I read a lots of personal development blogs, personal finance blogs, and leadership blogs. One consistent theme among the three aforementioned categories is the praise of the uber-successful.

Rightfully so, as these people are the CEO’s, leaders, and most influential people of our time. It’s important to learn from these people. Obviously they’re doing some things right.

However, I think it’s equally important to look for success from those closest to us. Personally, it’s more inspirational to see a friend, acquaintance, or peer attain success. It creates this feeling that success is more attainable for me.

I think to myself – “If they can do it, so can I!”

This is the inspiration for “Everyday Success.” In this series of interviews, I will be asking my peers, friends, colleagues and acquaintances questions about their success. I want to focus on their habits, techniques, strategies and failures.

I am a firm believer that every interaction with an individual has an opportunity to learn something.

For the first interview, I decided to interview my mentor. He’s a personal finance blogger with a passion for accumulating long-term wealth. He draws tremendous insight from everyday life and does a fantastic job relating back to personal finance.

Matt founded Distilled Dollar because he posses a deep fervor about personal finance. He’s been featured in major publications like lifehacker, MSN, The Huffington Post, CNBC and Yahoo. He’s fully transparent with his journey towards financial independence too. His blog has great tips on accumulating wealth and the lifestyle shift towards personal finance.

Matt (right) with his financée

Here are some of my favorite posts from Matt:

Matt is based in the Chicago area, and I am based in the SF Bay Area. While we have talked on the phone multiple times, the interview was executed via email. It was the most convenient way for both parties.

Below are the questions I sent to Matt, and his answers.

What was the inspiration for the blog?

“Oh man, the inspiration for Distilled Dollar! Well, I’m not sure if it was an inspiration to write a blog as much as a need for me to get some thoughts out on paper.

I used to craft and formulate my own theories on investing or saving money or making money and test these theories against the books I read or the charts I saw or the people I saw or the habits that seemed to work and not work (Sorry for all the and’s there!)

Over time, I ended up writing my first article about student loans and folks loved it. It took about another year before that article would end up online. As the site grew, it was only easier to continue to work on it.

Another benefit with the blog was going to be the live journal factor. I already knew that writing down ideas was helpful when communicating money topics to my girlfriend at the time – fiancee now! 🙂 – so naturally I was excited to do more of that. It made it clearer in my head and it was easier for her to understand too. A win-win, although it does take some work.”

Who is your role model; who do you look up to?

“Role models are so key in my life since I do believe our role models determine who we will become.

Within the personal finance realm it was Ben Franklin because, before he was involved with politics, he was a hard working printer who built a business over 25 years and reached financial independence on multiple stages before retiring early at the age of 42. He loved the concept of freedom and liberty and I attached to that and wanted to be on board with gaining freedom – in any way possible. Financial freedom seemed like an easy route since it serves as a foundation. Money gives me options and I know it won’t provide happiness, but I also do know I’ll be happier once the $1800/month student loan payments are gone.

Since I’m from Chicago I’ll need to drop MJ. He’s Relentless, and for those who read that book, you’ll know some of the crazier stories. One of my favorites remains MJ’s response to his flu in the 1997 NBA finals. He ended up playing that game to the astonishment of fans and his opponents alike, because he led the Bulls to win #2 in the series, before having to be carried off by Scottie Pippen.

Scottie Pippen (Right) assists Michael Jordan (Left) off of the court after an astounding playoff performance while Jordan was plagued with the flu.

I can go on and on about role models as one of my favorite mini hobbies is reading biographies. Naturally, I’ve gravitated towards a few individuals over time and then I tend to hone in a bit more on their lives. For more on those types of leaders and role models, check out A First-Rate Madness. The book talks about how chaos and turmoil, especially earlier in life can later lead to an irrevocable and valuable asset in times of crisis. If anyone is familiar with personal finance, you’ll know it often doesn’t take a high IQ to become wealthy, it just takes avoiding real stupid mistakes.
The book also discusses a bit more as the subtitle suggests, but overtime I’ve gravitated towards learning from many different people. Since we can’t sit down face to face with many of these successful people, I love to read about them. As Emerson said, ‘In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.'”

What advice would you give your inexperienced self?

“Build the systems and then work the systems. In other words, build smart habits and stick to them. My inexperienced self was a bit more narrow focused which can be great in the short term. Nowadays, I’m much more strategic in my thinking and always asking myself, ‘How does this decision on X factor into the 5 year plan?'”

How do you balance the blog and work?

“Balance? What is that?! Hah, I believe you gotta work if you want to achieve something so I’m in my work phase. My background is public accounting and for anyone familiar, the hours drag up to the 80’s and 90’s or even triple digits. Terrifying! That’s why I left, but I still feel like I’m working basically the same. I love the old Elon Musk quote where says, “If you work 100 hours a week and somebody else works 40 hours. You’ll achieve in 4 months what takes them a year.” Sure, the #’s might not work out exactly like that, but the underlying principles resonated with me that hard work will pay off.

At the end of the day, its like what Charlie Munger says, ‘The safest way to try to get what you want is to try and deserve what you want.'”

What habits have worked for you?

“Yikes – I can go on for days on this one lol. A quick one that helps in the morning for me is putting my phone on airplane mode. In general, the airplane mode hack for my phone is absolute key to get into a deep flow state with work.

Similarly, before I hit the hay I try to avoid electronics. It is basically impossible these days with the amount of stimulus hitting us 24/7, but I try to reserve that quite little habit of slowing down before before. On a good night, I’ll pick up a book before passing out.”

What techniques have not worked for you?

“Within the personal finance realm, I tried to incorporate my fiancee into more of the overall planning but that did not work. I had read a fantastic book called Smart Women Finish Rich and so we ran through some of the fun exercises in there, but it became apparent with what we were all comfortable with. When it comes to relationships and shared finances, it can be a bit murky over who does what, so it was nice to clarify it now while we’re young.”

What failures have you experienced throughout your journey?

“Failure is a strong word so I won’t necessarily say I’ve had failures in my life. Each experience has pushed me to the next experience and currently I’m living my greatest experiences, haha.
To go a bit old school here, “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit”. I’m a sucker for that type of belief, since it obviously serves me today.”

How did you deal with those failures?

“This question is loud and clear since I’m thinking of setbacks and those times where I fall short on my goals. I’m a goal-driven person so when I ‘fail’ in reaching a goal, it has historically been the result of 2 things that I then change in order to change my result.
The first is my prep. In one example, I compete in this same triathlon race each year here in Chicago. The event is swim, bike, run, and for me, gorge out at dinner time. 🙂 If the first three of those legs don’t go so well (the gorging is basically guaranteed), then I know it was the prep. In a race that’s a few hours, the deciding factors for me are the dozens or hundreds of hours that went into that race. That’s why designing benchmarks along the way help in achieving that bigger goal, in this case the final race time that I wanted.
The second is my environment. I’m a licensed CPA and taking the exams to get to this stage were not fun, or easy. The failure rate for the exam is higher than the BAR exam to become a lawyer – oh, and there are FOUR individual exams and all must be passed! The exam process taught be a lot about my environment when it comes to approaching a big goal. If you can imagine, the first.”

What motivates you to keep writing?

“Mostly that I feel I haven’t hashed everything out in the way that I know will help people get from A to B and then from B to C, and so on. That’s the biggest motivator to much of my content, but at this stage, I’ve also set up some systems to keep posts going. An example here is I’m aiming to do a book review post once a month. These are hugely successful posts since people see that consistent theme of me taking knowledge and showing what actionable habits worked and didn’t work as a byproduct of the book.”

Why personal finance?

“I love thinking and talking about money because it feels like one of those things we can and almost should figure out before we turn 40. From that perspective, I learned early (maybe not early enough) at the age of 19 about the power of compound interest. I then learned again early (I’m glad I learned it as early as I did here to be honest!) at the age of 21 about how people can retire in their 40s and some have even retired in their 30’s. Retirement didn’t appeal to me, but I was inspired by the idea that I could unhook from the 9-5 and pursue whatever the hell I wanted. I later learned the term here is Financial Independence.”

If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be and why?

“I’ll go with Ben Franklin since I imagine we can talk about a lot of different and very interesting topics. I also feel that Ben Franklin would be more likely to quickly adapt to modern life, or at least way more so than some of the folks in his era.”

What are three things that you have learned from your tenure as a blogger?

“I can only pick 3!? Haha, well the top 3 would have to be:

Patience. My fiancee says this is one of my best, if not my best quality, but I can say that building out a blog developed my patience to another level.

Effective vs Efficiency: I developed a next level understanding on the difference between being effective and being efficient – and more critically to that transformation was knowing when to aim for one or the other, or when to aim for both. With a blog and a podcast and courses and a full time job, it sometimes becomes a matter of executing on the highest priority tasks and letting some of the lower important items fall down. Easier said than done but the blogging experience has helped me fine tune this process.

Strategy. I’ve always felt strategic in my thinking but blogging has taken it up another notch. By focusing on what skills to learn and what assets to invest into on the blog, it all plays a large factor in what the overall strategy is. I’m all on board that everyone should have a life strategy, but the blog basically extended my thinking from ‘what’s my 2 year game plan?’ to ‘what’s my 5 year game plan?’
No promises on everyone having these same 3 learning points, but I can promise anyone going through it, that’ll you’ll have your own breakthroughs.”

What are your long term goals for the blog?

“Long term goals nowadays are provide as much high value, high quality content as possible. Creating original content is hard, since I’m not sure how to know for sure when ideas are original (I feel I get original ideas all the time only to discover some personal finance blog dedicated to only that topic).”

How do you go about setting goals?

“4 times a year I sit down with my values and see where I’m at with my quarterly goals. From there I kinda scan ahead further out at those 2-5 year goals and see if things are still aligned. Setting up my whole process in the first place took a lot more time, [probably] a whole weekend. Now that the framework is set, I [probably] spend a few hours during each of those quarterly sessions.”

What have you learned about yourself throughout this whole process?

“I’ve learned a lot, and a little in some regards. With personal finance, I still feel things are simple but I continue to learn about all the extra layers of complexity that are out there. Some work and help, while others might just be red tape or someone looking to take a piece of our money. I’ve been reading, thinking and basically breathing personal finance since 2009, so I’m still surprised each time I discover something new that’s a negative drag on someone’s net worth.”

How do you define success?

“I would say I have a set of values that are clear to me. From those values I’ve crafted up my goals, but my goals are merely the destination. The whole point of all this is to live in alignment with my values and the goals simply act as the benchmarks and goal posts. I’m living a successful life from that perspective.

Am I successful? I wouldn’t say that yet as I feel the words,

‘Successful,’ and, ‘Success,’ are more attributed at the end of the road. “

I aspire to be like Matt, and I am inspired by the newly learned information about his blog, strategies, techniques, and failures! The Secondhand Success I garnered from Matt give me great ideas, strategies, and techniques for growth.

Thanks, Matt!

Readers, I hope you were able to draw some inspiration from Matt like I have! If you have any ideas of people I should interview or questions I should ask in my next interview, please comment them below!