Welcome to the millionaire interview series. I’m starting this series to get inside the heads of actual millionaires. For us who are still on our path to becoming millionaires, it’s important who we get our information from. I thought that going out and finding people who have accumulated a million dollar net worth would be a great way to learn how to become wealthy.
Today’s guest is Andrew from Wealthy Nickel. He’s a young millionaire at age 34 and is married with two kids. I love the fact that our first guest is so young. It shows you that becoming a millionaire can be done at a young age if you take the right steps. Andrew has just started his blog and I’m sure he’ll be giving a lot of great advice over there, so be sure to check his website out and show him some love.
I’m sure you’ll find this interview interesting and might learn some things that you can put into action in your own life.
What is your net worth and what does it consist of? (Is it in stocks, real estate, something else?)
Our total net worth is about $1.3M. It is broken down into a few major categories:
Retirement Accounts $300k
Investment RE Equity $500k
Personal Home Equity $80k
Private Equity Investments $165k
Do you currently have any debt?
We have about $650k of mortgage debt, which is factored in to the overall net worth above ($1.23M asset value – $650k debt). We also have small car loans that I deducted from our net cash balance. We could easily pay these off, but at 2% interest or less, why bother?
To give you an idea of our net worth over time, here it is all the way back to 2007, the first year I started working. It got a small bump in 2012 when I got married and my wife and I combined assets, and shortly thereafter took off after we started investing in real estate. In 2018, we have started selling off some real estate and moving the money mostly to passive private equity investments (which is still mostly real estate – just larger commercial deals where we are a limited partner).
At what age did you become a millionaire and how long did it take?
Depending on how you value our real estate, I was around 32 or 33 when we first crossed the $1M threshold. It took about 10 years from when I first started working after college.
Tell us a bit about your childhood, where are you from, what were your parents like? Did they teach you much about money?
I came from a solid middle-class background. My dad worked as an engineer and my mom stayed home with us kids. They didn’t talk much about money, but they were pretty frugal. We took modest vacations every year (somewhere within driving distance), they didn’t drive new cars, and going out to eat at a restaurant was a rare treat.
We got a small allowance (much smaller than all of my friends as I made sure to inform them), and my dad would let us iron his shirts for 25 cents each. Even back then, that would add up to way less than minimum wage!
How did you learn what you know about finance?
I have always been a natural saver and found security in having money tucked away “just in case”. I would argue that saving for a rainy day out of fear is probably not the healthiest outlook on life, but that is my default.
Even though my parents didn’t speak much about money directly, watching how they handled their money ingrained in me a sense of practical frugality and planning for the future.
What is the best advice you’ve received about money?
Spend less than you earn.
Simple, obvious advice that seems to be difficult to follow. Our economic system has made it incredibly easy to use your future earning potential to pull spending forward and put you in a perpetual hole you can never dig out from.
What is the worst advice you’ve received about money?
When you reach financial independence, you can be truly happy.
I don’t think anyone has directly said this, but it seems to be implied in a lot of the dogma of the FIRE community. Sure you have to make sacrifices now to save and invest and potentially reach financial independence before 65, but you also can’t delay ALL gratification for 20 years just to hit your magical retirement number. I’ve actually seen people suffering through massive guilt and anxiety because they frivolously spent $20 on something they wanted. I’m all for frugal living, but if you are miserable the whole journey to FI, then what’s the point?
Did you go to college? If so, where and what was your major?
I went to Texas A&M and got a degree in Electrical Engineering. After I was working full time, I went back for a Masters in Economics (paid for by my employer) at UT Dallas. Neither degree is particularly relevant to my current day job.
What is your career story and are you still working?
I went to work for a large aerospace company as an engineer right out of college. I’ve probably had 6 or 7 different jobs since then, but all within the same company.
Are you happy with your career choice? What would you have done if you had to do something else to make a living?
Overall I am happy with my career choice. If I had to do it all over again, I would probably be a civil engineer. I have always enjoyed city planning and design, and would love to help create better, more walkable cities built for people instead of cars.
What has been your average annual income up to this point?
Probably around $80k averaged over my career thus far. I just recently broke the six figure mark.
If you’re married, what has been your spouse’s annual income up to this point?
My wife worked for a nonprofit making around $30k per year until we had kids. Now she stays home with them.
Did you or your spouse do anything on the side for income?
In 2013 (right after we got married) we started investing in real estate. We now own several rental properties, and do around one flip per year.
Until we had kids, I was trying to build up a wholesale business (basically flipping contracts to other investors). Ultimately, I didn’t want to leave the stability of a steady paycheck and health insurance once kids were in the picture, so I ramped it down. At its peak, the business was making about 75% of my day job income.
My wife got her real estate license mainly just to do transactions for our business, but that has also turned into a nice side income stream of $20-25k per year just from friends and family buying and selling houses.
What was your average savings rate from the time you started making money until the time you became a millionaire? (roughly speaking)
It’s hard to put a figure on it. Our family of four basically lives off of my W2 income and we save 100% of all of the side income we make from real estate. Depending on what you count as income, I would say we save roughly 30-40%.
What was your spouse's savings rate?
My wife has always been a saver. Before we got married and combined finances, she was probably saving the same 30-40% even on her $30k salary. She puts me to shame in that department.
What is your average annual spending?
We spend about $60k per year. Roughly that breaks down into $20k for housing/bills, $10k for food, $10k for transportation (we have 2 car loans at ridiculously low interest rates), and $20k for everything else (child care, clothes, medical, travel, etc.)
Have you had much debt over the course of your life?
At the peak I had around $25k of student loans, but I was fortunate to go into a field where internships paid well and was actually able to graduate college with only about $6k of debt.
We never accumulated consumer debt, but we have tons of mortgage debt related to our rentals. I consider this good debt, and will happily keep adding to it as long as I can keep finding cash-flowing rental properties.
What has been your investing strategy?
We have 70% of our net worth in some form of real estate and it will probably continue to increase, so I’m going to go with REAL ESTATE FTW!
Before we got started in real estate, I dutifully put 10-15% of my income into my 401k and/or Roth IRA in a mix of low cost index funds.
Once we got involved in real estate, I scaled back the retirement contributions to throw all available cash toward rental properties. Looking back I think it was the right decision at the time. Real estate has had one of the best 5-7 year runs in history and our equity has increased much faster than the stock market.
Now that real estate started to level off, we are starting to diversify and max out retirement accounts each year first.
What was your best investment?
My best investment so far was never intended to be an investment. My wife and I bought a condo soon after getting married with 20% down. When we had kids, we moved to a house and rented out the condo. We recently sold it for more than double what we had paid 5 years earlier.
If you do the math and account for the downpayment, upgrades we made, mortgage paydown, etc. it returned an IRR of over 25% per year!
What was your worst investment?
I might be currently holding a bigger mistake than this in a private equity investment that is heading south, but as far as biggest realized loss that would be a half duplex we bought with the intention of flipping.
We found out after we bought it that it was illegally converted to a half duplex, and the owners of the other side were absolutely unwilling to work with us to make it legal. After talking to a lawyer we decided to just cut our losses and sell to another investor who was willing to take on the headache of fighting a legal battle with the neighbor – we ended up losing about $30k.
While this was a very stressful situation and I lost a lot of sleep over it at the time, in the end it was a small road bump in our investing journey.
What has been the average rate of return on your investments?
While I track my net worth pretty closely, I have not really tracked actual investment returns. So instead of saying “I have no idea”, here are a few statistics:
- According to this S&P return calculator, the average annual return with dividends reinvested for the S&P 500 was 8.4% since January 2007 (when I started working). Being generous, I would say my retirement portfolio has returned about 7-8% per year.
- Our rental properties have probably averaged a 20% return per year if you include cash flow, principal paydown, and equity growth.
- Our overall net worth has increased an average of roughly 30% per year the last several years. Keep in mind this “return” includes our contributions to savings from income generated from my day job and side hustles.
Are you currently trying to accumulate more wealth or are you done with that phase of life?
We are still in the accumulation phase, although with two small kids, the side hustles have definitely scaled back. Our ultimate goal is to create enough wealth to cover our household expenses so I can have the freedom to pursue something entrepreneurial without having to worry about finances.
What would you have done differently with your finances if you could go back?
If I could go back and do it again, I would have socked away a lot more money in my retirement accounts when I was single and had minimal expenses. You are limited in how much money you can divert to pre-tax accounts each year, and you can never go back and fill up those buckets again once you miss them.
What was the biggest roadblock to becoming a millionaire?
Probably fear of failure. I waited over 5 years to take any real action toward pursuing anything outside of my day job, and it wasn’t due to lack of ideas. I was honestly scared to do something new, something I might not be good at.
My advice to others is to just start, even if it’s baby steps. Take (calculated) risks. Nobody got wealthy from stuffing cash under the mattress. Find your comfort level – whether that’s index fund investing or full-out starting a business, and make a plan to create wealth.
What is your favorite thing that you’ve done with money in your life?
When I think back to what I’ve spent money on, the memories that stick with me are experiences I’ve had with people I love – vacations with family, my wedding, going to the “pizza store” with my 3 year old.
Buying new “stuff” is great, but the novelty wears off quickly and eventually it ends up in a landfill. Ultimately, money is a tool to enhance our lives and the lives of those around us.
Has giving money played a part in your finances?
I believe that everything I have is a gift from God, and as such none of it is really mine. Giving is a reminder of that, and I try to practice the habit of giving 10% away to our church and other charities that we care about.
Whether you are religious or not, I think giving is as beneficial to the giver as it is the receiver. It allows you to take the focus off of yourself and be grateful for what you have.
Do you plan to leave an inheritance when you pass or where do you want the money to go?
I need to put more thought into this. At this stage of my life, if my wife and I were to pass, everything would go to our children. If we continue to grow our wealth over the years, I would want to leave a good portion of it to causes we care about.
Do you think anyone can become a millionaire today?
I think anyone can become a millionaire, but the path is easier for some than others. If you grew up in a first world country, with a stable family life, and reasonably good health, the only thing you need is ambition. I recognize that that is not the case for the vast majority of the world, and closing that opportunity gap should be a challenge our generation is willing to take on.
What’s you’re one piece of advice you would give to someone trying to become a millionaire?
There’s a million ways to make a million dollars, but you if you try to do them all you will never succeed. Focus on one thing and get really good at it. I suffer from shiny object syndrome as much as anyone, but I’ve learned to do one thing at a time.
Also, if you’re married or in a serious relationship make sure your partner is on board. My wife has been very supportive of the work and sacrifices needed to get to where we are (and she patiently listens to me ramble on about all my money-making ideas I never actually execute on).
Is there anything I didn’t cover that you would like to add?
I think that was pretty thorough! Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions for me, and thanks to Nathan for the opportunity to share my story.
MD wrap up
I really enjoyed reading Andrew’s story and it’s made me think a lot more about real estate investing. I’m currently not investing in any real estate other than our primary residence but I know real estate can be a great way to build wealth.
I love how Andrew pointed out the need to pick one thing to work on and focus on mastering it. I really struggle with this and need to get better at focusing on the few things that are going to propel me forward.
Thanks again Andrew!