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 featured black belt is a fellow blogger who goes by Cubert (not their real name because they want to remain anonymous) and blogs over at Abandoned Cubicle. Cubert is 43, married, and lives in the upper midwest.

Now for the interview:

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

I’m a first degree black belt, about halfway to second degree.

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

Roughly half is real estate holdings, which includes our house, plus five rental properties. 20% is my wife’s practice, and the rest is index fund investments, mainly with my 401K.

Your story

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

Childhood was smack in the middle of the middle class. We weren’t wanting for anything, but we never took fancy vacations and rarely ate out at restaurants. Both my parents worked in blue collar jobs. We were lucky to get a little help from my grandparents when small crises arose.

Did you go to college?

I did go to college and got my four-year degree, then later my MBA while working.

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

I’d say my style is “set it and forget it”. I created a snowball of 401K wealth by listening to the advice given at my very first job about the importance of putting as much as one can into a retirement account, as early as possible. I was only able to contribute 8% back then, but over time, my 401K grew to a healthy figure. My annual pay has grown nearly 10X since my first gig out of college. It pays to get your MBA even if it means taking on more debt and more work, while you’re working!

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

I enjoy the income that the technology field offers, but there is quite a bit of uncertainty you have to live with. Being in the medical or health care fields might be better if you’re able to truly help others and on the plus, it’s a profession that’ll always be in demand.

Have you had any side hustles?

Real estate investing and blogging are my current ones.

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

She’s got a growing practice that’s definitely contributed solidly to our net worth. Early on it was all investment, but now it’s healthy returns!

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

Tough to say. I’ve always been keen on tracking my spend with a budget spreadsheet. I suppose I’ve never been a fan of debts and always work hard to pay them off. My financial awakening occurred at 40 – when I discovered Mr. Money Mustache’s (MMM) blog.

At what age did you start seriously saving money?

Right around 40 – when I started learning from MMM

What has been your investment strategy?

Keep it simple! I am a fan of index funds with low load. Stick with Vanguard. And I fully invest in our HSA – putting all the extra into index funds there too. But overall, I prefer to diversify with real estate. 50% in roofs, 50% in the market.

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

I would have to say Mr. Money Mustache. I got so much out of every post that our lifestyle quickly took a 180 overnight. The simple math behind early retirement is the most compelling read of all!

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 would say “yes”, though if you read my blog, you’d wonder about that sometimes. We’ll see what the next 12 or so months yield for any big decisions there…

Mind over matter

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

I think it’s equal parts. You’ve got to find a healthy balance. You can’t be so cheap that you deprive yourself and others. Money is a tool to be used. And other the other hand, you can’t go on shopping sprees every Saturday at the mall. Math is undoubtedly a huge component all that said. Compounding interest is the formula for wealth! (That and a good accountant!)

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

Having kids. 🙂

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’m fortunate that growing up money was always an issue. We lived comfortably, but my parents always fought about money. So I have an attitude that to avoid conflict, I should not let a lack of money enter into my relationship with my wife. Fortunately, my wife is a pretty frugal person too, so we click pretty well on the money front.

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

It means not having to worry about money, especially when there are so many other things in the world to worry about! Remove the money “clouds” – it’s a huge win if you can.

Should people follow their passions or just do something practical?

Work is work. But work shouldn’t be a cause or instigator for depression or bad health. Or relationship stress. Find something that’s a good use of your talents and excel at it. Your passions don’t have to be limited to your work life. You can also pursue those outside of the office.

Bonus round

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

Excel! And any online compounding interest calculator.

What has been your favorite way to earn money?

Real estate rentals, all the way.

What’s your favorite way to use money?

Probably making upgrades to our home and rentals.

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

Let time be your ally. Read my post about the Millionaire Decade for details.