A few weeks ago I thought that it might be cool to just make my personal financial data public on this blog. I think it’s really silly that our society tends to have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to money. I don’t know who benefits from that.
Seriously, I’ve never been given a good, logical explanation as to why we don’t talk about it openly. It’s just something you don’t do. “But why don’t you do it?” I ask. “Because you DON’T.” conventional view.
So I decided to reject the secrecy premise and am trying super transparency. This post is my life with money up until now as best as I can recall it. I didn’t keep very good records prior to 2013 so some numbers are approximations. All the of the approximations are on really small amounts, so I’m not missing much.
Moving forward, I’ll be sharing as much as I can about money. Specifically, MY money. How I earn it. How I use it. My habits. My beliefs. My experiments. My data.
My hope is that getting a behind the scenes peak of how one dude (me) does what I do will provide valuable knowledge for anyone that wants to take the time to go through it. If you like it, share it, that’s my only request. This post should be read primarily as entertainment and/or cautionary tale.
Short version: I grew up really really poor, but it wasn’t so bad. I’m less poor now, for the time being.
Aspiring To The Poverty Line
I grew up in Hastings, Michigan. My parents divorced when I was 10 and I was raised by my mom the rest of the time. Even before the divorce there was never much money, but dad worked. After the divorce there was less.
How much less? My mom worked in a grocery store deli at just about minimum wage to support me, my two sisters, my older brother for a brief time (he aged out), and my nephew (he was born in). The total household income from her work was usually under $1,000/month.
$12,000/year for a household of 5 is not a lot.
If we’d hit the poverty line (around $27,000/year) we’d have been rich.
If you meet me in real life and hear me talk about this you’ll never hear any complaints in my voice. I enjoyed my childhood. It was fun. I wouldn’t change anything.
I was raised in a conservative christian household until age 10. Then it gradually melted away over the next 5-6 years and became a poverty stricken, more godless, liberal household. We had a bridge card (food stamps). I ate free lunch at school. This is where I came from.
We used to go to Mcdonalds for dinner. We were all able to get 1 item off the dollar menu, and we would split a large drink as a family.
There were no rich older relatives. No waiting it out until one day salvation came. No insurance. No plans. It just was what it was and that’s all we knew.
Still, it was overwhelmingly good. We had friends, some were doing better, some were the same, a few might have been worse off financially. I never really went hungry. We had lots of people that would happily help when we really needed it. And plenty of people that would offer to help just out of genuine generosity. It wasn’t too bad. This is probably where I got my philosophy that “people are overwhelmingly really really good.”
The Evolution Of My Hustle
Money. That was always the thing. We didn’t have any problems that couldn’t be fixed by just a little bit more money, or so we thought. Not a ton of money, mind you. We weren’t greedy. Just enough to pay the electric bill this month, maybe?
I remember the pain and frustration my mom went through with money. Always doing her best, and it never being enough. No ladder to climb, just trying to stay above water. Rarely managing to get a breath in.
At age 10, my endeavors into entrepreneurship began, shortly after my parents split up. I’d gotten good at a little math already and I knew that if mommy makes $X and all the money we need is $Y and $Y > $X, then there is a problem. Math is a useful tool.
I had to get to work.
My first hustle (age 10): Selling candy out of my locker at school. 100%+ markup, bitches. I probably cleared about $150-200/month with this operation, straight profit. Until I got shut down by the principal. Down and out at age 10, I thought my life was over, this was the only idea I had that could work!
Bouncing back (age 11): My next hustle was burning pirated music (downloaded at 7-12 kbps off of Limewire) onto CDs and selling them for $5/piece. This was more work and required a higher level of sophistication than the candy gig (the candy sold itself). But after I got a few successful clients, repeat business was common, and word of mouth helped drive sales. Still I probably never made more than $50-60/month doing this. It gave me a tiny bit of Mcdonald’s money from age 11-12. Then MP3 players started to existed and I became obsolete.
Pivoting: Capitalizing on a trend. In 2004 this thing called Livestrong bracelets happened. It was all the rage. Everyone had to have one (or else you loved cancer and wanted everyone with cancer to die). But they were scarce for a minute. Most places like Finish Line would always be out of them because people were buying them up faster than they could deliver them.
So I ordered 100 similar, non livestrong, bracelets off of ebay. They said things like support the troops, peace, and other dumb B.S, feel good words. I sold them for $5/piece. $10 if I didn’t like the person. and made over $500 in about 2 weeks. At 14, I was making it.
And then Poker happened. Poker was awesome. It sustained me, drove me crazy, made me rich, kept me poor, made me smart. It allowed me to sometimes have a pocket full of money through out high school. Other times it didn’t and I had none.
I had a few other little things here and there from age 16-18, nothing that really made any money though.
I never really had more than $1500, ever. And the $1500 was a result of winning a poker tournament (for that amount). It was back to zero within a few months. The vast majority of the time I had no money, or less than $100.
I am still not rich today. Depending on who you ask. I mean, I’m sure I’m in the top 1% of the world because, America, and all that. But “having money” is a relatively new thing for me, and I don’t have a lot.
But I think I will have a ton. I expect that I’ll be fantastically wealthy and rich and successful and awesome. And when I do, I expect I’ll be treated like a rich person. And I don’t know how I feel about that.
That’s why I decided to write this now, for my own sake, I want to show where I’ve been, where I’m at, and where I think I’m going. I want to show how I’ve done it, how I’m doing it now, and how I plan to do it in the future. The issue of how I do it seems crucial. It will hopefully have things anyone can copy and create their own results with.
I have a few more years of data to cover though, so let’s get to it. Age 18 to the present. There are lots of fun stories from this time period, which will no doubt be covered someday. I’m going to try and keep this under 5,000 words though.
2008: The Year I Knew Everything (age 18)
This is when I graduated high school (spring of 2008) and began going to Grand Rapids Community College (fall of 2008). I moved to Grand Rapids a week after I graduated H.S. I had a job for 4 days at a factory, 3rd shift. During days 3 and 4 listened to the Four Hour Work Week audiobook. On day 4 I quit, my first and only “real job.” I’d decided I was going to be an entrepreneur and that was that. Now I knew how thanks to Tim Ferriss, so it would be easy.
I was able to get by using student loan and Pell grant money most of the time, and a little bit of poker income. Things were tight, but my monthly expenses were only about $700-800/month.
I also interned at a real estate investing company (for free) the summer before college started. It was my entrepreneurial plan. I learned the ins and outs of that business, knowledge I may use later in life. Summer of 2008, in Michigan, turned out not to be an ideal time to be jumping into real estate. But being present for that crash was the most valuable learning experience that I could ever observe. I didn’t have any skin in the game, so no loss for me, only lessons.
2009: The Year I Still Knew Everything (age 19)
2nd year of college. Failing classes. Still scraping by, only not as well. Briefly sold weed. Still played poker some but was not really making money. Tough year. Lights were shut off a few times. Gas was shut off a few times. It sucked. But it was fun too.
I was so frickin arrogant this year. I don’t know why. The unreasonable confidence of youth perhaps. I’d eat a lot of shit this year. And after every bite I’d blame the world, because the world just didn’t recognize yet. But they would, and then I’d show them.
I’d show them all.
2010: The Year I Still Knew Everything And Was Getting Frustrated That The Rest Of The World Still Didn’t Recognize.
I dropout of college before my 2nd year ends. This is a cool story that I’ll tell one day. I pack up the little that I own and with my friend move from Michigan to Wilmington, NC. No plans besides, “living there.”I hope to get laid while living there but that doesn’t pan out.
We arrive in town on our last dollar, get the apartment that we’d prepaid for and get to work. It would be another 5 months of eating shit before Pandora Modeling would be born. By the end of the year it had began. It wasn’t making any money really, but it was sort of starting to exist. There was a website. I’d found a few models. I was easily pulling in gross revenues of $20 per week (net profit, $0 | personal income, $0).
As soon as Pandora was conceived I knew it would be the one. The idea that worked out for me. Foresight was 20/20. I’d watched how another company operated first hand (as a friend worked for one back in Michigan). I didn’t think the owner of the company had much business acumen. I doubted he’d even read the 4 Hour Work Week. So I knew I could do better. I surveyed the rest of the industry and found a lot of companies that were mirror images of him and of each other. They all sucked.
The numbers worked in my head. I believed in it. And I’d ate enough shit to know that I was going to make it work or die. When you really feel that in your soul, you tend to succeed. Or else you die, which then makes everything irrelevant as far as your concerned.
Pandora’s Total Sales – 2010: $2,765.10
Personal Income (pre-tax): $6,000. (0 from Pandora, a little bit from poker and student loans).
2011: The Year I Started To Crack. (age 21)
This year I was sustained via touch and go traction with Pandora and any crazy possible hustling I could figure out to make money on the side.
By touch and go I mean that some months I’d make a little bit of money and feel great. Other months I’d make nothing and feel bad.
In the fall of 2011 I attended a summit in Jamaica which was full of people from the company I worked with (and my competitors) and models. I decide every competitor is slobs and reaffirm my determination to takeover the industry, with hostility. Also this year I experience cocaine, excessive binge drinking, and all around misery/joy for a year.
I lost my religion in 2011. That was a great experience. It made me question whether or not it was possible that I didn’t actually know everything already. That experience was the rock hitting the windshield.
Pandora’s Total Sales – 2011: $240,000
Personal Income (pre-tax): ~$7,000.
2012: The Year I Shattered (age 22)
By January 1, 2012 I knew my time in Wilmington had to come to an end. I didn’t think I could survive another year. I started looking into where else to go, ruling Michigan out (as going home would have felt like failure to me). I settled on Thailand. Pandora is starting to get real traction and I can squeeze out $1,200-1500/month (in the form of a few thousand dollars sporadically available every few months). I buy a one way ticket to Thailand for March (when my lease ends), wrap up my affairs in Wilmington and hop on the plane. It is the scariest/most fun thing that I have ever done in my life. I spend the next 3 months in southeast Asia, living like a king. I continue work on Pandora from abroad and my newfound joy overseas makes me a more compelling entrepreneur. Business grows. I like this whole earning dollars while spending baht lifestyle.
The only problem is I hate my life. I became super depressed really fast in Thailand. i was lonely. I didn’t have any friends. And I’d accomplished everything I set out to, really quickly (I aimed low), and didn’t enjoy any of it. Beautiful tropical beaches, beautiful thai girls, cheap delicious food. None of it meant anything. None of it made me happy. I went into a deep rut for about a month. A super dark and depraved place.
This experience was the rest of the windshield exploding on the highway because of the tiny crack. I lost everything in that rut. Nothing external, just internal, which it turns out is what really mattered. I kicked out the windshield and tossed everything out. Clean slate. Starting over. I consciously let go of all of my beliefs, seriously all of them. I had a clear view for the first time ever.
I was at zero gravity. I set the intention to learn, and never stop learning, and only accept what reality demonstrates to me to work. I begin questioning everything more intensely, asking how and why.
About a month after this revelation a friend sent me this video of a speech Johnny gave. It blew my mind open. I watched it probably 10 times in a week.
In late July I head back to the states, refreshed and ready to conquer the world.
I spend a month in California with my brother. Then I received news that my best friend (the guy that had moved to Wilmington with me) had been in a bad car accident back in Michigan. I get a flight to Wilmington, pick up my vehicle (which I’d left stored there) and drive to Michigan. We spend the rest of the year hanging out and B.Sing as I push him around in a wheelchair. I live in Grand Rapids again in the same apartment building I started out in. Pandora continues doing OK, and I work on it everyday, it feels like a real business now. I don’t have a steady income yet. But I can see a future where a steady income feels likely. I’m almost there.
Pandora’s Total Sales – 2012: $529,000
Personal Income (pre-tax): I’d guess around $10,000 maybe. (Note: At this point in life I had still never filed income taxes).
2013: The Year I Knew Very Little (age 23)
In January, I attend a workshop in Las Vegas, NV put on by Johnny Soporno.The opportunity 5 months after seeing his video for the first time to meet the man in person and to learn from him for a week straight was a real treat. It felt like destiny.
Subject: Successfulness. The event irrevocably changes the way I live and my life & business reap amazing benefits.
I spend another 4 months in Thailand this year and focus a ton of energy on growing my business, using things I’d learned at Johnny’s event.
I come back to the states in June for the World Series of Poker (no bracelets), a company meetup, and because I wanted to. After 1 month in the Las Vegas summer heat, I bail and go to Medellin, Colombia. I spend 2 weeks there. Then I go back to Wilmington and spend 6 weeks. I meet a girl and we move to Las Vegas together. The rest of the year proceeds smoothly enough as I recall.
Pandora’s Total Sales – 2013: $1,936,000 (thanks Johnny)
Personal Income (pre-tax): $28,000.
This is/was actually a fortune for me. By the end of the year things were starting to go pretty well and I was able to actually start paying myself every 2 weeks, I’d never had that before. It was an amazing accomplishment. So I was pretty stoked going into the later part of the year. I finally file taxes for the first time (9 months late).
2014:The Year I Knew A Few Things (age 24)
I always planned on getting good at managing my money once I had something to manage. Trying to practice good personal finance when I was broke just frustrated me. I finally, actually, legitimately started to install some good habits in December of 2014, after reading Money: Master The Game, which is a good enough book.
Looking back, I wish I’d started back in early 2012. I’d probably be much further along now personally than I am. I’m not trippin. My plan worked, I’ve got some money now, and now I’ve learned and applied good management of it. Which you’ll be hearing about soon.
By my standards I’m now rich as fuck. I think I’m legitimately middle class now. I earned more money in 2014 than I had cumulatively made in my entire life before January 1, 2014.
Pandora grew 188% in 2014. We went from a small shop to having hundreds of active models. A few of our models had 6 figure incomes. I spent the year actively studying and trying to improve every piece of the business. It paid off.
I wrapped up 2014 with an awesome sense of satisfaction and appreciation for what I’d accomplished, and all of the amazing people that made it possible. I haven’t slowed down on the whole learning thing.
Life is an experiment. Some results are more pleasurable than others. Keep making experiments, assessing the results, and navigate your way to the results that bring you the most pleasure. It doesn’t have to be so damn hard.
Pandora’s Total Sales – 2014: $3,640,685
Personal Income (pre-tax): $65,715
There were plenty of hidden mistakes throughout these years that I should elaborate on.
I ruined my credit from 2008-2010. My score is still 540 I think (I hear that’s bad). Just by misusing all of the first credit options that I had and not paying some bills. I’m sure I did some bad things and screwed some people over. As I remember them, I’ll share them.
I was living hand to mouth (regularly running out of money each month) until fall 2014. When I finally was able to keep about $1,000 in my checking account (no savings, no investments, nothing else, just that).
Making $1,000 the new minimum balance made me happier. I relaxed a bit more and enjoyed my money, knowing that I had a $1000 margin of error if my mental calculations of how much I could spend were off.
I didn’t file my taxes for 2013 until almost November. Which unfortunately caused a $2,000 penalty from the IRS (5% of my tax bill per month, all year). So I ended up paying about $10,000 in taxes from my 2013 income of $27,000. Ouch.
The most valuable lesson I learned about money in 2014 was this:
“Maintain a high state of awareness about your finances, even when they suck. It will make your life better.”
I didn’t read that anywhere that I can remember. I genuinely discovered it. For years while I was poor I’d not really pay attention to money because it just stressed me out. My total awareness practice was keeping track of how high above zero my checking account was. And then checking the price of the thing I was about to purchase to make sure it was a lower number. I got this wrong a lot and overdrew my checking account.
For these years, money always made me nervous. Getting a bill made me nervous. The thought of taxes made me nervous. My phone ringing made me nervous. Invitations to go places that would likely cause money to be spent made me nervous.
Then when I started making money all of those behaviors carried over and compounded to be more damaging than before I had money. Take all of the negative behaviors from the previous paragraph and tack on: Trying to use the money I got to prove to the world (or myself) that I deserved something and was special.
I’d eat out a lot, I mean a lot a lot. In 2014 I spent $13,000 at restaurants, and it wasn’t at high end restaurants. I ate and ate and ate to try and prove to myself that I could afford it. At least that’s the reflection I came up with regarding my emotional, compulsive eating habits (that caused me to swell up to 325 lbs). It makes sense. Probably some childhood stuff too.
I did it with other things besides food too. Spending money made me feel like I would matter. Only I never ended up feeling that way afterwards. I always eventually ran out of money and felt worse.
Finally in 2014, as a direct result of Money: Master The Game (I should give that book more credit it actually had a profound effect on me). I got clear about my finances. I finally logged into that Mint account I’d setup so long ago. It was humiliating and painful to go through and categorize all of my transactions and see how much I’d earned and how ZERO I’d saved and where I had wasted all of my money.
It made me really uncomfortable and embarrassed. But that passed quickly. Then I started to feel empowered. Then I spent a few days, all day long going through Mint, categorizing old transactions, planning my finances, using a bunch of different calculations and math to figure out compound interest (example: $10,000 invested today, left alone to grow at 8% annually will be worth $262,880.65 in 41 years when I’m 65). That was neat information.
As soon as I was clear and had a plan that I was not only comfortable with, but excited to do. Everything melted away.
Seriously. Fucking. Everything. Almost instantly. My compulsive desire to spend money on food vanished (I lost 26 pounds in December). My fear of looking at my finances did a 180 and turned into excitement and joy. I saved almost 80% of my income in December. As a result I fully funded my Roth IRA for 2014 with $5,500 (100% of my year end bonus, + $500).
My anxiety/stress related to money is gone. Instead I just feel optimism and a deep desire to use my money wisely since I now understand how valuable of a behavior that is. I started thinking more long term and the realization of how tiny behaviors can have huge long term impacts excited me. I’m now eagerly trying to learn as many of these behaviors as I can.
Things are pretty sweet. I’m appreciating the hell out of life now.
The takeaway: As soon as you are fully aware of what the actual problem is, achieving a solution is a simple matter of logistics.
More awareness, more transparency, more clarity. Try to seek out these things when you find yourself struggling. At least that’s what I’ll be doing :).
Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed this post, please take a few seconds to share, it would mean a lot to me.