An Untraditional Roadmap To Financial Success In Your 20s

rainbowWhen I read Sam’s post on how to make a six-figure salary, I had a strong (negative) reaction to the advice given. I’ve done just about everything wrong according to his advice, and at 29 have a six-figure salary and $200k in net worth. While I’ve experienced enough privilege in my life to go through college with my tuition paid by my parents, I’m also not a trust fund baby.

I grew up in a pretty average middle class household, went to public school all my life, and assumed that the business world was for people not like myself. I’ve also always excelled in the arts, being accepted into prestigious programs for painting, drama and writing, but due to a combination of ADD, depression and anxiety, my academic performance never quite reflected my intellectual potential. With that, I didn’t graduate from an Ivy League School. I finished four years at large private college with a degree in the arts. When I graduated college in 2005, I had no idea what to do, or how to make money, let alone save it and invest for retirement.

Sam explains that the best way to get a six-figure income is to do well in high school, get into a top-tier college, and then be the best in any one of a large number of professions (medicine, law finance, high tech, public servant etc). I wouldn’t say this is terrible advice, as this strategy clearly helps many people get ahead, but not having Harvard or Berkeley on your diploma doesn’t mean that you’ll always be stuck earning $50k a year, or that you should ignore putting money away for old age before it’s too late.

On the flip side, my boyfriend followed all the “right” steps, graduating from a prestigious institution with high honors, yet has spent the past decade unemployed or underemployed. He has no savings and only a part-time job on his resume. I’ve built up my career from scratch and comparatively speaking am doing much better off with my 3.2 from an unknown school versus his 3.8 from a top-tier institution. Grades matter, but what also matters is drive, stamina, and motivation, and above all else, faith that the stars will align if you refuse to give up.

I’ve had my fair share of professional ups and downs in my career to date. But, regardless of the turbulence I try and save a significant portion of my income. I’m not frugal by any means (if you read my blog you’ll know that I also spend a significant chunk of change on shopping) but even so I’ve always focused on living under my means. I know many just-out-of-college or young professionals who buy a new car off the bat and then complain about their monthly car payments. It’s strange.

I argue that anyone can obtain a six-figure salary, but you have to be prepared to work hard, take risks, and shut out any fear you have of the unknown. It also helps not to have kids in your 20s as I understand that the cost and responsibility of taking care of kids makes this a lot more challenging. If you have a choice, I’d recommend to wait to have kids until you’re in your 30s if you want to earn financial security.

Can anyone become rich if they want to? Sam says, “There is No Monopoly on Being Rich.” He argues that if you work hard and believe that you can be wealthy, you can be “rich.” I don’t think anyone can be rich in the financial sense, but a good 75% of people have the ability to be doing better than they are. Where I live, where basic houses start at $700k, a $100k salary does not make you rich. The wealth comes from saving and spending smartly, and making the right financial decisions.

While not everyone can be a millionaire, anyone can improve their current networth by focusing on becoming really good at one thing that they’re passionate about and that is a marketable skill. With that, anyone can be financially secure and have enough for a solid retirement. This is my story of my life since graduation, from $15k to $100k in annual salary, and $8k to $200k in net worth before 30.

2005: Unemployed, Overwhelmed With $8k Savings

I knew I didn’t want to move back home. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. The year following my college graduation was extremely rough. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone by refusing to move back in with my family after college graduation despite having no job opportunities on the table. The first year out of college I must have earned about $15k from freelance income and a part-time admin job that I despised. I’ll admit, that year was extremely rough.

Almost a year after graduating, I found myself in a deep depression. I had a “worthless” liberal arts degree from a no-name college outside of the city it resided in, and this quickly became clear as I sent out hundreds upon hundreds of resumes with no one biting. I even felt Ivy Envy at the time. (I don’t actually think my liberal arts degree was useless, but at the time it felt like it as it provided no help to getting a job.

What I learned in my college years, however, made me who I am today and helped me once I actually got my jobs.) My non-profit internships were apparently not relevant work experience for any of the positions that piqued my interest. After eight extremely stressful months I got my big breaka $30k per year FT job. The skies parted. I thought $30k was incredible. It would cover my $450 a month rent and gas. At that point I wasn’t even considering a saving plan let alone investing for retirement.

I knew nothing about investing, which was ironic since I grew up with a father who made a living as an actuary giving advice on pension plans for big companies. My mother’s only involvement with our household finances was spending them and getting yelled at for doing so, and my dad didn’t explain anything about money to either of us. We were fortunate in that with his income we were able to live a comfortable upper middle class life, but that didn’t provide a clear picture on how to continue that lifestyle when detached from the family.

Shortly after graduating from college, I had one meeting with a big bank financial representative who told me about their mutual fund offerings as well as the safety of CDs. I had $8k in savings at the time, thanks to a lawsuit I had won as a child and parents who so kindly paid the way for me through school, I put my proceeds into a CD to forget about for a rainy day.

Most of my income went to my basic bills and living expenses. With the money left over, I just kept it in a checking out. No one taught me anything about investing, and my work did not have a 401k so there was no option to save for retirement at my job. The checking account seemed like a great place to store the leftovers.

It was about that time when I somehow found myself reading a blog called Her English Major’s Money. Unlike many personal finance blogs that were about debt, her blog was about getting a small inheritance and figuring out what to do with it. Her other posts discussed basic investing topics such as IRAs and stocks. I then realized that personal finance was important to think about now, versus later.

I opened my first Vanguard Roth IRA with the $3000 I had managed to save in my checking account. I felt accomplished, but at the same time hopeless, given I’d learned that in order to retire you need over $1 million – $3k was just a drop in a very large bucket that was impossible to fill. Shortly after finding this blog, I decided to start my own dedicated to discussing all things personal finance, since I had no one to talk about these very important matters with and realized I needed to educate myself before it was too late.

2006: The Ball Starts Rolling

After a year at my first job, I was recruited for a role that I wasn’t really qualified for and accepted the new position for $50k. Skies parted again. Suddenly I could max out the entire $5k amount the government let me put into a Roth IRA for the year. It still felt like nothing, but being able to “max out” my yearly contribution made me feel smart. I gave myself a little pat on the back.

I also decided it was time to move out of my $450 a month teeny tiny room in a 4br apartment and into my own studio. I found one that was reasonably nice for $900 a month. Moving in on my own reflected a major transition in my life. But at the same time I was struggling with my job. I realized that it wasn’t right for me, and the company and I decided to mutually part ways. I was back to square one, but with $900 a month rent to pay versus $450. Suddenly my small checking account cushion was shrinking.

It really took a solid two years after graduation before I found my footing. I started freelancing for various companies in the area — writing a little content for this, doing a little basic design work for that. There’s always opportunities to do small projects for people, especially if you’re a reasonably good writer. I’d make $50 here, $25 there, and built up my portfolio and experience. I figured out that, as lazy and worthless as I thought I was, due to the depression, I really liked working. I enjoyed creating something from nothing, and it didn’t hurt that I was being paid for it.

After a few years of dabbling in this and that, I received a job offer for a part-time, not-so-amazingly-well-paid writing position at a startup. No benefits. I was making something like $30 an hour at the time. It wasn’t a lot but I was able to cover my basic costs. Over a year of part-time work I managed to build the position into a full time job where I was managing customer service requests and more.

I was willing to do just about anything that was needed, which was often a lot since our entire team was just 10 people. I stayed in that position for a good three years, with a $65k salary. I never got a raise or a bonus. But what that $65k provided was the ability to start exploring investing. While I still had no access to a 401k, I opened a Sharebuilder account and started to invest in ETFs and stocks. I was nervous when I had $1000 in that account, spread across about 6 different funds. I started to put more and more money into the account, as it was exciting to watch the stocks move up, and up, and up. Until they didn’t.

2008: It Was All Going So Well…

2008 rolls around and the stock market crashes. My investments – the little of them that there were – suffered with the markets like everyone else’s. In tandem, my rent had skyrocketed from $900 to $1300 for the same studio apartment in two years due to another company buying the property. I decided I needed to make significant changes to my life because I wasn’t about to spend $1.3k a month making $65k a year. I said goodbye to solo living and moved into an apartment with roommates again, albeit nicer than the first place I lived with 4 roommates, and brought my rent down to about $600 a month. About that time, my company started to lay off employees who weren’t technical to make themselves attractive for an acquisition, and given we had only ten employees and most were technical, I was one of the first to be let go.

It was the best thing that could have happened to me, even though it did not feel that way at the time. I admittedly fell into a depression and thought about how I would have to go back to the beginning again, after three years of loyal employment and hard work. My boss told me that he was sorry that he had to let me go, it was clearly a necessity for the business, and I tried to remind myself of the fact as I went back to sending out hundreds upon hundreds of resumes.

I could have applied for unemployment but didn’t end up taking any money from the government, as I felt if I went on unemployment it would be too easy to let myself just get by on the little that it paid. By 2009, my networth had dropped from $30k to $25k. Then, thankfully, the skies parted again for a second time. All of my dedication to sending out resume after resume paid off. My unique background made me just as employable for the right positions as it made me unemployable for the wrong positions.

It was about this time when I started to get exciting consulting positions and opportunities. I decided the only way to get ahead in life was to start to believe in myself. In one month I had two amazing opportunities. I started to negotiate and sell myself for what I’m worth. I worked a lot hourly, earning an average of $80 per hour. I earned about $120k in one year across multiple positions. One company sent me to work internationally for an entire month.

This was also the first year I had access to a 401k. I maxed it out in six months. I put a lot of the excess into stocks. My life then seemed relatively cheap compared to my earnings. I didn’t go out and buy a new car or move into a more expensive place, instead I took the excess money and put it into my investment accounts. It was a good time to do this as the market recovered from rock bottom. I started getting serious about budgeting. I still spent more than I should have on things I don’t need, but my fixed costs were low. I was still driving the car I bought in 2006 used (a ’99) for $8k. This year was the year I really transformed from a scared kid into an adult. I was 25.

From 2010-2012: Increasing My Net Worth From $25K to $200k

2010: $88.6k networth composed of $8.7k cash, $38.2k stocks, $8.1k CDs, $2.1k 529 account, and $41.3k retirement (I also set aside cash for taxes which had leftovers that went into my 2011 Roth right away. I owned $15.4k of AAPL stock and the rest of my taxable portfolio was spread out over COMV, ENOC, EPI, EWZ, GE, GLD, GOOG, IHI, JNJ, KOL, MCD, PBD, PG, T, VWO, VZ, WFMI, and XLF. My Roth account included DVY, SPY, GLD, SLV and VNQ. I had $18.6k in my 401k, $9.5k + $7.1k in two Vanguard funds in a Roth IRA.

2011: $145k networth, with $9.9k in cash, $88.7k in taxable account stocks, $3325 in the 529 account, $43.7k in retirement. Also gained $20k in stock options (which I exercised/paid for, so I count them in my overall networth – I don’t count the ones I haven’t exercised yet. That could be worth $0k or over a million dollars, but I don’t want to expect anything, so I just count what I paid for it.) In my taxable account, I sold stocks that were total losers and invested the proceeds 50% into AAPL and another 50% into two other large cap stocks or ETFs. I closed the year with $30k in AAPL stock, owning AMZN, AND, CSCO, CVX, ENOC, EPI, EWZ, GE, GLD, GOOG, IHI, JNJ, KOL, MCD, PBD, PG, SBUX, T, VWO, VZ and XLF.

2012: $202.5k networth, with $5.7k cash, $124.2k stocks, $73.8k retirement, and $3.5k in my 529 account. Sold a lot of losers. Bought my 100th share of AAPL stock. Luckily I only bought two shares at about $650 right before it crashed down to $450. My average AAPL share cost $340, so I’m still ahead, knock on wood. Closed out 2012 with $59.6k of AAPL. Yes, I wish I sold then, but oh well. Even without selling at the top, AAPL still helped me increase my networth about $20k last year above what I saved, enabling me to hit my goal. Admittedly, I would have saved more had my AAPL stock not kept going up and  made my networth look so inflated! By the end of 2012, I closed the year owning shares of AMZN, CBOU, GE, GOOG, HAO, IHI, INTC, JNJ, KO, MCD, MSFT, PG, SBUX, T, VWO, VZ, and WFMI. My IRA accounts stayed pretty stable, I just put more money into the funds, focusing on dividend-earning, REITs and metal funds since those get taxed high in taxable accounts.

I’m also considering selling my stocks and purchasing property, but I haven’t decided yet if that makes any sense. Click over to read my dilemma about buying a $700,000 property. Renting cheaply has helped me get to where I am today in my net worth and ownership seems like a waste of money. I’m so busy working I have no time to take care of myself let alone a house.

hereverynetworth

2013: Finding My Own Definition of Success

In the years since, I’ve found myself and my career. I love what I do and the people I work with. I found that small businesses appreciate my relentless passion and dedication to execution. Although I was offered a position at a large company which paid well, against the advice of my career counselor, I opted to accept a role at a very young company where I would have a lot of opportunity to play a role in the success of the business. That risk was the best decision of my life.

I still struggle with depression and anxiety. But I’m working hard on becoming more confident and to stop feeling like an imposter. I try to fake it until I make it. I remind myself that if I’m actually not doing a good job – if I’m actually a talentless impostor – than the very smart people who I work for would not keep me around. If they’re happy with my work, clearly I’m doing something right. It’s extremely hard to accept that, but I know I have to in order to move up in the business world. As one of the few females in the industry, I feel like I owe it to myself to not let insecurity get in the way of my own success.

I hope to have a $250k net worth by the start of 2014, and start my 30s off as a quarter-millionaire. It’s crazy to think this is possible to achieve, especially given the ups and downs of the last 8 years. Seeing this is possible makes me feel like anything is possible. And, with the exception of certain tenuous circumstances, it is. You don’t need an extra fancy degree to make it happen. You need intellect, creativity and tenacity. The rest will fall into place.

Discussion Questions:

* How much does having faith matter to building wealth? Why is there the existence of debilitating beliefs about wealth creation with so many positive examples and tools that allow us to succeed?

* Does Her Every Cent Count’s story demonstrate there is indeed “no monopoly on being rich” given she couldn’t find a job after college and had relatively low pay for the first several years once she found a job?

* What are some of the financial moves you wish you made in your 20s? 

* Thoughts on delaying kids until your 30s per HESC’s advice?

* What are your thoughts on having over 90% of your net worth in stocks?

* Do you know people who complain about their financial situation, but don’t do everything possible to improve their financial situation? 

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. says

    My education and career path would suggest that there isn’t a monopoly on being rich. But that you may have to wait a while and jump through a bunch of hoops until hard work and luck finally cooperate to give you a break. I’ve gone from a $20K per year grad school stipend to a six figure salary over the last 10 years. It was not an easy road, but I am farther ahead than many of my peers because I made the decision that I wanted a salary that was consummate with my education. And I went for it.

    I don’t mind having most of my net worth in stocks along with a sizable cash emergency fund. Dividend growth stocks are fastest way to hit my goal of having enough passive income to cover all my basic expenses should I lose my job. I am looking into further diversifying my income streams as well.

      • says

        Long story made short. First, “going for it” meant deciding that I wanted to move into industry rather than stay in academia. Then it was all about executing a plan that would increase my likelihood of getting there. First, I made everyone around me aware of my goals, so that if they got any tips, they could pass them on to me. Then, I did a post-doc in a different field with a very well respected researcher. I performed well at my post-doc which got me an interview at my current company. I took the interview seriously, probably too seriously. But I brought my A-game and then some.

        Basically, I decided where I wanted to be and started taking steps in that direction. I didn’t have any great career mentorship or guidance to rely on or jumpstart my career. I just started taking steps towards where I wanted to be and grabbing every opportunity that came my way.

        I also spent a lot of time swallowing my pride and just asking people for a chance. When I was applying for my last post-doc I got several diplomatically phrased “Go to hell” responses. Including my favorite one which told me that I needed more training to be eligible for their training program. I just needed someone to give me a chance. But once they did, I would work my tail off to show that I could learn quickly and do the job.

    • says

      Congrats on your success. I agree that having most of your networth in stocks is not a bad option, as long as those stocks are diversified and as long as you’re still relatively young. Do you think your salary will continue to increase at the same rate over the coming years or have you reached a plateau?

  2. Shaun says

    Cool story. I think the impressive thing is how much money she saved out of her gross annual income it looks like > 50% which is impressive seeing at 120k per year you can expect at least 25% to go to taxes unless she gets some serious deductions through freelancing which she might. She must still be living like she makes 30k a year at 120k a year which isnt the natural reaction to a big pay raise.

    I regret a few things in my 20s(i still have a couple years left). I wish I had maxed out my retirement accounts every year. I also wish I hadnt been such a big spender the first few years. I never spent more than I had but I had never really owned stuff before and I was excited to change that when I got out of college. I had no interest in savings or even any intensive bargain shopping and spent way too much time at the bar which is the biggest money waster in existence. At least if you buy stuff you own stuff and have something to show for it. I probably have many extra pounds of beer weight on me that could be thousands of dollars in my bank account right now.

    I’d be more OK with 90% of your net worth in stocks if we were closer to 2009. People think having a bunch of different stocks is diversifying but if 2008 were to repeat itself they would all drop in value dramatically across the board and you would spend years trying to break even. I’m sure theres nothing in our near future that could trigger another pullback/recession though (sequestration cough cough). Once the market gets past its all time highs its time to proceed with caution. Not saying take all your money out of the market as sometimes the market will still grow dramatically past its all time high. Just be weary of a pullback is all. Follow moving averages a little more closely and don’t leave yourself 100% vulnerable especially when entering a new downtrend.

    • says

      Thank you. I’ve tried to save 50% of my after-tax income per year if possible. The year I made $120k was really a godsend, even though my taxes were very high. Today I’m living like I make $50k a year probably, and I generally watch my stocks to ensure they are making up for the gap between my savings and my goals for the year. If the stocks aren’t doing well then I end up being much more frugal that year.

      I hear you on spending too much out of college. Having a paycheck is exciting and a lot of us want to spend it to prove ourselves. The bar is a huge money waster. As much as I was upset at myself for not moving to the big city and instead selecting a place in the burbs, I saved so much by not having access to that kind of social life.

      Regarding the stocks, you’re probably right. I’m definitely worried about that and wondering where else I should put my money (ie should I take out 50% of it for the downpayment on a $500k condo?) I’d be curious to hear what you and other readers think I should do.

      • Shaun says

        I think if you find a place you want to live in for several years or longer then now is as good a time as any to buy a place. Real estate prices are still down pretty big in most areas of the country and you can lock in historically low interest rates. I currently rent but its because I want the mobility right now if I didn’t I would look into buying.

        You really only lose buying a house if you have to move right away, can’t afford the payments/upkeep or its 2007.

        • says

          Entry-level houses around here cost $700k – $800k, so I just don’t have the downpayment for that right now (well, I do if I sold my Roth/401k as well with a penalty and kill my retirement savings.) It just doesn’t seem to make any sense. The only thing I could afford is a condo, and I feel like I might as well rent if I have to live in an apartment-like setting.

      • JayCeezy says

        Congrats on such strong results. Totally get the ‘having faith’, as long as it produces results like yours.

        You wrote: But I’m working hard on becoming more confident and to stop feeling like an imposter. Everyone does, if they have some self-awareness, especially starting out in the world and workplace. “Confidence is the food of the wise man, and the liquor of the fool.” Confidence will get easier as you continue to get results. You are not alone in your feelings, and I wish you continued progress and success personally and professionally. Thanks for sharing your story.

      • says

        If you plan to stay put for at least 5 years, preferably 10 years, and if you are confident in your job’s viability and the stability of your income, I’d buy property now.

        There will be some point in your life where you will be tired of having roommates, paying rent, and being restricted by a landlord. I hit that barrier at 25 when I had to pay more than $2,000 for a two bedroom so I bought one instead.

        For others, the feeling may come after getting married or when they have their first child. Depends on each.

  3. says

    Remember luck isn’t actually luck (as strange as that sounds)-it is the accumulation of everything that you have done over the past few years. It takes time sometimes but eventually things fall into place from your work. You’ll look back on it in a few years and definitely be happy that you invested that time and energy into what you did. You really did take a good path for yourself to get you where you are at in your life.

      • Steve G says

        Buying Apple stock when you did was lucky, but if you hadn’t made choices to allow yourself to benefit from that luck, then you wouldn’t have any valuable stock.

  4. greg says

    “and above all else, faith that the stars will align if you refuse to give up”

    Of course many will disagree, but … (didn’t see Sam’s prompt until later =P)

    1: “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” — Hebrews 11:1. I’m sure I’ll be rich, therefore I’m done. Clearly you didn’t fall into that trap, but I would argue against making faith “advice”.

    2: This theme is re-iterated here: “anyone can improve their current networth by focusing on becoming really good at one thing that they’re passionate about”. But fortunately for me and everybody else, people are rewarded in a highly-capitalistic society by doing what **others** value:

    http://renewablewealth.com/articles/do-what-you-love-but-dont-expect-to-get-paid-for-it/

    While sometimes I go sideways in terms of my own goals in work, it’s because I get paid to make what others want.

    It still seems (to me of course) that “faith” is a coping mechanism.

    —-

    “We were fortunate in that with his income we were able to live a comfortable upper middle class life, but that didn’t provide a clear picture on how to continue that lifestyle when detached from the family.”

    So true. Despite asking and wanting to learn, I never got anything. Figuring it out can really turn people’s lives around.

    —-

    “My life then seemed relatively cheap compared to my earnings. I didn’t go out and buy a new car or move into a more expensive place, instead I took the excess money and put it into my investment accounts”

    How many people told you that they felt you were “missing out on life” or “not living” as a result? I’ve heard of that being a typical result.

    —-

    “What are some of the financial moves you wish you made in your 20s” – hunkered down in a basement apartment without a car so I could take advantage of the financial recovery. I “knew” I should be investing, but couldn’t see the tradeoffs and didn’t truly understand the opportunities of buying things so cheap with my little net worth right out of college.

    “What are your thoughts on having over 90% of your net worth in stocks?” – not my personal style. I started with 60% fixed-income mostly because I wanted a safety margin. Now I’m deliberately lowering that significantly since the amount I perceive to be at risk is still not enough to make me feel like I stand to lose so much to make me start over. But I actually go in reverse – with more progress towards financial independence, my personal capacity for risk increases. Although if there’s a **huge**, sustained market rally, I’m one to buy some options to tame things down the downside.

    “Do you know people who complain about their financial situation, but don’t do everything possible to improve their financial situation?” – who doesn’t?! But I’ve found it’s not worth my time to try and change their minds. Rather I’ll be straightforward about the fact that I won’t join them on living like I’m already rich, and go from there =P

    • says

      1. When I say “faith” I by no means am talking about religious faith. (I’m not even religious myself.) I mean that you have to believe that things will get better and also believe in yourself. You shouldn’t just have faith that you will be rich if you sit on your butt and do nothing about it. Faith can be a coping mechanism but – in the non religious sense – it is a way to see the future you when the path to get there isn’t 100% clear, and to make the necessary steps to get there, versus accepting the way things are today and giving up.

      2. I disagree. I think everyone has a skill that they’re good at and that is also a marketable skill. For example, an artist may have once been told that she is not going to have a career, but today top-quality designers are of the most highly coveted employees in the tech industry. I was reasonably good at writing so I picked up freelance writing jobs along the way, as companies always need content. In fact, content marketing is one of the hottest areas of marketing today. If you’re good at networking, there’s another skill which adds value to a business and you can consider going into sales. Sure, you can’t expect to be really good at picking your nose and then get paid for it, but there are plenty of skills and talents that are softer which people do want to pay for.

      3. “How many people told you that they felt you were “missing out on life” or “not living” as a result? I’ve heard of that being a typical result.?” Not many. If you read my blog, you’ll see that I spend quite a bit of money. Had I been more frugal over the years, I’d probably have $300k networth today. My parents made fun of me for buying an old car, and they tend to comment on how I’m almost 30 and don’t own property and/or a husband – but mostly I’ve lived a very full life. It doesn’t take that much money to do it. There are a lot of free or low-cost activities you can partake in if you have extra time outside of work. For instance, early on I was very active in community theater. Beyond gas, makeup and a few costume pieces, this kept my life very full and didn’t cost a lot.

  5. says

    Your story reflects a tremendous amount of determination and desire! Too much emphasis is place on school name , grades and the particular degree. I think the individual and what he/she does with the skills and knowledge is much more important. Too many people gravitate to a particular set of requirements to screen out candidates rather than look for the “X” factor. That is the factor or characteristic that a person has that makes them successful. It may or may not show up in the traditional way. There are a lot of successful people portrayed in “The Millionaire Next Door” that were overlooked in high school and did not stand out in college either.

    • says

      Thank you! It feels so good to read these kind comments. I worried people were going to find something negative to say about my choices, but overall the response has been very positive. I 100% agree with you that too much emphasis is placed on school name. This is especially the case in the tech industry. But, you know what, I say it’s their loss. If a company doesn’t want to hire me just because I didn’t go to Stanford, then they can go ahead and fail because their employee-base doesn’t reflect a well-rounded diversity of ideas. A college degree on its own is valuable to show that you have the tenacity to finish what you start, and to some extent a reasonable GPA is important, but beyond that there’s too much emphasis placed on GPA and pedigree.

      • says

        I have a feeling that folks who didn’t go to the Ivy league schools and other equivalent level schools are putting too much of an emphasis on such schools.

        I didn’t write the words “Ivy League” in my “How To Make Six Figures Post” once. I emphasized more about Desire, Effort, Knowledge, Personality, and Optimism. All of these traits are important to building wealth and a better life imo. I then talk about doing the best you can to go to the best school possible.

        But, the bigger point of the article is that there are SO MANY professions that offer six figure salaries. Even profession you don’t think of, like being a cop or a fireman or a longshoreman.

        • says

          You’re right, you didn’t specifically write “Ivy League,” though this statement pretty much made that argument:

          “If you’re just coasting with a “B” or worse, you’re going to end up going to a “B” college or worse. At your “B” college, if you are mediocre again, well then you are going to be stuck with mediocre opportunities. Do you really think you’re going to be able to compete with the student who gets straight A’s in high school who then gets straight A’s at Columbia for the same jobs and opportunities post graduation?”

          Later you noted that if you didn’t go to an “A” school, you could get an MBA from a top 15 business school.

          So maybe I overreacted on calling out the “Ivy” concept when that isn’t really what you said. I’m sensitive to that because I think doing well in the business world does not always align with the skills it takes to be a great test taker and get straight As. More so, I wanted to share that even if you didn’t do amazing in high school and went to a “B” school you can still get a six-figure salary. You just need to become an expert in something that people are willing to pay for. No MBA required.

          Great point that many professions offer six-figure salaries. This is true, and I think it should be taught to students in high school before they decide their college plans or earlier. For instance, I had no idea that I could be a graphic designer and make a six figure salary, so I opted to not go to design school. It all worked out in the end, but had I known that designers do so well today, I might have went down that path instead.

          • says

            I am a strong proponent of great public schools. Schools such as Berkeley, Virginia, Michigan, William & Mary, UCLA, UCSD, Georgia Tech, and UNC Chapel Hill. Actually, I may very well be an opponent of attending private school if it’s not ranked in the Top 10-20 by major rankings like USNWR, BW, FT and so forth. Liberal arts colleges can have their own rankings as well with names like Amherst, Wesleyan, etc.

            Here is something that is very important. Everything is relative. Six figures can range from $100,000 o $999,999. That is a big range. Also, $100,000 living in the SF Bay Area is quite different from $100,000 living in Texas where houses are $150,000-$200,000. It’s important to put income and net worth into context of where one is living, since living expenses are local.

  6. nbsdmp says

    The best thing my mentor ever told me when I took my first job at a big automotive company. He said and I quote “Kid, it takes 15 years to become an overnight success”. The more I learned about him, he really didn’t work there because he had to, he started there out of school like me and still just liked it. He slowly built wealth through real estate endevours and various small businesses. He was a multi-multi millioniare in his mid-fifties working a job that probably paid him 1/3 of what he paid in taxes alone on his other ventures. Needless to say, I followed his lead a few years later after getting some much needed industry experience, low and behold 15 years later I passed the $10M net worth mark. Slow and steady wins the race, take some risks, have fun along the way…this girl just gets it & that is a rare trait these days!

      • nbsdmp says

        The bulk of my wealth came from leaving the safety of the big mothership company and pushign all my chips into the pot so to speak and buying into a small business at 28. Honestly 2 years in, it was a great learning experience, but after two years of 100+ hour weeks it starts to wear on you and things were not well…I think I was just not smart enough to fail or give up. I stuck with it and kept up the pace, we turned the corner and I went from struggling to bringing home about $1M a year. I paid off any and all debt then made other investments into commercial real estate that have done well. At the end of it all, I think because I believed in myself that is why I succeeded…people my age who remember me driving the 8 year old car with 200k miles on it and living a very modest lifestyle are shocked when they come over and see what delayed gratification can get you…

        • says

          That’s a great story. I’d love to hear more offline about what type of business you purchased if you aren’t able to share online. I’m very interested in founding a business but all I know is the tech industry. I’d probably be better off founding a brick-and-mortar type of business given my lack of actual technical knowledge. Did you grow up in a family that ran their own business or what made you decide to quit your big job for starting something at 28?

  7. says

    Thanks for sharing your story Her Every Cent Counts. I agree with waiting until your 30′s to have kids to be more financially secure. I’m always puzzled by couples who willingly start a family at 22, 23. If that’s what makes them happy, then good for them, but I have never been in a rush to become a parent. Not only was I immature in my early 20s, my career was just starting out, and I had a lot of debt.

    • says

      I hate to say this because I always get responses from angry 20-something mothers who want to defend their choice to have a kid so young, but the next thing you know they’re complaining because they don’t have the money to travel or have any fun, and they’re trapped because they can’t even invest enough to save for retirement. I understand that accidents happen and the world isn’t perfect, but if you have a choice, work 80 hours a week now and invest as much as possible, and have a kid in your late 20s/early 30s.

      • JayCeezy says

        There is quite a bit of academic study on this subject of having children and personal finances. The advice I see most often is the best choice is to have children with a partner, after age 28 (at least), and both partners have worked to eliminate debt before bringing a new family member into the mix. A second child, four years later, and no more.

        Lots of people will try to validate their own choices (good or bad), so please keep that in mind when you read any response. You have very good reasons for your choices. A great quote from a classic movie, “Ride The High Country”, “(a)ll I want is to enter my house justified.”

  8. says

    Very cool. Looks like we’ve taken different paths but ended up in similar situations. We’re a year older and just hit $450K as a couple. Unless the market crashes, we’re on track to hit $500K while in our 30th year on earth =)

    But we’ve done a lot with real estate in the past few years, and much less with individual stocks. So a completely different path.

    Does HECC ever talk about what industry she’s in?

    • says

      I’m a little envious of your joint $450k as a couple. It would be nice if my s/o had any savings to speak of – $450k as a couple sounds like a lot more at 30 than $200k as a solo. Btw, I’m in the tech industry on the marketing side.

  9. says

    Congratulation on a strong financial journey so far! I have a good degree but almost never worked in my field and managed to achieve financial freedom at 29. It takes a lot of determination but can be achieved on an average salary. I hope your bf gets on board so you can rock your finances as a couple! As far as kids are concerned, I don’t think delaying is necessarily better, sure you spend less money and can invest more at an early age, but having to provide for extra mouths to feed can also motivate you tremendously. Many friends who had kids in their 20s are doing well financially thanks to that.

    • says

      I’m sure having kids will motivate some people to do better financially, that’s a good point. The way I see it though that can’t replace the opportunity to take risks (ie, work at a startup for a lower salary in exchange for stock options that can be worth a lot more later) because you need the cash up front. Having the flexibility to take such risks is something that would be harder to support with kids.

  10. Steve G says

    I hear you on the home-buying quandary. I live where an entry condo in a neighborhood I’d enjoy is $500K, and one with 2 bedrooms that would fit me and my boyfriend is more like $650K. I was fortunate to go to a big-name school and study engineering, so I’ve maxed out my 401K every year since about 2006, but I don’t have as much in cash/stock accounts. Basically, I could sell off my regular stocks, borrow $50K from my 401K, and have money for a down payment, but I’d be cutting it very close. Is it worth it? Mortgage rates will never be this low again, and I feel confident the housing market is going up from here, so the answer is… probably. Being leveraged with a lot of assets and a lot of debt is the best way to get ahead in a growing economy, but it is risky.

    My mortgage would be significantly more than my rent, but after I count the amount paid down in principal each year, not that different. More importantly, buying a house when I’m 30 would mean owning a house 100% at 60 or earlier, which makes retirement planning a heck of a lot easier. If now now, with 30 year fixed < 3.5%, when?

  11. Rob says

    Hey ECCC loved the story,it’s confirms everything I tell young married couples, life is difficult (financally speaking that is) when your first married and struggling to survive n a low income but it does get better, I then emphasis the importance of making wise choices, ie debt kids etc, and regale them with stories of what 30 years married living with debt is like (not fun) this year we finally turned the corner, now to spend the next 15 making sure we can have a comfortable retirement. Had someone sat down with us when we first got married (1984) how different the last 30 years would have turned out.

    Soooooo for you, fantastic that you are a great saver and understand the importance of saving and the power of co pound interest BUT and I hope your noy offended by this but your portfolio is a diaster waiting to happen. Unless one is prepared to put a lot of work learning how to invest I’d suggest switching over to low cost ETFs, including, horror of horrors, bond funs.

    Rather than explaining why please do yourself a HUGE favour and buy a copy of Andrew Hallan Millionaire Teacher he does a fantastic job of explaining why you can’t beat the market, and why one should buy ETFs and more importantly why one needs bond funds. I’ve given away many copies and gotten only positive feedback.

    Feel free to drop me an email if you have any questions, I’m very passionate about helping young people avoid the mistakes my wife and I made. And thanks for letting me share this

    Rob

  12. joe says

    Nice to read of your good results.

    While the numbers (savings, investments, salary, etc.) are very nice and measurable, in my opinion there is something here that is more important. You touched on this a few times in your story, but I want to specifically mention it.

    It is the fact you decided, one way or the other, the following things: that you are a separate person than your parents, that you need to take your life into your own hands, that you need to break free of your parents’ thinking and behaviors, that your fate largely is up to you. Namely, you matured.

    It is that maturing that will take you far.

    Keep up the good work.

    Congratulations, and good luck.

    • says

      Thanks Joe. You’re right. I get too caught up in the details, but I feel good knowing that at almost-30 I’m finally an adult. I’m sure I’ll be in a better place a 40 as well, but I feel ready to take on the world now.

  13. Dan says

    Hello, I was wondering why in the world you would already have a 529 account? That seems odd to me. I know college is expensive, and I am 36 and have two kids and have an under funded account for each one. However, I did not start my first account until my daughter was at least 3 months old and I received her social security card. This seems like a lot of money to lock up for a very long period of time unless you plan on using it personally. Also, very little benefit now that favorable cap gains and dividend tax rates are now permanent.

    • says

      My goal is to use it for myself. :) I’d like to go to grad school and it won’t hurt to save for this in advance. If I do not end up using it for myself, I will use it for my kids or donate it to a family member at some point for their college education. I’ve stopped putting money into that account for now, I started it when I thought i was definitely going to grad school but now that I’m not sure I’ve kept the money in there but haven’t put any more in.

      • Dan says

        OK, that makes sense. I imagine you want to have kids of your own someday, so this will be of benefit to your kids as you can name them as the beneficiary after they are born. I would probably not give this away unless you are past the age of child bearing, though, and are sure you won’t adopt.

  14. San Diego says

    Great story. I seem to be the same age as you and share a similar story of being unemployed after college and then working my way up to over 100k per year through taking risks and hard work. And don’t worry about the “faking it until you make it” aniexty you feel because most people are in the same boat. I have worked with supposedly “seasoned professionals” with 15+ years experience that didn’t know what they were doing, they were just good BS’ers who knew what key words and technical jargon to drop.

    However, to answer the question you posed, “What are your thoughts on having over 90% of your net worth in stocks?” scares the hell out of me and I wouldn’t put all my “eggs in one basket”, so to speak. You seem to have had great success doing what you are doing so far but I would advise you to reduce your 90% stock allocation down to 40-60%. Best of luck!

  15. says

    An amazing story that is very inspiring to say the least! I’m curious to the types of jobs you did in order to make over $120k in one year. Maybe this could be another post? I have always wanted to work overseas in a corporate position but never had the opportunity. Do you consider yourself an avid traveler? I look forward to following you on your blog!

    • says

      I made 120k in one year working a variety of consulting jobs (business related, mostly writing projects, some basic web design) for anywhere fr $40-$80 per hr. I worked about 60 hours per week for six months – I did work a lot – but it was all paid hourly. It was tough to keep getting more work when I was so busy working so I decided to go back to full time for a while. Benefits are good! As far as traveling goes – I love to travel and would like to do more of it. I have yet to visit Asia, South America, Africa and Australia so I still have a lot of world to see.

  16. says

    Loved reading this story… I would comment on one of your questions that it would make me uncomfortable having 90% of net worth in stocks.. Maybe I just don’t have the stomach for it yet :)

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