Not many blogs have a built-in dramatic device, but when Carl (he declines to offer his last name) started 1500 Days blog on Jan. 1, 2013, it offered some suspense. Would Carl reach his goal of retirement within that time span? (Spoiler alert: yes.) Then, would he continue afterwards (also yes).
As Carl, a.k.a. Mr. 1500 Days, tells TBB, he never viewed his blog as a moneymaker. And now that the 43 year-old has made enough money to retire on, the blog is more a hobby that he turns to to find fulfillment in his early retirement. Like other bloggers in the category, including Mr. Money Mustache (who lives in Mr. 1500’s hometown of Longmont, Colorado), the point of the blog is now lifestyle design rather than generating cash, but happily it does that too.
Carl recently discussed the rise of 1500 Days, how he managed to carve a niche for himself in the crowded personal finance blogging category and how he changed the blog after he reached his self-imposed milestone. Below is an edited version of our conversation:
The Blog Blog: Let’s start at the beginning. What was the creation story for your blog? How did you come about this idea and so forth?
Carl: Yeah, so, let’s see, this is back in October of 2012. I had a really bad day at work, and my thought was, “I can’t continue this job.” By the way, I was 37 at that time. My thought was, “I can’t continue this job for the next 25 years,” which I had planned to. I Googled something like, “How do I retire early?” And I found J.D. Roth and Mr. Money Mustache.
At that time I had two thoughts. My first one was, “Hey, I can retire early, too. It’s just a simple math problem.” That was one thought. My second thought was, “Hey, I’ve always loved to write.” I thought about being a journalism major in college, which I quickly abandoned because they don’t make a lot of money. So I’m like, “But here’s my chance. I want to write about and document my journey online, to hold myself accountable, and just to kind of” … I thought it would be fun to show the world what I was doing.
So, on Jan. 1, 2013, I started the blog. It was kind of just on a whim. It was just like that. I wanted to write, and there really wasn’t much more to it.
TBB: So, did you use WordPress, or how did you go about actually creating the blog?
Carl: Yeah, it was WordPress. I think I, I found a tutorial on a site, and it’s pretty easy to stand up a WordPress blog, even if you’ve never done anything before. Within an hour you can be up and going. It takes longer to figure out a domain name. That I had severe paralysis analysis over that, like two months of, “What should I name it?” Of course, everything you want is taken, so by the time you’re at like number 810 on your list you find a domain that’s not taken. Yeah, so it was WordPress, and I think that’s by far the best one, what everyone uses now.
TBB: Which domain names were you considering that didn’t make the cut?
Carl: That’s a good question. I don’t … That was a long time ago. I don’t think I remember any of them. It was probably more common names like, “I want to retire early,” and stuff like that. The other thing I didn’t realize at the time was, even back then there was a lot of early retirement blogs, and I had no idea that now there’s infinitely more. Yeah. So, I’m sorry, I don’t remember any specific names.
TBB: So, when you started blogging, did you have any audience? Were people actually reading it, or were you just doing it for yourself and hoping for an audience at some point?
Carl: I mostly did it for myself, but I saw that other bloggers would comment on people like Mr. Money Mustache, and JD Roth who wrote for, “Get Rich Slowly,” at the time, and he’s back doing that now, so I would leave comments on those blogs and that’s one traffic acquisition trick. You leave a good comment on there and people see your comment if it’s interesting and start reading your blog. It was very organic. I built up very slowly over time.
Guest posting was the other thing. Early on we had a guest post on, Budgets are Sexy. I learned that that’s a good strategy as well. A lot of people will say to save your best stuff for someone else’s blog, which sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true. If you can get a guest post on a bigger blog than yourself, Google will like you better, and then you’ll get traffic that way, too.
The thing I hear from people all the time is blogging is like 80% or 90% marketing, and 10% or 20% writing. I hate the marketing part of it, and I’m kind of uncomfortable with the self-promotion, so for me it’s always been the opposite. I’ve always focused on my writing. For me it was different, too, I never set out to make money from it, so I didn’t really care about that. I just liked to write, and so that’s what I did.
A lot of people will say to save your best stuff for someone else’s blog, which sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true.
TBB: What was the, was there a post in particular where you suddenly got a big jump in traffic? Was it for, “Budgets Are Sexy?”
Carl: Let’s see, there was one early on that went viral. It was called, “Death By Retirement.” A Canadian news outlet picked it up, and back then I think I was getting probably around 1,000 page views a day. I remember when that happened, all of a sudden I got like 15,000 page views in a day. Usually that traffic doesn’t stay. You’ll go viral, but it bumps up a little bit. Anytime something goes viral, you’re always a little bit bigger after that, even though 95% of those people are never going to come back again. Some will.
TBB: Yeah. When you left comments, like on Mr. Money Mustache, did you leave your website URL there, or did you hope that people would just look you up?
Carl: I did. Most bloggers have a plugin that when you leave a comment there it allows you to enter your URL and then it automatically provides a backlink back to your own work. I think people do that because it encourages people to leave comments as well. There’s a whole art form to that.
TBB: You said the first three years you made like $100 on the blog. Was there a decision at some point to start monetizing it, or is it still something you just mostly do for enjoyment of it?
Carl: Yeah, well, my thinking on that was … So, I made $100 because we had a couple AdWords things on there. They weren’t really in the right place, and I wasn’t that serious about it. Then I went to a conference called ThinkOn, and I started talking to some people that were like, “Oh, do you use Personal Capital?” I’m like, “Yeah, I do.” And they’re like, “Well, you know, if you have an affiliate link you can get $100 per sign up, and if you use a different advertising network you can make this money, too.”
I kind of back and forth on that, because I don’t want to throw too many ads in people’s faces, but on the other hand, if I can make money for doing what I’ve been doing all along, I’m going to take that, too. It’s definitely a balance. I’ve never wanted to be too obnoxious with pop up ads, and pop ups in people’s faces, and video and audio, but if I can do a little bit to help pay for the blog, and that kind of thing, I’ll do it.
TBB: So, which networks do you use now?
Carl: It’s called AdThrive.
TBB: AdThrive, okay.
Carl: Yeah, the other popular one seems to be Mediavine. I’ve never actually tried that one. My main two sources of income are AdThrive and the Personal Capital affiliate links.
TBB: How often do you blog?
Carl: Two to three times a week.
TBB: You mentioned J.D. Roth, Mr. Money Mustache. Were those your big influences for blogging?
Carl: Yeah, they were. Those were the two guys I first discovered. When I had that bad day at work and did that Google search, those were the two blogs that came up. At first I’m like, “Oh, these guys are full of it. This is nonsense.” I thought they were trying to sell some pyramid scheme, but then you read, and earlier retirement is just a matter of numbers, and there’s not much else to it. So, yeah, those guys were definitely my two big influences. I live in the same town as Mr. Money Mustache, actually.
TBB: I was going to ask you about that. Longmont? Is it Longmont, Colorado?
Carl: Yeah, that’s it.
TBB: Yeah. Do you know him? Do you run into him, and stuff?
Carl: Yeah, I do. He’s a pretty busy guy, so I don’t see him daily, but yeah, he’s having a meetup on Wednesday, actually, so I’ll see him then.
TBB: That’s funny. Cool. Do you do a podcast? Is that something you’ve considered as well?
Carl: I’ve never considered that. I’m just too busy. It sounds like fun. I don’t mind appearing on podcasts, but the thought of adding something else to my life now would be crazy. It’s amazing how busy your life gets when you don’t have a full time job. We’ve got kids, too, which consumes a lot of time.
TBB: The purpose of your blog, you kind of set up this timeline and then you reached it. Did you find after you did that that it was difficult to keep up that momentum, and did setting up that deadline for yourself make it hard to follow through afterwards?
Carl: Are you talking about the blogging, or with other stuff?
TBB: Yeah, for the blog. The premise is 1,500 days-
TBB: You retire, then you got to that point. Was it difficult to find the content after that?
Carl: Yeah, not really. If you look at my posts, they’ve changed a lot. They used to be more about money, and now they’re more about lifestyle stuff-
TBB: Yeah, I see that.
Carl: And life after. Yeah, life after I left my job. If anything, it’s actually easier now, and I’m more prolific than most. The thing I think is amusing when I talk to a lot of other personal finance bloggers is they always say they hate writing, or a lot of them say that, and I enjoy it. I like it a lot. But, yeah, it wasn’t hard at all, but the nature of the blog changed. It’s because I don’t care. If I were to continue to write about money more often, there’s money in writing about money, but I just do whatever I want and it’s more natural that way, so I’ve never had an issue. If not, it’s easier now than it ever was.
TBB: Is social media a big part of your outreach as well?
Carl: Yeah, you have to do Twitter and Facebook. Every time I post I put a link up on Twitter and Facebook, and that’s a nice way to connect with people. What it does, what it really does is it allows others to share your work. If they like it they’ll retweet it, and then you get more traction that way.
TBB: What about Google News? Do you ever break through on that? Does that help at all?
Carl: We’ve appeared on some news sites. Google News is more of an aggregator, right? I don’t-
TBB: I was wondering if you wrote about Mr. Money Mustache and you search on Google News, would your blog show up?
Carl: Yeah, I don’t know. I’ve never really done that. I know I show up for some terms, just with Google search. I’ve never done a lot of research with Google News, though.
TBB: What kind of traffic is your blog getting?
Carl: It gets between 3,000 and 5,000 page views a day.
TBB: Is it a big source of income, or it’s more like supplementary and nice to have kind of income? Obviously you don’t need the money at this point.
Carl: Yeah, it’s about $2,000 a month, and I used to make more because I did more freelance writing, and that was pretty lucrative. I’ve become so busy, and since I don’t really need the money I’ve stopped doing that. It was about double that when I was doing freelance work.
TBB: I had another question, maybe a little off topic, but I’ve heard that sometimes when people do retire, when they reach these goals, that afterwards, and I think Tim Ferriss wrote about this, you get a bit depressed. You’re like, “Oh, what do I do now?” Did you have that kind of moment yourself? How did you address it if you did?
Carl: Yeah, that’s a good question, and that terrified me. I met my number long before I actually quit working, and it was for that very same reason I was so terrified of jumping off the edge. I’d worked at my job for almost two decades, 40 hours a week. I never had more than one week off that whole time, which is kind of pathetic on my part, I guess. No, that hasn’t happened, which I’m thankful for, but part of it is because of the blog, that gives me a meaningful activity to fill some of the time in my day. But it’s enough time where it doesn’t consume it. It’s not 40 hours a week, it’s 20 hours a week.
The other thing I found, and what I always tell people, because people will frequently ask, “Hey, how do I know if I should retire?” I’m like, “Well, think of what you do on your weekends now when you do have free time, because your retirement will be an expansion of that.” When I thought about my weekends, I never had enough time to do everything I wanted to do, so now all these other activities like exercise, and building stuff, and projects around the home have just expanded to consume my time. Just like before when I had a job, I find that I still have no time now.
The thing that I thought, though, along those same, or the thing that … Another way to look at your question is what I realized is I’m not any happier, so happiness is something that has to come more internally and less externally. I thought, hey, I’d suddenly be a lot happier after I left my job. I wasn’t. It was just the same. I thought having this 40 hours a week would be, “Yay! I can do whatever I want.” But that part hasn’t worked out.
I realized is I’m not any happier, so happiness is something that has to come more internally and less externally.
TBB: Monday morning must be nicer, though, right?
TBB: Final question; What advice would you give to people who want to start their own successful blog?
Carl: I would say to be in it for the right reasons. If you’re just in it for money, it’s fine, you could do that and make money from it, but it’s going to be harder. You’re going to have to force yourself to do it. If you’re doing it because you truly love it, it’s going to be easier for you. It’s not to say you can’t do something like this if you hate writing. You can always start the blog and work on other aspects of it. You could work on the advertising or the affiliate stuff, and freelance writers you can get for pretty cheap, so maybe you want to outsource some of that. Just try to focus on the parts of it that you enjoy, because if you don’t enjoy the writing you’re not going to do it and you’re going to give up.
I guess the other suggestion I’d give is be in it for the long term. For me it was like a gap three years. I think it took three years for the blog to really sort of catch on and get consistent traffic, but I didn’t care because I was in it for myself.