Personal Finance 

PFB Spotlight: It’s Your Money – Money Musings

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Ever wonder about the guy behind Its Your Money and My Money Musings? Well, his name is Michael and he’s given us the opportunity to really get to know him. He describes his perspective as “one in two-billion” (which I think means there are two or three other people just like him) and he has been very generous in sharing his thoughts on all the questions. Please don’t let the length of this article scare you off, it’s worth reading and learning about Michael, his website, and his popular blog.

This is the second article in the Personal Finance Blogger Spotlight series where I will get the opportunity to interview some up and coming personal finance bloggers as well as old favorites and “veterans.”

jim: Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
Michael: Well, during the day, I’m a mild-mannered warranty administrator in a car dealership service department. If I ever actually had an “intended career path,” this wasn’t it. However, I was ridiculously lucky, as I stumbled into the position thanks to an unbelievable manager who became a great friend and motivator. I will say that the job appeals to my detail-oriented side, allows me to explore the accounting aspects of business, and has rewarded me well financially. (Which I never expected, to be honest.)

My wife, 3yo daughter, and I live in Norman, Oklahoma. I attended (and racked up $20k+ in student-loan debt from) the University of Oklahoma. In late 2002, my wife, Lisa, left her job as an optometrist’s office manager to take up the much-tougher position of SAHM (stay at home mom). We’re rather proud that this was even financially possible. I consider it a testament to the power of budgeting and financial planning.

jim: Why did you settle down in Norman, Oklahoma?
Michael: I came to Norman in 1989 to attend the University of Oklahoma. I liked the town, made a lot of friends, and sort of stumbled through school … and into a nice career.
jim: What kind of car do you drive, when’d you get it, and how long do you plan to drive it?
Michael: We own three vehicles, actually, and I’ve talked about them several times on my site. We bought our ’95 Honda Accord and our ’95 Nissan truck in 1996. We also have a ’67 Mustang — it was my wife’s first car, and we just can’t bear to part with it. That car’s almost 40 years old, and it still starts and runs dependably. Amazing.

As for the Accord and the Nissan, they’ve been fabulous cars. No problems to speak of, other than a starter replacement on the Accord this past year. As of right now, I plan to drive them into the ground. I’m not much into “Status-Mobiles.” The best car on the road, I figure, is the paid-for car.

That, at least, is what 10 years in the auto-service biz has taught me.

jim: When and why did you start a blog?
Michael: It’s hard for me to pinpoint an exact date, really. The blog part (“Money Musings”) of my site has its first entry in early April of 2002. I think I started the entire, more-educational and self-motivational part (“It’s Your Money!”) a little after that. That would be why there’s a multiyear gap in my blog posts from 2002 to late 2004 — I wanted the educational part of the site to be not quite so bloggish. Plus I wanted to try my hand at simple web design, and learn and play with more aspects of it than a strict use of Blogger would allow.

As far as the “why,” I can sum it up in one word: fear.

In early 2002, Lisa and I were both ~30 years old. We found out we were going to become Mommy and Daddy. This exalted the grandparents and terrified me. I cringed at the prospect of parenting itself, but I was also frightened at the ideas of (1) losing Lisa’s income, at least temporarily; (2) adding unimaginable Baby Expenses to the monthly bills; and (3) having earned a fair yearly household income for the prior three or four years – WITHOUT a kid in tow – and still seeing my credit-card balances march upward in spite of it.

That last nugget, perhaps, was what scared me the most.

At the time, I wasn’t entirely new to the world of finance. I’d been running an investment club since 1997, fascinated by the stock market and learning as much about it as I could. I’d also been dutifully socking away money in my 401k since that same year. My investing/trading skills were okay. I’d been able to turn per-month investments of ~$25 to ~$100 into a decent sum of money by early 2002. Our net worth wasn’t negative, but we were still burdened by debts that weren’t really diminishing.

(Coincidentally, I’d learned to “read” stock charts to a passable level, and actually made much more money shorting stocks in the bear market of 2000-2003 than I did in the bull market from 1997 to 2000. Looking back, I think this experience – watching the calamitous drop in tech stocks, I mean, and how it decimated people’s savings and shoved so many of them into such absolute denial – made me much more receptive to the idea of nixing my debt and stockpiling cash “for a rainy day.”)

So the prospect of parenthood pushed me over a particular edge. My mindset morphed from one of “investor/trader” to one of “debt demolisher.” I began budgeting and planning our spending on a monthly basis. I worked a debt-paydown plan and threw whatever money I could at our debts. (Student loans and credit cards, mostly. Our cars were already paid off.) I pulled my investment money out of the brokerages, put it toward debts, and relegated my trading to the way-back burner.

I only wish that I would’ve turned that corner much sooner. It would have lessened my personal stress-levels a great deal.

jim: What would you say makes your perspective unique?
Michael: When you get down to it, everyone’s perspective is unique. I would say that this is especially true when it comes to money, because money encompasses so many things. It affects our rational selves and our emotional selves – often at the same time. The way we view, treat, and spend our money make it a true “window to the soul.” And everyone’s soul is unique.

As a really smart person once said – and a stock-trading guru told me – “Lessons are repeated until they are learned.” My perspective on money always seems to gravitate back to that truism. I’ve watched friends, coworkers, family members, and goodness-knows-who-else repeat the same mistakes again and again. My parents struggled with money; most of my friends struggle with money; most of my coworkers struggle with money. I suspect most financial bloggers have experienced much the same. Otherwise, why make all the effort to go the right way down a one-way street and advertise that fact while most of our consumer culture is speeding headlong the opposite direction?

In the end, it isn’t enough to try to learn from our missteps and those of our cohorts. We must go even farther. We must put those mistakes to good use.

jim: What’s your favorite personal finance book and why?
Michael: If someone put a gun to my head, I’d probably select Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin’s Your Money or Your Life. It wasn’t the first personal-finance book I read, or even the second. But it was the first personal-finance book I believed.

Every time I go back and reread parts of it, I’m staggered at how on-target it is. In the hands of a receptive soul, that book is a life-changer.

jim: Which of your posts do you think are must reads?
Michael: You know, I don’t really think of my writing like that. When I think of ‘must read’ work, I think about books that others have written – I don’t think of my stuff at all. I’m just another voice out there. I write about this stuff because it fascinates me, because it motivates me to do with my money what I know is right. Beyond that, I get great joy from writing and building something that I think can be of value to others. I’ve received great emails and guestbook entries from Mary Hunt (author of Cheapskate Monthly and Debtproof Living, among others) and Jerrold Mundis (How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously, and I’d be lying if I said their comments didn’t put me on Cloud Nine. But even better than that are the emails and guestbook entries I’ve received from readers (although I had to remove the guestbook when I changed hosting companies this year) who found value in my work at IYM. It’s a really tremendous feeling, and absolutely inspirational, when someone tells you your creation helped improve their life. That’s when you know the time you put in has been completely worth it.
jim: What financial “mistake” bothers you the most?
Michael: I consider myself a fairly intelligent guy, but despite whatever knowledge I’d picked up in my younger days, I still let credit cards get the best of me. I racked up $10,000 on my plastic without any household emergencies to speak of. It was all “stupid debt,” as Mary Hunt would say, and it took years to accumulate.

I’m not real proud of using “excess” student loan funds to buy things like stereo speakers in the early 1990s, either. My wife still reminds me of THAT stupid decision at least once per month.

jim: What was your best financial decision to date?
Michael: Easy: Deciding that debt freedom would be worth whatever effort it required. It absolutely was. (Deciding to create and use monthly budgets would come in a close second.)
jim: What is your favorite personal finance blog and why?
Michael: Right now there are 71 feeds in my Bloglines reader, and there are probably lots more I haven’t gotten around to adding. I will say that I’m consistently amazed at all the great content that personal-finance bloggers are putting out there. I wish I’d have had the opportunity to read all this stuff, to get the unbelievable kind of on-request information and feedback that the internet has made so common, when I was in my early 20s.

As for my favorite blog, a coin flip tells me it’s Jonathan with My Money Blog. I’ve siphoned tons of info from that site. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Flexo and his Consumerism Commentary, I think, because I just get a kick out of his writing. I really like what I’m reading from Free Money Finance and, of course, your Blueprint for Financial Security. JLP’s All Things Financial is an absolute gem, too. I wouldn’t miss a post from any of this group. Plus, I think that as more and more finance bloggers come online, they’ll have a great base to build from as well as some pretty tall heights to surpass. Some great writing has paved the way.

jim: If your blog ended today, how would you like people to remember it?
Michael: The blog part of my site is pretty secondary, I think. It’s great for giving me a sounding board, and maybe letting me spout off about the seriously screwed-up world we live in, but I can’t say it’s been much for adding true value. Quite a bit of Money Musings has been just a notch above fluff. That’s honestly how I feel.

The original part of IYM – the educational side – that’s what I’m most proud of. If I fell off the face of the planet today, I’d at least know that my work there helped some folks turn their money situations around. Maybe it encouraged someone to pick up a book or two, and from there they took another step toward some sort of financial control. I think about the reader comments I’ve gotten, reread my old guestbook, and I feel like I “done good.” Like maybe I gave a little back to the world.

jim: So what did your daughter dress up as for Halloween this year? Or is she still too young for that? (She’s close to being or just turned 3 right?)
Michael: My little munchkin toddled around as a ladybug. And you’re right about the age — she’ll be 3 this month. Her grandmother hand-made the outfit, as Grandmas are apt to do, and it made for some great and memorable pics. Honestly, I think Jess (our daughter) had more fun handing out candy to all the neighborhood kids than she did trick-or-treating.

There’s nothing quite like being there to see your kid experience moments like Halloween and Christmas when those things are still “new” to her. It doesn’t take long to figure out that they call ’em “The Wonder Years” for a reason.

I’ll say this: Managing your money successfully is nice, but it sure doesn’t beat seeing a glint of honest joy in your toddler’s blue eyes. I imagine most parents would tell you: We’d give up all the blogs in the world for that.

My Money Musings, PFBlogger Spotlight, interview

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