Christopher Guest Post: Distilled Dollar

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing our friend Matt, a CPA and entrepreneur from the windy city. He has been blogging at Distilled Dollar since early 2016. His first post was published on January 5th of that year, a mere four days before I published mine.

You could say our blogs have grown up together, and I’m glad to see our little guys thriving as toddlers now in the spring of 2018.

Matt has turned his online presence into a full-time gig as you’ll learn in the interview that follows. Not only does he have the blog, but he’s also got a podcast of quick money tips he does with Grant Sabatier called Millennial Money Minutes. As of today, they’ve put out 275 podcasts!

As if that weren’t enough, he and his better half have a Distilled Dollar Youtube Channel full of one-minute videos designed to teach personal finance concepts to millennials with frighteningly short attention spans (my interpretation, not his!).

Let’s get to know Matt a little better and learn where his blog name comes from. Could it have something to do with distilled spirits? The logo is our first clue.

 

 

What’s a Christopher Guest post?

 

Inspired by Nigel Tufnel, the character portrayed by Christopher Guest in Spinal Tap, I took Mr. 1500’s ten questions, and amped them up to eleven.

If you’re not familiar with the scene, take 50 seconds to watch this video and enjoy the dialog between Nigel and Rob Reiner.

I decided I’d start a Q&A of my own. Not satisfied with just ten questions, “this one goes to eleven”. Just like Nigel’s amplifiers.

I also enjoy responding to the answers provided by the interviewee, which makes the interview flow more like a conversation. And conversation is what we’re after.

 

What do you do (or did you do) for a living? What do you like best about your job? If you were a physician, what type of a physician do you think you would be? Why?

 

First off, I wanted to say thank you to PoF. [PoF: Not sure I’ve done anything yet, but OK!]

Thanks specifically for the invite to be a part of this guest series and glad someone like PoF is servicing the personal finance community. I owe him major kudos on several occasions via direct messages we shared over email and twitter, so I am honored to give back via this post. Now, let’s dig into the fun stuff.

I’m a trained accountant, specifically a tax consultant. This means I wake up each day and praise the IRS for allowing me to read ultra-dry tax law all day. I am only slightly joking, as I am a CPA by profession and I do handle tax work at my 9-5.

Within the accounting profession, I actually know a little about accounting. As mentioned, I focused in on taxes as I find them fascinating. I love saving people money and saving people money on taxes is basically the greatest news to deliver.

If I had to do it all over again I would gladly pick the same route because I’ve learned a tremendous amount about projects, clients, teamwork, and taxes. I spent years in public accounting, (specifically while working at a Big 4 accounting firm), and while the hours were long – I do not regret the decision as those hours churned me into the taxman I am today.

Within actual jobs themselves, I consider myself to have had a few different jobs, at least three, at this stage of my career. (I’m currently 28 for anyone wondering how long this career has been so far.)

My first job was in public accounting, handling various tax engagements and visiting some interesting client sites. I grew up in this space and much of it is trial by fire. You either learn or you leave – and I’m glad I had over 3.5 years of experience in public accounting.

Most recently, I’ve been an in-house tax professional at a Fortune 100 company here in Chicago, my hometown. Much of the work is the same, but thankfully, the hours have been cut down from 70-80 per week to 40-50 each week.

With all that extra time back on my hands these past two years, I’ve entered into my 3rd “job,” – with my online site, Distilled Dollar, where I discuss how my fiancée and I went from living paycheck-to-paycheck 4 years ago to now saving over 60% of our income. Most recently, we had a Q3 where we saved 63.5% of our income which was a record for us.

The site has grown over the past two years and I’m excited that it has branched out into multiple income streams; a podcast which hit 1.5 million downloads in a year, consulting services to nearly 20 clients on entrepreneurial topics, and various opportunities within the blogging world itself.

What started out as a blog to help me write down my ideas on personal finance has turned into this crazy business that is allowing my fiancée and I to leave our 9-5’s to pursue blogging and – more lucratively – online products and services.

At each stage, I’ve loved the people I work with and the projects I’ve been involved with. Leaving my vocation of public accounting was not easy, and leaving my current job has not been an easy decision. In many ways, I wish I hated my job, as that would make for a much easier process of exiting.

 

[PoF: It’s pretty cool when your side gig becomes successful enough to become your main gig. There’s a lot of freedom that comes with being your own boss, and much less risk when you can slowly transition to it while still gainfully employed.

I love how you’ve included your future wife in the project and how you work together. My wife has been helping a bit with some behind-the-scenes social media work recently and it has been a real blessing. She also does some proofreeding (albeit poorly 😉 ) and gives me ideas for new posts on a regular basis.]

 

Describe your blog and tell us why your blog would appeal to a physician seeking FIRE in eleven sentences.

 

Distilled Dollar is the story of how my fiancée and I went from living paycheck-to-paycheck to saving over 60% of our income, all within the space of 3 years.

It wasn’t easy and we had some rock-bottom moments – including $2,000 stolen via fraud. Failure taught us a lot so we are open in sharing the struggles we’ve experienced.

I believe this is one of the chief reasons my blog has been a success, as people have emailed me or messaged me saying they’re glad we share our struggles as well as our triumphs.

As an avid reader, I share many of the key takeaways I’ve used from reading various books on personal finance, history, and philosophy. I follow Charlie Munger’s advice and incorporate a “Lollapalooza” effect into my decision-making models. This somehow gives me a broad appreciation for the many ways of viewing the world and I believe my audience resonates with this open approach.

Oh, and I love bourbon and all things whiskey – so part of my audience appreciates this as well! 🙂

Specific to physicians, I am very procedurally focused when it comes to personal finance, and I try to eliminate the emotions from my decision-making process. I like to think physicians act the same way when delivering treatment and performing operations on their patients.

For more specifics, you can read my 17 Strategies We Used To Save $50,000 in 2016 and most recently, My 3 Guiding Principles to Saving $100,000 in 2017.

 

[PoF: When we throw a party, I’ll bring the beer and you can bring the whiskey. Let’s do it at your place so we can hit up Lollapalooza afterward. 

Personal finance is personal, but I agree that emotions tend to make us make poor decision’s. It’s best to approach money with the most unbiased viewpoint we can achieve, which can be difficult.

I’ll be interested to hear more about the fraud that cost you $2,000. That bites.]

 

What inspired you to start a blog of your own? Was there a particular event you remember that made you feel your blog had arrived? Any big plans for your blog in the future?

 

I spent 2 years thinking about starting a blog – so it was something I wanted to do for a long time. My simple thought process was, “What would I do if I already had all the money I needed?”

The easiest answer was to teach others how to manage, grow, and build their wealth so they could be in the same shoes. For the longest time I believed I needed to have reached financial independence myself before I could speak about the topic, but once I left my 80-90 hour job for my 40-50 hour job, I knew I was going to replace much of that time with starting the blog.

Initially, the blog was a major success before I ever hit publish. The goal was twofold: for me to write my thoughts down on paper, and for my fiancée (girlfriend at the time) to read over my thought process.

It was almost my cowardly way of avoiding the tough discussions about money – because money was our largest source of stress in the early days. I believe this is what allowed me to stick to blogging for so long, because before I hit publish on an article – it was already a success, despite 0 people reading the post or 10,000 reading it.

Fast forward two years and the blog has turned into a source of income that has already surpassed both of our 9-5’s. We are extremely fortunate to be in this position, and so we are dedicating ourselves to growing the blog, expanding the business and driving a larger impact.

The blog itself doesn’t make quite that much money, and I’m starting to differentiate the blog from more of the business services and products that I’ve developed since. If I could sum it up, Distilled Dollar is about personal finance and many of my new consulting and coaching services relate closer to entrepreneurship and delivering results for my clients.

 

[PoF: So you started writing blog posts as a way to avoid speaking to your better half about money? You, sir, win the award for introvert of the year!

You’ve certainly capitalized on the popularity of your blog. I was told early on that blogging is not a business. A blog is a source of information or entertainment that can serve as a gateway to an actual business, which may be selling books, selling ads, coaching and consulting, etc… 

I haven’t quite figured out what that business is here, but I am obviously doing some business with advertisements and affiliate marketing. Here’s a great example:]

 

Earn a $100 bonus with your first investment using promo code Partner100

 

Give me eleven posts you think Physician on FIRE readers might want to read.

 

I linked to two popular posts above and will include a full list here:

 

 

[PoF: A great selection, and I had read a number of them before you sent them my way. You’ll also notice that I have no affiliate links to roboadvisors, either. An easy way to make a buck, but I’m not a big fan, either.

The math on that last post is impressive. Small changes in either income or spending can have dramatic effects on our FI timeline!]

 

At what age are you most likely to retire (or at what age did you retire) from full-time work? What are you doing to help realize your retirement target?

 

I have no intentions to ever retire in the traditional sense. I’m in this game for the long haul, and like my largest idols – Ben Franklin, Warren Buffett, and Charlie Munger – I intend to work from beyond the grave if possible.

In terms of financial independence, I believe my fiancée and I can still be on track to reach FI by age 35. I am currently 28 and she is 27 so we still have a ways to go.

[PoF: You’re already your own boss, so that’s a big step in that general direction. Now, you get to decide how much you want to work, when you work, and where your workplace is going to be. 

I’ve accepted the fact that my retirement from medicine won’t represent an actual retirement. I expect to continue this online endeavor well beyond my last day of work, but I do expect that at some point, I’ll cut way back or retire from this in some way, too.

I try not to look much further than about five years into the future when envisioning what I want or expect life to look like. Based on experience, I’ve found my preferences and priorities change in a way that makes projections futile.]

 

 

What does an ideal retirement look like for you? What will you do with your time when full-time work is in your rearview mirror?

 

My full-time work is about to be in the rearview mirror, although it was not intentional. I originally intended to reach FI and then transition to blogging full-time, but given the recent successes of Distilled Dollar, I’ve decided to make it my life mission to provide personal finance advice for free or for a low cost, while keeping the lights on — and the investments growing – via the products and services stemming from the other aspect of the business.

By other aspect, I refer to my most recent consulting and coaching services geared towards teaching entrepreneurs how to achieve results.

As mentioned above, I started the blog with the question, “What would I do if I had my fortune already?,” and so I feel I’m being pulled into alignment with my, “post-retirement,” strategy.

After I reach FI, I believe I’ll still work on helping entrepreneurs achieve the results they seek, so I believe within a few months, I will be doing what I will be doing for decades to come.

 

[PoF: Sounds like a plan, and the winds of change lead you down a different path, you’ll be in a good spot financially to change course.]

 

I’ll give you eleven sentences to dish out advice to a young physician. Any and all advice is welcome. We talk about personal finance, so money is fair game, but if you have advice on being a better doctor, a better parent / spouse / friend / human, we’re all ears.

 

Embrace your role as a leader from day one. Being a leader involves knowing when to listen and do the grunt work, because you’re setting an example for the next guy/gal that will start at the bottom of the rung. Embrace leadership at all walks of your career because one day you will be in that top role.

Never focus on only one aspect of your life, because all other facets will begin to crumble and the whole system will deteriorate.

What I mean is, focus on stringing together your competencies, because stringing together is more important than any individual competency. I have found many successful people fail through their success because they missed the small things.

As another friend told me recently, flowers don’t cost much, but divorce is expensive. My idol, Ben Franklin, would say, “small leaks can sink a great ship,” so don’t let small stresses turn into larger ones.

My favorite quote on this last principle is recited by the great jazz icon Charlie Parker, “master the instrument, master the music, then forget all that bull**** and just play.”

Lastly, don’t be afraid to spend a few hours each week learning to manage money and grow your portfolio. We spend 2,000 hours each year earning money, so I believe it is wise to spend a few hours learning to expand our earnings.

 

[PoF: That last line is so true, and it applies to everyone. It’s amazing how much we focus on working to make money and how little time the vast majority of people spend on figuring out how to both keep and grow that money.

Putting in one hour per week to read personal finance books or blog posts can go a long way toward becoming financially literate.]

 

You’ve got eleven days to visit anyplace in the world with an $11,000 budget. Where do you go and what do you do?

 

Currently, I would use that money to travel to Hawaii, specifically Oahu, as that is where my grandparents live. My grandfather’s health has taken a bit of a negative turn in recent months, so my plan for 2018 is to move there by the end of the year.

I’ve always respected my grandfather tremendously as he grew up in Poland, was there during the outbreak of World War II, and moved his family after the war to America. He placed down incredible roots in a new country, worked hard, and eventually moved out to Hawaii to enjoy his retirement.

I owe all that I am to the courage, the resolve, and the spirit of that man and of course his beautiful wife (aka my grandma).

So for me, I would visit them a little bit earlier than my current plans. Of course, personally, I enjoy time on the islands and would also take advantage of the warm climate. Living in Chicago means I am unable to complete much of my triathlon training regimen outside, so I am stuck indoors in pools, on cycling trainers, and on treadmills.

Lastly, Hawaii means more than just paradise as my fiancée also had a nasty knee surgery a year ago. Long story short, she now responds negatively to large fluctuations in the barometric pressure due to changes in the climate. With a stable climate such as Hawaii, I know that would mean less pain for her.

 

Buried in Sand

my son didn’t want to leave, either -pof

 

[PoF: I don’t know if anyone has so clearly stated exactly what they would do and why. Better still is the fact that you have a plan to follow through, and for a wonderful reason, to be closer to a grandfather who I’m sure could use the help and companionship.

Regular readers know that my family and I spent most of February on the Hawaiian islands with a week in Oahu. I wouldn’t choose to live there indefinitely, but we certainly could have used more time. Be sure to look up Nords from The Military Guide when you’re out there. He’s a great guy to know and you can find him at White Plains Beach with a surfboard several times a week.]

 

Name eleven beverages you enjoy. You can be as general or specific as you like.

 

Can I name 11 whiskeys? [PoF: Yes, you may. But you may not drink 11 whiskeys. At least not in one sitting. If you want to keep doing what you’re doing for decades, you’re going to want a functioning liver.]

I’m by far the biggest fan of Maker’s Mark. Specifically, I do enjoy their 46 bottle, but I tend to rely on the classic Maker’s Mark. It’s a great whiskey at a great price.

Most recently, I’ve had a couple of their custom label bottles – Lorreta Summa and another where the name escapes me. They customize the stakes used in the barrels and the flavor touched my soul – so I’m a big fan of whiskey, and specifically, Maker’s. In fact, the first trip my fiancée and I took was down to Loretto, KY to visit the distillery down there.

I even have a barrel with my name on it down at the distillery that should be ready for tapping in 2018 or early 2019. If I can I would buy the barrel, but I know the distillery sells their barrels to other distillers as a whiskey barrel can often be used 10-12 times before it bites the dust.

After Maker’s I would go with Glenlivet or Glenfiddich – specifically the 18 year Glenlivet and the 15 year Glenfiddich. These drinks are ultra-smooth so I would recommend these first ahead of Maker’s to a new whiskey drinker.

On the bandwagon of a smoother taste, I’m also a fan of Basil Hayden’s – although I personally prefer Maker’s when given the option. Basil seems to have a less intimidating taste than Maker’s so I’ve seen positive results when recommending this drink over Maker’s.

My future father-in-law is a big fan of Glenmorangie so I’ve taken an appreciation to their 10 year bottle.

I’ve seen a lot of sherry cask whiskeys lately – but I’m not a big fan. Overall, I prefer a less peaty taste so I’m not a big fan of islay’s either – which are often made when they smoke dirt to create that peaty taste.

Having named only 8 whiskeys, I could easily name 88 more – but in the essence of saving some time, I’ll throw out 3 more of my favorites: Woodford Reserve, Blanton’s, and Jefferson’s Reserve.

Thanks PoF – it is 4pm on a Monday and all I want to do now is grab a glass of whiskey! 🙂 I do have a secret pipe dream for 10 years from now, opening and operating my own distillery, but who knows if that will ever happen.

 

[PoF: “Show me the way to the next whisky bar. Oh, don’t ask why. Oh, don’t ask why.”

In the past, I’ve dreamt of owning a brewery. Now that I’ve been an investor in a couple of them, I’m not so sure I want to turn that hobby into a job, so I’m content with my homebrewing hobby and owning a small piece of a brewery or two.]

 

 

Now, eleven foods.

 

Mexican – I love Mexican food as I worked a lot of summers on the southside of Chicago. I believe Chicago has some of the best Mexican food in the world – but this is my inherent Chicago bias coming to the table. I would honestly include about half my eleven foods as various Mexican dishes.

Outside of the above paragraph – I’m a sucker for a good cheeseburger. Technically, it has veggies so it is healthy, right? [PoF: If you’re referring to the side of fries, I’m afraid not. I’ll give you the tomato and lettuce. As in you can have them. Mine is all meat and cheese, preferably blue or sharp cheddar.]

I’m a big fan of sushi – specifically, tuna. I recently watched a documentary on tuna and how they are being wiped out so I try and focus on the sustainable types.

I’m a BIG fan of Udon noodles – and there’s this amazing place in Honolulu that I basically worship at whenever I’m in town.

When I’m doing my 90 Day Frugality Challenges, I go big on rice and beans. I focus on doing this meal proper justice and over the years, I feel I’ve perfected my fried rice. My fiancée says it’s better than any restaurant so I take a small bit of pride in saying I can cook up a mean dish of fried rice.

Lastly, I do love pizza – both Chicago style deep-dish and your standard pizza. Being in Chicago means you’re exposed to a lot of heavy dishes – pizza being a very popular one. Some folks would prefer to call it a pie, but a good Chicago deep dish is something well worth the food coma.

 

[PoF: I love a good deep dish pizza, and I know it’s borderline sacrilegious to say this to a Chicagoan, but the sauce belongs under the cheese. 

I’m right there with you on the tuna. I didn’t keep track precisely, but in 23 days in Hawaii, we probably had tuna poke (I prefer spicy versus shoyu) more than a dozen times. For $10 or $12 at Foodland, you can get a big bowl with two-thirds of a pound of poke served over steamed rice. Love it.]

 

 

How did you first learn about PhysicianonFIRE.com? What one piece of advice do you have for me?

 

I first learned about PoF when you included me on one of your Sunday Best series. I am always honored when another blogger recommends my content to the world, and so I must bow again and say, “Thank you, kind sir!”

If I knew you better, I might offer up more advice, but otherwise, I would only say keep doing what you’re doing. It appears to be going well for you, for your community, and for people like me who get to interact with you.

Thank you again for allowing me a spot on your blog and I look forward to sharing your post on my site in the days/weeks to come. Best of luck for your 2018 goals and best of luck to all the 2018 goals of your readers as well!

-matt

 

Interested in hearing how other top personal finance bloggers have answered these questions? Check out a few of these Christopher Guest Posts:

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PoF: Have you got a twelfth question for Matt? Curious to know how he’s made Distilled Dollar a full-time job? Let’s chat in the comments.

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16 comments

  • I love reading these posts. They really are such a source of inspiration that if you put the work in, your blog/website can be successful. Just have to find your niche.

    As for the introversion on the blog, I think that’s great. A person I respect told me before I get married that what leads to divorce most often in our country are when people have vastly different expectations on “the bank, the bedroom, and raising your kids.” It seems that you knocked out the tough discussions on “The bank” through your blog. Not a bad way to start the conversation either when you get to lay out your thoughts so clearly.

    Thanks for the insightful advice (And the whiskey recommendations!). I am a Scotch guy, but have enjoyed some Blanton’s on occasion. I usually stick to Balvenie, and when I graduated one of my mentor’s purchased me a bottle of the Balvenie Single Malt 21…. absolutely delicious. Maybe I’ll have to branch out into more Bourbon’s.

    • There were a few witty insights that came to mind after reading your first two paragraphs but my brain went completely somewhere else after your 3rd paragraph! Will need to dip back into Balvanie sometime soon. Thanks for the rec!

      I love that quote on the reasons behind divorce. I find the topic of money and marriage to be rarely touched (especially within the FI community), yet pivotal to building generational wealth. I’m happy we stumbled through one of the toughest aspects of money via DD, all while others could see our journey in real time. Of course, we still don’t have it all handled, but that’s part of the journey and the reason behind sharing our story.

      Thanks again for setting up this guest post. It is crazy to think we each started publishing only 4 days apart. Time sure does fly.

      Oh, and let me know when you make the official switch from Scotch to Bourbon 😉 We can discuss it sometime over some Blanton’s

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  • Another great Christopher Guest Post! It’s always interesting to learn a bit more about a blogger you’ve followed. But sorry Matt, I’m more of a New York style pizza guy.

  • I really enjoyed this one. As a new growing blogger I find it incredible to hear about the success your sites have and in just a short time. The I see how well you write and it all makes sense. I’m clicking over to visit DD for the first time right now.

  • SG

    I am a big fan of bourbon, my father had a package store growing up. My first job from age 14-21 was working at the store. It is amazing to see how popular and hard to acquire bourbon has become. Distilled dollar, put on your list to must try Weller Antique. It is excellent as is at 107 proof, but it becomes amazing by diluting it with limestone water to around 92 proof and aging it for about 3-9 weeks in a oak barrel. This is known as “poor mans pappy”, and as someone who cant recommend spending $2,000++ for a 20yr old Pappy this comes very close for around $60-80.

  • Great in debt and informative interview.

  • It’s amazing how working really long hours makes 40 seem like part time 😉 Similarly, I went from 50+ (and a weekend job) to “only” 32 hours a week at my career job, and I quit the weekend one altogether. I feel like I’m so part time these days, even though it’s really only a couple hours less each day than typical full time. Amazing what even a few extra hours in your day feels like though 🙂

  • fiberguyr1

    I really liked reading this one since it gave me a few more drinks to try. I am making my way through a bottle of Woodford Reserve, and have been trying to find a bottle of Eagle Rare. The stores are always out here in my area. I will also add your blog to my growing list that I read.

  • Great to read your interview. Congrats to you and your wife Matt. Making more online than at your 9-5 is the ultimate goal.

    Your savings rate is massive and makes me want to look into or try this 90 day frugal challenge more!

    Keep it up!
    Cheers

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