Transparency

I am a huge believer in blog transparency, so I’ve created this page to be super clear about all the types of things you, as the reader, have a right to know, chiefly:

  • Our financial situation and how we saved to retire early
  • How money works on this blog
  • How money works on my other projects (book, podcast, speaking, etc.)

I’ve been outspoken about the problems with blogger transparency (or lack thereof), which you can read here:

Our Finances and How We Saved

We retired from our careers at the end of 2017 with enough saved to never need to work again. Which is not the same thing as saying we never will work again, because humans are wired to contribute to our communities and society. But that choice will never be driven by money, and we have the luxury of turning down or walking away from anything that’s not fun and aligned to our life purpose.

In terms of how much we saved, I don’t share our actual numbers, for reasons I wrote about in these posts (TL;DR: privacy):

But I do share a ton of charts showing our progress over time and total retirement savings in percentage terms, including this one, in which “X” is a year’s worth of spending:

Multiples-of-X

See the full set of charts representing our assets and saving progress over time in this post:

The most important thing to be completely transparent about is that we were able to save quickly for early retirement (six years from setting early retirement as a goal to leaving our careers) almost entirely because we had high incomes in our later working years. We both started our careers earning under $30,000 a year in DC, an expensive city, but we had a series of promotions and bonuses that added up over time, as I discussed in this post:

In our last several earning years, we were in the top 3% of U.S. households in terms of earnings, and it’s vastly easier to save a lot if you earn a lot. We also don’t have children and were never saddled with massive student debt that would have slowed us down. But I also had a negative net worth until my late 20s:

And neither Mark nor I grew up with significant money or have inherited money. In fact, I grew up with a single disabled parent reliant on government assistance, though thanks to that assistance, my life looked solidly middle class:

Thanks in part to that supportive upbringing, I earned a full ride to college (Mark got a half ride and had some parental help), and came out with only about $10,000 in loans for living expenses:

We also were in the fortunate position of being able to buy our house in 2011, near the bottom of the real estate market during the Great Recession, which is why we were able to pay it off in under 5 1/2 years, something that would take far longer if we were paying today’s prices:

Though we don’t require it to make our early retirement financial plan work, and we haven’t done any of it for the money, we have done some paid work and earned some money in retirement. (Keep reading for more on that.) So we aren’t yet living off of our investments, even though we’d planned to.

Money on Our Next Life

Our Next Life, this blog, is a money-losing proposition by design. First, I don’t like mixing creativity and money, because that sucks the joy out of it, so keeping Our Next Life ad-free keeps it fun for me. Second, ads would ruin the visual experience on the site and sponsored posts would erode trust I’ve worked to build with readers. Third, bringing money into the equation makes it hard to know if you’re recommending something because you truly love it, or because you have a financial incentive to love it. Might I love services that offer an affiliate kick-back more if I was thinking about how much each click would pay me? Quite possibly. So I just avoid that question altogether by not doing any of these things. If I recommend something, it’s with no financial interest in that thing. (Exception: my book. Keep reading.)

The one thing I have done since 2018 is use Amazon affiliate links for the books I recommend, and on the links page that lists my recommended books, I include this language:

*Here’s the deal with those Amazon links…

…because I feel strongly about blogger transparency.

Our Next Life is not monetized, for a whole bunch of reasons. However, there are some large costs involved with operating the blog and newsletter that make this an expensive hobby, one that’s hard to justify on a retired budget. The books I recommend include affiliate links, and the revenue from them (around $.46 per book purchased) covers a small fraction of the out-of-pocket costs of providing ad-free, unsponsored content to you at no charge. My aim with the affiliate links is — absolute best case — to break even on out-of-pocket expenses, so that providing this content isn’t a money pit for us. But here’s my commitment: In any calendar year in which affiliate income fully covers the cost of web hosting, photo editing and email list maintenance (the latter is the biggest expense by far!), I will donate all earnings above and beyond expenses to charity directly or to our donor advised fund for charitable giving, for the remainder of that year. And of course I’m thrilled if you go check these books out at the library instead!

My recurring costs to keep the blog running, not counting travel to FinCon or other events, currently total about $150 a month, a number that continues to increase. Over the life of the blog (founded in January 2015), I’ve made less than $1000 total.

Money on Other Projects

In addition to this blog, I wrote a book and co-host a podcast, occasionally do some public speaking, and both Mark and I have done some limited work for former clients. Unlike Our Next Life, we do make money on these things, though probably less than you think.

Work Optional — I earned a book advance for writing Work Optional, half of which I received in 2018, and the other half came in 2019. Here’s my answer on book money that I shared in my behind-the-scenes post the day the book was published:

I’m not allowed to share money stuff, but it’s safe to say that book advances are rarely a life-changing amount of money. Here’s a good article that gets into how advances work, and the sizes they tend to be. Here’s another. And in truth I haven’t calculated how many books I need to sell to earn out my advance, but I do need the book to sell if I want to write more. If I earn out the advance, any royalties will go directly to charity or our donor advised fund, so I won’t personally earn anything.

I’m not counting on royalties and would love for the book to do well enough that I earn them, so that I can donate them and increase our charitable giving. I never want promoting the book to be about money for me, for the same reasons this blog isn’t monetized.

The Fairer Cents — The podcast I co-host has had sponsors from episode one, something Kara (my co-host) and I appreciate, because podcasting is even more expensive than blogging, and unlike me, Kara isn’t financially independent and needs her projects to be worthwhile financially, which I fully support. We’ve sought sponsors for that reason, but like book advances, podcast money is relatively small. In season one, our sponsorship covered expenses and that was about it. We’ve grown each season, but after expenses, my share of podcast profit comes out to a few weeks of living expenses a year.

Speaking — I do a very limited amount of paid public speaking, again for non-life-changing money, and much of the speaking I do is not only unpaid, I also pay out-of-pocket to travel. Combined, the paid and unpaid speaking net out to just slightly better than breaking even.

Financial Writing Elsewhere — I have a column on MarketWatch, which really just means that I write pieces for them when I feel inspired, which is a few times a year, and they pay me a small freelance fee for each one. It could be a nice supplement to our spending if I did it often, but I don’t. Most articles by me on the site are syndicated from the blog, meaning I wrote them for Our Next Life and they ran first here, and then MarketWatch reposted slightly edited versions. When that happens, I don’t get paid, which is standard syndication practice. You’re “paid” in links back to your site and perhaps a little extra web traffic.

Cents Positive — Beginning in 2018, I started organizing financial independence retreats for women. While women pay to attend, their payment goes entirely to cover out-of-pocket expenses of the event and speaker travel. I don’t make money off the events, again, entirely by design.

Work Work — Since retiring, I have done one very small project for a former client, and only because I like them a lot. Mark has done a handful of small projects, mostly because he had the opportunity to do work that aligned to his passions and purpose, not because of the money. His work, though short-term and limited in nature, paid for nearly all of our expenses in year 1 of our early retirement, though far less in year 2, covering at most half of our expenses.

Right now, we earn some money from the things above (though don’t expect them all to continue into year 3 and beyond), we earn dividends on our taxable (phase 1) investments, we earn interest on our cash holdings, and we come out about even on our single rental property (that will go cash flow positive in about 10 years when we pay off that mortgage, which is by design). After taxes, all of those sources earned us enough to cover our year 1 expenses with enough leftover to max out both of our IRAs ($11,000 total). We don’t expect to fund IRAs in year 2 because we’ll earn less since Mark is working much less (that’s the whole goal!). We’re not yet selling shares of our taxable investments, but expect to do that in year 3.

Any Other Questions?

Have any questions on transparency that aren’t answered here? Ask them in the comments, and I’ll answer publicly so anyone interested can see.

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