At equities.com, we’ve always been focused on building an active community among the leading voices within the world of finance.
As with many other fields, in finance, we’ve noticed a significant shift away from traditional sources of financial news, tips and predictions, and toward a growing number of financial bloggers.
In this series, we profile some of the most distinct and noteworthy voices in the world of financial blogging. Here, you’ll find our recent interview with Grayson Bell of the blog Debt Roundup. Read below to learn about how to effectively start saving even while paying off debt, as well as Bell’s thoughts on the art of the side hustle.
EQ: To start off, what inspired you to start blogging at Debt Roundup?
Grayson: I’ve been blogging ever since WordPress came out, though not just in personal finance.
EQ: What did you blog on before?
Grayson: I owned a consumer electronics e-commerce company for four years. I still love electronics. I still talk about that kind of stuff, but I just don’t blog about it anymore. I started Debt Roundup in August 2012, and that was a month after I paid off over $50,000 of credit card debt and about $20,000 of auto loans and personal loans. I made a lot of mistakes in my business. A lot of that credit card debt was from my business, but it was a good mix between stupidity and just not paying attention.
EQ: Perhaps in some cases, but it's certainly not necessarily all stupidity. That can happen to anyone who's new to credit.
Grayson: That’s true. That was a month after I paid off all of that debt. It took about four years for me to complete that process. During that time, I was reading financial blogs like Get Rich Slowly, Budgets Are Sexy, and a couple other ones that I would read on a regular basis, just to get information. We have a debt problem in this country, and I always knew that people were looking how to get out of debt or change their spending habits, so figured I should share my story.
EQ: You didn’t have any financial background prior to starting this site?
Grayson: No. I’m a project manager during my day job, so I know numbers. I’m very quick with math, I can do most of it in my head. Of course, if you don’t pay attention to your spending you can’t really do the math. But, as for schooling, I have a degree in marketing. That’s really my forte.
EQ: What would you say differentiates Debt Roundup from some of the other financial blogs out there? It sounds like you're pretty familiar with a few of them?
Grayson: It's really hard to say. I mean, my blog has kind of transformed over the years. In the beginning, it was all about my personal journey. Now I kind of do a dual-pronged approach, because I realized that I only have so many personal experiences that I could share when it comes to money. There’s only so many ways that you can skin a cat.
So, I kind of transformed the blog into a general knowledge base. I teach a lot of tricks on how to save money when you’re on Amazon.com, for example. A lot of my really popular articles might be like “How to Save Money on your Cellphone Bills by Switching Carriers.” A lot of that information is convoluted, and I try to make it as easy as possible, while also putting a financial spin on it. I’m always pretty good at describing different techniques on how to get things done, and that's really what I found resonates with most people – my financial guides, and different articles like that.
When you've been around for two and half years just in financial blogging, it’s actually a pretty long time, because most bloggers never succeed past six months. That’s just the nature of the game. I’ve met a lot of people. My number one thing is that I’ll help out any other bloggers that need help. I’ll feature them on the site if they come up with something cool. The content of my blog is not really much different than a lot of others out there, it’s just the way that I deliver it. I try to throw a personal spin into an article whenever possible. If not, I’ll share detailed steps on how I did this or that, and I’m not afraid of controversy. I don’t really care if everyone agrees with me. You can’t make everyone happy at once.
EQ: Have you found that any of your posts were controversial in the comment section?
Grayson: Oh yeah. One of my most popular ones is called Love and Money. I’m married. I had debt before I came in to the marriage, and my wife had none. My take on it is that since I’m the one that incurred the debt from my own spending, it's my responsibility to pay them off, just as it would be with any single person out there. You don’t get to go to somebody and go “Hey, can you help me pay them off?”
Single people don’t have that luxury, so as a married man, I don’t consider myself to have the advantage to use my wife's money to pay off stupid mistakes that I made. That rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. I’ve gotten emails that said my marriage won’t last, all that kind of stuff, but I’ve been married for seven years, and it’s still going strong. I’ve been with my wife for eleven years. That’s my favorite, because a lot of people are very particular about marriage and money but I have a different take on it, and I’m not afraid to share it and I back it up.
EQ: Yeah, that's very presumptuous of a reader to think they have any real understanding of the inner workings of your marriage.
Grayson: I preface each post, saying “Hey, this is my opinion. Every marriage is different, or every relationship is different. As long as you do what's right for you, it doesn’t matter how you handle it.”
Either those are just skimmed over by some readers, or they just get so infuriated before they get to that point that they just go nuts.
EQ: In a way, I bet that some of the controversy probably helps get people involved and engaged on the site, too. That’s not always a bad thing.
Grayson: Sure, they’ll either be engaged, or they'll smear me.
EQ: Do you have any long term goals for Debt Roundup?
Grayson: My goal is to continue growing it on a monthly basis, reaching out to more people, providing more advice. I’m trying to create a whole section of detailed guides on how to setup accounts in different places and that sort of stuff. It’s amazing how many people struggle with certain aspects of personal finance that I find easy. I get a lot of questions every day from people, so I try to help them out by emailing them back, or I might even make it into a post because either I don’t have the answer or it's a really great question.
In the end, the goal is to keep growing it. I do this part time. I’m not a blogger full time, like some people are. As long as it keeps growing, I’m going to keep writing.
EQ: That's impressive to be able to only do it part time and still have it be as successful as it is. Is there any specific single philosophy or piece of advice that you try to impart to your readers? Do you have a specific financial philosophy?
Grayson: One key bit of advice that I usually talk to my readers about on a regular basis is that if you have debt, the single most important thing is to start paying it off. It doesn’t matter what method you use. A lot of people go back and forth between the snowball and the avalanche method, and they just sit there and think about it too long. It doesn’t matter which way you go, you can always switch. The key step is to actually start doing it.
Another bit of advice is to pick up side jobs. I’ve also always been what they call a side hustler, working beyond my regular full time job. That’s what enabled me to pay off my debt. I was never afraid to jump on Craigslist and help somebody pull out a stump on the weekend, or help somebody pack up boxes and move. That little extra time, and the money that you can earn, can go a long way towards paying off debt, building a portfolio of investments, or creating a savings account for emergencies.
I see a lot of people think that working on the side or something like that is going to take a big chunk out of their life, but I’ve been hustling for eight or nine years. As long as you figure out what you’re good at, there’s money to be made everywhere. Nothing’s too beneath me, per se.
EQ: You’re right, there are certain part time jobs that many people would never consider doing because they just assume they’re “beneath them,” but that extra income can really go a long way.
Grayson: My third bit of advice is somewhat controversial, depending on who you talk to. I actually kind of mimic investment allocations based off age. When I paid off debt, I also saved at the same time. In the beginning, with any of my extra money I would put 90% or 95% towards paying off debt, and 5% towards savings. As the debt got paid off over time, the percentage of it switched, so in the four years, to I think it was year 2.5, it switched to where I was putting 60% or something like that into a savings and 40% towards debt.
The reason I did that is because my original mentality was that I was a spender. I just spent money. I saved nothing, so I needed to learn how to save. The reason why this is so controversial is because everyone says “Why would you waste money on interest? It’s not just about interest. It’s also that payment of your debt does you no good if you don’t learn a lesson in the whole grand scheme of things. If you're still a spender when you pay off your debt, guess what? You’re going to be right back in it.
It’s all about a mind shift, and my method allowed me to see the fruits of my labors as my savings account grew and my debt diminished. It’s a very simple percentage based allocation. I pretty much just borrowed it from investment, which is a little bit different.
EQ: That's a great, logical strategy. It’s nice in that it can be adapted for just about anyone's financial situation.
Grayson: I get people all the time who will ask “What's the best ratio of paying off debt to saving? I can’t really answer that for you, but the good thing is that percentages can change. You can literally change it month to month. If it's not working for you this way, you change it. It’s not difficult to do. You just have to start one way and go okay, I’m going to save 5% of my extra money and go that way. When I say extra money, I just say anything over your expenses obviously. Not everyone goes out and earns extra income, but anything over your monthly expenses should be going towards that and your savings goals.
EQ: Terrific. Is Debt Roundup the only site that you work on or are there others?
Grayson: I started the site with a buddy of mine, and I actually just sold my half to him. Along with blogging, I actually do blog management for a lot of personal finance bloggers, so I run their blogs on the technical side. I’ve been on WordPress since the beginning. I know WordPress like the back of my hand, so I actually do all the technical work for a handful of some of the bigger blogs out there.
Debt Roundup is housed under that business. I create content as well, but the current sites that I own are Debt Roundup and EmpoweredShopper.com, which I just started. It's more of a review site based off products that I’ve used. I’ve been focused on Debt Roundup so much that I haven’t really done much with it yet. I also co-own EyesOnTheDollar.com with another blogger. She does all the blogging and I just run the backend, so Debt Roundup is my main one. My business is iMarkInteractive.com, which is my blog management and content creation service. I always have my fingers in a variety of pots!
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