A Woman’s Journey To Financial Independence: From Broke To Freedom

Thanks for all the recent support about keeping Financial Samurai going! Your encouragement is greatly appreciated. One feedback I got was that readers would like to hear more from a woman's journey to financial independence.

I thought who better to share her thoughts than my wife, Sydney. Sydney is the CFO of Financial Samurai and also the co-CEO of our son and daughter. My goal is for her to regularly contribute to the blog and join me for some coffee talk on our podcast. Now, let's hear her story of going from broke to financial freedom.

Money was never my parents' forte. It was a constant source of stress in their lives – like a sore wound that wouldn't heal. Thus, it came as no surprise that money was a root cause of their divorce.

Growing up in a somewhat broken, working-class family gave me the gift of grit and perseverance. Despite the difficult times, I'm thankful that I managed to have plenty of happy childhood memories.

If you ever heard your parents fight about money when you were a child, you know how unsettling and scary it can feel. As a result, I used to worry a lot about money when I was young.

Every time my dad lost his job, I'd worry if my parents would be able to pay their bills. But, the positive side effect was that the older I got, the more I wanted to become a financially independent woman as soon as possible.

My Parent's Weakness Became My Strength

I wanted to turn my parents' weakness with money into my own strength. Neither of my parents went to college, which limited their compensation potential throughout their careers.

My dad's challenges in keeping a steady blue-collar job as an electrician gave me the fire to lock down an office job I could confidently rely on without the fear of getting let go unexpectedly.

My mom's countless hours of overtime at a low-wage clerical job motivated me to not only go to college, but also secure a higher-paying job.

With a hunger for FI and an undertone of fear propelling me forward, I studied hard and made my way through school with hand-me-downs, scholarships, loans, and part-time jobs.

I didn't have amazing SAT scores, but my grades and extra curricular activities helped get me into The College Of William and Mary. That’s where Sam and I met. He was a senior. I was a freshman. Sparks flew and our 20+ year friendship began.

I couldn’t be more grateful!

Taking Flight To FI

In order to attend college, my parents took out loans to cover half of my in-state college tuition and told me I was responsible for the other half.

Knowing I would graduate with debt put my skin in the game from the get go. It drove me even harder to do well in school because I knew I wouldn't be able to rely on my parents to bail me out. They were already buried in debt with unstable jobs. I didn’t want to make them worse off.

I decided I would graduate as soon as possible. No super senior year for me. Thus, I barely had a social life in college but I didn't care. My priorities were a diploma, solid employment, and financial independence.

I couldn't wait to sell my textbooks, go out on my own, get a job, and start saving money. I kept my head down, piled on classes, and graduated in 3.5 years!

Graduating in December was a little strange because I wasn't in a traditional graduation ceremony. I didn't get to wear a cap and gown or cheer with friends, but it was worth it.

After graduating, I packed a suitcase, moved from Williamsburg to San Francisco and didn’t look back. I saved everywhere I could and took a minimum wage part-time job right away to keep me afloat while I searched for full-time work. My part-time job only paid about $8/hour, but it was better than nothing.

About a month later, I landed a full-time job as an Executive Assistant for a micro, private investment management office. I was thrilled. My starting salary was a modest $32,000 in 2002, but the skills I picked up helped propel me forward.

Related: Achieving Financial Freedom On A Modest Salary Can Absolutely Be Done

First Came A Fear Of Money, Then Came Love

Although I attribute my fears of not having enough money as my initial motivation to work hard and build my career, I attribute my love of money as the ongoing impetus that allowed me to reach financial independence and maintain it.

It may sound odd or greedy to say, “I love money,” but I do. I don't love money because I want a heaping collection of designer handbags or a house full of luxury goods. (My favorite store is actually Target, where I shop maybe once a year for myself and a couple times a year for my kids.)

I love money because it provides security, flexibility, freedom, a comfortable lifestyle, and the ability to help others.

I appreciate money so much that I don't want to spend it very often. (Although, I admit I enjoy spending money on educational toys and activities for our kids from time to time.) Overall, I prefer the excitement and satisfaction of seeing my bank and investment accounts grow instead. I'm sure many of you feel the same way too.

Key Steps That Lead To My Financial Independence

I could easily ramble on and on about other things I did from age 21 to my late 30s on my FI journey. But, I'll spare you the details. Instead, here's a list of some key steps I took:

Kept Expenses Low

  • Chose an affordable in-state public college, worked part-time while taking classes, took unpaid but relevant internships every summer, and graduated in only 3.5 years.
  • Opted for an intimate, low budget wedding that saved us tens of thousands and was completely stress-free to plan.
  • Ensured I could pay off my credit card bills in full every month since my early 20s.

Invested Consistently

  • Prioritized saving over spending and fell in love with a frugal lifestyle.
  • I opened a Roth IRA as soon as I wasn't living paycheck to paycheck.
  • Once I got a 401k, I stretched to get the full company match asap, and then maxed out my contributions as soon as I could afford it.
  • Opened a couple brokerage accounts in my 20s and 30s in order to generate passive income.

Focused On Earning More

  • By the time I turned 25, I'd doubled my income and was earning more than both my parents combined for most of their careers.
  • After a brief quarter-life career crisis, I decided to pursue more interests alongside my reliable full-time job and started side hustling.
    • I tried photography and acting in commercials for fun, but quickly realized I'd quickly go broke trying and pivoted.
    • Started cat sitting and dog sitting for some extra cash.
    • Taught violin and piano lessons to adults a couple times a week.
    • Began blogging and started regular freelance writing assignments.
  • By age 30, I finally broke the $100,000 mark at my day job and was earning an extra 10k or so in side hustles and part-time work during my “free” time.

Managed My Managers

  • Proactively met with my managers every six months to discuss my performance and interest in promotions and raises.

Negotiated A Severance

  • When I turned 34, Sam and I agreed that I would join him in early retirement since that's the age he left work too. He helped me negotiate a really comfortable severance package that provided a lot of flexibility.
  • By age 36 I surpassed a $1 million net worth. Growing up I never imagined I could achieve a goal like this.

Became A Mom

  • At age 37 we were blessed with our son. At 39, I gave birth to our daughter. It felt great to have two children right before 40.
  • I utilize my “free” time when I'm not parenting to work on the frontend and backend of Financial Samurai.

Found The Right Partner

  • Life is easier when you find a compatible partner to share expenses and grow your wealth together.
  • I was lucky to meet and learn from Sam who has always been focused on investing and personal finance since college.

The Grind Was Not Easy

Reaching financial independence was exhausting and incredibly stressful.

College wasn't fun for me. It was a total grind. In order to graduate in 3.5 years, I took a crazy amount of credits each semester and studied non-stop. When I wasn't studying, I was working part-time for $4-6/hour, volunteering, or performing with the symphony.

I didn't coast in my full-time jobs either. The various roles I held over the years required a ton of attention to detail and long hours. If I were to fat-finger one number, miss a deadline, or upload the wrong file, a six or seven digit error could erupt.

Even if I did my job 100% accurately, I was still at the mercy of my colleagues and subordinates. If anyone working on my client accounts made a mistake, we were all screwed.

Trying to put out fires someone else caused while getting yelled at by my clients wasn't something I could envision doing for another 10, 20, 30 years.

Yearning, Then Earning Freedom

I realized I needed change when I hit my early-to-mid 30s. I was struggling with health issues that likely resulted from my intense career. It was frustrating. A sour churn in my gut told me I needed change.

Side hustling, a growing net worth, and multiple income streams outside of my day job gave me hope that I could transform my lifestyle. When I was rejected for a promotion at age 33 that I believed I deserved, I was livid. What was the point of working so hard and risking my health if I wasn't going to be recognized for my efforts?

Long story short, I raised “hell” in a respectful manner and got my promo six months later. While the raise and title were great, a multitude of other things were simultaneously going wrong by then with office politics, re-orgs, turnover, and rising client turmoil.

Later that year, I remember taking a cab home from work at 9pm one night and crying myself to sleep. As I lay in bed that night I made my decision to pull the ripcord. I was ready to get out.

Sam had already engineered his layoff by then, and we immediately started strategizing how I could do the same. I'm so grateful that in 2015, I successfully walked away from my day-job with a severance and a smile from ear-to-ear. Here's how I engineered my layoff if you want to read the details.

Life After Retirement

After I left my full-time job, we took several trips we'd been longing for but had been putting off. I also have continued to write, edit, do backend work, freelance, take on part-time projects here and there, and became a full-time mom. It is an incredible ongoing adventure.

Did I earn my freedom? I like to think so. The bull market over the past 10 years certainly helped a lot. But I don't really consider myself retired yet though. Maybe once our son goes off to college I'll feel fully retired; we'll see.

I certainly wake up happy every day now that I no longer have to commute to a job where I'd get yelled at. Although now I get yelled at by a toddler instead. But at least I get to make all the rules. ;)

Sam has proposed the term fake retirement given how busy we are after retiring fro our jobs. I think many of you will be surprised by how busy you will be too, especially the earlier you leave.

Passing The Torch

A Woman's Journey To Financial Independence: From Broke To Freedom

Even though I've done pretty well for myself, I don't view FI as a one and done achievement. It's something I'm continually working to maintain and grow, especially now that we have a family.

Sam and I regularly wonder how our kids will view the world and money as they grow into adults. Watching a child grow up is certainly a momentous journey. And we surely hope we can pass our love and respect of hard work and financial independence on to him.

Sometimes I forget how much I used to fear not having enough money to pay bills due to my upbringing in a household that always struggled to earn a steady paycheck.

Thankfully, things have worked out and I'm extremely grateful to have a partner to purposefully live the life we want to live.

Takeaways For Financial Independence

Here's a quick summary of some steps that helped me achieve financial independence.

  • Don’t plan to rely on your parents for financial support after college. Put your skin in the game early on.
  • Know that it is possible to get an undergraduate degree in under 4 years. It's not easy, but it can be done and helps save on student loans.
  • Communicate openly with your partner about your finances and set individual and shared goals both before and after marriage.
  • Have regular, open dialogues with your managers at work. Know your worth. All too often if you don't ask, you don't get.
  • Take retirement planning seriously in your 20s. Learn to love money for the independence, security, and options it provides.
  • You won't regret the sacrifices you made to save and invest for your future. Instead, you might be surprised by how much wealth you can accumulate with enough consistency and time!

Every day I humbly continue to slice through money's mysteries with Sam. Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

Sam's note:

I'm extremely proud of my wife for taking the risk to come out to San Francisco after college when she knew nobody here but me. Our relationship could have easily sputtered, but she took a leap of faith! She had a solid 13-year-career where she was able to make her own money and not have to depend on me for anything.

To motivate each other, we've always pushed each other to save and invest aggressively with specific financial targets in mind. I wanted her to hit a $1 million net worth on her own because I knew she would gain an incredible amount of satisfaction if she did.

There's no doubt life is easier as a team. I'd love to hear female perspectives about reaching financial independence.

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100 thoughts on “A Woman’s Journey To Financial Independence: From Broke To Freedom”

  1. Dear Sydney,

    Thank you so much for your testimony. YOU GO GIRL!!! You are such an inspiration and I hope to be in the “one million dollar club” in my 30s too. I’m currently 32 years old and have been practicing as a pharmacist since September 2015.

    A huge thank you to both of you, Sam and Sydney. Financial Samurai has totally transformed by life financially and I am always looking forward to your posts.

    1. Thanks Emily! Great job on your career as a pharmacist for four years. So glad to hear you’ve learned a lot from the website and have improved your financial health!

  2. Thank you for sharing Sydney. I love reading women’s financial journeys to FI. It’s so inspiring. I believe you will reach FI with or without Sam, but probably will not leave the workforce so early. I see a lot of similarities between you and I. Coming from a working class family (my parents didn’t graduate high school), going to an in-state university, saving and reaching millionaire status, and having a child later in life. The difference is I choose to stay single and independent. My partner (baby daddy) lives with me but we keep our finances separate. Though I have million plus in investible assets, I still don’t feel secure enough to RE. When you grow up poor and lives in the SF Bay Area, I feel no amount is secure enough to RE. I talk about it and I have a target date, but when the time comes, I don’t know if I will really RE.

    1. Hi Cindy, thanks for your comment! Sure does sound like we have some similarities. Congrats on surpassing 1mil in investible assets! And I totally hear what you’re saying about not feeling secure enough to RE. It’s a huge step! Having a target date is a good idea though and you’ll feel ready when the time is right.

  3. I loved reading your post Sydney! I was inspired by how hard you worked through college to complete your degree and how hard you worked at your job. Great effort. It’s fantastic to see women working towards their own great future. You worked hard and you’re reaping the rewards!

    1. Thanks RocDoc! It definitely was a lot of work but I’m so glad I put in all of those hours when I did while I was young. I sure don’t have the same amount of energy now that I did when I was young. ;)

  4. No mention of buying real estate by yourself. My mistake – not keeping property somewhere. Result-in my 70’s I’m stretching to pay increasing rents. Wish someone talked to me about this in my 30’s

    1. That is a tough situation to still be paying rent later in life. Real estate is one of Sam’s fortes and definitely something he’s taught me everything about. I didn’t have any knowledge of how mortgages work, how to find a property, what goes into valuing a property, the benefits of home ownership etc. So I was very fortunate to have him lead the way.

      1. For anyone who stays or becomes single, my message is “keep some real estate”. I bought and sold a couple of times as I moved..

  5. Love hearing the female perspective to financial independence, and all the life that goes it into. Thanks!

  6. Great job Sydney!

    Like you, I worked my ass off as well, 60-70 hours a week in my 20s and 30s. I had well-meaning parents who didn’t have much money management. So I needed to plan for the future at a young age.
    At 27 I had a net worth of six figures and now over $1 million 20 some years later.
    Looking back, all my friends were living a lot better than me (nicer places to live, cars, clothes) But my motivation was to have financial freedom as soon as possible.

    I had no life as a kid, don’t have many friends today, and I’m single. So I’m not sure my sacrifice was worth it. I get envious of others a lot, even with my money, but I’m trying to get better.

    1. Hi A. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Phew I know how 60-70 hour weeks are a total draining grind. Congrats on surpassing the $1 million mark! That’s a big accomplishment. Try not to beat yourself up about what can’t be changed in the past. Keep to keep a positive focus on the present and looking forward! I don’t have a lot of friends either. I think one or two close friends is way more meaningful than 10 so-so ones.

    2. When I was growing up, my mom tells me friends cost money. It’s better to have a couple of great friends than a lot of fair weather friends. The first few years after I started working, I spent tons of money traveling with a group of friends, dining out, and going to expensive activities. Now I don’t see most of them. With a full time job and a toddler, I am pretty selfish with my time now. I have a best friend that lives a few hundred miles away that I call/text, and a couple of friends that I go get lunch or milk tea with once every couple of weeks. I usually make friends out of convenience and now my co-workers are my friends, because we spend a lot of time together at work, but not outside of work.

  7. What a nice read and first thing on a sunday morning too – thanks Sydney. I’ve followed Financial Samurai many years now. I’m going to have to read this again with my wife.

  8. Hi Sydney, it’s so great to hear from you directly on the blog! I enjoyed hearing you and Sam chat on a recent podcast as well. You clearly make a great team and challenge each other to view things in different ways. I am also a 30-something married female who reached early financial independence on her own (or was on track to), and I too was fortunate to be able to really ramp it up and double down on the progress by marrying someone who also values hard work and saving a high percentage of our earnings and also happens to make good money.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading about how Sam’s perspective on FI and financial goals have shifted since having a child. I’d love to hear more from you on that as well. My husband and I are on the fence about whether to try to have children or not, so this is of particular interest.

    What I really wanted to say when I started this comment though is that I hope you can get comfortable with spending more and learning to enjoy your wealth at this stage in your journey. You talk a lot about sacrifice and even fear as a girl which doubtless contributes to your conservative money outlook, compulsion to save and hesitation to spend. That’s great when you’re starting out and even OK while accumulating, but girl – your favorite store is Target and you only go once a year?! I challenge you to make a list of YOUR values and where you’d like to indulge more, and dedicate a portion of your budget to that. And spending on your kid or family or giving to others (while admirable and important) does not count.

    Sam, if she won’t or can’t buy herself little luxuries or conveniences in an appropriate level commiserate to your resources, it is your duty to step in and spoil her a bit! Just my two cents. :). You guys are truly wealthy and you can’t take it with you. I’d hate for either of you to look back on your lives and realize you’re dying with tens of millions (or passing it on) but continued to deprive yourselves or sacrifice unnecessarily all along the way. You gave up a lot of the college experience to get ahead, and it paid off. But you’ve arguably won the game in many ways already. There are times it’s appropriate to enjoy that too.

    1. Hah! Good reminder. I did get her an hour long massage who came to our house the other week. Does that count?

      One thing I do my best on, is try to spend more time taking care of our son, while also doing laundry regularly, cleaning the dishes and kitchen, so she can reduce her physical and mental load. Further, my goal is to handle our finances properly and earn so that she never has to go back to a full-time job again.

      Regarding children, I wish someone smacked me in the head when I was young and told me that children are the best. If they did, I would have had children earlier. But, better late than never!

    2. Thanks Elizabeth! My “wants” changed a ton after becoming a mom. I used to enjoy spending money on myself occasionally but now I just want to spend it on our son. I get more excitement and joy selecting a new toy for him and watching him play with it than I do buying something new for myself.

      Sam spoils me plenty too so no need to worry there. I like small treats way more than big, luxury splurges. For example, I love food and am not a good cook so Sam treats me a lot with yummy foods. I also really appreciate and feel lucky spoiled that he does all the driving for our family. That to me is a huge daily treat because I’m a very anxious, nervous city driver and he’s a pro (he can literally squeeze into any parking spot and knows the city like the back of his hand) and always keeps us safe. He also does SO much every single day with work, our son, juggling projects, and around the house so I couldn’t ask for an ounce more.

      As for a quick note on how my finance thoughts changed after motherhood, I guess the most surprising thing was how much I want to do for our son – like wanting to pay a premium for the best, safest products and foods versus trying to save as much as possible and buy the cheapest items to save money but risk quality and safety differences. It was also a big change not having anywhere close to the same amount of freedom, time and energy to work and bring in income since my primary job became childcare.

  9. Great post! You guys are a model couple for us. I started with a very modest income job as well and I’m glad to know that it’s possible to retire early without making very good money from beginning.

    1. Thanks! Yes most of us start out slow with humble salaries because we lack job experience. With enough persistence and developing key skills we can work our way upwards to bigger and bigger pay.

  10. What a wonderful article!
    I have read it three times before replying, and I hope that it becomes required reading for today’s young women.
    I am 78 now and first started saving when I was about 8, encouraged by my mother to buy National Savings stamps with baby Princess Anne (who is now a grandmother!) on them from school – I am British. I have saved ever since, even as a teacher.
    My list of frugal habits mirror yours, even in retirement, I am subbing because I love it. And it pays the grocery bills!
    However, I am now seeing many middle class women sinking into poverty through putting others before themselves. The best gift you can give your children is your own financial independence, which you are doing.
    Too many of my acquaintances are forgoing their own 401 accounts to pay family bills including tuition. We live in Southern California where there are first rate state schools within commuting distance. Several friends now have renting issues due to the continual rise in rents and the specter of redevelopment of traditional areas. Too many friends eat out and drink coffee continually. And divorce, even among apparently settled couples, is a big expensive issue. Health care costs continue to rise. I consider myself to be blessed with good health but I have had a couple of big problems that I am hopefully over now.
    Please continue to contribute. Women have to realize that they need to be fiscally aware. Fortunately, young women seem to have got it.
    But for all of us, please don’t end up in old age homeless, friendless, in poor health and broke.
    Thank you for your perceptive article.

    1. Hi Jo. Thanks for your long comment. I love your story about starting out with National Savings stamps as a little girl. That’s wonderful to hear you’re subbing in retirement and enjoy it! Yes it’s sad to hear about stories of women who are struggling with their finances.
      Coffee is one thing I never had to worry about spending money on – I think it smells great but I can’t stand the taste of it. Hot water for me instead any day! ;)

  11. Hi Sydney,

    A well-documented FI journey. This goes to show that anyone is able to achieve FI provided he/she executes the plan accordingly.


  12. I bet $100 this was written by Sam (maybe based on Sydney’s story).
    It has Sam’s voice all over the writing. ;-)

    1. That’s a great complement to me! Thank you. You can send the $100 via Paypal friends and family so I don’t incur any fees. If you want to chat with her about the article for a couple minutes to prove it was she who wrote it, let me know. When there are “guest posts,” I am the editor.

  13. Ms. Conviviality

    Sydney, Thanks for sharing your story. It is inspirational how hard working you are and to have achieved the success that you did. I’ll have to use your advice about asking for what you’re worth because I was definitely disappointed when I was promoted to a manager position and was given $10,000 less than what the former manager and other managers are being paid even though we are doing similar work. I didn’t counter since I felt that my younger age equaled lack of experience but the more I thought about it, I’m able to fulfill the role that I was promoted to so why shouldn’t I receive similar pay?! I also liked that you were able to attain $1 M on your own. I’ve been a longtime FS reader so I know how Sam invests his money. Do you follow a similar investment allocation? Maybe this could be a topic for a future post?

    1. Thanks Ms. C! It’s a good time to start practicing what you want to say to your managers now. At my former company, management started discussing and planning promotions and raises in October, decisions were typically completed in November and were announced in December. Each firm has their own timing, so try to figure out what your company’s timing is and start a dialogue before decisions for raises and next years budgets have been completed. Best of luck!

      As for investments – Generally I’m more conservative than Sam. We have some overlap but my overall portfolios aren’t as diverse.

  14. A little perspective

    Sydney, you and I have a scary amount in common! Congratulations for making it through the grind and into a sunny present/future.

    I have a constructive comment that I hope will not offend. You seem to gloss over possibly the single biggest element in achieving your “FI,” namely marrying well. You found a solid partner early in life. Someone to economize with. Someone to enable a higher personal savings rate. Your partner also just happened to have major financial chops. He presumably helped you to make sound investment decisions to accelerate your net worth growth. Bet he also served as an informal career coach, helping you to make sound job transitions and any that allowed you to reach FI years sooner than you otherwise would.

    There is a non-trivial amount of luck involved in your situation. If you hadn’t married Sam and had it work out, your hard work and discipline would have been inadequate to land you in FI-world. Failing to acknowledge that takes away some credibility from an otherwise great post.

    I have your resume, but no partner. Healthy balance sheet, but I sure do regret having zero fun through my youth into early middle age and having to make every decision alone without the benefit of two heads vs. one. Without the safety net of a partner, one can never be FI (ok, maybe with $25M+).

    1. Hi there. Thanks for your feedback. You share some similar thoughts with Lisa below. Please see my reply to her as I think it applies to your feelings as well. However, I will disagree with your comment that I would have failed in the FI world. Would I still be working at a ft job now if I wasn’t with Sam, sure that’s quite possible. But I don’t think I would be financially dependent by any means. I was well determined to be able to be financially responsible, graduate fast and find a secure full-time job before I met Sam.

      Yes Sam provided a lot of guidance to me in my career, but my determination to be the best in every role I took, develop niche skillsets and continually prove to my mangers I was a top performer was all from within myself. I grew up as a perfectionist who craves success, hates making mistakes and keeps going after failures.

      IMHO you’re being too hard on yourself when you say “one can never be FI without the safety net of a partner.” Congrats on earring your healthy balance sheet. Doing that alone is no easy feat. Best of luck as your continue your financial journey and thanks for reading!

      1. I agree. Perhaps you wouldn’t have left your day job at 34, but I know for certain you would have retired way earlier than 60. You’ve always been frugal and wise with your money.

        Having someone to help share thoughts and crazy ideas with is what life is all about. If it wasn’t me, I believe it would have been someone else. You would have found your own motivation to FI b/c you knew you didn’t want to work at that job forever.

  15. Interesting article but unfortunately I have a few points of constructive criticism. The phrase broke is a bit misused as by my interpretation is your family was working class. I say this as a person who grew up with a single mum on welfare and was essentially homeless half my childhood. Also there is very little mention of the financial benefit of you being in a loving partnership with Sam. I say this as a single mum myself who has been single most of my financial journey. Otherwise you are an inspiration and very similar to myself. Good luck with your blogging :)

    1. It is true, someone will always be more broke than you. I was the one who added the subtitle.

      From where I stand, when one parent couldn’t hold onto a job due to the economy in West Virginia and due to a back injury, and ended up needing to receive government assistance, that’s really struggling.

      From another persons point of view who lost their eyesight and doesn’t have parents because they both died in a car accident at 15, perhaps your situation seems relatively comfortable.

      We have to make do with what we have, and take action to do better if we want better. There’s no sense in arguing to see who has it worse. If we are alive, we have the great benefit to improve our situation.

      The reason why she doesn’t mention me so much in the article is because she achieved the vast majority of her financial achievements herself. Life is definitely easier when you are a team. And it definitely is easier to forge on through the difficult times when you have someone who cares for you and encourages you no doubt.

      But this article isn’t about me. It’s about her journey.

      Fight on! I wish you the best on your journey.

    2. Hi Lisa. Thanks for sharing your feelings. Yes of course being in a loving relationship with Sam is a huge benefit. He continually teaches us all so many things! And yes there are countless things he has taught me about the financial world over the years. It wasn’t my intention to downplay his involvement and guidance. I mentioned how grateful I was that I met him at a young age while we were in college, his involvement in helping me negotiate my severance, our involvement together with FS, our open dialogues about finances both before and after we got married, and how I humbly continue to slice through money’s mysteries with him.

      The focus of this post wasn’t about getting married. I wanted to relay how my childhood and experiences in college made a significant impact on how I tackled finding a stable job and worked my way upwards. If I had moved out to SF or some other coastal city without a significant other, surely it would have been harder making every financial and career decision alone. And yes there was a lot I didn’t know when I met Sam, but I wasn’t completely financially clueless in college. I studied Economics both in high school and college, had an early interest in the markets, opened my own investment account, worked in finance, and had experience budgeting and saving as well.

      Being a single mom is absolutely one of the hardest things in the world and I’m sorry to hear you had a difficult time growing up. The types of challenges single moms face are hard to fully comprehend if one hasn’t experienced it firsthand. Thanks for reading and for the support! Sending you best wishes on your financial journey!

  16. Awesome story of strength and determination, and thank you for sharing! Any plans to have another Samurai baby? :)

  17. “I love money because it provides security, flexibility, freedom, a comfortable lifestyle, and the ability to help others.”
    I love your quote about money. This is how I feel. Money can be used for so many good things. I use money to free myself up to be able to eventually do whatever I want when I want

    1. Robert Ruschak

      Money will provide me with more experiences and opportunities that I cannot imagine in this short human life!

  18. Are you Sydney from another blog from San Francisco that has been around for 10 years? The name eludes me now :)

    Wow 7 figures at age 36, that’s amazing! I am hoping for that at in a few years, I’m turning 36 this year and have 5 figures to go.

    1. Thanks GYM! I’ve been in SF since 2001 and have been blogging for about 8.5 years or so. Time goes so fast it’s hard to keep track!

      Every bit counts as I like to say when it comes to goals. Some we reach faster or slower than others, but every bit of effort gets us closer to success!

  19. I enjoyed reading this. It’s nice to hear woman’s perspective on building wealth. My favorite advice from this post: “Learn to love money for the independence, security, and options it provides.”

    1. :) Thanks. I’m looking forward to teaching him about money starting with little steps like doing chores and projects for a small allowance and learning how to practice saving money to reach a goal to buy a special toy or something, and then working our way up to bigger lessons about investing as he gets older. There’s so many ways to teach kids about personal finance. We can’t rely on schools to do it for us!

  20. Thank you, Sydney, for sharing a wonderful story of determination, hard work, Smart work, and financial diligence and self-control! It’s s-o inspiring to read that in the Samurai home you have some joint accounts. When my hubs and I started we had little but we did it together. All the best to you, Sam, and your toddler Samurai. Sending your story to my young 20 something Samurai in training. You’re an inspiration to this immigrant family for sure!

  21. Please try to find a way to get you’re advice and articles to younger individuals in high-school. I wish tremendously that i had your advice to attend a state school and graduate under 4 years.

  22. TheEngineer@1DesignerLife.com

    You and Sam are both so alike with regard to money – this is not and ying and yang for sure.

    With regard to my personal FI journey, it was planned and executed solely by me. I have always used my wife as the counter balance to make sure the totality of my life is not just about FI.

    FI is just one of the piece of the puzzle – albeit a CRUCIAL piece!

    I shared many of your early experiences as my life started out in the low 20th percentile living under my father’s roof.

    Ironically, I never felt poor. My greatest spark of inspiration is the deep desire to provide a better life for my family than my parents did for me – they did they best with their capability!

    We have so much more opportunities than our parents – it would be a shame if we can not do better than them.

    It is not about MONEY – it is about progress!

    1. I like your emphasis on progress. Progress is extremely gratifying. Running in place or feeling like one is falling behind over a long period can be quite demotivating. Being able to see progress, achieve goals, and complete tasks on the other hand is super motivating. I like putting lots of small items on my to-do list for this very reason. Each time I get to cross one off I’m more eager to work on the next one.

    2. I will say that “progress” is my one word definition for happiness. Progress in anything you do is extremely gratifying.

      I have a friend who is worth a lot. He’s not very happy often times because his stock price has gone nowhere for several years. When he was much poor, he was much happier because of the growth of his company.

  23. Great story Sydney! Would love to see an expanded version of your story. The ESIMoney blog has a millionaire interview series that has a dearth of women who achieved FI on their own. Would be great if you participated in that series.

    1. Nice idea. I do hope more women believe that it’s possible to become millionaires. Living in SF it’s become so normal to see successful and financially independent women everywhere that it’s easy to forget there are many women out there who struggle with finances, lack role models or lack the financial education to understand how important financial health is from a young age.

  24. Sydney, thank you for the bravery to share your story and where you came from. It’s so encouraging to see the relatively short amount of time it took you to hit $1mil in net worth by keeping your head down & working hard. IMHO pain typically results in one of two paths, it can break or motivate a person. Glad to see it did the latter for you. You & Sam seem to be a strong united team. All the best to you two & your son!

    1. Thanks Deanna! That’s a good point. I guess I never really thought about how it could have broken me and taken me down a much different path. I suppose I did feel broken that day I cried myself to sleep, but at least I used that “crash” to figure out how to climb out of that hole and back into the daylight!

  25. Thanks for sharing. I would like to know if your parents have asked for money or pressured (guilted) you to pay for some of their expenses after they learned of your success. If so, how did you handle it? If not, what do you think you would do?

    1. Interesting question. My mother does not like receiving help. She is an innate giver, which is a great trait but on the flip-side has also made it hard for her to budget throughout her life. For example, she feels a constant “need” to donate to charities and regularly buy gifts for friends even when she can’t afford it. She has this belief that it’s okay to go into debt in those situations because it’s more important to give. (rolling my eyes thinking about it). Anyway, she’s never asked me directly for money – she feels too guilty asking for help. I usually just hear about how stressed she is about xyz bills and such. Then I offer to help and she’ll usually reluctantly agree eventually. Whenever I have helped pay her bills she is very grateful and apologizes for weeks/months afterwards that I had to help her out.

      If she had a ton of money I probably would have grown up much differently. With her personality and love of giving things I likely would have been crazy spoiled and not developed my own drive for FI so things worked out for the best I suppose. :)

      My dad on the flip side has asked me for money directly on many occasions. Not that he really wanted to – I think it’s always been hard on his pride to ask for help. It also seems hard for him to say thanks, maybe because he feels embarrassed. But when he’s asked directly, he’s really needed it. For example, during some tough times when I was in my late 20s/early 30s I cried when I found out he was on food stamps and needed money to pay his electricity bills. I had no idea things had gotten that tough for him at that time. He’s in much better shape now fortunately.

      1. Thank you for your reply. My next question is if you have ever been upset about helping them? Their unwillingness to change their behavior? Do you feel obligated to help?

        In my experience, I have had to deal with all of these questions and I’m still figuring out my answers to them.

  26. nice to hear ‘herstory’.
    love the content on this site.
    we all need to talk more about money specifics, or how else can we learn?

  27. Great article! As a father raising 3 girls it is good to get a women perspective on finance. I hope you keep writing as I have enjoyed your articles, and both of your honesty about money and choices in life.

    1. Thanks Robert! What a blessing and a full house you have. Glad to hear you’ve enjoyed my articles. I’m a much slower writer than Sam (he is actually crazy fast compared to me and most people I know) but I do hope to get a few more articles published before the year is up.

  28. Christine Minasian

    What a great story Sydney! Graduating in 3.5 years that’s an achievement…you’re right- you did not have a lot of fun in college. You and Sam do make a great team and probably the most important choice you will make is who you choose to marry, so good on you both!!!

    1. Thanks Christine! Yeah, it’s funny whenever I hear someone say, “I miss being in college, it was so much fun,” I just chuckle to myself because that’s not how I felt. I did have some fun times of course, but most of the time I was constantly hustling and just focused on the finish line.

  29. Thanks for sharing your journey!! We really appreciate all the time and love you and Sam put into this website!! I like the balance between “squeezing every dime” and “spend, spend, you can’t take it with you”. Being comfortable financially is a wonderful thing!! Thank you for your encouragement and hard-hitting truth!

    1. Thanks Shelley! Yeah there is beauty in finding that balance and then the dance of maintaining financial health over the long haul. I still try to remind myself not to get too comfortable so I won’t fall down a slippery slope of taking things for granted. Even though I managed to become financially independent, there are still countless unknowns in the future. I want to make sure I never wind up in a situation where I start to experience financial stress again.

  30. “I love money because it provides security, flexibility, freedom, a comfortable lifestyle, and the ability to help others.”

    That sums it up! I tell my spouse and select others the same thing, though perhaps not as eloquently.

  31. Sydney – loved this and think your advice is spot on. You didn’t sugarcoat your journey to FI and I appreciate it. Gives me motivation to keep going!

    1. Thanks ET! I definitely had some really rough days along the way but fortunately I was able to keep going and they were well worth it now that I can look back.

  32. I confess. I love money too. My wife is the same way. Our families struggled with finance when we were young and we saved to avoid that. Money provides security and then later freedom. That’s why we’d rather save than spend. That’s different than most people. They’re motivated by the spending power.
    Your journey is great. Thanks for sharing. I hope to meet you in person someday.

    1. Thanks Joe! I know you’ve been around the blogosphere for a long time too and agree it’d be fun to meet someday.

      It is interesting how some people are very motivated by money’s spending power and less on the freedom and security aspects. I was listening to a podcast the other day about how someone’s belief was “spend money while you have it because you may not have it later” and I was just shaking my head.

  33. Great Job Sydney, you’ve come a long way! it’s also very good to have a similar mindset about personal finance with your spouse. Usually, one spouse has a mindset and the other has the opposite, but it makes life a lot easier when both are on the same page from the get-go.

  34. Thanks for sharing. The biggest takeaway from this article for me was to start investing early, be as independent as you can even if it may mean you’re paying rent, and always ask so you’re recognized.

    The first one (investing early) was extremely difficult for me. I did put in the bare minimum to get the company 401k match, but when I saw the direct deposit hit my bank account, the last thing I wanted to do was delay gratification. Especially because that’s all I’ve been doing leading up to my early 20s. I had to delay gratification to get into college, I had to delay gratification to graduate on time, and delay gratification to have a chance at landing a decent paying job.

    So when everything came into fruition, I decided to blow most of my money in my 20s on frivolous items. Of course I have nothing to show for any of it, but I also don’t regret it that much because it was a good learning experience. I was able to get it out of my system…lol

    Thankfully I curbed that habit by my mid 20s and made disciplined decisions, but hey, at least for four solid years I thoroughly enjoyed spending money :)

    Anyway, hope you’re health is much better now that you’re on your own schedule. I know money is important, but without health (or family for that matter), money becomes just paper.

    1. Thanks Jeff! I hear ya on the temptations to spend in our 20s. Fortunately I didn’t have any huge purchases during mine, but I also still bought things from time to time that I really didn’t need in my early 20s. I was more easily tempted by brand names at that age for the “cool” factor, but fortunately like you, I also got it out of my system. :)

      And yes thanks, my health is doing a lot better now that I’m on my own schedule and don’t have constant work stress wearing me down everyday. Stress really did a number on me and I’m so glad those days are over.

  35. Long time lurker. First time poster. I love this. I can relate on so many levels. My wife and I are the proud parents of 3 girls. I came from a similar background. Received a state college degree and opened up an insurance business in 2003. 2010 brought downtrodden home values as the recession was still fresh and stinging. We purchased three rental properties (we are in Colorado) for pennies on the dollar. Last week, I completed a Will, Trust and Power of Attorney. My net worth financial statement read 1.725 million. My wife is a teacher and so she is eligible for PERA (Public Employee Retirement Account). We are 44. I discuss Financial Samurai daily with her on our 3 mile walks. Sam, know that you are appreciated and valued and PLEASE continue to write. I look forward to seeing your content each week!

    1. Thanks Jim! Great job getting your Will/Trust/POA done! I know how tedious and time consuming that process can be but it’s such a relief signing the docs when they’re all done, isn’t it? :)

      Congrats on your net worth! That is so wonderful to hear you and your wife regularly talk about FS topics on your daily walks. 3 miles is awesome too! ;)

  36. Awesome. Been a reader and fan of the Family Samurai for awhile, now. You and Sam have made your own luck, and Baby Samurai is fortunate to have you as parents. Looking forward to your continued journey. As always, thanks for sharing it with us!

  37. While “how” couple manage their finances together is different for everyone, maintaining the faith and love and the sense of ‘team’ is key to any successful marriage! I am blessed that my wife and I have always been on the page financially, and we have educated and grown together in our financial knowledge. It would have been nice to to have the understanding we have now in our 30s back in hour 20s. Hopefully we get the kids educated right.

    Also, don’t de-value your accomplishments Bull market may have helped, but you are the one who put in the work, and made the right, tough decisions. Be proud!

  38. Thank you, Sydney, for telling us your story. I agree that loving money isn’t terrible– and you seem to love it for the right reasons. Freedom and the ability to help others feels better than almost anything else! And you really are brave, to pick up and move across the country as you did.

    I appreciate your advice, particularly about sitting down with your managers periodically, and so much agree with the “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”. Knowing what you know now, is there anything different you would do? Wishing you well.

    1. Thanks Robin. It’s funny how moving across the country didn’t scare me at all back then. Young love lead the way. :)

      Yes I do feel fortunate that I had a funny, understanding, easy going boss for most of my career. It was hard for me to sit down and talk to him in the beginning, but it got easier and easier over time. Building that relationship was one of the most important things I did in my career. He and I still keep in contact today.

      Is there anything different I would do now if I were to do it all over again? hmm. Probably self advocating earlier on and figuring out how to get a better work life balance during the really stressful periods.

      I was stubborn when I was younger and wanted to do everything by myself without asking for help even when my bosses were encouraging me to delegate tasks. My stubbornness was a perfect recipe for burnout.

      I would have also improved the way I communicated with my colleagues, subordinates and clients. As an introvert, communication has never been a natural strength of mine, so I could have done a better job of learning and practicing various communication techniques.

  39. Well done, Sydney! Your example can be an inspiration for so many.

    As someone whose parents were happy to pay for everything (college, law school, first work wardrobe, etc.), I was not careful with my own money.

    In my 20’s, even though I was making great money working in BigLaw, I only saved in my 401(k), and pretty much spent the rest of my salary (on renting a nice apartment, buying nice outfits, etc). It didn’t occur to me that I should save for a down payment, for example.

    I have done a complete 180 with my financial ways, thanks in part to my husband and I doing a lot of reading. We read so many topics on the Financial Samurai web site once we discovered it. We’re teaching our kids to make good decisions. My teenage son is now investing most of his income from lifeguarding this summer. :-)

    Thanks to you and Sam for all you do to encourage others. :-)

    1. Thanks Mocomom! That’s wonderful to hear you’ve turned your financial habits around for the better and are also sharing smart insights with your kids. High five on getting your teenager to invest some of his summer job income!!

  40. Did you help your parents pay off their portion of your student loans?

    Will your son have to pay part of his post secondary education? I was not in a position to help my children very much(lower middle class single mom and a high income father who chose not to contribute) and that has seen them behind many of their piers financially. I have a lot of mom guilt because they are still dealing with student debt.

    1. Hi Beth. Great questions. Yes, I did pay my parents back for their portion of my student loans. I didn’t do it until my late 20s/30s and chose to do it piece meal. Since my parents have never been great at managing money, I didn’t want to give them each a huge lump sum and then risk them blowing it all at once when they would benefit better from smaller installments. It also helped me manage my budget by sending them money a little bit at at time.

      Yes, we plan to have our son be involved with paying some of his college tuition. We haven’t decided how much, but we both like the idea of having him feel involved and responsible for his education costs as he approaches adulthood. We will also push for public colleges/universities.

      Mom guilt can be so tough but don’t be so hard on yourself! Even though you were not in a position to help your kids that much back then, you get a giant set of trophies for raising them as a single mom. That is a huge accomplishment!

  41. What a wonderful back story and it really was serendipity that brought you and Sam together.

    You are very fortunate Sam to have a wife that is able to put out content on par with your level of excellence.

    Very interesting about getting a million net worth on your own merits Sydney. So do you and Sam still continue to do separate finances/accounting? Would love to know if you combine finances now as a couple or still maintain separate net worth etc and the reason why you chose that path with benefits and cons of each way (could make for a great follow up post).

    I do find that children who have witnessed poor finances from their parents can really turn it around and have great financial success as they see mistakes made and don’t want to repeat them.

    1. Hi Xrayvsn. Thanks for your comment! Yes, Sam and I still continue to have our own separate accounts plus we have some joint accounts. We like the setup this way as it’s easier and more efficient.

      I know some couples feel very strongly about only having joint accounts, but for us having a combination of both has worked out really well. Great idea on doing a follow up post on this topic! I think that will be fun to write about.

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