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 remaining anonymous, so I'm referring to them as SR Dollar. SR is 37, married and lives in Houston, TX. They're really young to be a millionaire!

Now for the interview:

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

Almost a 2nd degree! 1.9 million

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

Our net worth breaks down to 70% in real estate, (Single-family homes, 54 of them), 13% in cash,  15% in retirement accounts, and 2% in other investments. I have 2.4 million in mortgages, (3.8 million in real estate).

Your story

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

Middle class all the way. My mom was a stay at home mom, went to public school. Dad was in advertising for a regional grocery company. I had a great childhood.

Did you go to college? 

Yes, I got a 4-year Information Systems degree along with a Masters in Information Systems.

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

I started out in a big four accounting firm doing IT consulting. Learned quickly it was hard work and was a culture that I couldn't sustain for 30 years as I wanted a family and being at home with my boys is most important to me.

Left after 5 years to take a better job at a chemical company, Did that for 5 years, then left to join a small IT consulting firm. Now I work from home and have flexible hours. I like my job, I could quit at any time though. I always joke that I'm three bad days from quitting.

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

Yes, IT makes it easy to find jobs and many of those jobs are remote and flexible. College taught me one thing. How to teach myself. I'm in a field that constantly changes so its imperative that I keep on top of the changes in my field.

Have you had any side hustles? 

I started on the side during my time at the chemical company buying real estate with a buddy. We've now become inseparable partners and have built an impressive portfolio of rental homes that gross over 70k a month.

We also manage them all ourselves because we can't stand property managers. We've built many systems to help the management still not feel like a job. The houses are the main proponent of my net worth.

The tax benefits are huge and the constant rhythm of money coming in each month is addictive. Yes, we have to manage tenants but we've become quite good at it.

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

I have a wife, and while she hasn't worked, she has indirectly contributed a ton.

She's led the bulk of the family duties with meals, kid transportation, and other duties that allowed me to focus on work and provide financially for our family.

For example, she's always cut all of our hair, including mine. (We have 4 boys) She's been an integral part in making this economic engine go.

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

34.

At what age did you start seriously saving money? 

30.

What has been your investment strategy? 

All in on real estate, buying houses whenever we can. Index investing on 401ks and Roths, I max out my 401k and a Roth for me and my wife (if its a year I qualify).

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

That's a great question. Don't really have one. I liked Mr. Money Mustache, and Rich Dad Poor Dad, but I think the biggest source was the book, The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson.

The idea that small and consistent progress makes huge returns over time helps with time value of money and all kinds of other financial models that show base hits are better than home runs.

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? 

Sure, if I start to hate my job. I think 3 million would be plenty. at the 4% rule that's 120k a year, which is more than enough for my family.

Mind over matter

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

Yes. Obviously you need to be able to do math, but psychology drives your behavior and helps you understand what you value and what you prioritize.

That has been the biggest change for me. I now know what I value, and it drives my financial decisions.  I always tell people “I only spend money on appreciating assets.”

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

Learning that “business” debt was different than personal debt. I was taught growing up that all debt was BAD. No car payments, no school debt, buy a reasonable house and pay it off as fast as possible. That all went out the window when I started investing in real estate.

The huge debt I have never even crosses my mind now. It's all there working for me to make money. Anytime we pay down debt now, we just want to get that money back out by refinancing. Of course, we are very conservative on our figures, but overcoming that fear and shame of debt was my biggest hurdle.

Now I see debt as a tool to make more money. I quickly learned that all I wanted to do was find somebody who would loan me a million dollars and then find a way to pay it back.

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 always looking for ways to push my money a little further. I'm not maniacal, just intentional. I know exactly what I spend my money on. I'm not overly frugal, and I spend liberally on the things I value, and viciously cut costs on the things that don't bring happiness in my life.

For example, I don't have cable, but I do have expensive shoes. I drive a 2007 Hyundai because I don't care about cars, but I just put in a custom pool. Life is all about choices and I make them very carefully and deliberately knowing that each decision has a financial cost and a time cost. 

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

Wealth = Freedom. I know that my wealth leads to greater freedom, and freedom is my main goal. I always thought it was weird that the majority of people work for 40 years and then retire, and are old and tired.

I don't want to be old and tired when I retire. I want ultimate flexibility. This doesn't mean I'm going to lay around on the beach all day after I quit my job, but instead I'll be able to focus my time on my own endeavors fully. If people want ultimate flexibility then they should purse wealth.

Should people follow their passions or just do something practical? 

“Don't quit your job, use your job to finance your dreams.” I was lucky and found a career that I loved and was high paying. I think anybody with a passion can find a way to make money in that field. The key is to own the business, not just work in it.

Bonus round

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

The Mint budgeting app and Excel are my two favorite apps.

What has been your favorite way to earn money? 

Back in the day, I loved to churn credit card for points. It was a fun game and I loved finding legal loopholes in the system to rake in the points. One year I did 55k in tax-free reward money. However, it was always a very fragile system and most of it has dried up.

Now, of course, rental real estate is my favorite way. Plus its more sustainable and scalable.

What’s your favorite way to use money? 

To buy more houses 🙂 I like to spend money on experiences rather than “stuff” I've really grown to dislike stuff.

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

Be intentional with your money and time. Your time quickly becomes your most important asset. You just have to find a way to use your time more effectively than others and soon enough you'll be able to excel and you'll see incredible financial results if you are passionate.