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Blogger Profile: J.D. Roth, Get Rich Slowly

J.D. Roth shares his "Get Rich Slowly" philosophy.

| BY Donald Liebenson

Get Rich Slowly, the award-winning blog J.D. Roth created five years ago, is dedicated to his philosophy that”nobody cares more about your money than you do” and that there is no quick fix to getting out of debt and taking responsibility for one's finances. Much like losing weight (the prolific blogger also co-created Get Fit Slowly), it won't happen overnight. "It takes hard work," he told Millionaire Corner. "It takes perseverance. It may seem hopeless and feel like nobody else has been there, but it's something with which many people struggle. If you're focused and you set a goal, you can do it."

Roth did it. At his low point, he had accrued $35,000, the bulk in credit card debt. Turns out that one can not only get rich slowly, they can go into debt slowly as well. With Roth it was gradual, and his money management mistakes helped him develop a financial philosophy rooted in common sense and frugality.

“Parents have a tremendous influence on your relationship with money,” he said. “I like to say that people have financial blueprints and those blueprints are composed of the information they get primarily from their parents. I had a lousy financial blueprint. My dad was raised in a poor family and we didn’t have much money when I was growing up. Mom and Dad were always struggling to make ends meet. He was a serial entrepreneur, always starting businesses.  So I got some good skills there, but my parents were not skilled to manage the little money that did come in.”

“It was famine or feast,” Roth recalled. “There were times when we’d have a lot of money and times we'd have nothing. Rather than save during the good years, my father would spend. For example, growing up he wanted to be a flight instructor. Flying was his hobby so (at one point) he bought an airplane for $5,000. That could have fed us for a long time.”

By the time Roth attended college, the spendthrift seeds had been well planted and would begin to take root. “It seemed to me that everyone around me had more money than I did,” he said. “I went to my roommate’s house and it was this beautiful million dollar home. I felt this pressure to try to keep up with my peers.”

He heard the siren song of the credit card. He was deluged with offers that targeted college students. “I was more than happy to apply and they were more than happy to oblige,” he laughed. “And that was the start of that.  By the time I graduated I had a credit card habit and it just got worse because it took me a while to get a job. I lived off the credit, spending as if it was cash I had right there.” 

His spending got worse. “Credit cards loved me,” he said. “I graduated in 1991 by 1995 I had $20,000 in credit card debt. I was carrying this debt, and making the monthly payments on time every month. But anytime they bumped my limit, I would say, ‘Hey, look, here’s another $1,000.’”

Just as dieting, Roth knew he had to make a change, but he kept trying and failing to get his debt under control. In 1998, he destroyed his credit cards. He took out a home equity loan and consolidated his debt. “I read you’re not supposed to do that, but it worked out okay for me because it got rid of the high interest rates,” he said. For the next nine years, he did not have a credit card. But old habits die hard. “I found ways to take on new debt,” he said, including borrowing from the family business and taking out personal loans. By $2005, he was over $35,000 in debt.

That did it. Some friends loaned him books. He eschewed the “you-can-solve-your-financial-problems-overnight” books and found two tomes that he said changed his life. One was Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez’s Your Money or Your Life. The other was Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover, which Roth immediately put into practice. On Oct 21, 2004, he drafted a five-year plan to be debt free. By the end of 2007, he had achieved his goal.

Roth, 42, was already a blogger. Previously he had kept a personal blog that chronicled his daily life as well as “cats, computers and comic books.” He also touched on personal finance. In 2005 he had posted an article called “Get Rich Slowly.” “The response was so overwhelming,” he said, that he was compelled to create a new blog. Get Rich Slowly launched, appropriately, on tax day, April 15. This postserves as a good introduction.

Roth’s journey has resonated with readers, thousands of whom participate in this online community each month to share their ideas on how to improve financial well-being. Get Rich Slowly recently reached the one million visits benchmark. Money magazine called it the most inspiring personal-finance blog on the Web. Time magazine, for whom Roth is a contributor, ranked it among 2011’s Best Blogs (“His advice is full of real world wisdom”). The site also features guest bloggers with a particular expertise. For example, Robert Brokamp of Motley Fool posts about retirement issues. Roth is also the author of Your Money: The Missing Manual.

He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and three cats. His wife “has always been financially responsible,” he said. “I used to buy whatever I wanted. She doesn’t do that. She wants lots of things, but she chooses. She’s a tremendous saver. She makes conscious spending decisions, and that has become one of the cornerstones of my philosophy. I have to practice conscious spending. Otherwise, I end up going to the grocery store and coming home with stuff I don't need.”

Get Rich Slowly is a labor of love and a full-time endeavor. “Writing is my vocation,” he said. “It’s what I do. I would write even if no one was reading.” He added with a laugh, “I used to write when nobody was reading.” A travel blog, he said, is in the works.

Until then, he and his site will continue to offer people a map to financial well-being. “My story is not unique,” he said. “Everyone struggles with these dilemmas.”

About the Author

Donald Liebenson

Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.  

A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.