Financial Black Belt Interview – 8th Great Wonder

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Being a black belt in finance means to have a net worth of a million dollars.

Just like a martial arts dojo, Your Money Geek is a place where we can learn about personal finance and eventually become financial black belts ourselves. In this series, we get to hear the stories of actual millionaires and see what it took for them to get to that level.

Today’s guest is choosing to remain anonymous, but you can check they’re blog out at 8thgreatwonder.com. 8th Great Wonder is 40, from Boston, and is married. They became a financial black belt at age 37.

Now for the interview:

What degree black belt are you? (e.g. one million = first degree, two million = second degree). 

First degree. It'll be a few years before I make it to second degree but I hope to get there.

Give us the break down on your current net worth. What is it invested in and do you have any debt? 

I have about $800k in financial assets consisting mostly of index mutual funds and a few active funds. I'd say I'm about 75% equities and 25% Fixed Income and Other securities. 

I also have about $400k in home equity and another $70k in a college savings account for my daughter. I have about $375k left on my mortgage. The house is worth about $775k.

Your story

How was your childhood? Was your family wealthy, middle class or low-income? 

We were very middle class. My parents were teachers and while we had a house in a nice town, it always seemed like we never had enough money to do anything extra like take a vacation or spend on a non-necessity. 

It bothered me that we seemed to have no breathing room financially and I wanted something different when I grew up.

Did you go to college? 

Yes, I have a bachelor’s degree and an MBA, and I'm currently working towards becoming a certified financial instructor.

What is your fighting style? (Career path from first dollar ever made to present). 

I've worked in corporate financial planning and analysis my whole career. I started as a financial analyst and have held roles such as Finance Director and Controller throughout the years. 

I primarily advise executives on financial matters. I hope to pivot my career out of corporate and into personal finance where I can help individuals manage their financial lives.

Would you recommend people to pursue the same career path? Would you choose a different job if you could go back? 

I think my career aligned very closely with my skills so I wouldn't necessarily change anything. It's a great career path for someone who enjoys finance and wants to work in corporate America. 

But at the end of the day, it's still corporate America with all its politics and time-wasting. You have to be willing to take the bad with the good so choose wisely.

Have you had any side hustles? 

Yes. I have a blog at www.8thgreatwonder.com and I'm starting a personal financial coaching business. Anyone can contact me through my blog for coaching!

If you have a spouse, how have they contributed to your net worth? 

I have a wife and she works and contributes to our net worth, but is less obsessed with financial matters than I am.

At what age did you start seriously saving money? 

22. My finance education opened my eyes to how powerful investing can be. So I started saving with my first paychecks even though they were small.

What has been your investment strategy? 

I never stopped plowing money into my investment accounts no matter how scary the economy became. So continuous investment was important. I also automated my investments so I wouldn't forget to do it. 

And I started early. I also purchased my first piece of real estate at 25 and never paid rent to anyone during my adult life. I'd advise people to never panic and stick to the process year after year. Sometimes when you plant seeds, you wake up one day and realize you have a tree.

Who was your financial sensei? (Most influential person/source of information in your financial life). 

Books are my sensei. While I don't agree with all of his concepts, Robert Kiyosaki's Rich Dad Poor Dad literally changed my financial life. 

I read it when I was about 22 and it completely changed how I thought about money.

Are you pursuing FIRE (financial independence/retire early)? If so, how much money do you plan to retire on and are you going to quit working for money altogether? *

I'm pursuing my version of FIRE. I'd like to FIRE out of the corporate world soon, but continue to work in other ways, most likely by coaching people and becoming a more active investor. 

I don't have a retirement number but I'd expect my financial assets to be around $1.5M when I'm in my early 50s.

Mind over matter

Do you think psychology plays a more important role than math with finances? 

Oh yes. Psychology and more specifically will power. I think math is about 20% of finances and the rest is psychological. A lot of people don't realize that financial decisions shouldn't be made solely on math. 

You need to do things like protecting yourself from your future self, and sometimes that requires making the decisions that don’t have the most immediate benefit mathematically.

What was your toughest mental opponent on the path to your black belt? 

It's very hard to be successful at something and have nobody notice. We all like to be respected or at least get a pat on the back when we achieve something, but that doesn't happen to a wealth builder. A wealth builder is successful by not buying the status symbols that society associates with wealth, so most of us look like average joes. 

I know people with fancy cars and houses, and society sees them as being financially successful. In reality, I'm likely more financially successful than them but no one knows it. People assume because my car is old that I must not have a lot of money. In reality, I have a lot of money because my car is old.

There are a lot more financial white belts than black belts out there. How do you think differently than the average person when it comes to money? 

I've always looked at my income and said: “how much of this can I invest”. Most people say “what can I buy with this”. And that's the fundamental difference between the middle class and upper class. Middle-class people will get a raise and think the word raise means to raise their standard of living with a nicer car, house or whatever. 

The upper class will look to raise the amount they invest each month. That one shift in mindset is worth millions. Unfortunately, most people won't do it. It sounds too hard for them, so they go to work every day to barely get by, never retire, and struggle financially their whole lives. To me, that sounds harder.

What does wealth mean to you? Should everyone pursue it? 

Wealth equals options. The option to choose a different career, whether to work or not work, the ability to give and decide who to help. Unfortunately, we've created this wealth is bad mentality, but like anything else, it's how you use it. 

A hammer is good if I build a house but bad if I hit you over the head with it. Wealth is the same way. And if you use it in the right way it gives you options to lead your life in the best way possible, and that can benefit you and the world around you. I think options are good for everyone so I don't see any reason not to pursue it.

Should people follow their passions or just do something practical? 

Both. I know that sounds like a cheap answer but I think people need to see where their passions intersect with job opportunities. If all you like to do is play video games, there's no future in that, but maybe you can train to be a developer for video games and apps. 

That would be a better choice than becoming an accountant just because there are job opportunities. So find a way to strike that balance.

Bonus round

What is your weapon of choice? (favorite money tool/app) 

Hands down Microsoft excel. Man's greatest invention since compounding interest.

What has been your favorite way to earn money? 

Simple, boring investing in mutual funds because it makes money for me whether I work or not.

What’s your favorite way to use money? 

Spending on things that improve my quality of life. I'm excited about a recent air conditioner purchase and am looking forward to splurging on heated seats on my next car (but not until I run this one into the ground).

What’s your one piece of money advice to us financial underbelts? 

Live on way less than you earn and invest the difference. It's really that simple.

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