Updated on 06.15.09

September 23, 2005

Trent Hamm

On that day, I wrote the following entry in my personal journal (edited just a bit):

Sometimes I feel like my life is completely without purpose and I’m just following some invisible pattern that someone else has put into place.

Today was a typical day. But every day is a typical day.

I woke up about 6:30 and said good bye to Sarah as she left. I watched the news for a while, got dressed, and headed off to work. I stopped at Gregory’s and ate a bagel and drank a cup of coffee while I read the paper. I drove to work. I got a few tasks done, surfed the web for a while, did a few more things. I went out to lunch at El Azteca and dropped $12 on a tasteless lunch. I sat at my desk most of the afternoon, thinking about the weekend and wishing I wasn’t a complete failure at writing. I stopped at the bookstore on the way home and bought three books. I went to the music store and got the new Basement Jaxx album that Charlie talked about. I listened to it on the way home and didn’t like it at all. I got home, tried to write a little bit while waiting for Sarah, hated everything. Deleted all of it. We went out to dinner. Now she’s watching a movie and I’m sitting here doing nothing.

I do all of these things almost every single day – but I feel like I’m going nowhere at all.

Five things really jumped out at me as I read this piece.

First, a typical day for me meant wasting a lot of money. On this “typical” day, I bought three books, a CD, and ate all of my meals out, even though I had a fully-functional kitchen at home. That’s easily $70 to $80, just wasted that day.

Second, all of that spending was utterly joyless. In theory, that spending would bring me happiness, one would think. Instead, it was just so routine that I didn’t even really think about it at all, let alone enjoy it.

Third, I had stunning amounts of time that were wasted as well. Out of that eight hour workday, I seemed to have wasted six hours of it (although I was probably exaggerating quite a bit). Still, even if I were just wasting an hour or two, why not use that time to build relationships with other people in my field, investigate new ideas, or sharpen my writing skills?

Fourth, I knew what my dream was, but I wasn’t taking real action to achieve it. I wanted to be a writer – the same dream I’ve had for most of my life – but my “action” towards it was writing for a few minutes, deciding it was “terrible,” then deleting it. I was actually writing every day in my journal, but I didn’t view that as “real” writing in any way – just a way to blow off steam.

Finally, I had a strong sense of not having any real purpose in life. I felt aimless. I didn’t know where I was going or what I was doing. Mostly, I felt like I was following a pattern that someone else had set in place for me.

The amazing part is this – all of it ties back to the money.

I knew what I wanted to do with my life, but I felt like most of the choices I wanted to make were out of financial reach. I had a pile of debts overshadowing my life and I knew I needed a healthy and very steady income to maintain my lifestyle and keep those debts at bay.

The thing was that I was actually unhappy with my lifestyle. The things I did on a daily basis – for the most part – didn’t bring me much joy at all.

Financial freedom opened the doors for me. By stepping up to the plate and making some fairly simple financial changes in my life, I was able to walk away from all of that. I now work on my own, on my own terms. I don’t bring in as much money as I once did, but I have the freedom to spend the afternoon at the park with my kids. I have the power to choose the things I want to work on instead of having to do whatever the boss says.

Yes, I gave up those stops at the bookstore. Yes, I stopped eating out. Were those big losses? They stung a little bit at the time – but mostly because it was difficult to find new patterns, not because I was losing anything. I just started cooking more at home and taking leftovers to work, and I learned to enjoy the public library.

To me, the choice to live cheaper was, in the end, an easy one. I didn’t give up the things that actually added value to my life – I just cut away a lot of the fat.

And that fat cutting made all the difference.

If you’re unhappy with the way your life is, start by cutting back on your spending, getting rid of debt, and building up some savings. Having that kind of base gives you the freedom to make the changes that you’re afraid to make now.

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  1. Jaden says:

    I loved this post!

    I just recently started couponing and following “money-saving” blogs, and it’s saved me so much and has allowed us to start paying back some old debts, too! I love the fact that now we are starting to slowly build up a savings… and I get so thrilled about the deals I find and snag that I don’t miss eating out or buying CD’s and books all the time like I used to when I dug this debt ditch for myself ;) I really think being frugal can change your outlook on life, and it’s also made my life less stressful, being stocked up on things and not having to buy as much each week. Shopping takes less time, is more rewarding, and can be done with my daughter in tow now that I have goals and lists and am prepared for the trip.

    I love your blog, found you yesterday when I was searching for a better way to organize my coupons! Thanks for all you do!

  2. Joe Light says:

    I know this is only tangential to your post, but I found the writing of your journal entry pretty compelling. Short sentences. Conversational tone. A lot of feeling. You don’t need to load up paragraphs with a lot of subordinate clauses to be a really effective writer. (And clearly, given the popularity of your work, you know how to write.)

  3. Heather says:

    Timely post. I’m making positive financial changes right now and it’s one day at a time for me. This morning has been frustrating and I very nearly lost my focus. Thanks for the insight.

  4. Danielle says:

    Doesn’t it just make you feel AWESOME thinking of how far you’ve come?!?!? :)

  5. Dan says:


    very similar….VERY similar….

    Instead of books and cd’s, my frivilous expenses were even MORE food (never added it up because it was on value menus- so never made the connection to wasted money), a nasty smoking habit, and “impressing” friends on weekends with large bar tabs- or picking up tabs.

    Fortunately, the thing that sparked the change for me was having a child.

    Once I was able to realize that something in the world meant more to me than myself, that I was ultimately responsible for another human being, the changes began.

    I convinced myself that I had to quit smoking…or something bad would happen to my child. One time I sneaked a smoke, and he got sick (coincidentally or act of god, you decide) and I’ve never touched one since.

    I started cutting back on the food because I felt that by my binge eating, I was litterally taking away food from my child. So I started cutting back.

    Long story short…reflecting back has made me think that the REAL reason to have children, is to enrich yourself, motivate yourself, give direction to yourself, all by caring more about someone else OTHER than yourself.

  6. Todd @ The Personal Finance Playbook says:

    I have always been fairly frugal, I think, but I know what it’s like to feel trapped doing something that doesn’t inspire you. I’m glad you got out, and I’m glad you’re pursuing your dream of being a writer. Congrats.

  7. My Journey says:

    Jebus! Powerful stuff. How long did you keep a personal journal? Is there a decline from when you started to that day in your life and then a rebound until today?

    Just curious

  8. Britt says:

    OMG…awesome. Trent, did you look into my life and decide to write this specifically for me today? This is EXACTLY what I feel and where I feel I am RIGHT NOW! Thanks for the words of encouragement. Fortunately for my wife and me, our debt(except mortgage) is wiped out. I’m just “sticking it out” till we save up a healthy emergency fund and who knows what after that…scary? yeah, exciting? yeah. worth it? I hope so.

  9. Mike says:

    How do you keep a journal? Is it electronic, or paper? I’ve tried keeping one several times on paper in my life, but have never been able to keep up.

  10. Michael C says:

    I would not be surprised if this is one of your most popular posts yet. Most writing books say to write truthfully to be successful, and this hits the nail on the head.

    I think the deepest insight is that your love for food is right there, you just had to gain financial freedom to truly enjoy it.

  11. cecilia says:

    I also experience those purposeless moments in life and it all boils out to MONEY. Those are idle moments spent on wasting away time, energy and hard earned money. But at the end of the time you don’t seem to gain anything at all.

    The good thing about it is that we all have a CHOICE. And I choose to do what is otherwise now. Now I have learned to cope this “down” moments through meditation and practicing delayed gratification.

  12. Shawn says:

    What great timing for a post. I am currently going through the phase where I know we need to change and we are changing, but our debt is 2 years from being paid off (it is all student loan and 1 car). Reading this helps me know that the light at the end of the tunnel is worth disliking my current situation.


  13. kris says:

    Trent, what a powerful post! I’ve been reading your blog for over a year now and I’m glad you found your path. Sharing your story has made me see how I can improve mine. The birth of my first grandchild was my wakeup call to get my finances in order and figure out how I want to spend the rest of my life. Though I’m a different generation then you, I find your blog very motivating and inspiring.
    Thank you!

  14. David says:

    Great post. Very thoughtful and reflective.

    One amazing thing I’ve noticed – is that as you cut spending – regardless of how joyless it may or may not be – it doesn’t impact my happiness level.

    If anything, it goes up because I’m proud of what I’m doing.

  15. Brad says:

    This sounds a great deal like my life now, minus the spending issue. I wish I had a better way to use my time and energy.

  16. Ben says:

    One of the bests posts I’ve seen in a while. This is exactely what I am going through right now. I don’t spend quite that much every day, and I have an emergency fund, but I feel that I am wasting my time every day with joyless pursuits. My job is dead end and the money I spend does not bring any happiness. The worst part is, I believe if I truly knew what I wanted to do with my life, I have a lot of determination and talent to bring to that goal. Hopefully I find what that is…

  17. Elise says:

    Trent –

    Excellent post! And so inspiring. I’ve always been careful with money, but some unexpected expenses and income losses have caused me to cut back even more this year. And I found it was easy to do without the dinners out and the extra cable channels. I enjoy the things I do have even more now. It’s so nice to read a blog where someone else “gets” it.

  18. J Brown says:

    This post is why I read this site. This type of post is what got me hooked about 1 yr ago. I very much miss these types of posts.

    In my personal life, I have been able to do some of these items. I have seen, reflected and in the process of taking action. Actually, I am taking action ‘right now’ by going to class and getting a certification.

    I would hope the next few posts would tell us how your decisions on the next day – 24 SEP 05 set the path for today.

    I think the hardest part is the next step of taking action. What does that mean for my daily grind?

  19. Cynthia says:

    This is an excellent post. It makes me stop and think about my own life. My own day to day routine. We’re getting our financial house in order and I do hope that we can change our quality of life for the better because of it. So far we’re still in the trenches and sometimes I do feel stuck. Thanks Trent. Must go ponder, analyze and think.

  20. Ann says:

    #6 Britt, took the words right out of mouth (right down to the OMG). It feels good to know that there are others who go through the same thing and sharing it makes me feel a little better.

  21. Party says:

    Those struggles in the past made you come here. Everything is necessary and meaningful. That is why I like your blog. Now, Koreans visit your blog, too, since I introduced it in my blog^^. Wishing you a bigger success.

  22. Kathleen says:

    I’m delurking to say great post and that I can relate to what you wrote about. I like to eat out and buy clothes, though I have been buying less books and checking out more from the library. I have a good job but I don’t think I’ll be here forever as I haven’t gotten the kind of satisfaction here that I’m looking for. I think despite my spending on food and clothes, I’ve got a decent amount of savings and retirement money and have no debt other than a car loan. But I would like to find more meaning in my life and you are certainly inspiring.

  23. Kathryn says:

    Funny that i come to make a comment & my point is listed in the very first comment.

    Not related directly to your post at all, but your feeling (then) of being a failure at writing. I think you write very well.

    For the past few days i’ve come here from another blog that does not use paragraph breaks & apparently has little knowledge of grammar or punctuation. I find it frustrating to try to work my way thru all that black print. It has been a relief to land here & find your immensely readable post. I mean that besides the interesting things you write. A lot of other folks have interesting stories, but they seem to have no clue as to how to write.

    So i appreciate your (NOT you’re!!! LOL) blog for the very intelligent & helpful things you write and for your ability to write well.

  24. Tori says:

    This post hit home.

  25. Christine T. says:

    I love this post! I feel like I do many routine things that don’t bring any joy but I have managed to cut down on spending finally.

  26. I guess you weren’t a complete failure at writing after all. :-) I’m glad that you didn’t pack it in in 2005. You would have deprived your readers of this very personal glimpse into your mind in your time of struggle. Thanks for the insight.

  27. The Diving Belle says:

    fan-tas-tic post!

    thank you for sharing this — I’m working on re-inventing my life and career and it was SUCH a blast to read your journal entry and see how far you’ve come in just a few years.

    what an inspiration!

  28. andrew says:

    A lot of power in this post.

    Maybe you should start a “Trent’s Diary” daily reading?
    :D :D :D

  29. Gwen says:

    I relate to this post very much, like many of other readers it seems. For me though, the heart of the matter isn’t necessarily money, it’s feeling like I don’t have goals.
    I recently graduated from college. For so long my “goal” was clear – get an A in a class. Being in school provided structure, I had something almost tangible to aim towards. Now that I have graduated I am finding I am so unproductive. I suppose this post is the final kicker that makes me realize I need to sit down and write some sort term goals so I don’t feel so aimless.

  30. Molly says:

    This is fantastic. Thank you for sharing! I used to feel like this is previous soul-less jobs; now I am excited to go to work each day and look forward to seeing my coworkers and getting my work done. I go home and am a happier partner. I view my “role” as really being a good member of my family – taking care of them is the most important thing, and how I do that is by taking care of me and working on liking my job.

    Not related to money, but definitely related to the blahs and purpose. And eons better.

  31. Marsha says:

    Very powerful, Trent – thank you for sharing your journal entry and your reflections on it.

    I have never done well in any attempts at journaling, but the accountability of putting something on paper is compelling. I wonder what I would discover if I made a similar written record of some of my days…

  32. Dennis says:

    I have read all your posts for over a year now and I think this is my favorite one. It’s hard for me to believe that was actually you 4 yrs ago!

  33. gail says:

    I’m surprised that you fail to mention that your personal “financial freedom” would not have been possible without your wife continuing to work full-time and bring in a steady paycheck!

  34. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “I’m surprised that you fail to mention that your personal “financial freedom” would not have been possible without your wife continuing to work full-time and bring in a steady paycheck!”

    Your comment is not only arrogant and intrusive, it doesn’t represent any sort of understanding of how our marriage, relationship, and professional choices really work.

    My wife has a job that she is deeply passionate about, and she has an open door to quit and do whatever she pleases. Our financial life is secure and steady enough that she could be a stay-at-home mom or start freelancing. She has as much freedom as I do – perhaps more – to choose what she wants to do next with her life.

    Financial freedom isn’t about sweating who has a “steady paycheck.” Financial freedom means you can do whatever you’re passionate about, and that’s what we’re both doing. My wife is lucky in that she figured out her passions – and was able to follow them – when we were still in school. Wild horses couldn’t drag her away from her work.

  35. Matt @ Ratoinal Imperative says:

    I find it hard to believe that anyone has not felt like this at some point in their life, but it is refreshing to see that some do break out of the mold and actually seek out what their “calling” may be.

    If you could even see remnants of penny counting back in those times (I have never, ever written down something I’ve bought in my personal journal) it perhaps makes sense what you are doing now.

    Keep up the good work!

  36. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    A note: the quote above is actually the first four paragraphs in my upcoming second book. The entry here is just a little riff on it.

    If you liked this entry, I really think you’ll like the book quite a lot. Stay tuned for details.

  37. Wren says:

    @ comment #34, re: Trent’s (and his wife’s) choice – Sounds to me like you are so unbelievably jealous that Trent and his wife were able to make a choice like this, that all you can do is whine. How about you try and figure out what would really make you happy, then do that, rather than snark on someone’s personal decision that has made them happy.

    As Trent said, your post lacks understanding. I would agree. But, you have to start somewhere…

  38. Wren says:

    *sighs* That should read @ comment #33… epic fail on my part. :s

  39. ashby corner says:


    Great site, great story. I look at your stuff every day.

    BUT…I think the attack on “gail” might have been a bit harsh. Unless I missed a part of your story, would it have been possible for both partners in your marriage to do a major transformation at the same time?

    Just a thought.

    Rock on.

  40. Joe says:

    This post is why we come back to read, it connects on a very different level than any book club or “Intelligent Investor” post. It’s part of your growth as a person, and what your followers find interesting.

  41. Maus says:

    T, I just have to say it could have been me writing that journal entry. In fact, I went back and checked mine from the same time (9/22/05) and here is just a bit: “Even when I work, I accomplish next to nothing. It is as if sand were pouring through my fingers. I had planned to stay late and work on my CMTC presentation, but my concentration is shot. There is every probability that I will skate this presentation and skulk into the sunset in ignominy.” Purple prose aside, it’s pretty glum stuff; and it hasn’t gotten much better over the years.

    I admire so much that you have crafted a well-written, successful blog. Keep up the great work.

    It would be great if you could write a little about health care insurance and frugality in the area of medical expenses. The greatest barrier to leaving my job quagmire is the fear that I will not be able to provide for my health. Otherwise, I’d be self-employed tomorrow.

  42. Jessica says:

    I joined into the chorus of people who say that it’s for stuff like THIS that we read your blog. I have not purchased the 365 Ways to Live Cheap for that reason, but thank you so, So, SO much for this little intro of your next book. I’m now really looking forward to reading the whole thing.

    I think that this is the reason that people like listening to Dave’s story too, the whole “I’ve done stupid with zeros on the end.”

  43. Juli says:

    If I can address the topic of books…. I too used to spend a lot on books, but then I discovered paperbackswap.com on one of the money saving blogs I read.

    I LOVE it. I save a lot of money because even buying penny books on Amazon gets expensive. Yes, I do spend $$ on postage, but it’s still cheaper than Amazon.

    I guess it helps that when I listed my books to swap, I had over 170 of them – can you spell addiction? I’m a bookworm, just like my mom. As someone requests one and I mail it, I get another credit to use.

    The only way I’m related to the site is as a very happy member. There’s no cost to join – just an extra couple cents when you print postage from their site.

    I went from buying books sometimes full-price when I was bored to having a box of books to read! My job is 100% travel, so I spend a lot of times in airports and on planes, so I need a lot of reading material.

  44. Katie says:

    Really inspiring. Ideas for getting my spouse to snap out of something similar?

  45. Tara says:

    This was a very moving post. I am at a very dull and grinding part of my life right now – not satisfied at work, but need to do it for 3 more years until my finances are in order. I’m also struggling with finding out what I truly want to do with my professional life. I could do anything, if only I knew what it was! The classic tale. But I have hope that it will come to me as I wind down this 3 year period and start researching my next career.

  46. Doug says:

    @33 – Gail, if you’ve ever bothered to read any of Trent’s other posts about his life you will find that your ridiculous comments are way off the mark.

  47. sai says:

    Oh Trent! What an inspiring, uplifting post! You know, we keep reading so much nowadays but very few pieces, such as this, really touch the heart. It is such a coincidence that in the following post you had so clearly put up your blogging philosophy and simultaneously come up with such a truely inspiring article.

    The journal entry could easily have been mine, just a few months back. To see how far you have come in less than four years, by living consciously and making the right changes in lifestyles is truly inspirational.

    These are the the sort of posts that have made folks like me such ardent followers of your blog!

    Thank you.

  48. kristinelevy says:

    In a recent post you had mentioned the desire to have your children interact more with other children.

    That will happen. Kids never used to go into group situations so young, it is a fairly new thing, largely due to both parents working. The positives are there, but they are also spun to alleviate parental guilt.

    In any case,this ties to your wife’s passions for her occupation… to develop a passion, and to know what yo ant to do in life, you have to become bored. You have to be a kid sitting there alone, and it is then you learn how to entertain yourself. It promotes introspection, and innovation.

    If you want to know what your child loves, see what they do in their “bored” time. It’s the biggest clue. A little boredom (not neglect) is a good thing.

  49. Kim says:

    For a brief shining moment I had work that was inspiring to me. I enjoyed what I did and was able to contribute to the lives of others. Then the layoff came when our branch closed.

    Now, after seeking work for 7 months, it appears that I may be offered a job by a former boss. The people are terrific…the job mind-numbingly boring and repetitious.

    I am older than you are, Trent, and am rather frustrated that I had broken out, finally, but I can’t stay out. My parents live with me and depend on me literally for the roof over their heads. Poor financial decisions in the past and a business failure haunt me, as these, coupled with the new burden of caring for family tie my hands behind my back.

    Were it not for them I would be so ready to find a smaller, more affordable house that would free me up to pursue my dreams and keep me from re-joining the rat race.

    My husband and I are not in the same place as far as this goes. I think my frustration level is shared, but he has a more long-term picture in his head, seeking certain things in a retirement that require us to keep the house we are in and pay it off, so that our retirement is free of that financial obligation. It makes sense, but…

    Ah well, perhaps I simply need to go back to the drawing board, suck it up and do what needs to be done for now and prepare for an exit a few years down the road. Perhaps then we will be in a better position to be able to pursue dreams.

    I find that the distractions of financial matters and the mental and emotional distress all of this causes interferes with my writing process. How have you managed to get past that? I am now in the midst of six books which I am writing simultaneously. I jump from one to the other to the other and back and forth. An idea for one comes and I simply must write it while the fire and inspiration is there, but then an idea for the other one comes and I am off.

    It’s rather like being pulled by many children in a household. I need to figure out how to capture the ideas but go back to the single project I am trying to complete.

  50. tentaculistic says:

    I think you should frame that journal entry and hang it on the wall in front of your toilet, so that you can reflect on it regularly and rejoice that you took the actions and made the decisions that took you out of that dead end way of life!

  51. Carrie says:

    @Kim: what works for me on handling too many ideas is writing the idea on an index card, tossing the card into a shoebox, then getting back to the book I’m currently writing. I work on one project at a time and (this is key) I do whatever I can to finish what I start. Jumping from project to project, especially with your busy schedule, is a recipe for disaster because you end up having a bunch of half-baked projects and nothing ready to sell. Getting past the initial “oooh, shiny” stage of writing is difficult, but required to make the writing dream a reality. Good luck!

  52. joan says:

    If I had to choose which post I liked the most, this one would be way up at the top.

  53. Carrie says:

    I agree, this was an excellent post. Funny how someone else’s most personal moments can touch so many other people. It shows that none of us are truly alone. Trent, give yourself a pat on the back for making such good progress since that dark moment in your life!

  54. syb il says:

    Trent – a wonderful insight into your ‘old’ life – and a testimony to the joy you and your family have found by abandoning the habits of consumption. Those of us who have raised children have witnessed how structure and boundaries help them experience life more fully. And it works for us too. You now have a mature understanding of your values, and that’s a life-long, immeasurable asset. Congratulations on a making huge step in your professional and personal growth.

  55. sibyl says:

    What an awesome and in-your-face illustration of the changes you have made and try to share with others!

  56. Steve says:

    Trent, you are an awesome person! A couple years ago, I was in too deep… I was searching for a book I had ready way back and Google led me to your site… and that was one of the best things that happened to me. I am forever different because of what I found here and in your personal life shared at this blog. For that, I am forever grateful.
    I am happy that you are where you are now, and that you continue to share parts of your life to inspire others that they can make it, with a little effort, change, and determination.
    God bless!

  57. Jessica says:

    Great post! I can totally relate to this feeling. I want to change so many things about my life but it almost seems overwhelming. Seeing that you were in a similar place and managed to pull yourself out of the rut and make your life more productive and happier is a great inspiration. Thank you for sharing this with us. I loved it. I can’t wait to see the book either!

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