Reader Mailbag: The Trent Hamm FAQ

I receive so many questions about who I am, why I write this blog, and so on that I thought it might be worthwhile to simply answer all of them in one place. That way, when I receive such questions in the future, I can just point to this page.

I suppose I might update all of this in the future, maybe in a couple of years, but the answers are quite accurate as I write this.

What made you start writing The Simple Dollar?
– Jenny

In April 2006, my family experienced a near financial meltdown. We simply did not have enough money in our checking account to cover our outstanding bills – and there were a lot of outstanding bills. We had less than $10 in our checking account and a big pile of bills that were due well before the next time either of us would be paid. I was also working at a job that, while I liked it, wasn’t the job I had always dreamed of. What was I working for?

That’s the point at which we decided to turn things around. We sold off a lot of our stuff and I started reading a lot of personal finance books.

Eventually, we came to realize that an awful lot of people our age were going through similar issues as they struggled with their finances and their place in the world. I decided to start writing The Simple Dollar mostly to reach those people and make them realize that they’re not alone in that struggle and that there is a way out.

Do you write full time? What do you do for a living?
– Kenny

I don’t know if I would go so far as saying that writing is my full time job, but it does provide a healthy portion of our income. I don’t have a typical “nine to five” job by our family’s choice. Instead, I write and engage in other income-earning opportunities as they come along.

The biggest reason for doing this was so that I could spend more time with my children. At my previous job, I was often distracted in the evenings by work tasks and I also traveled a fair amount, even missing my son’s first coherent words and first steps. I didn’t like that – and neither did my wife.

We were quite happy to take a serious pay cut in order to add some major flexibility to our lives, allow me to stay home much more, and give me a chance to work on things that I loved. My wife, thankfully, has already found a career she truly loves.

What are your hobbies? What do you do when you’re not writing?
– Cam

My primary hobby is reading. I read about three books a week – two for personal enjoyment and enrichment and one for review purposes for The Simple Dollar. I also read quite a few articles of various kinds throughout the week.

I enjoy board games. My wife and I host an all-day event once a month or so where we invite several friends over to play board games all day long. Not Monopoly or Pictionary – games more like Ticket to Ride or Power Grid. Games that require a pretty sharp mind but also offer tons of room for conversation and socializing.

I also enjoy cooking. About two or three times a week, I’ll cook up some sort of special meal, usually riffing on a recipe or an idea I found somewhere.

I don’t watch much television outside of Lost. We’ll slowly move through itneresting series on DVD on rainy days and late evenings, but that’s about it.

Why don’t you post your novel that you’ve talked about, “Rings of Saturn,” for us to read?
– Irene

I enjoy writing fiction a lot. I usually write a short story a week and also polish up an older one. I also have a largely-complete novel that I’ve kicked around for a long time, tentatively titled Rings of Saturn. I would love to someday publish some of my fiction.

I have never shared more than a scrap or two of my fiction with anyone other than family and a few very close friends. I once made the mistake of convincing myself that my fiction was good and it was met with a big pile of rejection letters and only one remotely interested tug.

Since then, I do believe I’ve improved as a fiction writer. However, I’m still not comfortable sharing it. For some reason, the fiction I write seems more personal to me than the essays I write for The Simple Dollar.

Don’t worry – if I ever do decide to do something with them, I’ll announce it on The Simple Dollar.

What is your family like?
– Sally

I have a wife, Sarah, and two children, a four year old boy (Joe) and a two year old girl (Katie). We are just about to have a third child (a boy) and, in fact, that child may have arrived by the time you read this.

We don’t live anywhere close to any of our extended family. My parents and Sarah’s parents live fairly close to each other (and my extended family is in that area as well), but her parents are transplants – most of Sarah’s extended family lives fairly near each other in another state.

We travel back to visit our family several times a year. This is one of the big reasons we own two vehicles – a Prius (with great gas mileage) for Sarah’s work commute and a Pilot (with tons of seating) for family travel.

Do you actually do the frugal stuff you write about, like make your own laundry detergent?
– Ed

I try all of it at least once just to see if it actually works. I usually wind up adopting quite a few of the ideas in terms of my normal routine.

My process usually goes something like this. I hear of a frugal idea from some source – often, it’s a friend or a family member. I’ll do the math on it to see whether it’s feasible or not. If it’s not, I’ll usually toss the idea out immediately. If it is feasible (I usually check the hourly rate to see if it is – if I can save $10 or more, I’m interested), then I’ll give it a whirl to see whether it’s something I could easily incorporate into my routine and whether it’s something I could write about.

I usually wind up discarding more ideas than I end up writing about. There are a lot of ideas for saving money out there, but most of them only save a dollar or two for an hour’s worth of effort. That’s not worth it to me – my time is more valuable than that.

Isn’t your friend ticked off at you because of that post?
– Kelly

No, I’m pretty sure he’s not.

Whenever I write about others on The Simple Dollar, I usually do one of two things. I either get their explicit permission to write about them or I edit enough details so that the exact person I am referring to would be impossible to identify.

I don’t think it’s right for me to expose the private details of a friend or anyone else on this site unless they allow me to do so.

I can’t believe you actually make money writing obvious and stupid stuff like this. It’s so easy that even a chimp could do it.
– Bill

That may be true.

The challenge of The Simple Dollar isn’t in writing an individual article. If each of you merely had to write a single article on a frugal topic once, most of you could do a bang-up job of it.

The challenge comes in writing two articles a day. Every day. Without cease. Every day of the week. Every week of the month. Every month of the year. In order to build an audience, you have to be consistent and worthwhile in your writings. That doesn’t even include the other writings I do – articles sold to publications, the two books I’ve written since The Simple Dollar started, the promotion of my work elsewhere, and so on.

It takes both discipline and passion to do that. There are a lot of days that it would be easy to convince myself to skip out and just go do something else. I have days where I have severe writer’s block. I have days where I can’t come up with a good idea or a good phrase choice.

If it’s so easy, I encourage you to start your own. Write enough worthwhile content to grab an audience (meaning it has to be of at least minimal quality and have enough ideas in it to intrigue people – oh, and you have to write consistently, like clockwork), then put in all the footwork necessary to build it – sending your best articles to other sites for links, participating in carnivals, designing your site so that it’s easy to read, trying to get media mentions.

It certainly can be done, but it requires a lot of footwork to do it.

Why do you allow negative comments on your blog? I’d just delete them all.
– Chelie

Not everyone thinks alike, nor should they. Nothing good has ever come out of everyone thinking in lockstep.

Yes, many comments could be worded a lot better. You can offer criticism and alternate ideas without being bitter and negative. If your comment comes across as just full of anger and rage and hate, no one will take you seriously.

Sometimes, there are comments that seem to be nothing but bile. I usually delete the worst of these – the ones that contain personal threats and the like. I’ve seen enough of these kinds of things that many of the “tamer” attacks don’t really seem very bothersome to me.

To a degree, I think I’m so steeled against negative comments that they just don’t bother me at all any more. If someone makes a “scathing” comment, I just really don’t care what they have to say. If they can’t be enough of a human being to word a thought, criticism, or disagreement in a reasonably polite and respectful way, I don’t have time or energy to concern myself with what they’re saying.

The Simple Dollar is great. I’d like to read some of your other writings.
– Andy

The best place to start would probably be my personal site, TrentHamm.com, where I post all kinds of different things. They’re mostly short snippets, but there are some good bits there.

You would probably also enjoy my two books. My current one, The Simple Dollar: How One Man Wiped Out His Debts and Achieved the Life of His Dreams, will be available in bookstores on June 24. My previous book, 365 Ways to Live Cheap, is available in bookstores and libraries everywhere.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag. However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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