I Left My 13 Year Career To Start A $120K/Year Financial Advice Blog

Published: December 24th, 2021
Sam Dogen
Financial Samurai
from San Francisco, CA, USA
started July 2009
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Sam Dogen, founder of Financial Samurai. Financial Samurai is one of the largest independently-owned personal finance sites with about 1 million organic visitors a month. Everything I write and publish is based on firsthand experience because money is too important to be left up to pontification.

Everything you read on Financial Samurai is free to help the maximum number of people achieve financial independence sooner, rather than later. However, I do make advertising revenue and have partnerships with products I work with on my Top Financial Products page. Further, I wrote an eBook entitled, How To Engineer Your Layoff: Negotiate A Severance And Be Free, that does very well.

After working in finance for 13 years, I decided to focus full-time on Financial Samurai in 2012. The site is 100% more fun to work on and takes 90% less time than working in banking. Financial Samurai generates well over $10,000 a month in passive advertising revenue.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

In 2009, the world was falling apart, and my net worth was taking a beating. I thought it would be a good idea to start a personal finance site to help myself and others make sense of chaos. Writing was cathartic and it was better than taking up smoking, drugs, or alcohol!

After all, I had spent 10 years working in the finance industry, studied economics at William & Mary, got my MBA from UC Berkeley, saved aggressively, diversified my investments, and still got financially rocked!

One day, while hiking the cliffs of Santorini, I got an email from an advertiser in London asking if he could put up a link on Financial Samurai for $1,000. I told him, sure why not. Within 30 minutes, I was Paypaled the money and realized I had a way of making money afterlife in banking.

Ironically, there weren’t any personal finance bloggers back in 2009 who had a finance background. Therefore, I decided to fulfill the role. This was my a-ha moment. Even today, there are not many personal finance bloggers who work in finance and have an MBA. How strange!

Be unique. Trying to copy your competition will only get you so far. If you copy too much, you are going to start feeling terrible about yourself. To grow your business, please be mindful of your brand. Make sure you understand what you or your business stands for and focus on doing things to get there.

The more I wrote, the more the site grew. On June 28, 2022, I’ll have a traditionally published book out with Portfolio / Penguin Random House, entitled, Buy This, Not That. Portfolio is an imprint that represents writers such as Seth Godin, Ryan Holiday, Annie Duke, John Doerr, Michael Dell, and more.

The book took two years to write as I poured my heart and soul into it. Buy This, Not That addresses making optimal decisions on some of life’s biggest choices such as, marry for love or marrying for money, private school or public school, working at a startup or an established firm, and so much more. You can pre-order it now. I’m confident that as soon as you finish the book, it will provide you at least 100X more value than its cost.

Take us through the process of designing your product.

I only have two products. The first is my severance negotiation book that sells for $87-$97 a copy. It’s the only severance negotiation book of its kind that helps employees quit their jobs with money in their pockets. I negotiated a multiple-six-figure severance that paid for five years worth of comfortable living expenses. I get to keep 97.5% of the sale price of the book.

After I negotiated my severance, I felt like I had won the lottery! As a result, I wanted to help other people walk away with money in their pocket if they decided to switch jobs, take a break or retire early. If you quit your job, you don’t get a severance, any extended benefits like healthcare, and you likely won’t qualify for unemployment benefits either. Therefore, always try to get laid off with a severance rather than quit. If you plan to quit anyway, there is no downside to trying to get a severance.

My second product, as I mentioned, is my traditionally published book with Portfolio/Penguin Random House coming out on June 28, 2022. The hardcover book will likely be priced at $25. The way I make money from a traditionally published book is that I get a book advance, and I will get royalties for books sold after my book advance is covered. The book opens up opportunities for professional speaking opportunities and other paid activities as well.

I wrote Buy This, Not That to help people achieve financial freedom sooner and live their best life now. With my 70/30 decision-making philosophy, I help people tackle big decisions logically and rationally.

If you follow the teachings of the book, I’m certain in 10 years, you will be wealthier and happier than those who don’t get the opportunity to read the book. There is no other book out there on the market with as much relevance and as many helpful action steps as Buy This, Not That.

Describe the process of launching the business.

In terms of startup costs I incurred launching Financial Samurai in 2009, I paid a guy I found on Craigslist $500 to launch the site. I then paid him $200 to design my site and logo. Since 2009, I’ve updated the site twice. The latest design’s goal is to keep as much relevant content on the homepage as possible while loading quickly.

The hardest hurdle is to start. I came up with the idea in 2006, but I couldn’t figure out how to start myself because I lacked the technical skills. Further, I had just graduated from business school and was very focused on growing my career in banking. However, once you get started, the momentum builds upon itself. Therefore, it’s worth paying someone to help you get started. Nowadays, it’s so cheap and easy to do. You can start a site in under an hour for less than $5 a month!

Everything amazing will seem daunting and impossible at first. However, amazing things get accomplished all the time. The key is to just start. If the direction is correct, sooner or later you will get there!

As you keep producing content, eventually, you will attract like-minded people. And if you produce really good stuff, important people will notice. I got my first break when the LA Times highlighted an article I wrote about the importance of getting an umbrella policy. From there, Financial Samurai was “legitimized,” and other major publications began quoting my work. Here’s a recent example of The San Francisco Chronicle recently highlighting Financial Samurai in a post entitled, How Making $300,000 In San Francisco Can Still Mean You’re Living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Building a brand that has an opinion and stands for something is what has worked the best. Unlike some personal finance sites, I always share my opinion and action points. I don’t have freelance writers writing generic content to rank in the search engines. I write about real life and current events.

In terms of what topics to write about, I tackle the topics that I care about the most. This way, I’m more motivated and excited to write. From there, I will naturally attract other people who care about what I care about as well.

For example, I’m a huge fan of real estate investing. Therefore, I wrote a post called Income And Net Worth Requirements To Buy A Home At All Price Points. This post got picked up by several large websites because it helps answer a lot of potential homebuyers’ questions.

Then I followed that post up with another one entitled, How Much Income Do You Need To Buy A $5 Million Home. I wrote it because I am thinking of eventually buying a home at this price point sometime in the future. Therefore, I put together a budget and went through the entire process to see what was feasible. It was fun to put together and also helpful to those who make higher incomes.

The other important thing I have done is consistently produce good content since 2009. If you never give up, it’s very hard to lose. I have produced three posts a week and one newsletter a week, every week for over 12 years.

I’m also a regular contributor to larger media publications such as CNBC and Business Insider. Whenever I publish a new article on those platforms, I inevitably get new subscribers to my free weekly newsletter.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

My main focus in 2022 will be to market and sell my book, [Buy This, Not That]https://www.financialsamurai.com/btnt/). It took so much effort to write and rewrite over the past two years that I want to make sure it gets as much love as possible. I’ll be going on podcasts and TV to market the book. I’ll also write several posts from some major media outlets like CNBC.

In terms of FinancialSamurai.com, it’s doing very well with roughly 1.2 million organic page views a month. I’ve got about 50,000 active newsletter subscribers as well. Growth has stabilized after years of double and triple-digit YoY growth. Financial Samurai is more like a ship versus a speed boat. However, perhaps growth will reaccelerate in 2022 after the launch of my book on June 28, 2022.

But frankly, I’m really happy with the way things are now. I spend between 3-4 hours a day writing and corresponding. Then I spend the rest of the day with my two-year-old daughter and 4.5-year-old son. They’re growing up quickly and I want to spend as much time with them as possible.

At the end of 2020, I achieved my goal of generating $300,000 a year in passive investment income. Therefore, I have little desire to spend a lot more time trying to make more money. Instead, I want to spend more time with my family. The older I get, the more precious time is becoming.

Below is my latest estimated passive income for 2022. Real estate investing is my favorite source of investment income. However, I do enjoy generating passive income from the products I create. Perhaps Buy This, Not That will also eventually start making passive royalty income in 2H2022 and beyond.


Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Be unique. Trying to copy your competition will only get you so far. If you copy too much, you are going to start feeling terrible about yourself.

Don’t wait for perfection to start. Just start and evolve as you learn. Let time compound for you. If I had started Financial Samurai in 2006, right after I graduated from business school, the site would have been much larger.

If you want to make money from your blog, then you’ve got to treat your website like a business. I didn’t for the first several years because I just enjoyed the writing process. Further, I had a full-time job. I think if I focused on making money online, I probably would have been able to make millions more since 2009.

Another important lesson is to diversify your clientele. Instead of just having one client for one vertical, I suggest having three clients. This way, if one client goes down, you always have another. Further, as your business grows, you will naturally have clients competing for your airtime, which could result in pricing power. Here are some detailed lessons I’ve learned about making money online since 2009.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

WordPress, Google Analytics, Google Workspace.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

The Financial Samurai podcast and Healing Back Pain by Dr. Sarno, for those suffering any type of chronic pain.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Everything amazing will seem daunting and impossible at first. However, amazing things get accomplished all the time. The key is to just start. If the direction is correct, sooner or later you will get there!

Also, once your business gets going, never sell it if it’s gaining momentum and starts generating cash flow. In a low interest rate environment, never sell your cash cows. They are way more valuable than you think! If you sell for the quick buck, you will regret it.

Where can we go to learn more?

I’m mainly responding to comments on FinancialSamurai.com. I read them all. But I am on Twitter and Facebook as well.

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!