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 an anonymous blogger who writes over at TheFrugalSamurai.com. The Frugal Samurai is 32, married, and lives in Sydney Australia.
Now for the interview:
What degree black belt are you? (e.g. one million = first degree, two million = second degree).
I'd say first and a bit degree, in Aussie dollars that is.
Give us the break down on your current net worth. What is it invested in and do you have any debt?
Yes, plenty of debt, I can't seem to get enough of it… let's see – total net worth would be sitting around AUD 1.3m, it's made up predominantly in real estate, something like 2m in property against about 1m in loans, rest would be made up of cash, shares, and superannuation (kinda like 401k to you guys?).
The properties are all in metro locations around Australia. Most of the monthly loan repayments and associated property costs are paid off using the rental income, so I don’t have to tip too much of my own funds in. Shares I own go the direct route because I have this notion in my head that somehow I can beat the indices (I can, but barely). In saying so, there’s a fair amount sitting in cash as of today which I’m waiting for the “big one”.
How was your childhood? Was your family wealthy, middle class or low-income?
The details of my life are quite inconsequential. Very well, where do I begin? My father was a relentlessly self-improving boulangerie owner from Belgium with low-grade narco… oh wait, that’s not my childhood at all, that’s someone else’s.
My childhood was much tamer, Summers in Rangoon, luge lessons. In the spring we'd make meat helmets… OK I’ll stop.
Growing up, I always remember having a very loving and close household. My parents and I have always been open and transparent with each other. This differs from most Asian households that I know.
Financially, I knew we were “poor” because my parents constantly discussed money or lack thereof. They emigrated to Australia from China during the early ’90s, and it was especially tough for my father given he had a great job, great prospects and a great future – and essentially, like many in his generation, decided to leave China after the Tiananmen incident. I believe he thought China would take a step backwards. No one envisaged the enormous growth that lay ahead and many who left regret their decision, himself included.
For a VERY long time, he could not come to grips with this. Living under this shadow, it forged my approach to decision-making and fuelled an inner desire for financial well-being in the future, as I do not want my children to have to go through what I went through.
Did you go to college?
Here in Australia, college usually means under-grad and we do that in university (as opposed to university in the states, which is post-graduate studies for us). I took my undergraduate studies in Commerce at the Australian National University – a fine institution.
What is your fighting style? (Career path from first dollar ever made to present).
I’d prefer a scorched earth policy if I was ever in a fight, that is – you can win, but it’ll probably cost you an arm and a leg… oh sorry I shoulda read the 2nd part. First dollar I made was through working at a ridiculously young age in our family friend’s laundromat.
Some countries call it child slavery, but my parents call it “character-building”.
Apart from wages, my first encounter of creating a dollar, would be when I had a semi-decent go at selling plush and stuffed toys in high school, a single-sex boys school next to a single-sex girls school meant a steady supply of customers.
Post-school, I went the traditional path of starting a career (in financial services) and earning a wage (in finance), saving (a lot) and investing (a fair amount). My working career was very rocky at the beginning, but it’s sort of steadied a bit. I intend to continue being an employee and slowly chipping away at pay packets and doing the whole corporate ladder thing.
Would you recommend people to pursue the same career path? Would you choose a different job if you could go back?
No definitely not – children have work rights too! #thinkofthekids
Seriously speaking, I think every kid should start working at a young age to embed the knowledge of the value of money and the principles of hard work. I certainly am wiser and more appreciative having gone through what I went through.
Career-wise, I think Banking and Financial Services is where I would like to be, there’s a lot of nonsense granted but I do learn a lot about money and how it makes the world go round.
Certainly my upbringing steered me into that path, so no I probably would not choose a different job.
Have you had any side hustles?
Yes, plenty, from being a soccer referee to selling items online, from doing surveys and religiously entering competitions to running my own blog (thefrugalsamurai.com) – there’s too many to count.
If you have a spouse, how have they contributed to your net worth?
I do and am very lucky to have her. She’s mainly been the one who taught me the difference between Chanel and Prada.
From a pure numbers perspective and mindset, she’s quite apathetic when it comes to money, but she’s taught me to loosen the belt a bit more and honestly be a more well-rounded individual.
She’s also expanded my social networks and people to bounce ideas off. However, I’d have to say that financially, I’m the driver and she’s more the passenger.
How old were you when you became a financial black belt?
Before my 30th birthday. Incidentally, that was a major life goal I set for myself.
At what age did you start seriously saving money?
I think I’ve been seriously saving ever since I had a bank account. Sometime between the ages of 0-12, my memory is hazy.
What has been your investment strategy?
Buy low, sell high.
Which sounds great when you say it but very hard to implement.
When I first started investing in my late teens, I went hard on the penny stocks and micro-caps, I’m talking those companies with 6 digit (sometimes less!) market caps. Actually didn’t do too badly until of course the GFC hit and subsequent Eurozone debt crisis.
Lost about $40-50k which was a very painful lesson, even more so when it’s pretty much your entire net worth.
Then I went back to the basics and read. A lot.
I also stumbled onto the real estate game, which made a lot more sense to me and seemed a bit easier to do – buy a well-located property at a good price, hold for as long as you can. Buy a few of these and you should do OK at the end of it. So that’s what I’ve evolved to do.
Still look at shares fondly though, although much more research and planning involved pre-purchase.
And of course, waiting… just waiting…for the elusive GFC 2.0 – have you guys seen it?
Who was your financial sensei? (Most influential person/source of information in your financial life).
Sadly I would love to have a go-to person for financial inspiration and ideas, however, none have been found.
This is why I’ve delved into reading. About anything really – books, journals, editorials, biographies, academic papers, blogs – I’ve always been a vivacious reader.
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?
Yes definitely. $6m is the goal for us, and by age 50. I aim to work part-time to free up more time for “stuff”. I think working is good for the mind, if I wouldn’t be working I’d probably just sit at home and read all day.
Mind over matter
Do you think psychology plays a more important role than math with finances?
Yes 100%, your mindset is the biggest asset you have. Coming from a very dark place in my 20’s, it’s only recently I’ve realized how important a resilient mindset is and what can be achieved by just pushing through. Life’s hard. It’s how you deal with it (not just financially) that matters.
What was your toughest mental opponent on the path to your black belt?
My own self-doubt. Growing up my father’s influence was huge. Unfortunately, he had a very scarcity mindset, no doubt due to his experiences emigrating to Australia. This is why I always listened to him in all aspects of life.
Then one day, I just stopped listening, after realizing that he was not the person I should be listening to because he has not achieved what I want to achieve. Sometimes though, I still pause and let fear over-ride my actions – mainly due to trying to push outside my comfort zone… we all go through this I guess…
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?
Oh, this one is pretty straightforward… the biggest highlight for me when it comes to money is I understand that price is what you pay and value is what you get.
I have been called many things during my life, cheap, frugal, strong, sultry, sensual… but I think I am just misunderstood.
You see, I have no qualms about going millions of dollars in debt (and currently am) in real estate, or making big bets into the stock market when things are on “sale”.
Yet, when it comes to day to day living, I just don’t have an interest in buying the latest smartphones or wearing the most fashionable clothes, I still have (and sadly, wear) clothes which I first wore during high school. Many would comment on me being “cheap”, which is fair enough, but I see it as a testament to keeping my body shape after 15 years.
Besides, I’ve been called much, much worse – so I don’t mind the moniker of “cheap”, it’s a badge of honor really.
Apart from that, I think the whole differentiating between needs and wants, long-term thinking and delayed gratification versus short-term actions and instant gratification, spend money to make money, y’know all of that yada yada.
What does wealth mean to you? Should everyone pursue it?
To me, wealth means time.
I think time is the greatest equalizer in the world. People can’t choose where they are born or who their parents are, but they can choose how they spend their 24 hours in a day.
Being wealthy means you have the available time to spend life how you choose it – be it trying to hustle and FIRE, or laze around and go fishing all day (see the famous Mexican Fisherman Parable).
If you’re talking about being financially wealthy, then no, I don’t think everyone should pursue it.
This is because I am a firm believer of doing what makes you sleep well at night. If you’re happy to earn a steady wage, in a secure job, paying off a mortgage with two adorable kids and a loving wife/husband – then you are already wealthy.
But if you’re not happy with your lot and you want more, in terms of financial security or material possessions or internal/external validation – then do what makes you happy – go chase it.
It all comes down to time, right? If you are using your 24 hours on things that make you happy (not just now, but in the long-run as well), then you are “wealthy”.
Should people follow their passions or just do something practical?
I think this follows on from the previous question.
Just do what makes you happy – I know people who are in highly paid $250,000+ jobs and they are absolutely miserable, but I know people who get paid $40-$50,000 and they are loving life.
Who will FIRE first? You’d be thinking those on $250,000 – but sometimes not everyone wants to FIRE, and that’s something we in the FIRE community should recognize, instead of (and I see this constantly) acting all haughty about it.
But personally I’ve always wanted a safety net in terms of financial security – so, even at an early age have targeted higher-income paying careers.
Mind you, I do applaud the parents of specialist vocations like athletes, musicians, actors/actresses who place a strong emphasis on formal education as a back-up for their children in case things don’t work out.
Just have a back-up plan in case plan A (passion) doesn’t work out.
What is your weapon of choice? (favorite money tool/app)
You know, I’ve heard about people who swear by Mint or Acorns or some other flash new thing… but in case you haven’t realized – I am particularly boring…
So my “weapon” is the trusty old excel spreadsheet.
Unfortunately, my money and net wealth isn’t really that exciting for me to be checking every day or week – I try and do a quarterly (these days more like half-yearly) check of where I am sitting and usually just give a small nod and mutter “mm-hmm”, and then move on.
When it comes to spending, I usually have a good grasp of where my money is going as I check the bank accounts at least once a week.
Nothing really surprises me because most of my income goes towards either acquiring investments or paying down investment debt.
Oh and I guess a couple of others.
The generic PC calculator for doing back-of-envelope analysis on deals, and my brokerage account when my stocks are down and I kick myself for being so stupid to buy those stocks in the first place.
What has been your favorite way to earn money?
It comes back to the price is what you pay and value is what you get.
In real estate, you can make silly offers (low-balling) to try and nab a bargain. It’s a numbers game and does build mental resilience when the agents laugh in your face… but I think it’s because I’m wearing 15-year-old clothes…
I’ve been fortunate to not have paid asking price on any of our deals and is a great way to build equity.
What’s your favorite way to use money?
I dunno… anything that is not essentials or investment related, I kinda think looooong and hard on.
But I think my favorite way is to spend $1 to get $2 back.
What’s your one piece of money advice to us financial underbelts?
I think everyone jumps in wanting to make millions yesterday, and some have with cryptos, or stocks, or housing, or ETFs, or whatever it may be.
Still, the biggest advice that I gave myself when I was trying to get ahead (and still am), is to understand my why – why am I doing this.
Without a good why, your goals don’t have longevity and without longevity, you won’t take action, and without action, nothing happens.
My why was, and still is, to not have my (future) children go through my financial childhood as I did. Which is why I have my FIRE goals and want to achieve them in the shortest amount of time.
But I know I am fortunate to have grown up in the circumstances that I did – a wonderful, loving and close family, parents who treated me as equals, a safe and welcoming country, good schooling and great friends.
Money is good, but money is not everything.