We’re joined today by Marc from the personal finance blog Vital Dollar. Marc has been blogging for over a decade now and we thank him for sharing his goals and tips with us.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself (name, profession, academic background, country, interests, etc.).
My name is Marc and I’m a personal finance blogger at VitalDollar.com. I live in Pennsylvania (United States) with my wife and our two kids. I’ve been self-employed as a blogger and internet marketer since 2008, and I’ve had blogs in several different industries like web design, photography, travel, and finance.
When I’m not working, I enjoy spending time with my family. My favorite hobby is photography, especially landscapes and nature.
How did you get into blogging?
I started blogging in 2007. At the time I had a side hustle designing websites for small businesses and I started a blog in attempt to get traffic and convert some of those visitors into paying customers.
My original goals didn’t involve making money directly from the blog. I was just hoping to use the blog to get more clients for my services. But once I got started with the blog and it began growing, my plans changed and I decided to focus on growing the blog instead of trying to get work from clients.
That blog grew pretty quickly, and after about 1.5 years I was able to leave my full-time job to pursue my blog full-time. After a few years of running that blog, I sold it for $500,000 in 2013.
After selling that blog I moved on and spent most of my time on a photography blog. I eventually wound up with 3 different photography blogs. I sold two of them together in 2016 for $500,000, and I sold the third one in 2018 for $216,000.
After selling my last photography blog, I’ve been devoting most of my time to growing Vital Dollar.
What are your long term financial goals?
My goal is to be able to retire by 55 years of age, which is 15 years from now. Our kids are 6 and 3-years old, so the youngest will be finishing high school in about 15 years. I’d like to have the freedom to either retire or work on my own terms by that time.
I doubt I’ll completely retire even if I am able to, because I get bored very easily and I need something productive to do. But I’d like to be able to work on whatever I want, without any pressure of making money from it.
How do you plan to achieve them?
My plan, at least for now, is to keep building websites and blogs. Plans can change at any time, and I’ve actually had some thoughts within the past year of possibly doing something completely different, but as of right now my plan is to keep doing what I’ve been doing.
I’ve been fortunate to be able to build and sell multiple businesses for six figures (my wife and I also built and sold an Amazon FBA business in addition to the blogs mentioned earlier). I’ve never had a huge, extremely profitable website or blog, but I’ve had some success with several different sites.
I believe if I can build a few more successful sites over the course of the next 15 years, I should be able to reach my goals.
With the money that I make from my business, I pursue a few different passive income ideas to grow my net worth. Those sources of passive income will also (hopefully) serve as a good source of income after I’m retired. For now, I’m trying to do more investing with dividend stocks and hands-off real estate, like crowdfunding and REITs.
How far along are you on your path to financial independence?
I guess it depends on your definition of financial independence. Personally, I don’t feel that 25x our annual spending is enough for me to feel true financial freedom. My goal is 50X our annual spending, and we’re about half way to that goal.
What was your first personal finance lesson in life?
I’m not sure if there was one specific lesson that came first, but my parents raised me to take care of my money and use it wisely. Growing up, we always had everything we needed, but money was pretty tight. My parents did a great job of managing their money and stretching it as far as possible.
They taught me to save, not to spend money that I didn’t have, to give to others, and to value other things more than money.
What is your money philosophy?
I believe that there are other things in life that are much more important than money, but money makes a lot of good things possible. For example, family relationships are more important than money, but one of the reasons I am pursuing financial independence is to be able to have more time with family. The money itself is not as important as the things that are made possible through money.
Any financial mistakes you’d like to share?
I consider my biggest financial mistake to be waiting too long to start my side hustle (which turned into my current full-time business). My 20’s were not great years for me financially. For the first few years after college, I had a hard time finding a job that I liked, and my solution was to keep looking for other jobs. Eventually, I decided to start a side hustle and try creating something on my own rather than looking for another employer. That wound up being one of the best decisions I ever made, but I wish I had done it sooner.
My wife and I have also not had the best success with houses. We owned our first place for 3 years and lost about $10,000 when we sold it. There wasn’t much we could do about it because the market took a big dip while we owned the place, but in hindsight we would have been better off renting for those 3 years.
Please share your top 3 personal finance hacks.
- Credit card rewards. I use credit cards for everything and have several different credit cards in order to get the most cash back and rewards for different purchases. I have an article that covers my approach for maximizing credit card rewards.
- Stacking rewards. In addition to using credit cards to earn rewards, I also use other methods to get more rewards and cash back from most purchases. This includes things like cash back apps, buying discounted gift cards, and taking advantage of loyalty programs. I also have an article on stacking rewards and cash back.
- Tracking net worth. I use Personal Capital to track my net worth and I’ve found that it has a big impact on my overall view of finances and what I do with my money. Now I consider how each financial decision will impact my net worth, and it’s been really powerful.
You have an interesting profession of selling websites. Tell us about that.
My top tip is to focus on the profit that you make from the website. By far the biggest factor in determining how much you’ll get for your blog or website will be your average monthly profit.
There are several steps you should take to get a site ready to sell. Aside from maximizing profit, you should also look to increase diversity in your sources of revenue and traffic. Try not to rely on one source of revenue or traffic, or else potential buyers may feel like they would be at risk if something happens to that source.
You can also de-personalize your site so that it is not branded around you personally. If the site is too personal, buyers will worry about what will happen once you are no longer involved with the site. Will visitors/readers still care about the site?
You should also prepare detailed reports for potential buyers. A profit and loss statement that shows your income and expenses by month is something you’ll need. Having that prepared ahead of time will help you to be ready.
I don’t think there is a set amount of time needed to prepare. If you have your financials ready, it’s possible to move pretty quickly. However, the process of finding a buyer, negotiating, and getting the deal finalized will take some time. My sales have usually taken a few months. If you list the site with a broker, they may aim to have it sold in 3-6 months. It can happen much fast though. The blog I sold in 2018 was through a broker and it only took about 1.5 months from the time I started to work with the broker until the time it was finalized and I had the money.
Running online businesses is a full-time job for me. It started as a side hustle, but it’s been full-time since 2008.
What advice would you offer to new bloggers?
My biggest piece of advice would be to have patience and take a long-term approach. Blogging is a great way to make money, but you’re unlikely to make money quickly. It usually takes at least several months, if not a year, before you’ll start to make money. Too many bloggers give up after just a few months because they’re not seeing results.
Another issue that hurts many bloggers is a lack of focus. Ideally, your content should be focused on one main topic, or a few closely related topics. Writing about a lot of different things makes it harder to build your audience.
What financial advice do you have for millennials?
Start saving money now, if you haven’t already started. Many young people feel like they don’t need to start saving until they’re older, but the younger you are, the more time you have for your money to compound and grow. Saving aggressively for a few years early in your life can have a huge impact down the road.
Thanks for your insights, Marc. It’s been a pleasure to interview you.