Was talking back and forth with a reader of the blog here, and the more we got into it the more I realized just how powerful his story is.
Many of us come from a solid upbringing with plenty of opportunities to easily take advantage of, but Miguel here is proof that even without any privilege you can still succeed – and well!!! – with good grit and determination.
Here’s his story of how he went from nothing to millions, all by the time he reached his early 40s. I hope it inspires you in some small way!!
(And if any of y’all would like to share your story/net worth with us, I’d love to hear it too because I’m no longer allowed to share my own anymore and we need to keep the $$$ train going!!! You can easily shoot me a note here!)
Show ’em how it’s done, Miguel…
I am a legal immigrant from Guatemala on my own since age 15. While in high school, I knew that I had to continue my education if I wanted options aside from the few limited possibilities that I had available.
I worked hard to stay focused in keeping my grades up, applying for every program possible to help me. During my college time in the mid to late 1990’s, I came across a few financial magazines and books which inspired me to seek out ways to start building my net worth.
As a sophomore in college, I began by buying a severe fixer upper home for $7,500 (monthly loan payment was $150, taxes around $800 a year). Also during college I worked part time jobs, which kept me afloat but kept me stuck financially especially with the home maintenance expenses. The home I bought was a huge learning experience about how difficult it is to take on work that you know nothing about.
After my college graduation in 2000, I sold the home for $41,000. Most of the money went to pay off loans I had taken to stay afloat during school and to pay for the home renovations. Although I did not come out with a large sum of money from the sale after paying off debt, I learned a lot about fixing homes, which would help me in the future.
After graduation, I moved to a bigger city and tried a couple of jobs before settling in a federal one, climbing the ranks through the years. I began to save as much as possible early on, starting with 5% pretax deductions (to get the 100% match), and eventually reaching my goal of maxing out to $19,000. I have kept the funds in the stock market without touching it, buying low during bad years and doing great through stock market highs.
As I gained knowledge, I adapted and did the following:
- Bought reliable used cars at discounted prices through private sellers (having them inspected by mechanics and negotiating rock bottom prices)
- Annually review companies for lower insurance rates
- No cable or landline! We try to avoid reoccurring memberships or monthly fees that trickle down our savings.
- Cook most meals at home. When we get take out we usually get it from ethnic restaurants where the food goes along ways at a reasonable cost.
- Began a Roth IRA in my early 20’s contributing the maximum through today (<– that alone will get you to a million dollars over time!!)
- Very rarely buy anything “new” – most of my furniture comes from local ads or consignment stores (including electronics)
- Bought cheap fixer uppers in good neighborhoods, slowly moving up by taking principal from one to another
- Without exception always pay off our credit cards in full every month. Points earned automatically go to an investment account (see Fidelity credit card)
- Save for retirement in ETF’s (why pay mutual fund fees when most cannot even match the S&P benchmark?)
- Always looking for ways to save and finding ways to earn money on the side by subscribing and learning from financial blogs like J. Money!
- Most importantly, keeping track of all expenditures and savings in a notebook. Tracking my net worth and investment performance while continually setting higher goals
Aside from that, I also gained tremendously by having found a wife with a similar mindset and focus. I remember hearing from women while dating on how odd it was that I would bring up financial questions, but I knew that compatibility on that is essential (financial problems are the #1 reason for divorce after all).
I remember meeting a woman that had $150,000 in student debt and over $10,000 in credit cards but only earned $30,000 a year. I thought – Am I going to have to pay for that, and how long would that take? Most surprisingly was that she spent as if she earned four times what she earned thinking she would marry someone that would eventually pay off her debt (well that would not be me!).
I was very fortunate to have found a woman that had similarly worked as hard as I have, and who carried no debt with similar savings as mine. Although our strategies were different, we were able to align and coordinate to mutually agreed goals, constantly learning from one another.
Our summary net worth is as follows:
Home Value: $625,000 – Paid in full! This is our final home for the long run because buying and fixing homes gets old after several homes, and this is of course before we downsize to something smaller in retirement.
CD savings: $120,000 – We buy CD’s for emergency savings because they provide at least 2% interest, and we have applied the laddered CD strategy so money is available without much penalty if we truly need it.
Bank Savings: $10,000 – We keep a modest amount that, although does not provide much interest, is there for any immediate emergency and is quickly accessible.
Pre-Tax Retirement Savings: $1,200,000
Roth IRAs: $100,000
College Savings: $40,000 – We have just one child.
Vehicles: $30,000 – Both Japanese models, bought used through private parties after mechanic inspections.
Cash, coins, etc: $5,000
Although we put a big emphasis on savings, we are not by any means “misers.” We believe in keeping a careful balance, enjoying travel and things that makes us happy now because after all, we do know how long we are going to live.
Now in our early 40’s, our goal is to retire by age 50.
I asked him about his debts since in his first email to me he mentioned he was “almost” a multi-millionaire (and clearly these numbers above add up to over $2,000,000), and here’s what he said… Chock-full of even more insight!
Yes, a multi-millionaire, but just over – and because the market has been shaky it is why I have not really solidified the “multi-millionaire” status. Whenever I have hit a milestone, it seems surreal and yet I don’t feel any different inside except at times fear of loss and thought of how to retain what I have.
I tend to be very hard on myself, always thinking of what I should have done (and should be doing) a lot more in life. I also have a hard time dealing with the imposter syndrome or whatever it is as I am not sure how else to explain it.
Otherwise to address your question, we do not have any debts.
Our cars are bought used and paid in cash after we have saved for them (my Toyota for example has been an amazing truck with very few issues for 11 years and purchased used).
We did of course have a home loan mortgage. I applied various strategies to keep a low mortgage; applying the principal from the previous home fully to the next, avoiding paying closing costs, and buying the cheapest house on the nicest neighborhood (with good schools because that helps retain the value!), that needed work and strongly negotiating a price as low as possible.
In keeping the costs of buying low for example, I found after much research that Pentagon Federal credit union would pay for the closing costs (up to $15,000) if one would use their agents and closing company (which was not a problem and a no brainer). That saved us $40K in three homes that we bought/fixed and sold. Every home that we fixed up was in a real estate market that fortunately did well. We paid off the last mortgage after heavily sending everything possible each month. A big sacrifice, but it gives us a great sense of peace knowing we are just liable for taxes, insurance and maintenance.
As I mentioned, we put everything on credit cards but we don’t spend on unnecessary things. We never buy the latest electronics, and keep our monthly costs low. Our cards are paid in full every month – we use them because we get cash back and the cash back money is automatically invested through Fidelity, which I transfer to my daughters’ college education fund.
Our goals have also been helped from my wife who recently started earning a higher salary (it does not bother me that she now earns more than me, the more the merrier!), and she did her education in Europe so it was free.
When we met, she only earned around $35K but had no loans of any kind; she drove a used Toyota Echo without any options. :) I had college loans because I did not have anyone to help me with my tuition, but I paid them off in full. I also went to a state university where the tuition was very low.
We are both immigrants, arrived to the US without any money, did not receive any help from anyone, and used our education and hard work to help us propel to good paying jobs.
For more posts divulging peoples’ money, click here.