How Sam Dogen from Financial Samurai Retired at 34 and Built One of The Top Personal Finance Blogs

This is an interview with Sam Dogen of Financial Samurai.

Hey, Sam. Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

At the depths of the global financial crisis, I started Financial Samurai in July 2009. My goal was to make sense of all the financial destruction and chaos surrounding me. Since July 2009, I’ve published three articles a week consistently.

Today, Financial Samurai has over 2,300 personally written articles based on firsthand experience. The site garners about one million pageviews a month

I grew up in the Philippines, Zambia, Japan, Taiwan, and Malaysia before making my way to the United States for high school. My parents were U.S. Foreign Service Officers who traveled to new countries every two-to-four years. 

While attending my public high school, I worked at McDonald’s for $4/hour, toiling over a hot stove and enduring constant yelling from my power-tripping boss. Recognizing my family’s financial constraints, I opted to enroll at The College of William & Mary, a public institution, to save money. I knew that if I graduated without securing a job, I could always return to work at McDonald’s to repay the affordable tuition.

My frugal nature motivated me to pursue my MBA part-time at UC Berkeley over three years, all while juggling a demanding schedule of over 60 hours a week. My employer extended an offer to cover my tuition on the condition that I committed to working for them for two years following graduation. So I figured why not grind it out.

My core motto: Never fail due to a lack of effort because effort requires no skill.

What was your life like before becoming self-employed?

Professionally, my journey before self-employment includes working at Goldman Sachs from 1999 to 2001, followed by tenure at Credit Suisse from 2001 to 2012, where I served as an Executive Director in International Equities. 

Beyond the financial world, I unwind with a passion for tennis, pickleball, and poker. I’m also a devoted father of two young children. I am currently based in San Francisco, California, where I have resided since 2001.

When and why did you start Financial Samurai? 

I started Financial Samurai in July 2009. At the time, I was scared about losing my job and all my money. So instead of taking up smoking or drinking, I decided to take up writing as therapy to deal with all the uncertainty.

I had been thinking of starting Financial Samurai in June 2006 when I graduated from business school at UC Berkeley. But I never got around to it until the fear of losing everything finally encouraged me to start. 

After retiring in 2012 at the age of 34, I explored various ventures, including consulting at startups. 

passive income blog boss graphic

Tell us about the day you quit your job.

I didn’t quit my job, I engineered my layoff. There’s a big difference because if you quit your job, you get nothing, including not being eligible for unemployment benefits.

I negotiated a severance package worth 5 years of normal living expenses because I got a severance check equal to three weeks of pay per year worked, all my unvested stock and cash, as well as unemployment benefits.

I then proceeded to write a bestselling ebook entitled, How To Engineer Your Layoff, to teach others how to break free from a job they no longer enjoyed with money in their pockets. If you were planning on quitting your job anyway, you might as well try to negotiate a severance package. There is no downside. 

Negotiate a severance package is my second rule of FIRE. My first rule of FIRE is accumulating enough passive income to cover your daily living expenses. If you can do this, you can declare yourself financially independent. 

What unique perspective do you believe you bring to the world of blogging?

I’ve written over 2,500 personal finance articles based on firsthand experience. I don’t hire freelance writers because I believe money is too important to be left up to pontification. 

If you want to read a personal finance site written by an author with the education, experience, and expertise, read Financial Samurai. I write about real-world issues that affect us all. I combine critical analysis with good old fashion story telling.

You can read more about me by clicking my About page

What can you tell us about the FIRE movement?

I helped kickstart the modern-day FIRE movement in July 2009, when I started writing about my journey to achieve financial independence and retire early. Then I achieved just that by leaving my six-figure finance job behind in March 2012 at age 34.

Since then, the FIRE movement has exploded to a worldwide phenomenon. Curiously, after achieving FIRE, I didn’t keep writing about FIRE. I thought that would be obnoxious. Instead, I wrote mostly about life after FIRE as well as all the pitfalls and negatives of early retirement people don’t think about. 

How long did it take you to make your first money blogging?

It took me one month to make money blogging because of Google Adsense. Although I may have only made a couple of dollars, I was hooked on the potential to make more. 

After several years, I realized Google Adsense is one of the worst ways to make money blogging. Its RPM was too low so I transferred over to Raptive.

I also developed business partner relationships with products I use and invest in.

Finally, I have an exclusive brand ambassadorship in the private real estate space. 

Here are my perspectives on making money online since 2009

How did the first year of Financial Samurai go in terms of traffic and income?

I might have made $500 my first year, I don’t really remember. I write because of the joy of writing first. It’s so fun to build a community and learn from each other. Writing is also therapeutic. 

I would gladly write for free, which is basically what I did my first couple of years with all the hours I put into the site. 

What has been your most successful post? Why do you think that is?

I have many viral posts because they touch upon real life issue that are also highly contentious.

Some posts include:

Scraping By On $500,000 A Year: Why Some People Can’t Escape The Rat Race

Ranking The Best Passive Income Streams For Financial Freedom

The First Million Is The Easiest: How To Be A Millionaire By 30

These posts take a stand, provide tremendous insights, and share different perspectives. 

How much traffic does your blog get now?

Financial Samurai generates about 1 million organic pageviews a month. It’s been like that, +/- 250,000 pageviews for the past five years. 

The site is like the little engine that could given it’s just me writing three posts a week.

Also read: How to Increase Blog Traffic (& Reach 1 Million Page Views): 12 Powerful Website Traffic Tips

What’s your current content strategy like? And how has it changed over the years?

I haven’t changed my content strategy since 2009, which has been publishing three posts a week and one newsletter a week. That’s all I can comfortably handle as I don’t want the site to start feeling like work I dread. 

The Financial Samurai newsletter is one of the top personal finance newsletters today. It covers the most important financial issues of the week as well as personal finance insights. 

Do you optimize every blog post?

I just use the Yoast Premium plug-in to make sure I write clearly, succinctly, and have the correct post structure. 

In addition to asking my dad and wife to edit my posts, I also edit my posts using Grammarly and other online tools. 

Also read: SEO for Bloggers: How to Rank Higher on Google

What’s one SEO strategy that has worked best for you, and that you constantly rely on?

Storytelling. Everybody loves a good story, so I try to incorporate as many real-life stories as possible in my posts. Everybody also has a problem and wants to find a solution. 

What action do you want the reader to take after reading a blog post?

To at least consider the advice I offer in each blog post. Almost all of my posts have action items at the end.

I also want readers to read different perspectives to find different solutions. We all have blind spots. 

What blog metrics do you track?

Google analytics. I check once every two days or so. I don’t use SEO tools because I find that process to be soul sucking.

Instead, I decide to write something compelling and then make sure it’s optimized.

I don’t want to write for SEO. 

Tell us about Buy This, Not That.

Buy This Not That became the #1 personal finance book in 2022. It continues to be a top personal finance book today because it is full of action items. The book addresses many of life’s biggest dilemmas and provides solutions to these dilemmas.

A second print begins in May 2024 due to the book’s ongoing popularity. It helps to work with a top publisher in Portfolio Penguin Random House. 

What social media channel has worked best for bringing traffic to the blog?

I only use Twitter and Facebook. Social media is not a main driver of traffic for Financial Samurai.

I find social media to be for entertainment purposes mainly. 

How much are you currently earning from Financial Samurai?

I earn enough to take care of a family of four in San Francisco.

Income comes from banner ads, video ads, affiliate partnerships, and exclusive partnerships.

Affiliate partnerships is roughly 60% of total revenue. 

Are you still actively building backlinks to your blog? If so, how?

I’ve never built backlinks to Financial Samurai. Maybe I should, but I can’t be bothered because my main joy is writing.

I feel that if I write compelling-enough content, other sites will take notice and organically link back.

My media kit highlights many major publications linking back to Financial Samurai, such as CNBC, WSJ, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, and more. I like to be rewarded with backlinks organically. 

What do you do if you notice a significant drop in traffic?

I’ll focus on updating pillar posts and any posts that have seen a drop off.

Fresh content is important. So is intralinking back to these posts to show Google and the search engines these posts matter. 

What was your greatest blogging mistake and what did you learn from that?

I could have been more vocal about the FIRE movement, which I helped kickstart in 2009. If I was, then I would now be more widely known as the pioneer of the FIRE movement.

At least Fortune and CNBC recognizes me as a FIRE movement pioneer. 

Alas, I didn’t want to keep writing about achieving financial independence because it felt unbecoming. Instead, I’m a proponent of Stealth Wealth, which is to remain lowkey. 

But if I was publicly out there more, talking about FIRE since 2009, I would probably have more organic traffic to Financial Samurai. 

How do you plan your week and structure your workdays?

I publish Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Then I publish a newsletter on Sunday. I try to spend 20 hours a week maximum on Financial Samurai to make it feel fun and light.

The rest of the time I’m taking care of my four-year-old daughter and playing tennis and pickleball.

For longevity, balance is key! 

What’s next for you and Financial Samurai?

I plan to run Financial Samurai until 2044, when my kids are 27 and 24. By then, I will have developed a large enough archive of posts and podcasts where they will never have to wonder who their father was if I were to pass.

I also have another book in the works with Portfolio Penguin coming out in the Spring of 2025. It will be about helping readers achieve millionaire status and living a freer life. 

Learn about Sam Dogen and how he grew Financial Samurai - one of the top personal finance blogs - to 1 million monthly pageviews