Can you believe it’s been a year?! Every story starts in the middle. Minafi’s story is no different. Today marks what I’m calling my 1 year anniversary of blogging! In reality, I registered minafi.com on July 17, 2015 – nearly 3 years ago. So why am I celebrating my one year anniversary today on June 21st? For that, we need to take a stroll down memory lane to the years well before Minafi was an idea. I’ve mentioned that my investing story begins back in 2006…
I inherit $100,000 after my mom passed away at age 24. I start investing with a financial advisor. Although I learn a lot, he charged a 1% fee and puts me in American funds with a huge load (purchase fee) and expense ratio. I stay in these funds but start learning how to invest by constantly asking “why?”.
I sell a house, buy a house in Orlando, FL, and move in with my (now) wife. My mortgage payment with insurance is 54% of my paycheck. I put 20% down since I had the cash from my inheritance and selling my moms house. After selling my childhood home I add an additional $200k to my investments.
At the end of this year, my finances look something like this:
- $250k in investments
- $300k home value (with a $240k mortgage).
= Net worth $310k!
At this time, I honestly thought that within the next few years I’d be a millionaire. In actuality, I made a bunch of mistakes:
I’m 26, and the stock market and home market start going down non-stop. I wrote about my reaction to 2008 which was a trying time. I’m very fortunate in that it was only trying on paper. We didn’t lose our house or our job. We had a 30 year fixed mortgage, so we didn’t have to refinance. The year went by mostly as years do but with craziness in the news every night.
By the end of 2008, my investments had dropped a stomach-turning amount:
- $250k -> $150k in investments
- $300k -> $140k in home value (with a $230k mortgage)
= Net worth $60k (including the underwater mortgage)
You read that right. My net worth went from $310k -> $60k in a year. That’s an 80% drop in a single year!
In my first year investing, I lost 80% of my value.
Why didn’t you do a short sale and sell? I probably should have. I wasn’t hurting for money. All public programs related to TARP were targeted at people in need (which is great) but it meant that my only outset was a normal short sale and negotiating that with my lender. We’d only owned the home for a year at this time and we were still just unpacking.
After a rough 2008, I started to look into doing things myself. I’d been following the common advice up to this point: “buy a house!”, “invest in stocks!” but something was obviously wrong (even though it turns out it was mostly bad luck).
After learning the basics of investing from my financial advisor, I decided to open a Vanguard account and try it myself. I’m honestly not sure how I landed on Vanguard, but somehow I made the right choice. I start putting new savings into this account, choosing to use a Roth IRA. This allowed me to learn how to invest in an account where I didn’t need to worry about taxes at all.
I start reading The Bogleheads Guide to Investing and am completely amazed by it. I promptly join the Bogleheads Forum and begin reading every post I can where people post their portfolios and others review them. What stands out to me at this time is just how much money I’m spending on expense ratio fees, investment advisory fees, and taxes.
Throughout this year I continue investing new income in Vanguard, which gives me more confidence I’m able to do things myself. After maxing my Roth there, I open a brokerage account to add additional funds to it. I now have an understanding of how to optimize my investments in a tax-efficient, diversified, low-fee way.
I bite the bullet and ditch my financial advisor – moving everything to Vanguard. After January of this year, I manage everything on my own from here on out.
This year mostly consists of reading Bogleheads and constantly looking to optimize my portfolio. In retrospect, I tried to do too much, rather than just select some funds and hold them.
Sometime in 2012, I manage to find Mr. Money Mustache‘s article on The Shocking Simple Math Behind Early Retirement, and it completely reorients me. With Bogleheads, I knew how to invest, but MMM gave me a timeframe on when I could retire.
This was the year I turned 30. Doing the FIRE math, I realized I could retire by 40 (!). I start meticulously tracking my expenses and going all-in on this financial independence / early retirement idea. Although we don’t make major lifestyle changes like selling a house, we start reigning in our spending and keeping lifestyle inflation under control.
My oldest comment in a post in /r/financialindependence, the financial independence subreddit, leads back to this year. I start reading some blogs about personal finance but largely stick to Reddit as a community. Since I didn’t have a blog, Reddit was my “home” for discussions, replacing Bogleheads before it.
After registering it, I do absolutely nothing for the rest of the year. This was right around the time startup I work for was acquired, so life got a little crazy. I mostly double down at work and pause any side projects.
After a year with the idea of Minafi in my head, I decide to actually do something. I start by opening up my journal and writing about what Minafi could be.
I initially plan to write about the intersection of minimalism, FIRE, and stoicism. I eventually change stoicism to mindfulness after talking to a number people in my life and getting the dreaded “What is stoicism?” response.
I also plan to start anonymously like most bloggers. At some point I realize there’s nothing I really want to share that I wouldn’t share with everyone and decide not to go the anonymous route.
Unfortunately, “doing something” meant creating an entire WordPress theme from scratch (ugh, I should have just spent that time writing). In past jobs, I’d created themes as a developer, but none were great. The Minafi theme wasn’t great either. I wrote the first post, Write Your ‘Year in Review’ Post Now, on July 31, 2016, followed by 7 more posts in August.
The structure of Minafi was super simple. I’ve always loved being able to tell stories in a post with dynamic areas. I found the Aesop Story Engine, a WordPress Plugin, which allowed for some amazing things (check their demo). I can’t find a theme that supports it that I like, so I create my own with Aesop support. I have yet to use half the options in this plugin. As I use a new feature I usually need to implement it in my theme, which is a bit of a downer.
I implement this, it looks awesome and I launch it! What I didn’t realize in 2016 was how to get any kind of traction. I didn’t network or meet any other bloggers. I assumed it would just magically show up in search engines. After about a dozen blog posts written into the void without more than a few page views from my real-life friends on Facebook, I stop blogging.
This is where the story of Minafi really begins! I transfer the domain over to Medium and decide to just start writing. The first article I wrote there was What is Your Personal Mission? Writing was like a dam unleashing! I wrote 3 posts in a single day, and end up publishing daily for a week, then 14 times in July. I honestly don’t know how. I think part of it was writing about anything that was on my mind at the time that fit into the extremely broad categories I’d laid out + a new “goals” category.
I very quickly feel limited by Medium and move back to the WordPress theme I created.
This year had a bunch of amazing moments. Some of the biggest highlights were:
- Releasing An Interactive Guide to Early Retirement and Financial Independence, which hit #1 on /r/financialindependence and was tweeted about by a number of people in the FI community I’d long respected.
- Launching The Minimal Investor and having hundreds of people to go through it.
- I was on the Do You Even Blog podcast as well as the FIRE Drill Podcast – both were a ton of fun.
- At the last minute (well last month) I decide to attend FinCon in Dallas, TX. It turned out to be the best conference I’d ever been to. I was able to meet so many people I’d met online and made so many friends. I book tickets for 2018 FinCon on the spot when they’re announced.
The sketches for the Interactive Guide were not quite as elaborate as the finished product:
Side note: I love sketching with a very broad tip pen. This limits how specific I can go and keeps me focused on the broad strokes of an idea.
It wasn’t long before I started iterating on this with a more conversational style. I loved this approach to making the article interactive. It makes it so each paragraph can have parts that are specific to the reader – like if you were sitting down and talking with a friend about your expenses.
I’ve always loved books and articles written in conversational style. Ones that just seem like it’s flowing and anticipating what you want to know. It was harder than I thought. From here the structure didn’t end up changing too much. It was a month and a half of intense work to get it right though.
- Working on Code School -> working on Pluralsight.
- Not being married -> being married.
- Not blogging -> consistently blogging.
- Not knowing any bloggers -> meeting tons of people on blogs and at FinCon.
- Owning a home -> not owning a home.
- Having a ton of stuff -> having an apartment of stuff.
- Living in Orlando -> living in Salt Lake City.
Whew, that’s a lot of change. In my experience, every 4-7 years I have a major life shift. I think of my major change years as:
- 18: The usual high school graduation to college transition.
- 24: I graduate college, start my first real job, my mom passes away, I start learning to invest, sell a house, buy a house and move in with my (now) wife.
- 31: I start optimizing everything in my life. Vanguard, CrossFit, LASIK, piano lessons. I’m not sure if this was my mid-life crisis or just an obsession with growth (or both).
- 35: Everything that happened this year!
At this rate, I’m really curious what’ll happen when I’m 40. 🤔
Minafi continues to be a fun side project and a way for me to continue learning in a number of new areas – marketing, SEO, WordPress and growing a website to name a few. The programmer in me has absolutely loved having a full WordPress theme to edit and manipulate to exactly what I want – even if it means more work at times. I think that break from writing makes me more exciting to write when something is ready, which is great.
I’ve focused the topics I write about down to minimalism, investing and financial independence for the most part. I’ll still touch on other topics, but I’ve learned it’s more effective when I frame those topics in these umbrella areas. For example, Find Your Irresistible Staircase to Early Retirement was initially a goals related post, but I reframed it for FI. This little shift to focusing my blog around a specific topic has meant a more consistent voice and a clearer message.
Why Does the Past Matter?
Depending on where you are in your financial journey, there will be someone who has been it at it longer. It’s important not to compare your middle to someone else’s beginning – or vice versa. I’ve been extremely fortunate to find the investing world in my 20s and stick with it for more than a decade.
If you’re just getting starting today, there’s likely a long way to go. Even for me, I’m still putting in the work to grow an audience here, teach people to invest and try to make smart money choices myself.
What Have I Learned?
So much, and yet I have a ton to still learn! Here are a few things have stood out from this one year.
Do one thing at a time. If you’re looking to grow an audience focus on one channel (Email, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest) and get great at it before moving onto another one. If you want to test the waters of another one and just post to it, that’s a good learning experience, but focus on getting great at one at a time.
Develop a posting schedule. If your blog looks dead, that’s not good. It needs to look active with people coming back on a familiar cadence. I post here on Minafi every Monday and send out an email every Wednesday (well, except this week it was on Thursday because of this post).
Focus your niche. I’ve written about a lot of different topics – investing, financial independence, minimalism, mindfulness, goals, personal stories. I’ve since started trying to narrow things down and focus on using minimalism and investing to reach FI sooner. I still love the other topics and may incorporate the other topics into articles, but I’m leaning to focusing on these three categories. It’s good to have a narrow niche at first.
Bring yourself into your stories, but keep the reader first. If you’re writing purely informational posts, it could be useful, but it won’t be as memorable as if you can somehow connect with your readers. Always remember that you’re hoping to make a change in the reader. You want them to walk away with growth in some way – something they can implement, use, remember to make them better. If you can show this same advice/subject/focus has helped you or someone else, that’s a memorable connection.
Decide if you want to write a lot or write a lot. You’re going to need to write a lot. Depending on your writing style and your topic, either you’ll need to publish a ton of shorter articles (hopefully still 1k words), or fewer very long articles (3k words+). I’ve seen more traffic when I publish more 1k articles, but I enjoy writing more (and am less stressed) when I write longer articles. Find what works and do it a lot.
Create a posts spreadsheet. This has been immensely helpful for me. I have a spreadsheet of what posts I’m publishing and when, with the status of each. It helps a ton when I sit down and think, “what do I write about?”. I’ve already vetted topics and know exactly what to write about when it’s time.
Create time to write. For me, this has meant getting up at 6 am every day and writing for an hour or two. Having that dedicated time keeps things moving along.
Write and edit in separate sections. Whenever I publish a post with grammatical errors or spelling errors and read it later I wince. If I’m editing the same day as I’m writing this happens much more often. It’s nice to look at articles with a fresh set of eyes.
Break articles up with quotes, headers, images, and more. If your posts are all text, that takes a lot of attention by the reader. Use headers, bold things, use quote pullouts, use images – there’s a LOT you can do to break up a post.
Make bold promises. When I released the Minimal Investor Course as a weekly email I hadn’t’ actually written anything! Each week I knew I needed to write the next article in the series, and that commitment device helped me stay accountable. I’ve since started setting monthly and quarterly goals to help stay accountable.
Always be working on something big. It’s easy to get bogged down in everything above and be overwhelmed from a time standpoint. During all that, it’s useful to have something “big” you’re working on that isn’t tied to a weekly release cycle. This could be a course, a book, a really great post, a redesign – lots of things. For me this was the interactive guide, followed by The Minimal Investor Course. Since then, I haven’t been working on something big – I just got out of the habit. I have a few next steps planned, and want to focus on them fully — but one at a time.
Looking at the sketches from a year ago, there’s still a bunch I want to do! I’ve recently switched to writing one post a week, which has been amazing for helping have additional time to do some of these things. In retrospect, I’m glad I went all in the first year and posted as much as possible. That gave a great start and a backlog for some of the things to focus on now (see below). I have a feeling after completing some of these ideas, I’ll switch back to posting more often again. If you’re just getting starting and wondering how often to post, I’d recommend as much as you can while staying healthy, sane and consistent.
Here’s a snapshot of what the future could hold (in no particular order):
- Release The Minimal Investor eBook.
- Create An Interactive Guide to Investing, a getting started guide for people absolutely new to investing (similar to the FI guide, but for investing).
- Head to FinCon and meet as many people as possible. (If you’re headed to FinCon, drop me a message!)
- Create more interactive posts and start a “Calculators” section here on Minafi.
- Better understand SEO and how to optimize my posts with newly learned strategies.
- Start getting into this Pinterest thing people speak so highly of.
The one common goal of Minafi that all of these strive towards is simple:
Help 1 million people make their first informed investment.
The above list all drive towards that idea. I’m still trying to learn how to write more engaging, memorable content and reach new audiences that might not otherwise be looking for it. There’s something I love about the web as a medium: you can create unexpected content that stands out – if you put in the time and find a way to drive people to it. That’s my personal mission here!
With that in mind though, what would you want to see more of on Minafi in the next year? Is there a topic I should cover? A format I try expanding into? Maybe a collaboration that would be fun? I’d love to hear what you think.