Interview with Matt @ Distilled Dollar

Over the next few weeks I will be interviewing a series of personal finance bloggers.  I hope you find each of their unique stories as insightful and revealing as I did. Most importantly, I hope we can all learn from their experiences with money.

This week I have had the pleasure of interviewing Matt @ Distilled Dollar. Matt is a Chicago based CPA helping people to extract the vital aspects of personal finance as they pursue financial independence. Distilled Dollar was created as a way to connect with others while sharing in the stumbles and triumphs of building wealth. Visit Matt’s blog site Distilled Dollar and follow him on Twitter.

  1. Tell us about your ‘money story’. Has this story changed how you manage your money today and how? My money story began in college as I racked up student loan debt. That was a large enough concern as it is, but then the 2008 financial crisis made everything worse. I’ve always come from a home with a middle to upper middle class income, but it was entirely dependent on my parent’s real estate business. Once the market tanked, I saw firsthand the incomes of my parents dry up to essentially zero.There was so much turmoil and stress as a result of the recession, that I vowed to myself I wouldn’t let this same situation happen in my future family. Money in those early days wasn’t about freedom or confidence, it was about avoiding the pain associated with not having it.

    Growing up I used to believe that money was the root of evil, but I started to consider it the opposite in those days. I started to see the lack of money as being a trigger for terrible events.

    Long story short, I ended up reading at least 100 books on the topics of investing, personal finance, and building wealth. I pursued a degree in accounting and am now a licensed CPA.

  2. If you could give 3 personal finance tips to anyone, what would those be? If I had to summarize it as 3, then I would say:First, realize personal finance is sexy because developing great money habits leads to instant confidence. It takes time to build wealth, but at least we can start developing those great habits today.

    Second, is to commit to learning what to do and what not do. If we spend two thousand hours a year earning our money, then it is a natural choice to spend two or three hours a month learning about personal finance. That’s all it takes. A lot of financial advisors will make it seem more complicated, but they’re just looking for a cut of your hard earned money.

    Plus, if you don’t spend the time learning about personal finance, chances are high you’re spending that time stressed out about money. That’s what I did for far too long and I’m glad I was able to transition into being more proactive with my finances.

    Third, develop an understanding of your expenses. I’ve said this before, but once we gain an honest clarity of our expenses, we can start to tweak our budgets to save and invest more of our money. As the gap grows between income and expenses, we will have more fuel to add to the fire of investing.

  3. What is the smartest thing you did with money and why?  Automate as much as possible. I mean, set up bills to be paid automatically online and have investments occur automatically from your paycheck.An old Buffett quote is, “Savings are not what is left after spending, rather, spending is what is left after savings.”

    This sums up the idea that we need to pay ourselves first, even if it starts off as $50 a month. Once we develop the habit, we can expand and develop it further.

  4. What is the dumbest thing you did with money and why?
    To prep this one, I’ll mention I haven’t spent more than $300 in the last 18 months on clothing. But, one day not too long ago, I ended up spending $300 on ONE shirt. It wasn’t intentional by any means, so I’ll consider this the dumbest mistake I’ve made with money. 
  5. If money was not an object, how would you spend your time? 
    I definitely enjoy working with money, especially taxes, because it feels great to always be delivering people good news. Most of my current job is finding areas where over payments occurred and securing refunds, so I can see myself doing something like this in the future.That being said, if I reached financial independence, I would be sure to negotiate a better position in terms of days off. I could see myself transition into a 4 day workweek with a few extra weeks off a year.

    That extra time would be spent reading, writing on my blog, and traveling with my lovely future wife.

  6. What is your blog theme and why did you choose to start blogging?The theme of my blog is pursuing financial independence. I wrote a post describing the transition I’m aiming to achieve, which is from employee to becoming an investor
    I started the blog as a way to enhance the communication between my girlfriend and myself. She was one of the reasons I started the blog because we basically went from stressing about personal finance to developing a rock solid game plan moving forward. That process took ~12 months and at the end, she suggested that I should talk about many of the same ideas online.
  7.  If you could recommend a book to someone, what would it be and why? I would recommend the twenty minute read of Ben Franklin’s, The Way to Wealth. Many people don’t know that Franklin was able to retire early at the age of 42 through his tremendous work ethic (he grew up essentially poor and in a system with limited social mobility) and his strong level of frugality (he suggested on multiple occasions it is better to go to sleep hungry than wake up in debt).
  8.  If you were given the opportunity to have a one-hour lunch with anyone in the world, whom would it be and why?

    Absolutely it would be Craig Alexander. He’s a professional triathlete that has won the Kona World Championships of Iron Man three times. I myself also compete in a few triathlons each year and love the sport that consists of swimming, biking & running.

    I know this isn’t a personal finance related person, but I think many of the lessons from competing in triathlons carry over into the realm of personal finance. Both events require patience, consistent effort over a long timeline, and are extremely rewarding (at least for me).

  9. If you could have a ‘do-over’ in any area of your life, what would that be and why?  I’m gonna go against the grain here and say I don’t have any do-over suggestions. I believe each event, even the bad ones, offer up a lesson to be learned.In many ways, much of the terrible events in my past have created a spark that has led to where I am today. This holds true with personal finance, my career, and even my present relationship with my future wife.

    Given we’re on such a great path together right now, I wouldn’t want to change anything that has contributed to me being the person I am today.

  10. Is there anything else you would like to share with everyone? The joy of the internet is that we can all learn from our mistakes, and we quickly learn just that, that everyone makes mistakes. It is a natural part of the process, so instead of beating ourselves up, we often look for areas we can improve for the next time.

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19 replies

  1. Nicely done! I enjoyed reading your interview. I particularly like the way you nailed the three personal finance tips. There’s a lot of information and pf advice and it’s not easy to distill (see how I did that?) it down into three easy elements!


  2. Fun questions and good insights, Pam and Matt. I’m always struck by how well you and the future Mrs. Distilled Dollar communicate, Matt. You’re well-poised for success when you do get married in the future. I’m sure you’ve heard the statistics about approximately 50% of marriages failing and the primary reason cited being money fights, so it’s awesome that you’ve gotten all of that squared away ahead of time.

    My wife and I went along a similar path, and when we went through pre-marital counseling, our pastor spent about five minutes talking about money with us before he realized that he we had that area of our new life together all sorted out.


    • Thanks! That means a lot and I’m sure Mrs. Distilled Dollar will smile when she hears it as well! I figure we’re either being proactive in communication or we’re being passive by not communicating.

      I’m surprised it took a full five minutes! 😉


  3. Little surprised that Warren Buffet wasn’t your lunch choice! Great interview and advice


  4. I love your ideas about spending a little time each month reading and learning about personal finance – because you are right, if you don’t – you will spend the same amount of time stressing over it! It’s a shift in mindset that would create a lot more space for growth! Clearly you have done this and thanks for sharing it with others!


  5. Lol, that $300 shirt keeps rearing its ugly head doesn’t it Matt. Great interview guys. I do enjoy reading about what makes other personal finance bloggers tick. Your 3 PF tips are pretty well the fundamental rules for success in reaching financial independence . They should teach them in schools.


  6. Thanks for setting up this interview Pam! I had a great time answering these questions and I hope people can share in some of the experiences I’ve had.


  7. You asked excellent questions. The answers will help guide many people in a better direction to avoid similar pitfalls in life. Well done.


  8. Pam and Matt: great interview. I am a big fan of everything distilled, both wisdom and booze. A good reminder to check out the Distilled Dollar blog again.
    Great point about Ben Franklin, by the way. Who knew he was not just a founding father of the nation but also an early thought leader on FIRE community?


    • Do it! 🙂

      Ben’s an icon to mee, so I’ll forever be grateful for the wisdom he laid out. Ben released an almanac every year back in the day, so he was basically the first personal finance blogger too!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great interview Pam! I love to learn about other bloggers and Matt certainly is a great guy with a lot of experience and great insight. I love how personal finance started between him and his girlfriend and translated into one of the best blogs I know of. Money is a big stress in relationships so it was great to see things work out. I hope others who read this realizes the importance of planning and learning as anybody can retire early!


    • Thanks for the compliment Stefan – the removal of stress was definitely the largest motivator early on. Now that things have become less painful, our focus and energy is on ways to create more of the positive feelings associated with security and freedom.



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