This is Part 4 of the “How I Became a Millionaire at Age 30” series. For more details, please refer to the preceding sections of this story:
The remainder of this story will be easier for me to retell as 2012 marked the inception of this blog. Moving forward, I have the benefit of referencing any key events as needed, which are conveniently time capsuled in the archives section. 🙂
2012 marked Year 1 of my journey to early financial independence…
A Better Way (Start of 2012; Age 27)
Having finally come across the concept of early retirement and early financial independence in late November of 2011, I was convinced for the first time in my career that I had a solution to my seemingly never-ending string of life “problems”.
Previously, I was working the grind around the clock, and although I did earn high marks from my employer for my performance, I just never felt satisfied or fulfilled with my accomplishments. I knew that there must be more to life than work, and I was determined to find out what else was out there!
At long last, I had found my holy grail!
Once I discovered the red pill, suddenly a world of possibilities opened up for me. But because my newfound revelation came to me so late in the year, I figured it was best to delay the start of my early FI adventure until 2012… You could say that I treated this new type of lifestyle similar to how someone might view an attempt to begin a fresh diet or workout regimen… Best to hold it off until New Year’s when motivation to kick ass is sky-high! 😉
Prior to New Year’s, I put together this Powerpoint slide to pump myself up:
My journey to early FI officially began in 2012 when I made two declarations:
1) I purchased my first dividend growth stock — Walmart (WMT). I purchased 25 shares for $59.58/share. Passive income here we come!!!
2) I launched this blog in February. The first post was a very CHEESY “Work Benefits” post, or my first attempt at writing a version of “How to Save Money”. My original early FI target was set at 37.5!
Here is my first “real” post, which marked the inception of my journey.
I was now on my way!
Passive Income! (Early 2012; Age 27)
Throughout the beginning of 2012, I was a possessed man on a mission — passive income was the name of the game and I was hungry to win!
Thanks to Jacob and his Early Retirement Extreme (ERE) teachings, I knew that in order for me to get to financial freedom in a short period of time, I had to not only play strong offense, but I had to play even more aggressive defense.
We must protect this house! Or so I kept telling myself, constantly…
My day job paid me well, which gave me ample funds to invest with, but to really cement home the idea of ERE, I made it a personal goal to save between 70% to 80% of my after-tax income.
Here’s a monthly expense report from early 2012:
|Other / Fun||$75.50|
From the onset of my journey to early FI, it became evident to me that I absolutely had to cutdown on costs!!! Perhaps I took frugality to a whole new level (at least from what I was accustomed to), but I knew that anything worth having in life would not come easy… In other words:
If you aren’t willing to make sacrifices along the way, then don’t expect great things to happen!
Obviously, I took that message to heart… By saving 70%+ of my earned income each and every single month, I was able to supercharge my efforts towards building up my passive income stream.
Like clockwork, I was making periodic investments into my taxable trading account:
April 30, 2012
August 01, 2012
Baby steps. Nothing extraordinary was going on here… I just kept on saving and investing.
Saving and investing.
Over and over again.
Dividend growth investing (DGI) was becoming mightily addicting for me. Each dividend payout filled me with immense joy, and I could see with my very own eyes the fruits of my labor being repaid back to me.
Real Estate? (Early 2012; Age 27)
Up until the spring of 2012, the thought of investing in real estate had never really crossed my mind. In all honestly, I really did believe that my path to early FI would be achieved from dividend growth investing alone.
But as so often happens in life, plans change…
Throughout my stay in Orange County, I had always heard whispers from my co-workers, talking about refinancing their mortgages into “low rates”. Since I was not yet a real estate investor, I had no clue what that meant… However, when you start to hear the same thing over and over again, at some point, you take it upon yourself to do some investigative work.
I did my homework and asked around… Everyone I talked to said the same thing: “Investing in real estate is a good idea! Prices are dirt cheap right now!”
Here I was thinking that my path to salvation lied in dividends, but perhaps there was another route I should also consider? I’ve never been a binary thinker, so of course I was open to the idea of an alternative form of investing.
At the conclusion of 2011, I had about $70,000 saved up in my savings account, so I knew that I had more than enough funds to come up with a downpayment, should I decide to go down the real estate road…
In my spare time, I started looking at listings on Redfin and Zillow. Wow! I couldn’t believe how cheap properties were selling for! Since I grew up in the Bay Area, I knew that home prices were heavily discounted from where prices used to be prior to the subprime housing crash of 2008. By the start of 2012, housing prices were still very depressed. It almost felt like I was window shopping online and finding merchandise for 50% off, everywhere I looked!
Once I made up my mind to invest in real estate, I knew that I had to relocate back home to the Bay Area. For starters, I didn’t see myself living in Orange County long-term (job security/prospects weren’t as strong). Secondly, I thought investing in Bay Area real estate would be easier since I was more familiar with the neighborhoods and surrounding areas.
Just like that, I immediately approached my managers and told them that I wanted to relocate to the Bay Area. Luckily, the company that I was working for at the time also had a huge office in San Jose, so my request was almost instantly approved.
One week later, I packed all of my belongings into my cramped car and drove back home to the Bay Area… and I wasted no time in getting started with real estate investing.
After attending a few open house showings, speaking to a mortgage specialist, and observing my own brother succeeding with owning a rental property for positive cash flow, I was convinced more than ever that I needed to get in the game ASAP!
The First Property (Summer 2012; Age 27)
When I first started looking for my first investment property in May 2012, the housing market had just started to rebound.
I made a “not-so-aggressive” offer for a rental property and quickly learned how competitive things were becoming; as if overnight, everyone got a hold of the message that investment rental properties were cheap and worth buying up.
The race was on.
Open house after open house… Offer after offer… I kept on losing. Facebook had just IPO’d and Bay Area real estate was on fire!
I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t discouraged, but I kept on trying anyway. Finally, around the end of July, I had won my first property! I closed escrow in August for Rental Property #1!
I paid $315,000. The original listing price was about $250,000! There were over 20+ offers and I had originally lost the bid. However, the winner couldn’t secure financing so I had another crack at things. When I got hold of this news, my super-aggressive “shark-of-an-agent” helped me immediately put together an offer package to submit into the hands of the seller’s agent by early next morning. We got a verbal commitment from the seller probably before the other buyers’ agents even realized what had just happened!
So, you can say I was educated very early on in my real estate career: Time is of the essence! If you want to succeed in REI, you must learn to make haste!
Even though I knew absolutely nothing about being a landlord, my conservative cash flow numbers pointed to about $400 to $500 each month in passive income.
“That ought to turbocharge my early FI progress!” I declared victoriously.
To help matters even further, I secured a new job in August. Just like always, I did my best to negotiate for a bigger package: higher salary, RSUs, signing bonus, and stock options.
At this point, I’m sure readers can quickly deduce where my $10,000 signing bonus went to: funding more investments, of course!
Keep Grinding (Fall 2012; Age 28)
Even though I had just secured my first rental property, I kept my focus on dividend growth investing and kept on investing.
By the conclusion of September, I had reached a new milestone — My first $200 month in dividends collected!
Throughout the fall, many more good deals presented themselves, and I continued on with my buying spree, snatching up discounted shares of quality companies.
Here’s where my dividend portfolio stood at the end of November:
November 30, 2012
Year 1 of the journey to early FI was going extremely well; I was making terrific progress and piling it on with more and more investments. My passive income streams were growing and my motivation was off the charts. Not only was I successful in acquiring my first rental property, but I was also simultaneously building up a dividend growth portfolio.
Nonetheless, my gut feeling was telling me to get more aggressive with real estate investing. Winning the first property felt great, and after collecting a few months of rent checks, I just had a strong inkling that rental properties were more heavily discounted than stocks at this particular time. The surge was on in the Bay Area, but because the housing recovery had just started, I knew that it still had a ways to go…
In early November, I started throwing darts at the dartboard, hoping something would stick. Even though I had just depleted the majority of my savings account, I knew that I had growing equity in my stock portfolio… What’s the harm in looking around for another deal? The search was on for Rental Property #2!
What a Year! (Winter 2012; Age 28)
I took some time off of work in December and finally had a chance to reflect on everything that had happened…
What a year!
When 2012 first started, I had essentially no investments outside of my retirement accounts (401k and Roth IRA). By year’s end, I was sitting on a $60,000+ dividend portfolio and a rental property. I ended the year with my first ever $300 month collecting dividends!
Further, I had landed a higher-paying job and was having fun with a new hobby, blogging in my spare time.
Work, which had always been stressful for me, was starting to get a little easier. No longer was I pushing myself to the max and driving myself into the ground. Although I still worked extremely hard, the thought of retiring at 37.5 helped keep my morale up and spirits high. Early FI will do that for a person!
Maybe I even got a little carried away, because towards the end of the year I started having thoughts that I might be able to retire at age 32! 🙂
Overall, I must say that life was great! I had achieved more in 1 year than I had ever thought possible. The prospects for my future looked bright and this was all made possible by the lifestyle changes that I implemented at the start of the year: Invest consistently and save like a madman.
Early FI really wasn’t so complicated. If anything, all that was needed was a reframing of my mind. Once I figured out that there was more to life than just work, work, work all day long, I truly realized what it was that I wanted out of life. I knew when enough was enough.
The rest became easy.
And the best part? I knew that these results were just the beginning of things to come!
2012 Year End Net Worth:
Rental Property #1 Downpayment: $78,750
Roth IRA: $35,804.83
To be continued…