Christopher Guest Post: Jim Wang of Wallet Hacks

Welcome to another edition of my quirky Q&A series, the Christopher Guest post. Sitting down with me today is none other than long-time blogger Jim Wang, who is now sharing his financial tips and tricks on the site Wallet Hacks.

thedisabilitydocHis current site only predates this one by about four months, but prior to that, Jim had a very popular site that, according to rumor, sold for millions of dollars. That site doesn’t exist anymore, so he’s been busy building up another big winner.

He also had a day job that had something to do with missile defense or rocket wars or something really cool like that. The fact that he gave that up to be a blogger shows you just how cool blogging can be.

Jim also keeps busy on the homefront; he and his wife just welcomed a baby girl into this world, joining an older brother and sister. Yes, they are now outnumbered. Jim is a brave man. Braver than me.

I had the chance to meet Jim at FinCon17, and I see both of our smiling faces on the speakers list for FinCon18 — one more reason to look forward to the event this fall.

I like Jim’s ways of looking at money and figuring out how to earn more and keep more. Read on and I’m sure you’ll learn something from Jim’s hacks.

 

 

 

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?

 

I was a software engineer in the defense industry. For a while, I was writing code that went into radar systems for various aircraft in the military. It was a really fun job because the work was challenging like a puzzle (these were OLD systems), the people I worked with were top notch, and our testing platforms were actual radar systems scanning flights in and out of BWI Airport. It was fun seeing the planes on our little radar screens. It’s funny how the little things are what stand out.

 

[PoF: Our jobs aren’t as different as you might think. Instead of watching and listening to blips on a radar screen, I’m watching and listening to blips of the heart. Totally blips of the heart.

I’m wondering if your software engineering background made the transition to blogging a bit easier. I can tell you that my knowledge of medicine and the anesthesia machine’s inner workings do not translate whatsoever to coding or WordPress troubleshooting. Yet, I survive.] 

 

do you see the man in the flames yet?

 

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

 

Wallet Hacks is a journal where I share my approach to managing my money and enjoying the most out of my life. I find that many of life’s lessons and secrets are just obfuscated behind jargon, arcane processes, and other bull$4!t-like projections and putting up fronts for others. Money is no different. We have financial advisors that don’t know what they’re doing and financial advisors who do but aren’t able to explain it in plain English. We add to that our own confusion and worry for the future to make this magical witches brew of fear.

contractdiagnostics
All this to say that I hope to demystify all the crap and just talk plainly about the things I do that work. I find physicians are probably able to sort through the confusing noise from the real meat if you have enough time but why? After a long, draining day, the last thing you need or want to do is fight through words to get to the meaning.

I have no skin in the game when it comes to financial advice. I’m just a retired software engineer. Read Wallet Hacks if you want to know what I’m doing, whether it works or not, and hopefully have a little fun in the process.

 

[PoF: Yeah, I think that’s what most busy people want — a simple explanation of what ought to be done when it comes to dollars and cents. I know I’ve got a devoted readership that likes to get into the thick weeds on some of the more esoteric stuff and optimize everything possible (and that describes me, too), but most people just want a basic understanding and enough knowledge not to screw things up.

I think that’s something you provide quite well.]

 

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?

 

Wallet Hacks is actually my second money blog. I started it because I missed blogging! My first one, Bargaineering, started in 2004 and I treated it like a journal. I thought it’d be fun to write things down so I could remember it better and a blog was just that – a journal. As the days and months progressed, it gained in popularity and readership. About six months into it, I was featured in the New York Times, which made my parents thrilled about my fun little side project.

I didn’t feel like I arrived until a few years later when the blog started earning as much as I did working full-time. I didn’t have the courage, or the plan, to quit until several years later, but that was a tipping point in my mind.

The big plans are to keep growing it and have fun in the process. 🙂

 

[PoF: I think it’s so cool that this is an encore for you. I’m only two and a half years into this venture and I already think about how I would do certain things differently if starting from scratch. 

But for the most part, I’m just enjoying the ride with this site that I’ve got and happy to be a part of this community where I get to hang out with people like you!]

 

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

I’m very much a process and systems guy because it makes my life simpler when I remove as many decisions as possible, and I like allegories because it makes my life simpler. 🙂

 

[PoF: Crap, now I have to come up with a financial map, fortress, foundation, and field manual? Is there a free household template I can use to come up with all that? Isn’t my investor policy statement good enough for you?!?

Just kidding. Sort of. I’ve got a lot on my plate right now, though. And, yes, I think crowdfunding RE investing is worth it for the diversification and simplification of syndicated real estate investments. Cue the inevitable 728×90 pixel banner ad.]

 

 

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 quit my full-time job when I was 28, exited my previous blog at 30, and I consider myself retired every since then. I “de-risked my future,” as one friend put it, when I was able to exit the previous blog so now I’m just enjoying building the new site and working on all these projects for fun (and profit, though fun is a bigger priority).

 

[PoF: I hate you. That’s really neat. Just… splendid.

So when I was wrapping up residency and six years of long hours, overnight call, being “pimped” constantly and had a net worth approaching zero, you were a retired millionaire? That’s super keen.

I honestly have no regrets with the past that I’ve chosen, but it is astonishing to see what a select few people had accomplished by the time they hit 30, an age when we physicians are just starting to look at getting our first real jobs. Good for you.]

 

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 ideal retirement is doing whatever I want. 🙂

I really enjoy learning new things because of how quickly you can get better at something in the early stages. I started playing chess a few months ago and already my skill has improved dramatically. There’s so much to learn whenever you start something new that it’s addictive. Eventually, you get to a point when incremental gains become much harder and that’s when I just leave that skill on maintenance.

bankofamericaI started playing golf a few years back, before kids, and got to be around a slightly better than bogey golfer. When I got to that level of skill, which is not at all skillful, you shave off shots by getting better at your short game and putting. Short game and putting are all about practice and practice and practice. I didn’t have the desire to spend my time on that and am happy playing golf with my friends and scoring in the high 80s and low 90s.

There are a few other skills out there I’ve always wanted to learn and I’ll get to them eventually.

 

[PoF: It’s funny how you mention golfing because it’s almost standard issue in the FIRE community to say we’re not retiring to just play golf! Or chess for that matter. How’s your shuffleboard game? 

As a former golfer, I will say that better than bogey golf is quite a skill, and I was thrilled when I (very rarely) scored in the high 80s and low 90s. 

My boys will be at FinCon this year, and they’ll bring a portable chess board. Are you ready to take on a 7 or 10-year old?]

 

 

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.

 

I’m not a physician and I don’t know what it’s like to be one, but I imagine it to be a high pressure, stressful career so my words are with that type of career in mind.

Take care of yourself. All the money in the world and all the free time in the world is useless if your body is in bad shape. It’s an irreplaceable vessel, for now, in this world so treat it that way.

Take care of your relationships. When people are on their deathbeds, they aren’t talking about how many hours they worked, how many procedures they performed, or how much money they amassed. They talk about relationships, the strength of those relationships, and what they meant to them.

Finally, do the things that matter to you and not what matters to others outside of your circle of family and very close friends. When you’re young, you might go along to get along but it’s better to go your own way. These are lessons you learn as you get older. 🙂

 

[PoF: “I should have worked harder and longer and spent less time with my children when they were growing up.” Yeah, that’s probably not what people say on their deathbed often, is it?

Now that I’m working part-time, I can tell you that I do a better job taking care of myself during my weeks off than I do when I’m working. This week is a rare exception. Today is day 4 of 10 straight days on duty, and I’ve run a 10k distance twice and biked about 7 miles a day to work and back each day. Trying to meet this weight loss challenge I accepted on a whim (and possibly a beer buzz).]

 

 

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?

 

I’d take my family and my parents back to Taiwan to visit our family there. 11 days wouldn’t be enough, since it’s a long flight, but $11,000 would go very far even in a higher cost of living Asian country like Taiwan. Maybe I’d spend it on a nanny/babysitter to come with us to help with the kids. 🙂

We’d just visit our family. My grandfather is still around and so it’d be nice for him to see the kids. We went a few years ago when we only had our son and it was a treat for him. We’d like to do it now that we have two kiddos.

 

[PoF: Respect for visiting family. I no longer have the option of visiting grandparents in this world, but my parents are 30 minutes away and we see them often. 

I would like to visit Asia and do a lot more exploring. I’ve spent all of six days in that part of the world; In 2004, I visited a friend who was teaching embalming in Osaka, Japan, a place where embalming is a very rare thing, apparently. Yes, I have odd friends. Makes life far more interesting.]

 

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

 

  • Fizzy water – just carbonated tap water with a couple ice cubes and a lime or lemon.
  • Coffee – Americano is good, espresso for a late afternoon pick me up
  • Whisky – There’s something fun about whiskey and how much depth there is for something with 40%+ abv, scotch, irish, bourbon, whatever, I enjoy it all
  • Beer – A stout in the winter, a wheat almost every other time, an IPA sometimes if I’m in the mood but I prefer the west coast IPAs. Sometimes a sour if I’m in the mood. Maybe this answer is just a proxy for saying I’m a moody beer drinker.

This made me realize I only drink four things… two of which have alcohol and one has caffeine. I wonder what that says about me. 🙂

 

[PoF: Well, I mostly drink water with the little squirt bottles of flavoring added. So, Kool-Aid, pretty much. Grape and orange are my favorites. So I have the palate of a 12-year old most of the day.

But I also enjoy all the beers you mentioned, but I have a penchant for the hoppier stuff. I do have a batch of The Sour Patch Kid fermenting to be served at an upcoming family wedding — it’s a wheat beer with a healthy dose of the aforementioned candy added with rhubarb to give the sour kick. It’s better than it sounds, I promise you. Ask Mr. 1500 if you don’t believe me.]

 

 

Now, eleven foods.

 

  • Three treasures rice (san bao fan) – It’s white rice topped with two types of roasted pork and a fried egg, maybe a vegetable.
  • Soup dumplings (Xiao long tang bao) and really dumplings of any kind.
  • Beef noodle soup – classic Taiwanese dish where everyone has their favorite style and home recipe.
  • Wood fired pizza, thin crust but you have to eat it in like a minute or the crust gets soggy.
  • Drunken noodle (Pad Kee mao) – the sweetness of the Thai basil plus the veggies and noodles are yum.
  • Pork and basil stir fry (Pad Kra Pao) – spicy as all get out but the thai basil sweetness brings you back in so you burn your face off even more.
  • Braised oxtails – can be braised in red wine, Asian inspired soy sauce, or Jamaican style; you can use short ribs too.
  • Hickory smoked ribs with a sweet and tangy bbq sauce
  • A 24-hour sous vide pork shoulder, smoked with hickory for 45 minutes, shredded, and then put into soft tacos with some coleslaw and homemade pickled red onion slices
  • Biryani – chicken and lamb but it’s a nice quick bowl of goodness.
  • Shrimp cocktail – I could eat shrimp all day. Extra horseradishy cocktail sauce too for some kick if you’re making it yourself.

I seriously could probably go on and on… I only barely touched on a handful of cuisines. 🙂

And now I’m hungry!

 

[PoF: OK, that all sounds good, but I’m particularly intrigued by the sous vide pork tacos. I had to Google oxtail, too, so I guess you could say I’m intrigued by that, but not as excited to try it. Apparently, it is exactly what you would think based on the name.]

 

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

 

I don’t remember how I discovered PhysicianonFIRE.com. I’m not tapped into the FIRE blogging world (one of the reasons why I wrote that “Best of” post was to learn more about them) outside of Mr. Money Mustache, Early Retirement Extreme, MadFIentist, and a few others. I think I only read posts from time to time until we met at Fincon, then I realized I needed to carve out time to read more.

As for advice, keep writing, keep blogging, and keep learning. Everything I know about blogging was from reading other folks, incorporated those things I liked, and then evolving my approach throughout the years. The habits I’ve developed over the years seem to work because I keep doing the things that work and abandon the things that don’t. So the longer you do it, the better you become and you can’t fail if you never give up. I know that feels like eight different self-help books rolled into a few sentences but that’s what has worked for me. 🙂

 

[PoF: That’s great advice, my friend, and I appreciate you taking the time to share your story and your wisdom with us. It makes sense that you wouldn’t follow the FIRE blogs too closely. It’s not like you have a lot to learn from them when you’ve already been FIREd for a number of years yourself. 

Have a great summer, enjoy some quality time with your newborn baby and the other two little ones, and I’ll see you in September!

Readers, hop on over to Wallet Hacks to read more of Jim’s handiwork.]

 

 

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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28 comments

  • “All the money in the world and all the free time in the world is useless if your body is in bad shape. It’s an irreplaceable vessel, for now, in this world so treat it that way”

    I think as a physician we need to heal thyself first. How many of us recommend a diet or stop smoking/drinking to patients but are bad practitioners of that ourselves? We can always make excuses why we maintain bad habits (eat fast food because we don’t have enough time as busy physicians, don’t have time for exercise, etc). My father was a physician (internist) and picked up an awful habit during medical school when he started smoking. He ended up dying at age 50 (I was 14) of pancreatic cancer, likely related.

    One of the best returns in investment is taking care of your body from an early age. You can dramatically reduce your medical expenses in retirement by doing so.

    • One of the biggest challenges, especially in a high stress and long hour environment, is self care. It’s so easy to let those things go by the wayside when you’re tired and your brain is unable to maintain that discipline that got you where you are. When you’re tired and your body mistakes the need for sleep with the need for food, it’s easy to reach for a bag of chips because 1) they’re delicious and 2) regular food places are closed.

      We just had our 3rd child, it’s day 6, and being tired all the time I can see myself easily making bad decisions because my brain doesn’t have the energy to maintain discipline. Fortunately, I know what’s going on and can force myself, in limited situations, to go to the gym, eat as best as I can, and power through.

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  • That was a great interview. I was not aware of your first blog. Congrats on your wicked success as a blogger. Your advice can apply to anyone who is working on reaching financial independence.

  • “PoF: I hate you. That’s really neat. Just… splendid.”

    Bawahahaha his humor!! You’re in an admirable place Jim. If I could be half you when I get to 30 I’ll do a jig right now.

    You follow my stupid buddy Budget on a Stick and he’s a semi FIRE blog! :p Sometimes he DMs me on Twitter when you comment on his posts trying to make me jealous…

    Your 11 foods list = 👌 I only discovered Taiwanese beef noodle soup last year. Seriously how’s noodles and cubes of beef so good? Now I get it in every restaurant that serves it.

    • Hahah so the best part is while I submitted my answers a long time ago, this is the first time I’ve seen his responses and they’re solid gold. 🙂

      Tell BoaS that I I don’t understand why his blog is budget on a stick but he has a spoon and a grape (olive?) as his header. 🙂

      I have a strategy for food at restaurants and you can tell me if I’m crazy. If there’s a dish I like at a place I frequent, I NEVER order it somewhere else. It is a lose-lose.

      Either the new place does it better, then I lose a favorite at the old place… or it doesn’t do it better. Then I ordered something that isn’t as good as somewhere else.

      • We Minnesotans love our stuff on sticks (food, math, beer, fans, budgets 😉 ) but we also love our Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture. 😀

        I’ve always meant to make some sort of graphic of a budget on a stick but nothing has ever come to mind. Probably should hit up someone on fiverr.

      • Jim doesn’t know it but he just blew my food mind. That is an excellent strategy. It also explains why my other beef noodle soups were a disappointment to my first ever noodle soup place near my house. They weren’t bad but they just weren’t good. I should have just gone to my first place.

        BoaS is like obsessed with Minnesota. Are corndogs naturally popular or?

  • “and you can’t fail if you don’t give up….”

    I needed to hear that! I’ve loved blogging, but it’s been a lot of work. I am occasionally really encouraged and then it is back to the grind.

    As a blogger who writes about wellness (in addition to wealth), thank you for pointing out all of the other areas of life that we should not ignore (family, health, happiness). In the Physician world, and I am sure many others, these things often get left behind.

    TPP

    • Blogging is like a lot of other pursuits in that you tend to his plateaus and have to change things up to make progress. There are so many aspects of blogging that you can shift your focus periodically to different aspects of the broader business (writing, editing, marketing, social media, monetization, etc.) and make progress is other parts when you reach a plateau.

      That and celebrate little victories. Those fuel you more than anything else. Getting a link from another blog, mentions on mainstream media or aggregators like Rockstar Finance, advertising deals, or even just the potential of a deal – anything to keep you going.

  • “Totally blips of the heart.”

    LOL, love it!

  • You have excellent taste in beer Mr Wang!

    “…the longer you do it, the better you become…” That’s great to hear. As someone who just started a blog without having any idea what he was getting into, I’m sometimes a little overwhelmed by how much there is too learn.

    Enjoyed the interview very much, and congratulations on baby number three. We have four, and the jump from 2 to 3 was definitely the hardest! You go from being able to play man to man, to having to play zone. Its lots of fun, but there is an adjustment period.
    -Ray

  • My grandfather used to make the best oxtail stew with a tomato-y/ketchup-y asian-inspired sauce! The meat just slips off the bone and into your mouth! Very mouth-watering. And soup dumplings? Like Din Tai Fung here in California?

    Btw, I love your site. All 11 articles that you mention are classics. And the article on the Southwest Companion pass that you had written a while ago was very helpful for me too.

    • I love stews… so rich and rewarding. Oxtail is nice (though gotten so much pricier lately) and that rescipe sounds great. Soup dumplings = xiao long bao, just like at Din Tai Fung though I’ve never been.

      Thanks for the kind words, I’m glad you enjoyed those articles!

  • Jim I didn’t even realize when I met you that you had a seven figure blogger past. Dig the humility.

    Are you allowed to share why they closed down the site after buying it? Do you regret selling at all or was it the best decision you’ve made?

    And @PoF tell your kids to bring the chess sets I’ll take em on.

    • FWIW, it’s less humility and more that the past is the past. 🙂

      I don’t know why and no regrets. The best decision was marrying my wife. 🙂

  • Jim, I miss the old days with the Mcdonalds monopoly posts on “The Blueprint for Financial Prosperity’ aka Bargaineering. Seriously though that site was one of the first ones I read and was inspired by back in the day before I started my own site. That site was one of the pioneering personal finance sites back in the day, it was sad when you sold it and it changed so much. *single tear

    In present day – i’m glad you’re writing again at WalletHacks – in some ways the site is even better than before. Keep up the great work – and try to get some sleep! We have a 2 month old right now so I can relate on the lack of sleep.

    • Hahah those were epic posts. Completely irrelevant but fun… so many people asking to trade pieces for a Boardwalk. 🙂

      Thanks for saying such nice things, it was such a long time ago and no one knew what they were doing… it was a fun time! (it does stink what happened but such is life…)

      I will try to sleep more… but you know how it is. 🙂


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  • Outstanding CG interview, Jim! And great commentary as usual, Dr. POF! It was great to know more about Jim in this post, though we’ve been in touch for a while through mails. Jim, I greatly enjoy your blog, though I don’t comment much – there are many blogs I am a silent reader of. The way you simplify matters is impressive – you are wise beyond your years, “young man” (as someone a decade older than you, I think I can say that). Keep up the good work!

  • Take care of your relationships. When people are on their deathbeds, they aren’t talking about how many hours they worked, how many procedures they performed, or how much money they amassed.

    Wise words indeed Jim! Or as I like to say it “No one ever said ‘I wish I spent more time at work’ on their deathbed”!

    • Exactly – I think what often happens is you start working because you have to pay the bills, then you start earning more, accumulate more bills, and before you know it you start making tradeoffs you wouldn’t have at the start of your career. You start saying “oh, I’ll work more hours just for a little while” and before you know it, you’re old. 🙂

  • Loved this CG interview, and really enjoyed being introduced to Wallet Hacks. Thanks, PoF.

    Jim, congrats on mastering a new skill. Right now my kids are into learning chess, Chinese, and knitting, none of which I knew anything about a few months ago. I’m watching a lot of YouTube videos that begin with “The Absolute Idiot’s Guide to…”. The kids have been great at forcing me to learn new skills and horizons, whether I to or not. And congrats on baby number 3! We love our big (4 kid) family.

    • Does one ever really master a skill? 🙂

      Chess has been a lot of fun rediscovering. I played it enough as a kid so I knew the basics but it was never a serious player, I never understood the game to the degree I understand it now (just six months into playing it again). It looks so simple but it has an elegant complexity to make every game fascinating to study (and play!).

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