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 Carlos from CommonCoreMoney.com. Carlos is 42, married, and lives in Oceanside, CA. He was able to become a millionaire early in life working in the education system!

Now for the interview:

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

1st degree.

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

Assets:

Real estate portfolio that includes four rental properties and personal residence: $1,115,000.0

Equities portfolio that includes both publicly traded and non-publicly traded stock: $36,000.0

Annuity that holds Vanguard's Total Stock Market Index Fund, and Total Bond Market Index Fund at 65%, 35%, respectively: $42,500.0

Cash savings:  $5,000.0

Total Assets: Approximately $1.2 million

Total Debt: 

$9,000 roof solar panels

Car loan: $17,500

Credit Card: $350

Total, Non-Real Estate, Debt: $26,850 

Your Story

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

I was born in Delicias, Chihuahua, Mexico, a small city about 1.5 hours from the state capital, Chihuahua, in northern Mexico.  My father traveled to the U.S. off and on between 1980-83 to make money to help our family make ends meet. We lived in a one-bedroom house.  

The entire family immigrated to San Jose, CA in the summer of 1983, and we moved into a one-bedroom apartment.  We were a low-income, financially struggling family, but with a hard work ethic like many immigrant families. Eventually, we got to “move on up” into a duplex with two bedrooms!  I got to sleep in my own room…the garage!

My father would often take me to labor with him, doing odd jobs around the Bay Area.  I didn't like cleaning, landscaping, building, painting, etc., on my weekends. But the moments I spent doing this had a lasting effect to this day!

Did you go to college? 

Yes, I went to both UC Santa Barbara and San Jose State.  Being a teacher in a high poverty area in East San Jose got me $15K of my student loans paid off!  I paid the remaining $15K in less than 10 years. 

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

I became a teacher at 24 years old but my strategy for making more money as an educator became going back to school to earn a second masters degree and a credential to be a school administrator.  

I was an Assistant Principal of a high school (more money paid than lower grades) by the time I was 28.  I spent 10 years in this capacity, putting all that extra money to work. Most educators wait to become administrators mid-career or even late-career.  This is a mistake financially. 

All your formative years should be spent making as much income as possible to fully utilize the compounding effect.  Teachers can learn how to be financially savvy with respect to their profession by getting themselves a copy of my eBook

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

I would recommend people to pursue the same career path, especially if they're ambitious.  If I could go back I would choose to be an engineer. I lived in San Jose and would've been Johnny on the Spot to have joined Google early on. Plus I've always liked business and tech.

Have you had any side hustles? 

Off and on I've been a freelancer as a writer for education and personal finance sites.  I've housed hacked, and still rent one room in my home! At one point I rented three out.  This is when I was single.

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

My wife dabbled in network marketing for ten years while working as a dental assistant.  She then left dental assisting to become a stay-at-home mother full-time. Now that the kids are in elementary, my wife works as a real estate agent and her business is kicking in serious money now.  

She's been at it for about 10 months. We will be using her money to pay off our debt and to save for the next recession so we can scoop up more rental properties at bargain prices.

How old were you when you became a financial black belt? 

I was 36 years old.

At what age did you start seriously saving money? 

I don't believe in “seriously saving money.”  I put most of my money to work. If there is ever an emergency, I'll liquidate stock or temporarily use my credit cards until the cash is available, i.e., liquid.

What has been your investment strategy? 

My best investment strategy has been to buy cash-flowing rental properties.  In addition to the extra monthly income I get to pad my teacher salary, I also get to use the expenses from this real estate business to deduct from my wages at year's end. 

My teacher’s salary is $99K right now and without these deductions, I'd be tax at over 20%. But with these deductions, my effective state tax rate is between 13-15%! Taxes are killer.

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

Robert Kiyosaki.

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? 

No, I love what I do.  I don't plan on retiring early.  Most likely I'll retire when I'm between 56 and 59 years-old.  I'll have my state teachers retirement pension plus all my rental property income coming in, annuity money as well.  So I figure I'll have about 2.5 million in net worth by then.M

Mind Over Matter

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

100% yes!  If you think like you're poor instead of broke, you'll live like you're poor instead of broke.  I've read over 100 books on success mindset and personal finance. While the knowledge from the personal finance books gave me the “how,” the success mindset books gave me the “why.”  

My side goal as an educator has been to inspire teens to be success minded.  To this end, I wrote what I consider a one of a kind book for teens. It can be found here

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

My toughest mental opponent was living with anxiety and depression.  I didn't get help until my late 20s! Though it didn't curtail my career advancement, it did impact my social life and investing risk-taking.  If I had these ailments under control sooner I'd probably be at 2 million in net worth today.

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? 

What I see is opportunity.  I see it everywhere. I even see it in my sleep.  Most people see roadblocks the way I see opportunity.  They also wait for the roadblocks to be removed by someone or something.  In contrast, I attack my roadblocks and remove them myself. So the path to money is paved. 

 It's not necessarily smooth, so you have to be willing to build your own bridges along gaps, jackhammer boulders in the way, fill in any potholes, and not allow anyone or anything to get in your way…including yourself! 

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

Wealth is synonymous with legacy to me.  Wealth means leaving this world with something to offer to my children and to others.  Everyone should pursue wealth to be able to help themselves, their family, and especially others on this planet.

Should people follow their passions or just do something practical? 

Both. People should attempt to follow their passion and if need be, do something practical until they can connect with their passion.

Bonus Round

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

My brain.  No app or tool is needed when you can think critically and can analyze numbers.

What has been your favorite way to earn money? 

My favorite way to earn money has been passively.  Book sales from my books on Amazon, plus monthly rental income that I didn't have to do anything to earn.

What’s your favorite way to use money? 

I enjoy using my money the most to eat out with my wife, and my family.  Vacations would be next. 

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

Do yourself a favor and learn more about yourself.  Knowing yourself as much as possible will make you the most money in your lifetime because you'll prevent yourself from losing it as often as you may be doing today.

About the Author

Nathan Clarke

Nathan has been a personal finance writer since early 2018. He and his wife reached a net worth of one hundred thousand at the age of 25 and are on their way to financial independence. His favorite way to make money is selling things on eBay and has grown his eBay business to earn five figures selling part-time. He loves sharing what he learns about finance and any eBay tips he comes across. If you’re interested in becoming an eBay seller, check out his reseller Facebook group.

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