The CNN article starring ME cause I'm famous

So, a few folks have posted and talked about a new article on CNN that I contributed to about debt vs. spending habits.

So, first, let me say in response to a commenter from yesterday that, no, I didn't start a non-existent newsletter to milk fans out of cash to pay debts (MIM). I started a non-existent newsletter because I was stupid enough to believe I had what it took to make it exist, and found out quickly that I didn't - after racking up even MORE debt trying to make it work. I offered all subscribers their remaining subscription payment back (minus 2 issues, which shipped), or a FULL-PRICE subscription credit in the Mentally Incontinent shop for hats, shirts, or books. Most took the credit. I believe everyone was accounted for, but if you weren't, I cordially invite you to email me so I can make things right with you, since you're very obviously upset about it.

There. That's been said. Now, on to the article.

I was interviewed by the author, Sarah Jio, who is very cool. I like her, she's bright and smart and thorough.

She had to edit down my responses for space.

I mention this because I feel, after reading this article, that some stuff I explained, which felt extraneous at the time, suddenly becomes relevant. So I want to explain my position in this article. And for the record, I approved her edits (Jesus, could I use more commas?)

There was a lot of paraphrasing. Yes, there was a little over 70k in debt, but some of it was student loans for Andrea's degree, some of it was a wedding that it was way to late to postpone / cancel when the .com crash happened, and the rest was credit cards. So it wasn't like I went and bought seventy thousand dollars worth of PS2 games. I don't even think it's possible to do that.

That said, I WAS terribly irresponsible with my money back then. From 1996 until 2001, I was a teen becoming an adult making more money in the .com arena than my parents' made in 20 years. I had no house payments and no overhead - my travel was paid for by the companies I worked for, and I paid exactly $350 a month in rent in a shared house with Mike. I had what I considered my retirement stored up in a tech-heavy stock portfolio. I owned stock options in no fewer than 4 start-ups who threatened to change the industry (they didn't, they just gobbled cash and shat promises like everyone else back then).

I thought I was set, so I never realized I should have been investing my cash into assets that weren't made obsolete with the advent of pixel shading.

When the first .com crunch hit, things went pear-shaped pretty much immediately. I took a MASSIVE cut in pay (and I was LUCKY AS HELL to even have pay. I had friends who had to work at Staples and Home Depot after managing software teams for damn near $200,000 a year. I had two friends with families who weren't even that lucky, and had to support their families by double and triple-mortgaging their homes for a year or more... SO yeah, I was lucky, but stupid). For some reason, I couldn't stop spending.

At first, I thought it was just a temporary lull... Then, I felt like whatever I was acquiring now, I could pay off later when the slump was over. But there was no lull... This was life, and I was adapting to it very poorly. I had massive problems adjusting to the fact that, hey, I just might have to wait two years to upgrade my computer. I might - horror of horrors - have to do without a new video game release. Sounds pathetic, I know... Because it is.

Not in my defense, but just to shine some light on it, I grew up with a single mother raising three kids on one income. When my mom married my dad ( I was 10), things were decent for a bit, but then bad times hit my dad's company, and again my sister and I had nothing (the third kid was gone off to make trouble on his own, good riddance). We worked after school to buy food and entire summers just to get clothes that fit.

My friends, we were what you call "poor." And please, spare me with the whole "You had food, you don't know what poor is, there are children in developing countries who yadda blah blah go fuck yourself, you privileged fuck" bullshit. I grew up in America. We had food because my sister and I worked after school and sports practices to be able to afford it. So no, we weren't impoverished and living in grass huts, because we live HERE. That being said, we were poor by the standards of this nation. Eat me.


When I went to college (and also was working at Wal-Mart, for the historians among you), my scholarship dropped almost immediately because they disbanded the wrestling team at Georgia State to make room in the school budget for more basketball stuff. Apparently, my first (and only) year of college, the Panthers made it to the sizzling 64 or whatever and they made money on it, so they made it the priority over all other programs - leaving a lot of us in the cold. Meanwhile, there were companies paying living wages to write web code. So I gave that a try, and quickly realized that college was a joke - I was out in the marketplace learning while being paid a massive salary for doing essentially what I'd be doing at home if I weren't working.

It totally ruled.

I traveled the country, and eventually the world. I was driving a nice car, going out to nice dinners, and treating my friends to a lifestyle they couldn't afford on their own simply because I wanted them to experience what I was experiencing - the joys of being young and affording the insanity that youth inspires.

Andrea and I bought a house in 2001 - probably more than we could reasonably afford at the time, but what is now an INCREDIBLE value - and 6 months later, three airplanes flew into buildings and the nation was shaken awake. The startup I was working at folded immediately (it was funded by GE Financial, who called on assets and shut the place down). All of the consulting agencies I'd worked for in the past dried up and blew away.

I was without contacts, without resources and, for the first time in my career, completely at a loss for what to do next.

So, I found a lovely medical software company, camped out for a few years, and worked my ASS off for one of the best managers / mentors I've ever had. Meanwhile, the wedding we could have easily afforded before the crash became an extravagant affair that it was FAR too late to call off. The cars were in their 3rd year of the loan, and would have sunk well below the value line to sell off. Andrea was graduating college, and the student loans were calling.

In short, the vise of reality began squeezing around my neck.

It was around the end of 2002 that I knocked off the nonsense and actually became responsible. The stupid purchases stopped. Eating out stopped. I began drawing up user interface concepts on my own time. I wrote on MI. I began freelancing for magazines. And near the end of 2003, some of my old friends in the business started new business, and I was able to moonlight at a decent hourly wage. I was able to stem the bleeding of our debt-to-income ratio with the moonlighting and writing and freelance designing, and actually began paying down the debts.

So, with things going well, I tried putting out the Mentally Incontinent Monthly thing to earn a bit of extra cash. Didn't work - not only couldn't I deliver, but it actually cost me every single dime I received in 6 and 12 month subscriptions just to put out TWO ISSUES. So I had to credit everyone back. That hurt.

Add a little bit of debt piled on. No biggie, but my wife wasn't happy.

I then tried to put out shirts and hats. They sold out - but again, after shipping, I only barely broke even. Lots of work that could have been spent consulting or writing articles. Oops. But hey, I tried...

And then, I got the bright idea to put out a book on my own, with no publisher. My wife was VERY skeptical about the finances, but she supports me above all else - so we mortgaged the house and I paid for the printing and shipping. Lo and behold, it actually paid off. We were able to not only cover the costs of doing this, we actually made some money, which went right into savings. We paid down our credit debts slowly with that money, not wanting to blow our nest egg.

I quit my job at the medical software company at the end of 2005, due to the book sales. I focused exclusively on writing. I worked my ass off. Things were going fine - our debt was about half of what it was at its peak; sitting at about 35,000 bucks and slowly decreasing. Between the book and Andrea's sneaky way of saving money without telling me, we would have been able to pay that almost all the way down, becoming immediately solvent.

And then mid-2006, I got the bright idea to try the FarkTV show on Turner's abortion of a "network" called SuperDeluxe. My wife saw that I was able to make the book work, and so she threw her support 100% behind the show concept and execution. We re-mortgaged the house to pay for everything up front, with the expectation that Turner would pay back, and we might be able to make it a success.

It wasn't.

At least, for me it wasn't. It went on to do whatever good things it did after I left - I didn't keep track or pay attention (and there's no hard feelings there, I left due to creative differences, but when I did, I also took on my debts as the show's producer at the time so they'd have a clean slate. It should be noted that everyone parted on good terms, and that FarkTV is not the same business entity as Fark.com. I mention this because I still work for Fark.com and the two should not be confused). I couldn't even think about the show without getting sick to my stomach from the business failure I'd just put my trusting wife through. Our savings was gone. Turner does NOT pay on time. I overspent the budget.

In short, I put us almost where we were in the beginning - wildly in debt with nothing to show for it but stupid decisions and the mistakes of an overconfident one-trick-pony who thought menial success with a book entitled him to instant success on everything else. I was an idiot.

So, I went to work. Hard.

I worked about 70 hours a week, every week, for nearly a year and a half from January 2007 until pretty much last week. I bought NOTHING except what it took to remodel our house, which was not only necessary, but the only investment worth making at the time (of course, with this past week and a half of housing meltdowns... Probably not a great call).

In June of 2008, we wrote our last check to our last creditor. Andrea's student loans were gone. The FarkTV debt was gone. Our credit cards were cut up, the 2nd mortgage was paid, and we were completely solvent for the first time in our lives. And all it cost me was an audience, who I couldn't satisfy with regular updates due to my working all the time.

So when Sarah asked if I would like to contribute to her article on overzealous spending and lessons learned, I felt that it was time to finally tell this story. I only regret that space wouldn't allow me to tell that entire story... But the article isn't about ME, it's about the topic of overzealous spending, of which I am merely one example. A good one, though, I guess.

But now you know what's been going on and why I've been gone. And hopefully you understand the amount of grit and determination I was trying to show from January until April of this year with regular weekly updates, and why that ultimately folded on itself. And hopefully you understand why I feel like I blew the only great thing I had going - my audience (you) - on stupid mistakes which forced me to work my ass off non-stop, and how I would give ANYTHING to keep you guys and have never had the debt in the first place.

And hopefully, all of this teaches you one thing:

Freedom is worth more than any stereo, game system, book, possible tv show, car or house you could ever own. Ownership is a vice. Greed leads to slavery.

Cherish your life and purchase your freedom by paying off your credit cards as soon as you possibly can - or better yet, DON'T CHARGE THEM UP. I own Grand Theft Auto 4 - trust me, it's not worth 40 hours a week at a job to be able to afford an Xbox 360, tv, and the game. No game is.

The one thing I know for certain, looking back on it now, is that every item I purchased while in debt was nothing more than a placebo - a momentary cure for the real pain, which was the fact that I was an indentured servant to my own desires. I'd buy a new pair of shoes, or a new game, and for a little while, I'd feel the time-for-dollars trade was worth it, because hey! New Nikes, right?

But no. Trust me - just... No.

There's NOTHING better than walking out your front door on a Wednesday and not realizing it's Wednesday as you head off to go do something. Anything. Walk in the park, visit the bookstore and not buy anything, hang out at a friend's house... The trappings of ownership and material goods lead to constant replacement of outdated shit. Visiting a nature preserve on a random weekday and watching frogs jump into the lake because you have no one to answer to can never be replaced.

If you're 18 years old and a freshman in college, you're going to be inundated with credit card offers. You're going to see a $1,000 balance limit as your chance to get yourself some sweet HD gaming action, or a nice trip to a ski lodge, or an impressive few dates with a hot dude or chick.

Suppress that. Or it'll chain you to a job you hate, just so you can pay for a lifestyle you couldn't afford without someone else's credit.

Anyway, that's all I have to say about that.