I’m really excited to share this with you today. I recently jumped on air with Denis and Katie from their super popular Chain of Wealth podcast. They are doing incredible work in the Financial Freedom/Personal Finance industry, and I hope you enjoy the conversation.
Chain of Wealth Podcast: Episode 27 | C.J. Cato
Here’s what we talked about:
[3:04] What is the biggest money mistake I ever made?
[7:35] Where did the idea for the blog, Vow of Practicality come from?
[11:12] What is my favorite blog post?
[12:33] What advice would I give someone who is trying to pay off debt?
[15:56] Why do I think people fail at reaching their dreams?
[18:03] What is my favorite quote?
[18:55] Do I have any other podcasts or books to recommend?
· Books: Richest man in Babylon
· Podcasts: Side Hustle Nation, BaldThoughts.com, Personal Profitability
[20:59] How can listeners reach me?
· Twitter: @PracticalityVow
· Facebook: Facebook.com/VowofPracticality/
[21:19] Any last advice?
Denis O’Brien: Episode 27. Vow of Practicality. Hey, Chainers, and welcome to another edition of Chain of Wealth. I’m your host, Denis O’Brien.
Katie Loche: And I’m Katie.
Denis O’Brien: And we’re the hosts of Chain of Wealth. Today we’re going to talk about practicality and what it means to everyday people.
Katie Loche: Yeah, Den, I think people are having a hard time remembering the difference between a need and want. What do you think?
Denis O’Brien: Yeah, definitely. I think that as one’s income can start to creep up slowly, as you may get promoted and stuff like that, it’s very easy to start buying more kinds of things, enjoying the finer things in life, and I think it’s very easy to start living beyond your means at a young age.
Katie Loche: Right. Then at a young age, you get into that habit of living beyond your means, and, as what C.J talks about later in our conversation with him, he talks about lifestyle creep.
Denis O’Brien: Yeah, definitely. It’s definitely something that can happen before you notice, and you get comfortable, and you want your $15 Whole Bean coffee beans from Whole Foods and you end up living far beyond your means. You end up just wasting a huge amount of money that should be going towards either saving for retirement, maybe your kid’s college, maybe a wedding, whatever it is. There’s always something you should be saving for.
Katie Loche: Yeah, I definitely agree.
Denis O’Brien: It’s definitely important for people to figure out where that balance lies.
Katie Loche: You talking about those $15 Whole Foods coffee beans like you know about them!
Denis O’Brien: We all have our own problems.
Katie Loche: Alright. Well, are you ready to talk to C.J.?
Denis O’Brien: Yeah, let’s dive right into the interview.
Speaker 3: Welcome to Chain of Wealth. Here’s your host, Denis, inspiring you to begin your journey of financial freedom.
Denis O’Brien: Hey, Chainers, and welcome to another edition of Chain of Wealth. Today, we have C.J. Cato with us. C.J. is the founder of the blog, Vow of Practicality. Located in Austin, Texas, he has a background as a financial analyst and a grant writer. Welcome, C.J.!
Katie Loche: Welcome.
C.J. Cato: Thank you.
Denis O’Brien: C.J., could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
C.J. Cato: Absolutely. Well, like you said, I live here in Austin, Texas, which is a really booming city right now known for its live music and a lot of tech companies. I have a beautiful wife, Nicole, and two little boys. Michael is the oldest. He’s five. Zachary is the youngest, and he’s five months. As far as what we do here in Austin, we try to do a lot of things as a family. There is a lot to do around here, but right now with a five-month-old, we aren’t doing a whole lot, but we’re hoping in the next few months that we’ll get back out there and start exploring a little bit more.
Katie Loche: Wow, I bet you have your hands full with two little boys like that.
C.J. Cato: Oh, yeah. We really do, for sure.
Katie Loche: So, C.J., can you tell us what your biggest money mistake you’ve ever made was?
C.J. Cato: Yeah, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, or should I say I’ve had a lot of lessons. One of the biggest mistakes, you know … I owned my own gym, or I co-owned a gym here in Austin for about five years, and it ended in disaster. While on paper, that would look like the biggest mistake, honestly, the lesson I got from that was this whole idea of lifestyle creep. I think this is a huge mistake that most Americans are making right now. What lifestyle creep is, it’s when your 22 and you get out of college, and you’re not making that much money, and you get used to spending all of it that comes in on expenses. But, over time, you start to make more money, and then you start to spend more money. The next thing you know, it’s 10 years later, and you’re making twice as much and spending twice as much. It’s not really what you make, it’s what you keep.
There’s two big factors that come in with lifestyle creep. You can really get yourself in a bind when your revenue stops coming in temporarily. So, for instance, when I lost my business, I suddenly didn’t have any income. What this meant was … I would literally do this. I would look outside at my car, at a nice convertible Mustang GT with like a 500 or 600 dollar payment, I would literally see a giant dollar sign over it with the amount. I would see this motorcycle … I had this Yamaha R1 that I had just bought, and I would see the amount that I was paying every month. Suddenly, those things that were toys were these huge liabilities and a strain on my life. I realized that if I didn’t have those, this transition to finding a new job or whatever really wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But now I’m really having to hustle to come up with the money to pay for all these expenses.
The other major thing is … The other major way you can get in a real bind is when your revenue stops permanently. So, when you turn 62 or 65 or whatever, and you’re trying to retire, and you have lifestyle creep for 40 years. Not only are your expenses through the roof because you’re used to paying all this stuff for everything, you also didn’t save for retirement, because you spent all your money on cars. You bought a new car every three years instead of investing. That sort of thing. So, I think lifestyle creep is one of the biggest problems that Americans are facing right now, and if they got a hold of it, they would find that not only would their life be better, but they could probably even retire much earlier than they can even imagine.
Denis O’Brien: It’s amazing how things can just spiral out of control, and before you know it, you’ve got so many monthly payments due each and every month. I always say that if you invest in things like expensive cars and stuff like that, it’s probably one of the worst financial mistakes you can make, because, the thing is, if you would have put that money into a house, as an example, houses over time tend to appreciate, but a car, for the most part, always depreciates in value. It’s probably one of the worst investments you can make. We can completely relate. We were actually at the car dealership yesterday and trying to get rid of Katie’s old car, so …
Katie Loche: And when he says “old car,” it’s a year old. It’s not like a little shack rolling down the street. It’s a really nice Honda, but we don’t every use it, like, ever, to the point where we’ll park it in the parking garage at our apartment building, and three weeks later when we go to use it, we don’t even remember where we parked it. So, we made the decision that it is time to let it go.
C.J. Cato: I think cars are one of the biggest wastes of money. People will go out and spend $40,000 on a car without even thinking about it, when, maybe a house where they live is $150,000. That’s a third of a house.
Denis O’Brien: Yeah.
Katie Loche: Yeah.
C.J. Cato: Within just three or four years that car is worth half what you started at, right? You just threw all that money away, and for what?
Denis O’Brien: Yeah. It’s definitely a terrible investment. Let’s talk a little bit about Vow of Practicality. Where did the idea for your blog come from?
C.J. Cato: That’s a good question. In a lot of ways, it started a very long time ago. I had a buddy of mine when I was in the military, we were stationed in South Korea, and he married a Filipino girl. After the military, I decided to go over there and visit him. I stayed there for about a year, actually. The Philippines is a pretty poor country, like any Third World country. One night, I was walking from the bus stop, they’re called “jeepneys” there, but I was going from the bus stop to a downtown area where me and my friends would party or whatever at a club. I walked past this family on the sidewalk. It was a mom, two kids, and a baby. I’m pretty sure at least one of the kids was completely naked. The other one has just almost nothing on, and the mother was asking for money.
She asked me for money, and I said, “Wala,” which means “I have nothing” in Tagalog. Now, you have to realize, in a Third World country, there’s a lot of scammers, so I was used to people trying to scam me all the time. I was only 20 or 21 years old. So I just [inaudible 00:08:51] my friends, and we had a good time, or whatever. Hours later, it’s probably about 2 AM, and I’m walking back from there going to the bus stop, and I look over on the sidewalk, and I see that family there, asleep. It dawned on me that this was real. That those children were spending every day of their life baking in the sun, and I had just brushed them aside like nothing. It was this punch in the gut. It hadn’t dawned on me that this was real.
So, what also dawned on me was that three meals a day and a roof over their head would make those people the happiest people in the world. Here I am, in America, all these years later, listening to people complain about not having the newest smartphone, or something, and I found that sort of irritating, because that stuff isn’t going to make you happy. I’m not opposed to having that stuff, I just think we could be so much happier if we kept our lives in perspective. I started the Vow of Practicality with all this in mind. I wanted people to make decisions that of course kept them from being poor, because there’s no doubt being poor will make you miserable. Money may not make you happy, but being poor will make you miserable. But, I want people to be wealthy, because I want them wealthy financially and psychologically. I want them to feel secure. I want people to be able to travel and spend time with their families. But, it’s not about fancy cars, like we just talked about, or anything like that.
I don’t want people to think that stuff is going to make them happier, but money, yes, I think money can help, because money, like I said, buys you freedom. It keeps you off the sidewalk. It gives you peace of mind. I remember thinking that if everyone took a vow of poverty for a while, they would begin to learn where happiness comes from. But, I didn’t think calling it the Vow of Poverty would go over very good, so I went with the Vow of Practicality, so that’s why.
Katie Loche: Do you have a favorite blog post? When I was looking through the Vow of Practicality, you have a ton of posts that you have made. Which one is your favorite?
C.J. Cato: Yeah, I have sort of an eclectic … My posts sometimes are very different from each other. My favorite posts, and what seem to be the most popular that get featured in other places are my ones where I do characters. So, I have these imaginary characters that I interview. I have Matt the Millennial, and I have Professor M, who has a time machine, and I have [Sero 00:11:40] the Alien. I guess my favorite, and most people’s favorite, is my Sero the Alien guy.
I did a post with him where he was coming down from outer space, and he’s looking at us like we’re crazy. He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand, for instance, why we’re spending four hours, the average person, watching television every single day. He’s confused. He’s like, “Don’t you realize you could read 240 books in a year instead of watching TV?” or “Don’t you realize you could be spending all that time with your family, or learning a new skill, or something? Anything but staring at this stupid box all day. What are you doing?” I think that’s probably my favorite post and my favorite character. I plan to keep working, keep interviewing him in the future.
Katie Loche: What advice would you have for someone who’s trying to pay off their debt?
C.J. Cato: You have to have a plan. If you’re going to get your debt paid off, you, and if you’re married, your wife, you have to literally have a plan, write it down, and figure out where you’re trying to get. Me and my wife, we paid off, it was over $10,000 in credit card debt, and we did it in about a year. At first, it seemed impossible. When you looked at the numbers, you go, “I can’t pay off $10,000 in a year.” But you start thinking about the things you can cut out that are kind of worthless, whether it’s that coffee you buy in the morning, or whatever you’re splurging on. You realize, man, there’s an extra two or three hundred dollars a month I’m just blowing on junk food, or something.
You also start to realize that as you pay off each debt, you have that money you were spending on the debt to spend on your next debt. That’s the whole idea of a snowball effect. If you have five credit cards and they’re all $100 a month, when you pay off the first one, you now have an extra $100 to put towards the other ones, plus the things you were cutting out. When you have a plan like that, it really starts adding up, and you start building momentum.
The other thing to think about is just make sure you should pay off the debt, because not all debts are an emergency. Your mortgage may not be that important to try to pay it off earlier. Our mortgage rate is 2.9% on our home, and inflation’s about the same, so I feel like I’m better off investing that money instead of paying off my mortgage right now. You just have to keep in mind that it doesn’t do you any good not to pay off your mortgage and not invest either, because then that doesn’t help. I think you just have to have a plan. That’s it.
Denis O’Brien: It definitely comes down to discipline. At the end of the day, even if you’ve paid off that one credit card for $100, don’t think you have an extra $100 to spend every month. It’s knowing to use that money to put into a debt, or, like you say, start investing into something else, potentially, and just making sure you just don’t touch it.
Katie Loche: And having a plan is so important. Me and Denis were actually sitting yesterday trying to map out what our plans are for the next year and everything, and we’re like, “Okay, if we do this, then we can save for that.” It definitely made us feel much better.
C.J. Cato: Yeah, if you don’t have a plan, there’s a 0% chance of you reaching that goal. It’s that simple.
Denis O’Brien: Awesome. Chainers, we’re just going to take a quick break, and then we’re going to dive right back into the Value-Link Round.
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So, C.J., why do you think that people fail at achieving their dreams?
C.J. Cato: Really, I think people fail because they’re afraid of failing. I think some things become a lot clearer as you get older. When you’re 22 and you fail at something, at that moment in time, it just looks like a failure. But by the time you’re 32, and you’re looking back on it, it looks like a lesson. Many people don’t reach their potential because they don’t recognize that what they’re calling failures is actually just life teaching them how not to do something. Those failures are what are preparing them for greater things. That’s what Edison used to say, right? Someone asked him about …
Katie Loche: The light bulb.
C.J. Cato: Yeah, the light bulb. I don’t know what he exactly said, but his response was he found a thousand ways not to make a light bulb. So, each failure was actually moving him closer to his goal, and the key is, he was aware of that. He knew he was getting closer to his goal by finding these failures. It’s just part of a process. So, you have to be aware that your failures are teaching you things, and they’re moving you forward, and as you get older, each one of those failures is going to be a tool that you’ll be able to use to realize your goals.
Katie Loche: It’s important to remind yourself if you really are working towards that goal, that each little mistake you make is just going to help you get to the next part.
C.J. Cato: I thought it was funny. If you imagine it this way. If you see a baby when they’re trying to walk for the first time, and they keep falling down. As an adult, you look at them and you know, all they have to do is keep practicing, and they’re going to walk, right? But, could you imaging if a baby just said, “Aw, I’ve fallen down like three times now. I give up. I gave it a shot. I’m just going to have to crawl around the rest of my life.”
Denis O’Brien: This whole walking thing just doesn’t work out for me.
C.J. Cato: But you think about the fastest man on the planet had to start off learning how to walk.
Katie Loche: So, C.J., do you have a favorite quote?
C.J. Cato: Yes. In the 80s, there was this guy who was really famous. He used to fill up stadiums. His name was Les Brown. He’s a motivational speaker, and if anyone’s listening, you should go to YouTube and check out his videos. Really motivating stuff. One of his quotes was, “You don’t have to be great to get started, but you have to get started to be great.” I think inaction is one of our biggest enemies. There’s that fear we all have of failing at something, which is sort of illogical, because if you don’t even try, you have a 100% chance of failure. You just have to get started and go after it.
Denis O’Brien: I really like that. Do you have any other books or podcasts you could recommend for our listeners?
C.J. Cato: Yeah, I went to FinCon this year, which is a huge financial conference for bloggers and podcasters and that sort of thing, and I got to meet some podcasters. The first one I met was Nick Loper at a podcast called Side Hustle Nation. His podcast focuses on how to bring in extra money. Really super-nice guy. Real down-to-earth, and I’ve listened to probably 20 of his podcasts. They’re really full of great information. The other guy I met was Eric Rosenberg, who was actually on your show a few episodes back, I saw.
Katie Loche: Yeah, we remember him.
C.J. Cato: I met him. Lee Huff from baldthoughts.com, which is a website about credit cards and that sort of thing, introduced me to him at FinCon, and we stayed up until like one in the morning at some hole-in-the-wall place in Dallas eating pizza, and I got to meet him. He’s really fun, and he has a podcast called … I think it’s called Personal Profitability. He talks about increasing your wealth, and he talks about side gigs, and all this stuff. That’s a really great podcast as well.
As far as books go, I really think everyone should start with … It’s a very short book. You can read it in a couple hours, probably. It’s called The Richest Man in Babylon. It is a book where they use parables, kind of like fables … I think it’s like old Roman times, 2,000 years ago. It teaches you about money from a really high view point, overall the concept of paying yourself. One of the things it talks about in there is that what you have left at the end of the year is how much you made. So you can tell me you made $100,000 this year, but how much of it did you save or invest? If you say, “Zero.” I’m like, “Well, you made a zero dollars this year.” That’s what this book really hammers home. It’s a really great book. The Richest Man in Babylon.
Katie Loche: Okay, and, how can our listeners reach you?
C.J. Cato: Well, go to my website, which is thevowofpracticality.com. I’m on Twitter @practicalityvow, or you can just Google Vow of Practicality and I think all that stuff pops up.
Denis O’Brien: Awesome. C.J., we’ve loved hanging out. Do you have any other last parting piece of advice for our listeners, and then we’ll say goodbye.
C.J. Cato: This would probably sound a little cliché, but I would just say that a life where you aren’t pursuing your dreams isn’t really a life. I heard somebody recently say something a long the lines that a lot of people die or are dead between the ages of 25 and 65. They get in this grind and they accept a certain fate, and they just sort of die on the inside as they do things they don’t care about to make other people rich. They give up on their life and their dreams and become complacent. I think everyone needs a creative outlet. Everyone needs to do those things they were born to do. If you don’t do it, what are you going to think of yourself when you’re 90 years old. Are you going to say to yourself, “I sure wish I would have worked harder in that job I hated.” or “I sure wish I would have given my dreams a shot.” I think that you really have to find out what you’re passionate about and start doing it.
It doesn’t mean you have to quit your job, but you need to start working on what you’re passionate about and live your own life.
Denis O’Brien: I absolutely love that. Chainers, we’ve been hanging out with C.J. Cato. Check out his blog, vowofpracticality.com. There’s loads of awesome blog posts there, and he’s got a couple of interesting stories to tell. Make a difference in your world, and start being a little bit more practical.
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C.J. is the blogger behind the Vow of Practicality. “Let’s grow your wealth, increase your productivity, and maximize your happiness.”