed to create a firmly middle-class life for myself. I was raised poor, have lived middle-class, and am working toward becoming rich.

Do I know what it takes to accumulate wealth? I don't know. I'm *learning* what it takes to accumulate wealth. I can see positive results in my own life that have come from following the advice I preach. I think what makes me special finance-wise is that I'm an average guy struggling to reach the same destination that my readers are trying to reach. I'm experimenting with things as I go along. I'm sharing my results.

By the way, one thing I feel that I don't convey strongly enough at GRS is that *entrepreneurship is awesome*. If you have a talent or skill, brainstorm ways that it can produce income for you. Start a side business. This is one of the best ways to pursue wealth, yet I'd guess 95% of people completely ignore the suggestion to look into entrepreneurship. They think it's not for them. That's too bad. I think it's for everyone...

OK, OK. So being "rich" isn't just about being wealthy, but everyone's definition of "rich" is a little different. How would you define it for yourself?

This is something I've been struggling with lately. Now that I'm nearly debt free, I'm preparing to set other financial goals. But what will they be? Do I really want to be "rich"? And what do I mean by that?

In the past, I always thought that a person with a big house and a fancy car was rich. Now I understand that material wealth just means a person spends a lot. They may or may not be wealthy. Aside from a few things -- a MINI Cooper, for example -- I don't really covet material goods anymore. Instead, I value time, both alone and with friends. So, for me "rich" now means freedom to do what I want.

Do you still have a day job, or are you blogging full-time?

Ah, what a deep question. You probably thought it was innocuous, didn't you? :)

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

The answer is yes and yes. That is, I do have a day job, and I do blog full time. You do the math. It's not a pretty picture. Actually, I do have a timeline to begin cutting back at the day job. Beginning 01 Jan 2008, I'm dropping to 29 hours a week. This is a scary move for me -- the day job is a Sure Thing, you know? But GRS is producing enough income now that I can cut back at the day job and not feel the pinch so sharply. And by cutting back, I'll be able to have large uninterrupted blocks of time to write. Large uninterrupted blocks of time are golden.

You mentioned being raised poor. How do you think your upbringing influenced your financial habits, if it did at all?

It had a *huge* impact. Because we didn't have much, I grew up as a hoarder. I wanted to keep everything I could get. When I got older and had access to credit, I felt like I had to buy anything I wanted. On some level, I guess I thought that if I *didn't* buy the things I wanted, I might not be able to later. Speaking with other folks who were raised poor, many have had similar reactions. Unfortunately, we don't realize we're doing this until it's too late, and we're up to our eyeballs in debt.

Looking back, I can see that part of the reason we were poor is because my parents were spenders. It's true that my family had a low income, but my parents did nothing to keep what little money they earned. My father bought all sorts of toys -- boats, airplanes -- and then had to sell them when he couldn't afford payments.

Being raised poor warped my concept of money, I think.

What was it that caused you to decide to make a change from the paycheck-to-paycheck existence?

The answer to this is complex.

In 1998, it looked like my wife and I might move across the country so that she could go back to school. When I looked at my financial situation, though, I realized that this would put me in a terrible bind. I had too much debt. This prompted me to cut up my credit cards.

I carried that debt for a long time, making minimum payments, etc. Eventually I converted the debt to a home equity loan. This reduced the payments and gave the debt a finite horizon -- in ten years it would be paid off. Though I no longer accumulated credit card debt, I still found ways to spend. I took out private loans. I spent everything in my paycheck (and sometimes more).

Finally, about three years ago I read Your Money or Your Life, and then The Total Money Makeover. These two books were wake-up calls. I sat down and drew up a plan to get out of debt. For a year or so, I just fumbled around. I made some progress, but not as much as I'd hoped. Then, in the spring of 2006, I read a couple of other personal finance books. As PF books, they're not much, but at the time, they spurred me to action. Now, eighteen months later, I'm nearly debt free.

So, there wasn't any one thing that made me change from a paycheck-to-paycheck existence.

What was the best financial move you made to transition from someone who was struggling to make ends meet to someone who is financially solvent?

This is a tough question. There are a couple of good answers.

First, I began to educate myself. I read books about personal finance. I read magazines. Second, I implemented Dave Ramsey's "debt snowball". Finally, I started Get Rich Slowly.

Regarding entrepreneurship, do you have a single piece of advice that you would offer people who are thinking of starting a business on the side?

Take the leap! Starting a side business is scary. You're not sure what to do. But you learn as you go. It's a risky thing, but risk brings reward. If you have something you're passionate about, begin making small steps toward turning it into a money-making venture. Do one thing every day to lead you toward that goal. Don't be scared. Ask questions. Have fun!

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Myscha Theriault's picture

It's so great when the people we interview are willing to "spill it" with honesty as to their own situation and background. It really helps readers relate.

Guest's picture

I'm a big reader of GRS. Thanks, Andrea, for doing this interview. It gives some more background to reading the site. :-)

Andrea Karim's picture

I think one of the reasons that JD's blog is so popular is that he's a very open person - he's willing to share his own experiences and techniques. It's very refreshing.

Guest's picture
Andy

Great Article - it is inspiring to hear the story and motivates me to continue developing my pf blog.

Andy.

Guest's picture

Hey I really enjoyed the post. I always enjoy reading about the experiences of other personal finance bloggers.

I've always wanted to know if he blogged full time or whether he had a full time job. I haven't been able to ever determine what his full time job was but I suspect it's not in a work intensive field or he wouldn't be able to blog so frequently.

Does anybody know what JD's full time job is? Just a curious critter :)

-Raymond

Will Chen's picture

JD is a great guy.  I think the key to his success (besides his awesome writing skills) is his ability to relate to his readers and draw out their personal stories.  When I read GRS I always feel like I'm learning from a friend as opposed to some distant guru who might pass judgment on me. 

Thanks for the interview Andrea! 

Andrea Karim's picture

There are some other great interviews with JD out there that touch on other issues - here are a couple that I enjoyed.

http://www.recommendedwebtools.com/index.php/535/site-profile-interview-...

http://zenhabits.net/2007/03/golden-goals-series-secrets-to-success/

I don't actually know what JD's job is - maybe he'll stop by and share. The great thing about JD is that he is able to communicate in a professional but inviting manner. He's open about his life experiences without being overly sentimental. Also, he's simply a great writer, and he works very hard at it.

Guest's picture

Thanks for the interview, Andrea. It was fun!

Funny y'all should mention my job. I just wrote a small piece on it for late next week. Meanwhile, I'm hoping to write a BIG piece for this Sunday.

My family owns a small box-manufacturing company in rural Oregon. I'm the sales force. I don't like being the sales force. I've always hated this job, not because I hate my family, but because it isn't fulfilling. (Plus I don't feel like I'm good at it — I like work in which I can excel.)

I tried to leave the business about a decade ago. For a year, I took computer programming classes at local colleges. I earned the equivalent of a computer science minor. I managed to get hired for two programming jobs, and wouldn't you know it? I didn't like those, either. (Actually, I *did* like one of the programming jobs, but the other was very Dilbert-like, if you get my drift.)

I left programming and returned to the box factory. Now, though, as I will describe in my upcoming entry, I'm going to make the transition to #gasp# full-time blogger...

Andrea Karim's picture

*blushing*

I did know what your job was, but I was under the impression that I had read about it through an interview that someone else did, and when I couldn't find it, I felt like perhaps I shouldn't say anything about it. :)

Thanks for participating, JD. It was fun to learn about what you do.