It was Automatic Money, rolling in like crazy with no effort on my part, absolutely no overhead, and it was remarkably reliable. Almost $1000 every week, $130 every day, or close to $50,000 a year, probably subject to exponential growth as well. And I just turned off this firehose of cash… over the simple issue of my choice of words on this blog.
$4000 a month is about twice the amount it takes to pay for my entire family’s living expenses. It’s also enough to pay the mortgage on a $900,000 house, lease several of the world’s most expensive cars, buy a family health insurance plan so extreme that doctors would be taking me out for steak and lobster dinners as part of each office visit, or have my family embark on a permanent trans-world adventure. But now, it’s gone. And it’s all because I refused to remove the word “Badassity” from that banner on the top of the site.
Is that crazy? Perhaps we need to know the history of the situation to judge properly.
Those of us who have been reading for a while know it has been a little crazy since the beginning. I just started typing some shit into the computer in April 2011, and the Spirits of the Internet decided on their own that the blog would become unusually big. I posted a little milestone article after the first million page views, and another after the second million. At that point, I noted that the little advertising boxes on the side of this blog were earning a respectable $500 per month, and that I thought it might eventually grow to $2000, enough to cover the entire Money Mustache family’s living expenses, despite the fact that they are already covered in other ways.
Not being particularly interested in maximizing revenue, I sequestered my own credit card links into a little rewards credit card referral page in the “MMM Recommends” link above*. In the hope of making things more useful to readers, I evaluated each credit card offer myself, and sorted them so that the most valuable offers were near the top of the list. Then I went back to writing articles and forgot about it.
The thing is, the Mustachians who read this blog are a lot like me. They already use credit cards in their daily life. So, shit, if a credit card company wants to pay them $100 or more to sign up for a new card with no strings attached (or $200-400 with some strings you can carefully cut), they’ll probably seriously consider it. So as soon as I put up the page, Mustachians started signing up for those cards in droves. I even grabbed a couple of them myself, netting $1000.
In one post near the beginning of it all called “Maximum Mustache March – Update“, I mentioned the Chase Sapphire card I had signed up for. That triggered thousands of dollars in sales. After that, the trickle continued at a rate of over $900 a week.
As it turned out, the Chase company had the highest rewards for customers, along with the highest payouts for bloggers. Suddenly over 80% of the blog’s revenue was coming just from Chase credit card referrals. “Good for them”, I thought, “for finding a way to drastically beat all their competitors, score all the customers, and presumably still make money at it”.
I watched my growing Flexoffers account balance warily. Was this ridiculous stream of money for real? Was it really going to come to me? When would it stop? What does a shitload of extra money mean to a man who has already happily realized that he has no real use for way more money? I started planning an article to tell you all about it – you might have noticed the title “This Blog is Raking in some Serious Dough.. here’s how” in my list of draft articles. Here’s what the revenue stream looked like since the beginning of Money Mustache Time:
I found it fascinating, mildly addictive, and a bit disruptive. I found myself turning down carpentry jobs that I would have enjoyed doing, solely on the basis of having too much money: “Well, the blog is now paying me $1000 every week. Do I really want to go out and swing hammers and sweat for 25 hours to earn an extra $1000 when the money is even more irrelevant than it was a few months ago? Maybe I should be more like Bill Gates and start doing something involving vaccines in India instead of building yet another kitchen or front porch for someone?
In yet another proof of the amazing power of Hedonic Adaptation, I rapidly adjusted to the new level of income, and felt no happier than I did without it. Possibly even less happy, although there was the odd cheerful laugh at the thought that even the most expensive unexpected life event could easily be swept away effortlessly. But at the same time, I’m old enough to know that effort itself is a key part of happiness, so perhaps effortless solutions are not ideal anyway.
The one thing that didn’t change, is that I remained rock solid on my resolve not to inflate my lifestyle beyond its existing level of ridiculous abundance. Adding an even bigger house, newer cars, or fancier vacations would not be in the cards regardless of cashflow.
But then all of this changed in a heartbeat, with the arrival of an email from my friendly Flexoffers representative. To paraphrase his message to me:
Mustache! We’ve got an emergency!
Chase has reviewed your blog, and they don’t like the banner. It is “inappropriate content” in their view. Also, you should probably change the slogan you created using “WTF!?” as a describing factor for one of their rewards cards.
“Well, shit”, I thought. “Didn’t we already know this was too good to be true?”
I had enjoyed the irony of this blog speaking out against paying ANY credit card interest, yet receiving huge payments from credit card companies. They were issuing cards to a bunch of highly savvy financial hackers, who were maximizing the rewards while simultaneously setting automatic monthly payoffs from their well-funded ING Direct accounts and Google Calendar alerts to cancel the card accounts just before any annual fees kicked in. If these card companies depend on interest payments to make a profit, the Mustachians were surely a source of losses for them. On the other hand, with the billions of dollars of annual income earned by this blog’s readership, there were surely profits to be had in the long run through good business relationships.
So I wrote back to the guy:
“Tell Chase to read the blog. There’s no inappropriate content here. We swear and we rant, but when it comes down to it, we’re talking about honesty, integrity, hard work, and becoming very wealthy. There’s no reason for a big corporation to shy away from this.
But if they still insist that I remove the word “Badassity” from my banner, then unfortunately we’ll have to part ways, because even that small act would be selling out the very integrity that we speak so highly of in this blog.
I felt pretty buzzed after writing that email. Was I really willing to give up all that cash over one word?
But inside, I knew the answer was “Fuck Yeah!”
Because this is really a test of what financial independence is all about. If I give them one word, what do I do when they stumble across other articles like the one called “How Much is That Bitch Costin’ Ya?”, or the fact that almost every one contains some sort of profanity? If I’m willing to make my own writing shittier just to comply to a corporate monitoring program, then why not just go right back to an office job? After all, I could also make $20,000 unneeded dollars a month as an Engineering manager, and all I have to do is sacrifice all my free time and throw around a lot of buzzwords and kiss the asses of those above me in the hiearchy!
So really, in a slightly irrational way I was hoping that Chase would not see the light and that they would indeed cancel Mr. Money Mustache from their referral program. It would make a great story of corporate cluelessness. A company shooting themselves in the foot due to the incredible bureaucracy that forces low-level people to set aside their own judgement in favor of following a bland rulebook designed to prevent dangerous creativity.
It’s much like the media and the big-business blogosphere itself. If you dare to be different from the crowd, you’ll pay the price. You won’t get the big advertisers, the big sponsorships, or the mild-mannered mainstream media feature stories.
The next day I received a short reply saying, “Chase still decided to cancel your account, since they feel you don’t fit with their brand”.
So here we are. And it feels absolutely GREAT! What could be a better use of Fuck You Money, then to actually say Fuck You (politely) in a situation where it counts so much? What better definition of the word “Badassity”, than the willingness to stand up and refuse to erase it from your own website, even in the face of mind-numbing financial consequences!?
If this blog were the only thing between my family and a homeless shelter, I’d surely be a banner-changin’, credit-card-hustlin’ fool. Just as the indebted office worker faced with an abusive manager will bow down and do the shitty work, year-in and year-out. Just as the politican without their own cash or grassroots fundraising will sell out to corporate fundraisers every time. Just as the new parent will give up time with her own newborn baby and spend 50 hours a week working and commuting to avoid losing seniority in the company.
Even in this little niche, if you look around at established personal finance blogs, you’ll find they have become credit card selling machines! I mean shit, Chase just recently introduced a “Disney” credit card. I saw it in my list and deleted it immediately, thinking “Why would anyone want some crap Disney points when they could just have cash?”. But it had a great payout, and lo and behold, the PF blogosphere is ripe with “reviews” of the new Disney card.
The world needs Fuck You Money. All of us do. You get it from lowering your expenses, saving your income, and curing your insatiable desire to always have more of everything. Once you get it, you can be freed from the idea of wanting more money when you already have enough.
This will also be a great test of my theory that honesty makes you richer in the long run. I’m tossing aside $50,000 per year in the interest of sticking to my guns. I’m willing to bet that in the long run, I’ll end up even richer by remaining honest. The best part for you as a reader is that this experiment will cost you nothing – I’ll let you know how it turns out.
* After over a year of being banned, we found a nice workaround that allows this blog to still generate referrals for the good credit cards again. I don’t expect this to re-start the gravy train, since I’m not planning to write a big article to advertise its presence. But the credit cards page is back up and useful again. Yeah!