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 Rich from Rich is in his late 30s and lives in New York. He built his net worth from nothing to quite a substantial amount at a young age in one of the most expensive cities to live in!

Now for the interview:

Table of Contents

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

My household net worth is greater than $10 million. I guess that puts me as a 10 plus degree black belt. I never had a black belt in anything so it is nice to have all those strips on my black belt here.

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

I have my assets in real estate, mutual funds, stocks, ETFs, and private equity investments.

Real estate makes up the bulk of my net worth given I am a big fan of real estate. I’ve also interviewed someone who owns greater than 30 properties and has built his real estate empire with very little money to start.

I figure if he can do it, why not me?  

I also have millions in debt because I use financing (mortgage) to purchase my real estate properties. I am a fan of utilizing cheap financing as a way to increase investment return.

One way Warren Buffett got rich was that he used the float on insurance policy premiums to make investments, which was a “cheap” source of financing for him. If it worked so well for Warren Buffett, why shouldn’t I try to learn from him?

Your story

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

I grew up financially poor in a low-income household. Ironically, there are many benefits to growing up poor that would later benefit me in life and which helped to lead to my current financial success.

I lived in an apartment smaller than 400 square feet during my childhood with a family of 5. There were only two ways I got a new pair of sneakers while growing up. The first way was when my feet grew and I no longer fit the sneakers. The second way was after having worn the sneakers for so long, a visible hole appeared. 

While I grew up in a low-income household, it was a very caring household and I had a very happy childhood.

My parents were hardworking and instilled that hard work in me.

I also grew up with a great sense of optimism. Growing up poor was not an indictment of my future. It most certainly wasn’t a life sentence. I knew if I work hard enough and smart enough, opportunities are limitless.

Did you go to college?

Yes, I went to college. I currently work in the financial services field after obtaining my degree.

My parents worked hard but struggled to make ends meet because they never had a formal education. That lack of formal education limited the job opportunities for them and the amount of money they can make.

They understand the importance of an education as being a great equalizer and instilled in me early on the importance of an education.

I pursued a very practical and commercial major in college.

College is not for everyone. But if you decide to pursue a college degree,  first and foremost, it needs to earn a financial return, especially given the high cost of education and large student loan debt.  

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

My fighting style is following this formula:

Earn + Save + Invest.

Actually, it's more Earn ASAP + Save ASAP + Invest ASAP.

I believe it is a fighting style that can lead to great wealth accumulation for the general population. 

Earn as much as you can as early as you can. For me, it was in a high paying profession right out of school. I worked hard to acquire as much knowledge as possible and to build my professional resume. I then made jumps in my professional career for bigger and better opportunities. And with those upward moves came higher pay. 

Save as much as possible as early as possible. I started saving ever since my first paycheck. 

Invest the savings as soon as possible. My early savings were put into the S&P 500 index fund. I used the fighting style to accumulate over $1 million in my retirement account by my 30's.

Compound return is the strongest force in the finance universe. It needs time to maximize its impact. Provide it with as much time as possible by starting early. It makes a world of difference.  

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

I work in the financial services industry. There are opportunities for great financial success in my profession. 

To really state the obvious, it is easier to achieve a high net worth with a higher income – all things being equal.

Now, achieving financial independence is a whole different ballgame. High earners also have a high cost lifestyle. I recently ran some numbers and I believe you need $480,000 a year to live an upper middle class lifestyle in Manhattan and about $1.1 million to live an upper class lifestyle

I believe you should choose a career which pays well (finance and engineering are two examples). But in order to achieve financial independence, you really need to learn how to save and invest your money. 

Have you had any side hustles?

Yes, I believe strongly in creating as many revenue streams as possible. That is where my side hustles come into the picture.  

My sources of income are my corporate job, rental income, dividend income, interest income, and asset appreciation.

As previously mentioned, I believe heavily in all the advantages of real estate investment. I spend a lot of time researching, sourcing, financing and managing my investment properties.

My portfolio of rental properties has provided me with a strong steady cash flow stream and serves as a great way for wealth building. 

While I do not earn any money from my blog currently, I hope to one day be able to turn it into a profitable business. 

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

My spouse is my equal partner in the income and wealth generating process.

Being on the same wavelength when it comes to financial matters has been a real driver for our financial success. 

That is why I’ve even written a post about why it is important to share your finances with your significant other.

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

I started saving and investing my money early. I became a financial black belt probably in my late 20s or early 30s.

At what age did you start seriously saving money?

From very early on, I can remember wanting to break free of having to work in an office. I was into the FIRE movement before I ever heard about it.

I seriously saved from the very first full time paycheck I received.

I grew up poor and had a very strong appreciation for money. I was never wasteful with money and chose to delay gratification of the usage of money until later on in life.

Saving money as early as possible is key for financial independence and success later on in life.

I try to encourage young people just starting out in their professional life to live at home with their parents for the first 3 years when possible. Just this act alone has the potential to lead to millions in retirement.  

What has been your investment strategy?

I’ve probably beaten this to death by now, but I strongly believe real estate should be cornerstone of your investment portfolio.

There are many benefits to owning real estate including some of the less apparent ones:

(i)                 The real estate market isn’t always liquid. It can actually result in the purchase of real estate for below market value when is a great benefit to the buyer. Also, given there is no second to second ticker update on pricing, it provides a greater peace of mind than stocks.

(ii)               Many tax benefits to owning real estate. I was able to generate a six figure cash flow without having to pay any income taxes.

(iii)             You have the ability to add value to your investment property.

Once again, I’m going to stress that investing early and allowing the power of compounding to work its magic is what investing is all about to me.

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

The people who have influenced me the most and helped me the most with my financial success are (probably unsurprisingly) my parents and my wife.

First and foremost, my parents laid the foundation and instilled in me the tools and mindset to be a successful member of society.

Secondly, my wife for being the better partner in life, including our financial life.

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 am pursuing FI (financial independence). But I have no interest in the RE part of the equation if retiring early means retirement in the traditional sense.

After reaching financial independence, I would like to have more control over when and where I work.

That’s why I prefer what I called the work LITE (location independence, time enjoyment) model instead

At this point, I am fortunate to be close to being financially independent. I have already accumulated enough money to get there. I just need to now put that money to work in order to increase the amount of my passive income stream.

Mind over matter

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

In order to maximize wealth generation and to reach financial independence, I believe you need to master both the psychology and math.

The mindset needs to be there to be financially successful. If I don’t care about earning money or saving money or investing money, then I can’t see how I can get to FI or build a robust financial egg.

Equally as important, if I don’t utilize the power of compounding, stick to a budget or understand the risk/return profile of my investments, I would also have a challenging time in generating significant wealth.

Both psychology and math would need to be mastered in order to maximize your chances for financial success.

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

The toughest mental opponent I faced on my financial journey is noise. What I mean by that is that everyone has an opinion. That opinion is just noise unless it is coming from an expert you admire or someone you inspire to be.

“Put your money into Apple. It’s a great buy.”

“Go into this real estate deal with me. I guarantee you can’t lose.”

“You are saving too much. Live a little.”

“You are not saving enough. So wasteful.” 

“I would buy the BMW X5 if I were you.”

It was quite a challenge to keep out all the noise and stay focused on my financial path.

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 believe anyone in America can be wealthy.

But I think the biggest difference between the white belts and the black belts is that the black belts focused on building wealth. I know that was certainly how I approached it.

As I’ve mentioned before, I had an appreciation for money growing up. This was mainly driven by the fact I didn’t have a lot when I was younger.

I don’t view the desire for money as being greedy or money as the “root of all evil.” Conversely, I think in order to grow as a person, you need to accumulate broad experiences, some of which can be costly.

I focused on building my net worth and that was a very important priority for me.

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

Money is a necessity for everyday life.

After satisfying the basics, I don’t believe you need to have a lot of money and wealth to live a happy life. I grew up content and happy with very little financially speaking.

But I do believe everyone should pursue money and wealth. The only exception is if you have settled into a lifestyle you are happy with and know with 100% certainty it won’t change or be more expensive.

Why do I think you should pursue wealth? I believe in the power of compounding and the earlier you start, the better off you will be. Just because you might be comfortable today and don’t need the wealth doesn’t mean you won’t want to be wealthy tomorrow. By that time, it might be too late unless you have started earlier.

Should people follow their passions or just do something practical?

Practical. Following your passion is for people who can afford it.

You can always work on your passion as a side project. Or when you have achieved financial independence, then you can spend all the time in the world on your passion.

Ideally, your passion is also in an industry which generally pays well and has a lot of winners. That is the optimal mix.

The only time I believe you should follow your passion is if you exhibit world class talent in it. In this way, you should be able to get compensated nicely for your passion (which then it also becomes the practical choice).

Bonus round

I will keep this section short as you are probably exhausted after battling the above answers to get here.

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


What has been your favorite way to earn money?

Residential rental properties

What’s your favorite way to use money?

Away from necessities and investments: splurging on vacation and food.

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

Earn ASAP + Save ASAP + Invest ASAP

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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