Part 1: How I Became a Millionaire at Age 30

by FI Fighter on July 10, 2015

in Progress, Thoughts

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Well, it eventually happened… As far back as I can remember, I’ve been dreaming about becoming a net worth millionaire since the tender age of 15, when I was bagging groceries at the Moffett Field Commissary in Mountain View for nothing more than customer tips. Some days I would walk out the door with $50 in cash… Other less fortunate days, I might grind it out for 8+ hours and have less than $20 to show for my efforts. Such can be the life of a poor high school student who is just embarking out into the real world for the first time and fighting for any morsel he can get.

Nevertheless, even as a young buck, I was not to be deterred. I was always willing to work hard, stay humble, and learn from my mistakes. Even way back then, I just always had a feeling that better days awaited in the future…

I’ll never forget this life-changing event (which I still use as motivation from time-to-time). I had just gotten chewed out from a supervisor, and was in a rather foul mood. I was helping a customer carry-out groceries to her car, when she asked me:

“How old are you?”

“15,” I replied.

“My gosh you are so young… And you’re already working so hard. You will go far in life…”

That was it.

But for whatever reason, those words stuck with me… And whenever times get tough, I always make sure to think back to that encounter, and I replay that conversation in my head… over and over again.

At some point, most people will reach a point in life where they feel as though they have plateaued… and can strive for no more. Whenever that happens to me, what I like to do is recall the days of my youth, because in that particular encapsulated moment in time, the sky really was the limit. Even a stranger managed to observe a tremendous amount of untapped potential in me… So who was I to not also believe in myself and my abilities?

Perseverance and hard work played a role in helping me get to where I am today. The most instrumental component of all, though, was belief.

I was able to become a millionaire at age 30 because I always kept believing in myself.

Here’s how the story goes…

High School Years (1999-2003; Age 15-18)

I wasn’t the smartest or brightest kid. Although I worked hard in high school, my efforts were channeled elsewhere, away from traditional academia. As mentioned above, I was interested in making money, so I gladly traded in weekends to earn some extra cash on the side. When it came to my studies, I didn’t have the same drive and motivation.

Far from it.

I enjoyed less than half of my classes, and my mind just never meshed with the concept of a semester system where you had to do pointless homework assignments everynight (gosh how grueling and boring) and get graded on closed-book multiple choice exams that basically only proved how well your short-term memory worked.

We were reading novels that took place in the Middle Ages… Trying to remember every country (and capital) on the globe… And to this day I still don’t know how Geometry works…

There was little teamwork or collaboration. Worst of all, I just never felt like I had an opportunity to be creative and expressive. Ingenuity wasn’t encouraged… but mindless rote memorization was rewarded.

Ultimately, I didn’t feel like the lesson plans were preparing me in any way, shape, or form, for the real world (which I was sort of experiencing to a greater degree through bagging groceries on the weekends). I wasn’t learning anything I deemed “useful” in school. And I didn’t believe the real world worked in such a closed-minded, linear fashion…

So, I essentially gave up… and did very poorly in high school. My grades were mediocre and not anywhere close to good enough to get me into any prestigious universities.

Still, I kept on believing… and I never conceded for one second that my report card gave a true reflection of my potential or capabilities. After all, I was keeping plenty busy and had a bunch of extracurricular interests (hobbies) that kept me engaged.

I was growing and challenging myself… It just so happened to occur outside the confines of the school system.

Somehow, I always knew that my future would amount to more than my sub 3.0 GPA would otherwise suggest…

Nevertheless, the proof was in the pudding, and I was having a difficult time escaping from “reality”. Another conversation I will never forget occurred during the last week of senior year between a close friend and myself:

“Bro, I don’t know what you’re doing with your life. If you would just shape up a little, maybe you can transfer to UC Davis in a few years and join me up there.”

“That’s a possibility,” I replied.

“Do you even know what you want to study?”

“Sure, engineering…” I declared confidently.

“Naw man, you can’t do that,” my friend scoffed.

“Why not?”

“Because… you ain’t that smart.”

Talk about receiving a major gut-check. My own buddy didn’t believe in me… Just like the school system, he thought my odds of succeeding in the real-world were slim-to-none.

If you would have taken a poll back in 2003 on which high school student from my graduating class was most likely to becoming a millionaire in the future, I’m pretty certain I would have posted in the bottom 10% of polls…

Extra motivation (especially when you’re young and full of energy) is never a bad thing!

College Years (2003-2007; Age 18-22)

This forced me to take the path of least resistance and one which would turn out to be a major blessing in disguise in helping me become a net worth millionaire at age 30:

I attended a local community college for 2 years to help rehabilitate my academic career.

Little did I know at the time, but this decision would turn out to be one of the best ones that I have ever made in my life. By attending community college, I was able to shut out all the noise and purely concentrate. Basically, I was living in isolation and solitude. Which is exactly what a “slacker” like me needed at this point in my life.

There were no parties. No old friends to distract me. No college football games to attend to. Nothing.

I was there to focus on my studies. Period.

And to this day, I’ve probably not worked as hard as I did back in those early community college days… In a span of 2 years, I managed to force myself to finally understand math and worked my way up from: Pre-Calculus to Calculus I, to Calculus II, to Calculus III, to Differential Equations, to Linear Algebra, to Discrete Math, etc., etc…

Strangely enough, each subsequent course got easier and easier… For anyone who thinks it’s too late to learn a new skill, there’s my proof that it wasn’t. While my peers were starting out college taking Calculus II or Calculus III, I was starting from SCRATCH (essentially) and repeating Pre-Calculus, which I had already “passed” during my junior year in high school… That is, I earned a passing mark in my high school course, but I had no real comprehension for the subject material.

Even better, by forgoing the conventional path, I ended up saving a boatload on tuition in the process. Back in 2003, community college tuition was dirt cheap. I mean DIRT CHEAT! Further, because I came from a poor family, I qualified for FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). So, in the end, the government actually ended up paying me money to go to school! After cashing the FAFSA checks, I would typically still have enough left over (after tuition) for discretionary spending (or play) money.

Also, I continued to live at home, so rent was nil as well… Looking back, I saved a TON of cash by going the community college route.

After 2 years, I finished with about a 3.7 GPA and was able to successfully transfer into my dream school: UC Berkeley (poor kids like me don’t grow up dreaming about attending prestigious schools like Stanford Stanfurd!). I was accepted into a dual-major engineering program.

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Prior to last semester grades

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Throughout my time at UC Berkeley, I again focused solely on academics. It was no small feat taking 4-5 engineering courses every semester, but I had to do what I had to do… In hindsight, I do regret going the double major route because it was too grueling for someone like me… I had to sacrifice big time on my social life to make ends meet… I really did get my ass handed to me while I was at UC Berkeley… I am not going to lie.

It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination…

Before the start of my senior year in the fall of 2006, on advice from my brother, I opened my first investment account — Roth IRA. I invested $3,000 to get started. It was basically “set it and forget it” after this initial move since I was 100% focused on my studies.

Finally, all the hard work paid off. Ultimately, I did finally graduate college in 2007… with some debt, but it was a very small amount since I only had to pay for 2 years of “real” college education. Similar to junior college, I again qualified for FAFSA while at UC Berkeley, so my expenses were mostly confined to rent and living expenses.

I saved on rent by living with roommates every semester… I never had my own room. And believe me, I ate CHEAP! We are talking about typical college food here: ramen noodles, Eggo waffles, $1 menu from Jack in the Box, dorm food, etc.. I took public transportation when I needed to get around, and borrowed my old roommate’s car on more than a few occasions…

Because I had saved so much money while I was bagging groceries for 4 years in high school, I was in essence able to graduate from college with a clean slate and no debt… Which is almost unheard of these days.

But despite my thrifty ways, by the summer of 2007, I still managed to end up in the EXACT same place as the rest of my peers — I graduated college with a dual-major degree in engineering at a top-tier university in 4 years.

I screwed up massively in high school, but worked my tail off to recover.

I committed myself to this all-encompassing goal of graduating from college. I worked really hard. I continued to believe in myself, despite any haters. I was all in.

It can be done.

Again, the best part of all — I graduated college with ZERO debt!

 

To be continued…

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dividend Growth InvestorNo Gravatar July 10, 2015 at 9:40 am

Great story FIF. You were ahead of most other peers in 2007, since you had no debt to hold you back. I am looking forward to hearing about the other installments of those series.

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2 FI FighterNo Gravatar July 12, 2015 at 9:32 am

DGI,

Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the post. Starting out my career with essentially no debt really did make things a lot easier for me. I was able to save money and start investing almost from the start.

I’m also looking forward to writing the next chapters in this story.

All the best!

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3 Adam @ AdamChudy.comNo Gravatar July 10, 2015 at 10:02 am

Awesome story. I’ve been doing a series on graduating college for $10k and 2 years at a community college is high on the strategy list.

Not to mention, CONGRATS on 30 year old millionaire status. That real estate has paid huge dividends.

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4 FI FighterNo Gravatar July 12, 2015 at 9:34 am

Adam,

Community college is a great route and alternative for many out there who have dreams of graduating from a university. As is so often stated, it’s not where you start, but where you finish that matters…

Thanks! Appreciate the support. Real estate has been very kind to me; Like many others, I love it! 🙂

All the best!

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5 TawcanNo Gravatar July 10, 2015 at 11:35 am

Great story, graduating college without debt must have pave your financial life quite well. Can’t wait to hear the rest of the story and how you got into real estate.

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6 FI FighterNo Gravatar July 12, 2015 at 9:35 am

Tawcan,

Yes, definitely. Graduating without much debt made life infinitely easier for me. I know far too many people who are to this day still paying down student loans…

It was never my intention, but it seems to have worked out well.

Take care!

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7 Debt HaterNo Gravatar July 10, 2015 at 1:25 pm

Cool story 🙂 Was nice to see how you were able to turn it around and were even able to graduate completely debt free. That gives you a huge head start out of college, especially with you new found motivation. Sounds like you were never really a “slacker”, you just needed something that seemed worth doing.

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8 FI FighterNo Gravatar July 12, 2015 at 9:37 am

Debt Hater,

Yeah, I really just needed a kick in the pants and I got that at community college. Once I realized all my friends were gone and away doing “bigger and better things”, I kind of realized that I didn’t want to get left behind in the dust… That I wanted to make something of myself and that time was running out and I had to make changes NOW.

Getting away from noise, distractions, and other influences was exactly what I needed at that point in my life. Once I got that, it became so much easier to focus and concentrate.

I’ve been going full force with my life since then…

All the best!

Reply

9 No Nonsense LandlordNo Gravatar July 11, 2015 at 4:45 am

Now, just turn that million into a liquid million, or something that generates a 10%+ return.

Once you start to get enough to live on, worry free, having a million is nothing. Whether it is $1, or $100M, the cash flow will be what makes the plan work.

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10 FI FighterNo Gravatar July 12, 2015 at 9:39 am

Eric,

Yup, that’s definitely the plan… Unfortunately, the plan does take some time to work and I can’t say I have all the answers right now…

Earning 10% return on Bay Area real estate would be a dream… That’s pretty unrealistic right now, so I’ll have to patiently wait for rents to catch up over the years…

But I most definitely agree — cash flow is the name of the game.

I’m just going to need to be patient and find a way to convert net worth to cash flow over time.

Take care!

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11 Midwestern LandlordNo Gravatar July 11, 2015 at 10:24 am

You have made a lot of progress at a young age and should be proud of yourself. The action you took is going to serve you well in the future. I agree with No Nonsense Landlord, the key now is to generate enough monthly income from your nest egg to never have to work again.

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12 FI FighterNo Gravatar July 12, 2015 at 9:42 am

Midwestern Landlord,

Thanks! Appreciate the support.

In regards to cash flow, that’s definitely the underlying goal for me. I realize net worth is just paper gains and it doesn’t pay the bills… With that said, it’s just merely an indicator to me that the markets are up and my investments have become more valuable.

The challenge now will be in figuring out how to generate more income from these assets… For the low yielding ones, it may just very well be time to sell…

I very much believe in the saying — buy low and sell high.

I just wish real estate wasn’t so illiquid and there weren’t so many expenses involved with selling… That’s what is making this more difficult than it ought to be. But it’s a lot easier with stocks, and I have begun liquidating most of my holdings.

Next round, I definitely want to focus much more heavily on cash flow!

All the best!

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13 orlandoNo Gravatar July 11, 2015 at 1:06 pm

Man you sound just like me. I started working at burger king when i was 15 and they take me to the office and say your the best worker here we want to give you a raise of 25 cents!!!!! a Freaking QUARTER! thats when it hit me as long as i work this hard at future jobs that 25 cent raise will eventually be a $25,000 raise!! I graduated high school with a 2.4 GPA they told me i couldnt attend college so i did a summer bridge program worked my butt off went straight to CSUN graduated in 4 years with a GPA of 3.2!!! Now im an aerospace engineer and travel the world for my company all because like you said I never stopped working my tail off im respectful to everyone i meet and most of all I Believe in myself and even now at 27 THE SKY IS THE LIMIT!! THANK YOU and CONGRATS ON never letting the haters beat you with people like me and you the Haters will never win!

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14 NunoNo Gravatar July 11, 2015 at 3:51 pm

Awesome story! Truly inspiring! Thanks for sharing!

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15 Dividend HustlerNo Gravatar July 11, 2015 at 8:24 pm

Thanks for sharing the amazing story FIF. I’m proud of you for overcoming most obstacles and did your best and continued to hustle it up. Believing in yourself is key and self esteem is something I value deeply. I’m glad you are where you are now because of your hard work and you deserve everything wonderful in your life. You did this and you’re net worth is an example of your determination. Don’t stop and like the lady telling you that unforgettable quote, I’m telling you again, and now… You’re only 30 and you’re accomplish many more goals to come.
Take care and Cheers to us!!

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16 KaiNo Gravatar July 12, 2015 at 12:48 am

FI Fighter…your posts always get me fired up to claw and struggle towards early financial independence, but this one especially has me excited…maybe because I’m a huge nerd and love origin stories? Looking forward to part II!

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17 All About InterestNo Gravatar July 12, 2015 at 11:05 am

Thanks for sharing your motivational story. You’ve worked hard to get where you are. Congratulations!

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18 SavvyFinancialLatinaNo Gravatar July 12, 2015 at 5:29 pm

You did a great job! Thanks for sharing. 🙂 Community college is a good way to not go into debt. My brother is going that route and will the transfer to a 4 yr school.

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19 Easy Does It FINo Gravatar July 16, 2015 at 7:27 am

Nice intro and interesting defining moment. It’s another validation of some psychology work coming out of Stanford.
http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/lifestyle/2012/02/why-you-shouldnt-tell-your-kids-theyre-smart/

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20 Uncle Cheese-itNo Gravatar August 3, 2015 at 3:47 pm

Hi Fi Fighter
great story, I’m passed 30 (and not a millionaire). I just wish I were exposed to stories like yours earlier. But it’s never too late. I have a plan to reach FI in 5 years from now. So thanks for all the inspiration and practical suggestions!

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