The following conversation was conducted over email and edited for flow and clarity.
By day, Rich Jones works in internal communications and change management at Google. By night and on the weekend, he helps people navigate careers, money and podcasting. On the other hand, Marcus Garrett is a Certified Internal Auditor, entrepreneur, speaker and the author of D.E.B.T. Free or Die Trying: How I Buried Myself $30,000 in Debt and Dug My Way Out. Together, Rich and Marcus host Paychecks and Balances, a fun podcast for millennials interested in making money, saving and getting out of debt. This is the story of how this dynamic duo and their award-winning podcast came to be.
Acquania Escarne of Wealth Noir (WN): Hey guys, welcome. I am excited to share your story with our Wealth Noir readers. But before we dive into how you created one of the best financial podcasts out today, I want to learn more about how you got started. Specifically, how do you and Damien Peters, the founder of Wealth Noir, know each other?
Rich Jones from Paychecks and Balances: I’ve known Damien since 2008 when I joined Single Black Male (SBM) as a writer. One of his readers contacted me and shared that Damien was looking to bring folks on and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I’d already been talking about relationships and other relevant topics, so it was a good fit. I eventually took on more of a strategy and operations leadership role sometime around 2010. Marcus also joined as a writer somewhere around 2010 and he became a business partner, as well, thanks to his consistency and dependability. Much of what we’ve learned about running a digital platform comes from SBM and our other online pursuits.
Personally, I’ve been building things online since 2018 and have always enjoyed the technical, strategic and operational aspects of running a web property. SBM is one of three award-winning websites I’ve been a part of. I had a site back in the day called Three Ways to Take It with a couple of friends, which won Best New Blog at the Black Weblog Awards. SBM won awards for design and leadership in the dating and relationship space. We were also part of the EBONY 100 one year and featured by Black Enterprise. I think that gave all of us confidence that we were onto something.
WN: After your time with SBM, what did you do next? Why did you decide to work together and launch a podcast?
Rich Jones from Paychecks and Balances: Marcus decided to step away from SBM around 2013 to focus on other interests. I knew he had an interest in personal finance and I was ready to move on from discussing relationships since my priorities in life were changing. I wanted to help folks with their careers and “work and money” sounded like a great topic combination coming from people that looked like us. At the time, it was hard to find a podcast that covered the topics that weren’t condescending, boring and/or relatable. I pitched Marcus on the idea of starting a podcast in the fall of 2013 and Two Guys One Show (TGOS) went live in late November of that year with the goal of providing what we couldn’t find out there.
WN: Wow, Two Guys, One Show – what a name. What are some of the lessons you learned from launching your first podcast?
Rich Jones from Paychecks and Balances: It’s funny. Paychecks and Balances is what TGOS was supposed to be. At the time, we felt like we needed to cast the widest net possible and bring in a bunch of other topics because we were concerned people wouldn’t listen. We also thought choosing a general podcast name that hinted at fun would be enough to attract people. We were very consistent about releasing new episodes, but inconsistent in how we approached content. Some weeks we’d be talking all about pop culture. Other weeks there’d be a rant or money tip.
People loved our chemistry, but it was hard to attract and retain many listeners because we were all over the place. Our chemistry carried us through those first few years podcasting and we did deliver on being fun, relatable and informative. I used to call this “the three words.” The idea was to have three words that we’d want our audience to consistently use when leaving us reviews, describing us or providing feedback.
WN: So you did your last podcast for a while before pulling the cord. How did you know when it was time to pivot your podcast and create Paychecks and Balances?
Rich Jones from Paychecks and Balances: I first had a revelation after attending Podcast Movement in 2015. It was my first industry conference and I really struggled to describe what TGOS was about as I spoke to podcast veterans. I would see the confusion on their faces because we didn’t occupy a particular space. They also didn’t understand what the name had to do with the topics we covered.
Also in 2015 (maybe around the same time), we started breaking out topics so we could have two targeted episodes per week. One episode was for folks interested in pop culture, current events and opinion talk. The other episode was for folks interested in personal finance and career advice. In the latter part of 2015 and early 2016, we realized how much appetite there was for topics we wanted to discuss initially and decided to niche down and be more targeted in who we reach. That’s when we really started brainstorming show names. Paychecks and Balances came up one day when I was driving and pulled off the road to ask Marcus what he thought. We’d go on to launch with that name in March 2016 and that’s when the growth took off. It was clear what we were about, our topics didn’t wander all over the place and that’s when the real growth started.
WN: Paychecks and Balances is now an award-winning podcast. For those that don’t know, tell our readers what you talk about on Paychecks and Balances and who is your ideal listener?
Marcus Garrett from Paychecks and Balances: We focus on helping millennials make money, save money and get out of debt, all while having some fun along the way. We cover a range of personal finance, career and entrepreneurship-related topics that would be most relevant to someone age 25-44 who is trying to get their life together but doesn’t want to be bored to sleep or talked down to in the process. And we still focus on being fun, relatable and informative, which shows up in most of the reviews people have left for the show on Apple Podcasts. It feels good to know we’re delivering on that.
Our audience skews heavily toward millennial women of color, but that wasn’t intentional. Some of that is because of the audience we did develop from TGOS, which gave us a bit of a jump start. I also attribute some of it to seeing more women in spaces that cover self-improvement. I don’t have formal data on it, but I’ve noticed the pattern from networking online for 10+ years. I’ve also heard it may have something to do with our dulcet tones, but we can’t formally confirm or deny.
Another thing, we don’t consider ourselves talking heads purporting to be experts. We frequently talk about the bad decisions we’ve made with money and in our careers and share what we’ve learned — often in a humorous way. People appreciate the honesty and realism of our experience versus speaking in theories. We also listen closely when talking to guests to make sure they aren’t using jargon that could easily go over someone’s head. These topics should be accessible and easy to understand, so we see part of our job as ensuring we guide our audience and get clarification where they need it most.
WN: I understand you both have 9 to 5 jobs and produce Paychecks and Balances in your spare time. What is your vision for the podcast? Do you ever want to work on it full time?
Rich Jones from Paychecks and Balances: The podcast is just one channel for what we think is possible. We’re also talking through how we continue to grow our blog presence, build our email community and develop digital products like courses that we know can help people. We’d both love to work on Paychecks and Balances as a business full-time and our individual interests show up in how we operate now. I take lead on anything podcast-related and Marcus takes lead on writing for the blog and our newsletter. I’m also a tech geek and love digging in on infrastructure and data.
We’ve seen Paychecks and Balances as a multimedia platform and continue to look at it that way. We’d love to get out there and do more public speaking and creative experimental projects, but the split between day gigs, Paychecks and Balances and our other individual projects makes it difficult to do everything at once.
WN: Marcus, I know that you are a published author, and your book is called Debt Free or Die Trying. Tell us more about why you wrote this book, and will we see more books from you in the future?
Marcus Garrett from Paychecks and Balances: At age 27, I found myself buried in $30,000 in debt. That year, after hitting rock bottom, I was living paycheck-to-paycheck despite working three different jobs and I realized something needed to change. That something was me.
I put my first real budget together. Because I was so desperate to make ends meet, I took a higher-paying job across the country with six-month probation and no guarantee of extension. Fortunately, things worked out. I worked for that company for seven years in Denver, Colorado. It was this experience that would ultimately become the story I share in my book, D.E.B.T. Free or Die Trying.
I wrote this book for men and women that look like me who are in dire financial positions because of consumer debt. Unfortunately, too many people can still relate to my original story. I know what it’s like to be at rock bottom in the middle of a crisis like the 2008 Great Recession. And, I know what systems work to get out of debt even when so much is outside of your control.
In 2020, I re-released an updated version, which reached #1 on Amazon Kindle for Personal Budgeting. To improve the original book, I’ve added three new chapters, 40+ pages of new content, and worked with a personal finance editor to better organize each chapter’s key takeaways. The new book focuses on the exact systems and Calls to Action required to move from goal-setting to actual goal-achievement. For me, this became a four-step plan: D – Define the Problem; E – Establish a Repayment Plan; B – Build a Budget; and T – Trust the Process, because the time will pass on its own.
WN: That’s an amazing story. Are there any exciting products or offers you have coming up?
Rich Jones from Paychecks and Balances: I’m working on creating my first course, titled Change Your Day Job. The goal is to help people become unstuck in their careers or move through the anxiety that’s keeping them in place. I’m using the 10+ years I spent as a recruiter, HR Generalist and hiring manager to pull the curtain back on how hiring works and to provide the tools to create a plan that gets results whether or not you’re actively looking for a new job. A big part of it is helping folks identify transferable skills, which has been a frequent frustration and pain point for listeners, family and friends.
WN: Well folks, there you have it, a story about how two men went from Two Guys One Show to award-winning podcast hosts of Paychecks and Balances. I hope you learned tips to kick start your next venture, say your own podcast. Check out Paychecks and Balances and let us know your favorite episode or topic.
Acquania Escarne is the creator of The Purpose of Money, a community of women building generational wealth for their families one dollar at a time. As an entrepreneur, real estate investor, and licensed insurance agent, Acquania has always been passionate about financial literacy. On her website, Acquania blogs about ways to help you improve your money habits, create wealth, and invest in real estate. Follow Acquania on social media for daily tips.