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 an anonymous blogger writes over at AMillionaireNextDoor.com. He’s 49, married, and became a financial black belt at age 36.

Now for the interview:

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

I'm currently at the 4th degree level.

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

IRAs: $3.1M

Real Estate: $800k (primary residence, two rental homes – all paid off)

Cash: $100k

529: $60k

Music Royalties: $50k

Debt: $0

Your story

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

I grew up in an affluent household; however, my mom did an excellent job of shielding it and practicing frugality to the point I thought we were middle class.  We owned a family woodworking business that my great-grandfather started in the early 1900s.

My dad took over the family business when I was a young child and aggressively grew it 4X over a 10 year period.  However, he was too aggressive, full of risks and debt. Long story short, by the time I was 16, the family business went bankrupt.

I went from living in a large five-bedroom house to living in a two-bedroom apartment in my mid-teens. This experience heavily influenced me in a positive way: save, invest, minimize risk.

Did you go to college? 

I attended Purdue University, a public college in Indiana.  I got a BS in Engineering in 1993. Later, I attended Butler University, a small private college in Indianapolis, where I got my MBA in Finance in 2004.  I got the MBA going part-time at night over a five-year period that my employer at the time paid for.

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

I am a natural saver.  Even before the fall of our family business in my teens, I enjoyed saving money.  I liked the feeling it gave me knowing it was there and available should I need it. I started my first business at age 12 (lawn mowing).  Even though I could have asked my parents for money, I enjoyed earning my own and paying for things out of my own pocket.

My family instilled a strong work ethic in me that has served me well my entire life and working career.  Hard work is free and I have been willing to do whatever to achieve my goals. 

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

I knew I wanted to be an engineer since age 14.  I was very mathematical and analytical growing up.  Engineering has provided me an excellent career. It has served me well in my investing and business ventures as it is rooted in analytical thinking and problem-solving.  Investing and business require both skills.

I also knew at age 19 when I wrote down my life goals that I wanted an MBA and I wanted someone else to pay for it.  I felt the MBA was a win-win. It would help me advance my career in corporate America and at the same time give me skills in investing and money management outside of my 9-5.  Now 15 years after getting the MBA, I can attest both are true.  

Education is very important but not a prerequisite for success in life.  I know a lot of very highly educated people who barely get by financially, one has a PhD.  We are who we are by the choices we make and our work ethic. I have another friend who has no college degree, grew up in a trailer in Tennessee, yet is a multi-millionaire today.  He's “common sense” smart and has a strong work ethic.  

There is no cookie-cutter formula for a career.  Each person has their own passions and skillsets.  The key is to choose a career that maximizes both. 

Have you had any side hustles? 

My primary side hustle is real estate investing.  At its peak, I had four rental houses. All were paid off.  My cash flow was more than most people make in a full-time job.  Currently, I have two rentals as I have sold off two for solid profits.  The first one, which I acquired via online auction (bank foreclosure), sold when the tenant who was on a lease-to-own contract bought it from me. 

The other rental I recently sold had been a personal weekend lakehouse that I converted to a rental.  It was not a great rental due to maintenance upkeep. The real estate market was hot this past year so I listed it to see what I could get.  It sold in four days for cash for $20k more than I expected.

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

Absolutely. We have the same mindset.  We manage our finances closely and both are frugal.  This is very important for anyone chasing financial independence.  Your partner must be on the same page.

At what age did you start seriously saving money? 

I started saving in my mid-20s.

What has been your investment strategy? 

Pay yourself first!  I became a millionaire not because I make a lot of money but because I invested so much of my income over time: 401k, IRA, and low fee mutual funds. In my 20s and 30s, many times there was more month than money.  I was forcing myself to be broke to become rich. It was years later after becoming a millionaire by paying myself first that I also became a real estate millionaire.

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

Tony Robbins and Thomas Stanley.  Reading books in my mid 20s changed everything, especially Awaken The Giant Within and The Millionaire Next Door.

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 do not consider myself part of the FIRE movement but I do plan to retire in my mid 50s.  I will always have side hustles, real estate investing and engineering consulting. 

Mind over matter

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

Both are very important.  Being an engineer and analytical thinker, I was able to prove mathematically that becoming a millionaire by 40 was possible when I was in my mid-20s by paying myself first.  However, psychologically I had to train my mind by reading books and listening to tapes (yes, in the 1990s we had cassette tapes). 

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

Patience!  When I was 19, I set a goal to be a millionaire by 30.  In my mid 20s, I had to change my mindset (as noted in the psychology question) and change my plan as I was not on pace to reach this goal by 30.  It took me until 36.

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? 

Money to me is a tool.  It is a game. It's not a real thing.  I don't get attached to money. Idle money loses value.  I am always exploring and pursuing ways to make the most out of every single dollar.  I manage and monitor every single dollar that comes in. 

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

Wealth to me is peace of mind.  I love the quote by Paul Stanley of KISS: “…all money makes possible is for you to stop worrying about money…”  I have been enamored with money since I was a kid. It is so intriguing. I am amazed at how many people either don't care about accumulating wealth or have just given up.  Pursuing wealth is not for everyone. I have a quote: “Anyone can be a millionaire but not everyone can be a millionaire!”

Should people follow their passions or just do something practical? 

Both!  I have done both.  I am good at Engineering but I am passionate about investing.  The practical (engineering career) creates an opportunity for me to pursue my passion (investing).  Eventually, I will only focus on my passion (investing) when I retire from engineering.

Bonus round

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

My own excel sheet!  I created it over 20 years ago and use it every day.  Simple.

What has been your favorite way to earn money? 

Music royalty investing.  I am passionate about music.  To earn money from songs I enjoy is very cool.  I own the royalties to various rock songs, classic rock songs, R&B songs, hip/hop songs, and pop songs.  No country songs (yet). 

What’s your favorite way to use money? 

Helping others.  I have helped a good friend buy a house, another friend buy a car, a family member with medical treatment, and yet another friend go back to college in their 40s. 

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

Spend less than you make and pay yourself first!

Last Updated on May 29, 2020 by Nathan Clarke