J Money Budgets are sexyA man with a clever moniker recently emailed me to tell me he shared a story from Frugaling.org. Fortunately, this was not a con artist; rather, a leading personal finance writer, consultant, and designer. He goes by the name, J. Money.

Credited with founding BudgetsAreSexy.com (in the top 30k of site worldwide) and Rockstarfinance.com, J. Money took a small hobby into a magnificent career. I made some time to chat with him about personal finance, blogging, and what he reads. These were his responses:

What inspired you to begin BudgetsAreSexy.com?

To be completely honest, I was merely looking for a more productive way to waste my time at work ;) All of my colleagues would spend their down time on video games and MySpace back in the day, and since I had recently plopped down $360,000 on a house with no budget and absolutely no money down (I know, I know…), I thought starting my own site would help me hunker down a bit and have a little fun at the same time. I saw other bloggers sharing their entire net worth with the world which just fascinated me, so I thought I’d do the same and see if it helped anyone in the process. And now here we are 6 years later! A hobby turned full-time employment, pretty incredible stuff… Who knew you could make money sharing your thoughts?

How did people around you react when you first started?

J. Money

The Man, The Myth, The Legend

People in my real life, or people online? My real life friends/family/co-workers had no idea – I went completely anonymous just so I could be as transparent as possible and say whatever I wanted without worrying about the consequences. Which sounds a lot shadier than it is (how much trouble can you really get into talking about budgeting?? Haha…), but the freedom and excitement it gave me helped catapult this little project into something bigger and better than I could have anticipated. And now this “J. Money” guy is more real than the guy sitting here typing this to you! ;) And has way more friends too, as nerdy as that sounds.

As for people online, everyone was (and still is) incredibly kind. I have never met a group of people more willing to help out and welcome you into a community than the personal finance world. Both the bloggers, and the readers. We’ve got a really amazing community here, and one you don’t easily find in this world. ESPECIALLY online. You always read about all the trolls and haters and people being nasty left and right behind the computer, but you rarely see it in our small space. I don’t know if I’d still be around if this weren’t the case.

What was your experience with design, code, web work prior to starting your site? 

Oddly enough I came out of college with a degree in graphic design and advertising, but I hadn’t used it an ounce in the 7 years leading up to my blog. So the second I was able to dabble in it all over again I was pretty happy! And so were my parents – I was finally using that degree ;) Unfortunately my skills are still stuck circa 2001, but these days everything is built for the average Joe out there and anything can be easily figured out with Google. Especially with blogging and WordPress. So if you’re reading this and interested in starting your own site one day, please don’t be discouraged by the technicality of it all – you’ll be fine!

What advice would you give to those thinking about starting their own site?

Oh man, just pick a topic you’re passionate about and then get to writing! All of the rest of the stuff is important over time (the design, layout, SEO, marketing), but really it all starts with your words. And especially your “voice” – the way your personality shines through. There’s a million blogs on money or cars or fashion/etc, but the one thing you have that nobody else does is your voice. Own it and just be yourself when getting your thoughts out because it’s unique! You’re not trying to duplicate anybody else’s sites, you’re trying to make your own. And once you get going all the other stuff will fall into place.

Feel free to reach out to me anytime with questions or ideas, I’m happy to help! j (at) budgets are sexy (dot) com.

(Fair warning though, if you tell me you’re doing it for the money I won’t be able to help you. I’ve never met one person who started a blog that way and got successful. You have to do it because you’re interested in it and it’s fun for you or else you’ll burn out in a matter of months :( It takes a substantial amount of time and effort to make anything real off it, and you’re better off rockin’ a different side hustle if that’s your motive – which is perfectly fine!)

How do you make money from your site?

I make money a handful of ways: display advertising, direct advertising, affiliates, blog consulting, and building out a number of other online projects that also do the same. For instance, Rockstar Finance showcases awesome articles on money in a more fun and visual way.

But there are a ton of other ways to make money too that I currently don’t do: freelance gigs, ebooks, real books, speaking engagements, products, and a ton of others. It really comes down to what you’re interested in, and what you’re good at. And the beauty of the online world is that the opportunities are endless!

What do you think you’ve learned from your readers and fans?

Pretty much EVERYTHING, haha… I joke that my blog’s like the dessert of personal finance, and everyone else serves up the meat and potatoes :) My goal is to really just motivate people to stop and think about their money every once and in a while, so my writing style is very fluffy and diary-like. Whenever I want to talk about a more serious, in-depth, topic on finance, I’ll share a few light thoughts and then open it up to my audience to chime in and fill out the rest. And they’re great at it. Our community is probably the best thing about my site, to be honest with you. We’ve got a lot of (friendly) discussions going on at all times, and no one’s afraid to ask for help or give guidance. I’m always learning a ton from them.

How can somebody in lower incomes best overcome financial hurdles and prosper?

Probably by first stopping to track every single dollar in and out for a few months. Which is boring as hell, I know, but it’s amazing how your mindset changes once it SEES where all the money is flowing! The first time I tried this (early 2008) I was blown away buy where all my money was going, and as time progressed I started catching myself before spending foolishly because I knew I had to document it all later that week. And soon enough I was saving *hundreds* a month with no real downsize in lifestyle – it was awesome!

The other thing I’m always harping on is having *multiple* sources of income if you can. There are two sides of growing your money in personal finance – the “cut your expenses as much as possible” one, and then the “make more money” one. Both fine to do and helps you get closer to your goals, but in my opinion the “making more” strategy will get you to the finish line MUCH faster. So I tend to focus on that part a bit more, and showcase some of these other jobs out there in our Side Hustle Series of our blog.

Who are your financial role models?

Hmm, that’s a hard one. I don’t really think I have a specific person or two I look up to – I tend to get motivated by what the “everyday” people are doing out there. Whether it’s finding a unique way to save I hadn’t heard of before, or someone sharing their latest tax-hacking or investment strategies. And I tend to find these people in the comments of other blogs, or the handful of new bloggers that are popping up. As I mentioned in the advice question earlier, everyone has their own story to tell, and I relate a lot more to them than I do, say, someone famous or a financial “expert.” They just seem way more genuine to me.

What personal finance sites do you read?

I’m really into the “retire early” crowd right now, so most of my faves right now are in that area:

And then more generally:

What else would you care to share with the readers of Frugaling?

Just keep on paying attention to that money, baby! The more you focus on it now, the less you have to do down the road… As a blogger friend of mine once said, “Think of your dollars as employees. Each one has the power to earn an income for you!

Now go check out my new website: RockstarFinance.com :)

Want to read more interviews like this one? Read the entire interview series here!