After warning about financial destruction due to scams and get rich quick schemes, I’d like to balance things out with an uplifting financial story. As part of my productivity push, I’ve been spending some time answering questions on Quora, a Q&A platform, instead of spending time answering questions on Financial Samurai where the answers are readily apparent in the content.
One of the questions I answered was: What is the single best financial move you have ever made in your life?
I selected this question because it made me think hard about positive choices. I’ve been too hard on myself lately with the responsibilities of fatherhood and being the financial provider for my family. This answer ended up getting a couple hundred thousand views and 5,000+ upvotes in only a week, so I thought I’d share it with all of you.
The Best Financial Move
Getting on a bus at 6am.
While a junior at The College of William & Mary, I got on a bus at 6am on a Saturday to go to an investment banking career fair. Nobody else boarded the bus. So after 30 minutes of waiting, the bus driver drove me to his office and we switched to a Lincoln Town Car. He then privately chauffeured me 2.75 hours from Williamsburg, VA to Washington D.C. Even though William & Mary was a good school, it wasn’t a target school of any of the major investment banks. Therefore, I didn’t have a nice schedule of official interviews lined up.
At the career fair, I chatted with a bunch of firms, but nobody gave me the time of day. I remember a snobby Merrill Lynch recruiter looked me up and down said, ”Nobody will take you seriously.” She was making fun of my blue tie which had a pattern of a teddy bear holding a balloon. A loved one had given me the tie so I wasn’t going to take it off for no one.
The only company that invited me to meet for a real interview was Goldman Sachs. The recruiter, Kim Purkiss and I had a long and intimidating conversation where she peppered me about my thoughts on the economy, stock market, and Federal Reserve. I don’t think she smiled once. A month later, she invited me up to Super Day at their world headquarters in NYC, all expenses paid.
I was shocked because GS was the #1 bank to join back in 1998. The firm was still private, so it had this incredible mystique about it. All the candidates I met came from private schools like Harvard, Yale, and Columbia and boarding schools like Exeter and Andover. Nobody came from a public college or public high school like me.
55 interviews and seven rounds over seven months later, I finally got a written job offer to join the International Equities department as a Financial Analyst at 1 New York Plaza on the 49th floor. It took so long probably because they were unsure of whether hiring someone like me was a good idea. The interviews started on the derivatives desk, and after realizing I didn’t know a lick of derivative math, I moved on to the US trading floor and then finally to the Emerging Markets / Asian Equities desk where I actually had some experience having grown up in Asia for 13 years.
I got the job offer e-mail while I was visiting my girlfriend in Tokyo the month after I graduated from college with no job. I was hopeful Goldman would come through during commencement, but it still felt unsettling to graduate with no job offer after four years of studying. Perhaps subconsciously, getting my offer in Japan is why I named my site Financial Samurai.
I felt like I had won the lottery. In two years at GS (1999–2001), I gained a ton of knowledge and connections and parlayed my position into a higher position at another investment bank in San Francisco. I aggressively saved and invested ~70% of my after tax income for the next 11 years and left the workforce for good at the age of 34 in 2012 after negotiating a severance package worth six years of living expenses. I haven’t been back to work since.
I thank my lucky stars that my girlfriend at the time encouraged me to set my alarm at 5:15am after a late night of partying to get on that darn bus at 6am. She knew at least I could sleep on the bus ride up. I guess showing up really is half the battle!
My girlfriend is now my wife and we are full-time parents after the birth of our precious baby boy in 2017. Ever since that fateful Williamsburg morning, my life motto has always been: never fail due to a lack of effort, because effort requires no skill.
As I finish up this answer, I realize the best financial move I ever made was actually choosing the right life partner. She’s made all the difference in the world.
One Small Move Made All The Difference
At the time, it was really hard to imagine the benefits of going to a career fair because hardly anyone ever gets a job at a career fair. I knew it was just one big marketing opportunity for the companies to say how awesome they were without ever expecting to hire anybody there. The people they wanted to hire had been already contacted directly on campus. But I went anyway because I figured, you just never know.
When I started Financial Samurai in 2009, I had already been waffling for three years. In 2006 my dad had suggested I start a personal finance site since he knew I had a passion for finance and writing. But I was always too busy with work and didn’t think I had the energy or the ability to build something significant. When the financial crisis hit, however, I figured once again, you just never know.
Now I’m on my podcast journey because I want to build a huge library of audio content for my son to listen to just in case I pass away before he gets to really know me. Yes, it’s also a good opportunity to practice verbal communication and to tap new consumers who only consume via audio. In the past, I’ve only made a half-hearted attempt at podcasting. Since our son’s arrival, however, I’ve refocused and figured, best get going because you just never know.
It’s really impossible to predict how your life will end up. I hope everybody lives long and prospers. What’s certain is that if you do nothing out of the ordinary, nothing out of the ordinary will ever happen to you. Are you ready to get on that 6am bus? If not, we’ll talk about finding that life partner in a future episode.
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