Updated on 04.15.11

My Story

Trent Hamm

Many readers of The Simple Dollar have come here over the years to get ideas on personal finance, improving their life, improving their career, and improving their use of money. Although many of the articles heavily include details from my own life, I don’t really have a great full summary on why I write The Simple Dollar. How am I qualified to write such a site? Where did I come from?

So, let’s address all of that.

For starters, I’m not a finance specialist. My educational background is in the hard sciences – life sciences and computer science (I received two degrees in two very different disciplines). My path to writing about personal finance comes largely from my own experience, with some very healthy support from the multitudes of stories from my readers as well as an enormous amount of reading on the topic.

Simply put, I’m not interested in theories about personal finance. I want to know what actually works in my own life or in the lives of my readers.

So, where did I come from? I grew up in a small town in rural Illinois, along the Mississippi River. My parents never had a whole lot of money. My father worked at a factory which regularly had massive layoffs followed by calling the workers back a few months later. He had several side businesses, mostly revolving around fishing and gardening, a pattern I followed, to a degree. My mother was a homemaker who had her hands full, because not only did I have two brothers, she also stepped up to the plate to be a surrogate “mom” for many children that lived near us as well as her own two younger siblings. Our dinner tables were usually crammed full of people every night.

There wasn’t a lot of money to be had, and when there was any money, my parents were always wanting to spend it in ways that would make up for the lean times.

I eventually went to Iowa State U., majoring in life sciences and, later, computer science. I wanted to major in English lit, but I didn’t believe that it would ever earn a good living for myself. I was very lucky to be able to go there as my parents had almost no money put aside for college. Instead, I managed to get enough scholarship money to cover enough of my education to get me through with large but not overwhelming student loans. I made a few money mistakes there, too.

While in college, I fell in love with my future wife, Sarah, who actually grew up pretty close to where I did.

After college, I got a good job and got married. I made one key promise to myself during my adult life, that I would always strive to be the best parent I possibly could. So, when our first child came along, I began to focus a lot of my attention on what he would need for his future.

To put it simply, I didn’t like what I saw. I was spending far more than I earned. Sarah and I had over $20,000 in credit card debt, several consumer loans (for furniture and the like), a pile of student loans, two car loans, and no money in savings. I didn’t have enough money in my checking account to cover the bills.

At the same time, I was finding that my job was often taking me away from my child (soon to be children) when I felt they needed me the most. I was away on business trips when my son took his first step and when my wife found she was pregnant with our second child. I had to skip out on lots of family events to get work done on weekends.

In short, I was obviously heading down a path to a future I didn’t want: an absent father and a tenuous financial situation.

I decided to make some serious changes to my life. Starting in October 2006, I started The Simple Dollar, to share those changes as they happened.

Since then:

I paid off every single debt listed above. I paid off all of our credit cards, all of our consumer debts, all of our student loans, and all of our car loans. We’ve also replaced both vehicles and own those as well without any outstanding loans. Our only debt at the moment is our mortgage, which we chose to get later on once our finances were in a much-improved state and we realized that mortgage payments were as good a deal for us as rent on an apartment big enough for our five person family.

In 2008, I walked away from that job. We had lowered our living expenses so much that by 2008, the income that The Simple Dollar was beginning to generate enabled me to walk away from the job that was causing such stress. I’m now a stay-at-home parent who balances that with writing.

I wrote two books. The first one, published in late 2008, was 365 Ways to Live Cheap. In 2010, The Simple Dollar, a more biographical work where I detailed how I turned my life around, was released.

I’ve written more than 3,000 articles for The Simple Dollar. I currently write two articles each day, which I give away on this site. In the past, I used to write more, but I was often unhappy with them as they often felt incomplete.

I switched to a vegan diet and lost thirty pounds. In 2010, after some medical tests, I made the choice to switch to a vegan diet for my long-term health. Since then, I’ve lost just shy of thirty pounds during an Iowa winter and I feel wonderful.

While doing all this, our household currently has three children that are still preschool aged, including one infant still in diapers.

I write The Simple Dollar for one reason and one reason alone. I write it because I know that there are people out there who are sitting at a point in their life that they’re unhappy with, and often it has to do with the grip that money has on their life. I know exactly what that painful grip feels like and there’s nothing I want more in life than to make it possible for them to escape that grip and follow whatever path life has in store for them with less fear and more personal freedom.

I write about what I do most of the time because I know how valuable it is to realize that you’re not alone in trying to escape this grip. I managed to do it and there is nothing I’d like better than to help you to do it, too. That’s why I don’t sell seminar series or audio courses. My books are available at the public library and all of my thousands of articles are available here free for you to read.

If you find even one thing on this site that helps you to put your life in a better place, then we both win.

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  1. Jean says:

    Today at 6:00am I decided to simply the blogs I subscribe to. I read your column this morning and knew yours would stay as I really enjoy your remarks. It adds to my life and I always get something out of it to think about during the day. I probably subscribe to about 15 which is way too many. So thank you for being a winner.

  2. Linda says:

    Thank you for your bio. It’s great to learn about others in the ‘blog world’. I have always found your posts very informative and interesting, so thank you for all your hard work! Just keep doing what you are doing, it certainly works for me.
    Red Deer, Alberta

  3. Amit says:

    Dear Trent,
    I started reading TSD from 2008 and am a follower for last 3 years now.

    You have really helped me to get a grip on finances and changed me views about money

    I am from India, and was trying to purchase your book from US, however it was costing me too much.
    Recently I bought new Kindle and was very happy to purchase your latest book “The Simple Dollar: How One Man Wiped Out His Debts and Achieved the Life of His Dreams” from Amazon.

    I have read it half way through since it was a Sunday.

    To be very frank, your site has become a “Wikipedia for Personal Finance” for me. Whenever I get stuck, I just visit the “Chronology” page and get inspired by reading few posts.

    God bless you and your family.
    Keep up the good work !!

    Namaskar (Bye)

  4. Marge in WA State says:

    Simply put: Thank you for what you do!

    I’ve been following your blog for awhile. It’s very real, thoughtful, and enjoyable. I am well on my way to becoming debt free myself and appreciate your writing greatly. Focus is key for me.

  5. Tricia says:

    Thank you Trent!

  6. I thought you financed your new car? Have you since paid that off?

  7. Mike says:


    I appreciate the work you do here and read your site daily. I recently was given the chance to work overseas and have a great salary, benefits tax advantage and ridiculous low cost of living. By nature I’m a spender and what I learned quickly was that if I didn’t change my ways I would be have nothing to show for my time over here. I read your site daily for info and motivation to keep me on this new path. In the last few months I’ve managed to put away just over 20k and now I’m working towards getting rid of all my debt. Thanks again for what you do and know that it is helping others.

  8. CK says:

    Thanks, Trent! I am a new reader and really enjoy your articles. We had already been using many of your frugal tips, but there is always more to learn. We made your gingerbread ornaments at Christmas and they were a hit!

  9. You blog continues to be a wonderful source of information and inspiration.

    Thank you!

    Katy Wolk-Stanley
    “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

  10. Caroline says:

    All I can say is: Go Trent!

  11. Leslie Smith says:

    Thank you. Finding The Simple Dollar was definitely a huge contributing factor to my turn-around.

  12. Kristina says:

    Your site, and your story, are both inspiring. You’ve helped me think about money in a whole different way, and though it’s an ongoing battle, I feel that my spending is very much in line with my life priorities, and that’s a great feeling. Cheers, Trent!

  13. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have followed you for a couple of years and feel you give your readers so much info and good advice! I am at a different stage of my life, but I can count on you for great tips and stories. Thanks for sharing part of your personal story!

  14. anne says:

    Thanks for sharing your story with us! I read your blog everyday and often peruse the archives. I’ve found so much inspiration here. Keep up the great work!

  15. Hannah says:

    Your blog has made a difference in my life. Thank you!

  16. Amy says:

    Thanks for your blog, Trent. I can often be heard saying “On The Simple Dollar today . . . ” I really enjoy your articles and your willingness to share your personal journey.

  17. Thanks for the story. Congrats on all you’ve achieved–it’s very inspiring.

  18. Jeanette says:

    Your work does make a difference, to many, and as your story confirms, it is your intention that matters the most: To be of service and to help others.

    Way to go, Trent! You have succeeded in ways you may not even be aware of. And, ironically, it’s NOT about the money or even frugality.

    Hopefully, for those folks who read your work, but have not given much thought to the life work and intention behind it, this is a definitive look into what you have committed to.

    Even when I don’t necessarily agree with a particular point of view or concept you write about, I appreciate that where you are coming from. And your sincerity.

    And that, to me, along with your intention, are the most important things about all that you do.

    Namaste!Continued success. For those who don’t know, it’s very hard work to sustain this kind of work.

  19. jackie.n says:

    “Since then:

    I paid off every single debt listed above. I paid off all of our credit cards, all of our consumer debts, all of our student loans, and all of our car loans.”

    i would like to have seen this statement as “my wife and i together working as a team has paid off all of this debt.” the “I” implies that you accomplished this turn around all on your own.

  20. Mary says:

    Thanks for sharing your story to us. I am on a different life path than you are, but your tips and inspiration were so helpful to my boyfriend and I, twentysomethings out of or in college. Helped us start a financial plan to eliminate credit card debt and build an emergency fund, something I thought was nearly impossible. Keep it up!

  21. Ben says:

    I’ve spent a few winters in Iowa and can confirm it’s not easy to exercise and lose weight when it’s always cold, dark, and gloomy outside. Congrats on the big weight loss!

  22. Kelly says:

    Thanks for this website Trent! I’ve purchased both of your books and love them both! I live in a cold climate too and it’s so hard to exercise during the cold, dark,gloomy months so I signed myself and my husband up at Snap Fitness. $40 a month might be a lot but really, it’s not and the club is open 24/7. Hubby and I go together a few times a week.

  23. Kate says:

    Steve: he paid his car off long ago.

  24. con says:

    I know I’ve been kind of negative on here sometimes. I enjoyed this post. I liked how personal you made it. Congrats.

  25. Dee says:

    The negative comments on here recently must have been upsetting to you. Your site is a source of great inspiration to me, and I love the little insights into your life with Sarah and your children. Keep up the good work!!

  26. Carmen says:

    I agree with Jackie in reply 20; did you really pay off all that debt alone? I’m fairly sure it would have been a joint goal and probably a mutual task.

    Besides that point that jumped out at me as extremely arrogant, I really enjoyed the post.

  27. kk says:

    Thank you for the time and energy that you put into this blog. I’ve learned lots from your site and a great many things that I was reminded of. Keep up the good work. (Don’t let the naysayers get you down.)

  28. Karen says:

    Thank you for gifting us with your knowledge (empirical and otherwise) and enthusiasm. You are a perfect example of how–by taking personal responsibility for not just your finances but every aspect of your life–you can grow in ways you could never have imagined (e.g., your becoming a vegan).

    Too many people live by default (take the easy, fun road by living on credit and ignoring problems). You show that making hard choices has its rewards, too. I wasn’t looking for financial advice when I found TSD, but I stay with it because it often makes me smile; it occasionally makes me teary; and it always makes me think!

  29. littlepitcher says:

    Happy Valentine’s Day! Love ya because it’s all from your experience, including the honesty to admit mistakes so that we don’t have to make them.

  30. Evita says:

    TSD is still the best personal finance blog around! and the only one I read on a regular basis.

    That said, I was kind of saddened that in your bio you overlooked the contribution of the person who made it all possible for you: your wife and her support (and full-time job and benefits).
    Actually, she is mentioned only twice, once as a contributor to the household debt ! (that YOU paid off?)

    sorry to be negative but I feel that your story is her story too :)

  31. CW says:

    The link to the site “It’s Just Money” worked, but the article was over a year old. Is this site still active? I was interested in the links to sites that had information on how to use leftovers.

    BTW, one of my favorite things to do for hamburgers is to fill them with a slice of American cheese — make two very thin hamburger patties and place a slice of cheese on top of one. Seal the edges by pinching the meat together and grill. I do this with meatloaf too. It’s great. Also, Worchestershire sauce is a given for hamburgers. I grill them in a skillet with 2 tbsp. butter and 2 tbsp. of Worchestershire sauce. Really great.

  32. Adult Webmaster Tutorial says:

    What sort of partnership or offers are the most worthwhile and what are the taking like? Thanks for any infos!! Meeeee! I suppose I am going to repost this questions later tonight, when all the dirty individuals are up and wank… working!

  33. It’s impressive how you have turned it all round to fit in with your lifestyle and not the other way round. Nice work!

  34. Donald says:

    This is by far and away the best coupon site on the internet.

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