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 Menard Solve from MillionaireBefore50.com. Menard is 48, married, and lives in Downingtown, PA.
Now for the interview:
What degree black belt are you? (e.g. one million = first degree, two million = second degree).
Our net worth is 1.5 million, so I'm a first degree black belt.
Give us the break down on your current net worth. What is it invested in and do you have any debt?
70% stocks/mutual funds, 20% primary home, 10% fixed income and cash
How was your childhood? Was your family wealthy, middle class or low-income?
I grew up in Manila. I'm the youngest of nine children. My parents were well-off, but they lived a modest lifestyle. They owned a dozen paid off properties, which were rented out. My father was an intellectual property lawyer.
He was earning U.S. dollars while living in a country where 50 cents can buy a bottle of beer— geoarbitrage! My father once showed me a check for US $10,000 paid by a client, and this was back in the '80s.
Did you go to college?
Yes, I have a bachelor's degree in Computer Engineering.
What is your fighting style? (Career path from first dollar ever made to present).
My first paycheck was earned working as a crew in a popular Filipino hamburger chain that competes with McDonald's. I didn't need the money. It was the coolest thing to do at the time because the pretty ladies were all working in the joint.
Immediately after college, I taught Computer Science subjects for a couple of years in the same university where I went (interestingly, it's the same school that introduced the ILOVEYOU virus in the states, costing billions of dollars in damages). It's crazy some of my students were older than me. I was in panic mode because I impregnated my girlfriend.
I was also an entrepreneur. For many years, I used to own and operate a small bodybuilding gym in Manila, which was partially funded by my parents. I also sold training gear and supplements. I eventually sold the business to my brother, who knew nothing about fitness.
I started earning substantial amounts of money only after I immigrated to the states. It was 1997, and companies in the United States were hiring like crazy in preparation for the Y2K problem, otherwise known as the Millennium bug.
My employer withheld my salary for three months until I got my working papers. My first paycheck in the states was for $6,000— the most money that I'd earned up to that point. I thought I was rich. But I didn’t know much about investing back then. I blew most of it on high-tech gadgets and other stupid stuff.
I've been working as a software developer in the Fintech industry for the past 22 years. Eight of which I've been earning in six digits.
Would you recommend people to pursue the same career path? Would you choose a different job if you could go back?
Except for flipping burgers, absolutely. For the time and effort it takes to acquire the skill, I don't know a lot of jobs that pay better. My salary has been stagnant ever since our company was acquired and I became unimportant— I used to be the technical lead.
But the bright side is that I have fewer responsibilities. I’m not working as hard as I used to. My immediate boss is a very good friend of mine and his boss is 4,000 miles away. Coffee time has been fabulous. Not to mention I get to pursue my dream of starting a blog.
A little known fact is that I dropped out of law school. I was studying to become a lawyer. Unlike most immigrants, I never intended to immigrate to the states. It so happens that my wife at the time accepted an offer to work in the states as a consultant which ruined my aspirations.
I'd imagine that being a lawyer would have been more interesting and potentially more rewarding financially if I ended up becoming a politician in the Philippines, lmao.
Have you had any side hustles?
I used to sell CMS software licenses back in the early 2000s. I developed a WordPress-like product called PortalMagic (Oh gosh, just discovered someone is illegally distributing it after I googled it) with similar pluggable capabilities before WordPress was released!
I had a website where people can download it for free with limited features. I then send them emails automatically with instructions on how to unlock the features after they've paid for the licenses.
But it was fast becoming obsolete. It came to the point that I had to choose between my day job and this side-hustle. I didn’t want to take a big risk because I have a family to support, so I chose to keep my day job.
Other than that, My wife and I sell stuff on eBay, Amazon, and Facebook Marketplace. I also sell “Millionaire” t-shirts on Amazon and ad space on my site.
If you have a spouse, how have they contributed to your net worth?
I'm the main breadwinner, but her income as an RN has been a big factor.
And it was by design…
When we first dated, I had to fly from Philadelphia to Dallas just to see her. I ended up staying in her apartment for the whole week because I was too cheap to get a hotel room.
This was around April so her tax documents were freely lying on her desk. I took a peek and discovered that she was earning $60K— a very good income considering this was in 2003. My eyes lit up thinking how I could invest that money. I proposed a month later.
In a way, you can say that I married for money. But that’s not 100% accurate because we were already in love, lol. She only had 9K saved in her name when we were married. But like me, she had no debt.
Here’s a chart of our income as a couple. I got the data from the social security website.
My wife now works part-time.
How old were you when you became a financial black belt?
I was 45. I became a millionaire in 2016 after Trump was declared the winner — the stock market went to the roof!
At what age did you start seriously saving money?
I started getting my act together at age 30. The inflection point was the dotcom crash. I realized I needed a cushion in case I got laid off, which I eventually did.
I blew most of my money on frivolous stuff before that. I was also paying hefty child support payments. So I had to be very intentional with my money. I started investing in the stock market only in my 30s.
What has been your investment strategy?
Mostly index funds. Nowadays, my only individual stocks are MSFT and BAC, both of which I’ve owned for almost a decade. Most of my investments are on autopilot. But I buy more shares during market dips.
Who was your financial sensei? (Most influential person/source of information in your financial life).
Nowadays it’s Dave Ramsey, and Mr. Money Mustache. They’re both a great source of entertainment more than a source of financial information. One has no hair, the other has extra hair, lol. Kidding aside, I enjoy listening to Dave Ramsey’s podcasts and reading MMM’s blog posts. Sam Dogen’s Financial Samurai and J Money’s Budgets Are Sexy are among my favorites.
I worked in the Wealth Management industry so I learned mostly from my job. I was developing software that performs risk analysis and reporting on mutual funds when I was in my 30’s, for example.
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?
We’re very close to becoming FI. Completely paying off our mortgage next year will substantially lower our yearly expenses to less than $50K a year. My passive income from dividends is close to exceeding that.
But I plan to retire at age 55 (to take advantage of IRS rule 55), or $3M in net worth, whichever comes first. There’s no point in retiring as soon as I become FI because I still love my day job. Even if I do retire, I’d be working on my terms. I want to pursue my dream of selling a digital product over the web.
Mind over matter
Do you think psychology plays a more important role than math with finances?
They’re both important. I believe in the power of having the right mindset. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, envisions his biceps to be the size and shape of mountain peaks before he trains.
Staying the course with your investments when the mainstream media is spreading the news of an incoming global financial apocalypse is extremely important.
That said, psychology alone will get you nowhere if you’re earning peanuts. One should strive to grow your income by investing in one’s self. The same is true with spending. Small leaks can sink a ship.
What was your toughest mental opponent on the path to your black belt?
Don't care about what people think. You have to question your Why. My wife and I got married for around $400 bucks. Our only guest was the pastor and his wife (we're both immigrants, our families were overseas).
The ceremony was held in my apartment, and the reception was at a local Macaroni Grill. We did this for a greater cause — we plan on using the money as a down payment for our house. No regrets, our house will be paid off next year.
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?
Being able to plan for financial goals requires a person to be a long-term thinker. Most people think of the present. Just the other day, my co-worker and I were discussing HSAs. He’s surprised that I brought Medicare premiums to the discussion when it’s decades away.
I’ve set up 529 college savings accounts for my kids when they’re still babies. Today they have over $140K in college savings and they are still 5 and 8 years away from college. My eldest graduated from college in 2015 without any scholarships. Yet he has no student loan debt to speak of.
What does wealth mean to you? Should everyone pursue it?
It’s everyone’s duty not to rely on the government or other people to save their economic butts. America is still the land of opportunity; everyone should make the most out of it.
The wealthier you are, the more people you can help. It’s funny that the poor here in the U.S. still drive a car and don’t go hungry. Having been raised in a third world country, I know what it’s like to be poor.
Should people follow their passions or just do something practical?
People should do something practical with their passions. Passions don't mean a thing if you're hungry.
What is your weapon of choice? (favorite money tool/app)
I don’t use any budgeting tool. Never install trading apps on your phone— it can lead to impulsive trading.
I love using Schwab's Portfolio Checkup and Retirement Planning Tool.
What has been your favorite way to earn money?
Selling digital products online. It’s scalable, instantaneous, and you’ll never run out of stock.
What’s your favorite way to use money?
I love spending money on Travel and Vacations.
What’s your one piece of money advice to us financial underbelts?
Marry well. The spouse you pick will have the greatest impact on your financial being.
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.