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PFBlogger Spotlight: Trent of The Simple Dollar

If you’ve been reading personal finance blogs for any stretch of time, chances are you’ve read Trent Hamm’s work over at The Simple Dollar [3]. Trent bills his site out as “financial talk for the rest of us,” meaning it’s personal finance advice from a regular Joe to the rest of us regular Joes. While much of his personality comes through in his writing, there’s nothing like direct questions and direct answers to really help you understand where someone is coming from.

jim: Hi Trent, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Trent: Well, my name is Trent Hamm. I live in rural Iowa with my wife and two young children, aged two and one. We live on the outskirts of a fairly small town. Up until March, I worked for a research organization doing computer programming that supported a large collection of data. Since then, I’ve been writing full time, mostly about personal finance.
jim: What motivated you to begin blogging and how long have you been doing it?
Trent: I’ve been a high-volume writer since I was in seventh grade. I’ve kept a journal each day of my life since I was twelve years old with each entry being at least a thousand words, with only a few days missing. It’s really something to read through those old entries now.

Because of this desire and ability to write so much, blogging made sense. I’ve attempted blogging in the past, most notably with a parenting blog in 2005, but none of them really clicked. My parenting blog was doing quite well, actually, but I was uncomfortable with some of the direct personal attacks made towards my son, so I decided to stop that blog.

jim: Do you ever look back and read your entries and marvel at how you’ve changed through the years. I bet a journal entry I wrote when I was 12 would really put things in perspective for me. Just the other day, I found a list of goals my wife made in high school… I framed it and put it on the dresser to remind the both of us what was important for her then.
Trent: That’s why I enjoy it so much. Several years ago, I digitized the whole thing, so when I sit at my computer, I can access any of the entries I want. Sometimes I get lost in reading that stuff. I actually enjoy reading the earliest stuff the most, because I can see the elements of the adult I was to become starting to form.
jim: What makes your perspective unique?
Trent: I think one of the big attractions is that I am very open with my mistakes. I don’t try to present myself as any sort of expert. I mess up with personal finance all the time, and I talk about those mistakes. I think people can identify with the humanity and mistakes of others much more than they can identify with “experts” who just tell people what to do.
jim: What do you think of experts like Suze Orman, Robert Kiyosaki or Dave Ramsey?
Trent: I feel indifference to most experts. They’re filling a role – some people want an “expert” to tell them what to do. As long as their advice is reasonable, I don’t mind. I don’t like it, though, when I see advice from an “expert” that I find suspect – for example, I found a lot to object to in “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” particularly with his disdain for people who choose to work a nine to five job.
jim: What are your favorite personal finance books?
Trent: My favorite of all time is Your Money or Your Life. That was the book that turned things around for me. It’s the most well-rounded explanation of the connection between money and how individuals choose to live their lives that I’ve ever read.

My go-to book for investing insight is The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing. I also have a very dog-eared copy of The Complete Tightwad Gazette and I’m attempting to collect the old newsletters as well.

jim: Can you give an example of something you learned from Your Money or Your Life that someone could take with them today and make an impact on their own life?
Trent: The piece of that book that really shook me up was the idea that most of the unnecessary purchases that I was making had diminishing returns. I would get a lot of enjoyment out of one stop at the coffee shop every once in a while, but when I started doing it every day, I didn’t really enjoy it any more. It went from treat to habit. The baseline behavior in your life – a truly normal day – should be very cheap. Then, when you do extra things, they authentically feel like treats and add a lot of pleasure to your life.
jim: What’s something no one else in the blogging world knows about you?
Trent: I’m very involved with politics. I try very, very hard to keep that out of The Simple Dollar, but on rare occasion politics slip in the door. I actually hope to run for the state legislature in Iowa at some point.
jim: I have seen you mention getting involved in local politics as one of your goals, I’ve considered getting involved in politics in my area as well but just haven’t put forth the effort, what sorts of things are you participating in?
Trent: I’ve been a member of a local church for a while and recently ran for the church council and was elected, and I intend to run for president of the council in the future. I attend city council meetings and school board meetings and try to make it to community events, and when I do, I talk to people and get to know them. I also volunteer to help out with events. Doing these things over a period of time eventually builds you a reputation in the community, one which can be the basis of a political career.
jim: What posts on your blog should all visitors read?
Trent: If you read nothing else, read the five business cards post [4].
jim: What’s the biggest financial “mistake” you’ve ever made? (or regret you have)
Trent: My big mistake was letting lots of little mistakes add up until they became devastating, as I wrote about here – The Road to Financial Armageddon #8: Meltdown [5].

I made a habit out of poor spending choices and avoided planning for the future. Eventually, it caught up to me.

jim: What’s the best financial decision you’ve ever made?
Trent: My best decision was to start talking about money with my wife and get her involved with things. We became each other’s cheerleaders, pushing each other to make good financial decisions instead of subtly encouraging each other to spend frivolously. We shared goals and made plans together, instead of wandering in the dark apart..
jim: What is your favorite personal finance blog and why?
Trent: It changes all the time. I tend to discover a good blog, get excited about it, read through the archives, follow it faithfully for a while, then eventually move on to another voice. One recent blog I’ve enjoyed doing this with is Frugal Dad [6].
jim: What are your favorite non-personal finance blog and why?
Trent: Seth Godin’s blog [7] – because he is amazingly good at expressing challenging ideas in bite-sized nuggets.

101 Cookbooks [8] – my favorite food blog, and I actually follow more food blogs than personal finance blogs!

Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish [9] – my favorite political blog. He’s succinct and has no strong political affiliation – he’s ostensibly a Log Cabin Republican, but often comes off as very centrist.

jim: What do you hope to accomplish in the next year?
Trent: I want to be a good father and a good husband. For me, everything else I do is secondary to this. My secondary goals mostly revolve around writing compelling posts – most of my goals involving The Simple Dollar are centered on the feedback I get from readers through comments and email. Basically, the more of that I get, the more of a success I view The Simple Dollar to be.
jim: If your blog ended today, how would you like people to remember it?
Trent: I’d be fine if most of my readers forgot about it, actually. My blog only matters in terms of the positive change it’s brought to people’s lives, convincing some people to take that big step to turn their money around. My blog can end, but if that behavior persists, then I actually *did* something.

If you want to read more about Trent, head over to The Simple Dollar [10], and subscribe to his RSS feed [11]!