From Rags To Riches- How Tina Immigrated To America With Nothing and Now Has a Net Worth of $2,000,000

My monthly extraordinary lives series is something that I’ve really enjoying doing. First up was JP Livingston, who retired with a net worth over $2,000,000 at the age of 28. Today’s interview is with Tina, who immigrated with her family to North America when she was 18 and had just a few hundred dollars. She…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: August 12, 2023

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase via my links, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. See my disclosure for more info.

My monthly extraordinary lives series is something that I’ve really enjoying doing. First up was JP Livingston, who retired with a net worth over $2,000,000 at the age of 28. Today’s interview is with Tina, who immigrated with her family to North America when she was 18 and had just a few hundred dollars. She now earns around $400,000 per year and has a net worth of about $2,000,000.

Tina immigrated with her family to North America when she was 18 and had just a few hundred dollars. She now earns around $400,000 per year and has a net worth of about $2,000,000.In the first year Tina came here with her family, they rented one small room in a triplex, while sharing the washroom and kitchen with other families.

She has an inspiring rags to riches story that shows people how hard work can make dreams come true.

In this interview, you’ll learn:

  • The challenges they overcame when immigrating.
  • How Tina paid off her debt.
  • About her $100,000 emergency fund.
  • What it’s like going from $0 to a $400,000 yearly income.
  • How money has changed her life.

And more!

After reading about Tina’s story, I thought she would be a great addition to my interview series.

Related content:

I asked you, my readers, what questions I should ask them, so below are your questions (and some of mine) about Tina’s story and how she has accomplished so much. Make sure you’re following me on Facebook so you have the opportunity to submit your own questions for the next interview.

1. Tell me your story.

Hi Michelle,

First of all, thank you very much for giving us this opportunity. We are very big fans of yours and visit your blog pretty frequently.

I’m Tina and my husband/partner in crime is Max.We are 36 years old and have a one year old who’s our sunshine. She’s always laughing, even during her sleep.

I’m a CPA and Max is a principal/expert programmer. We immigrated here with nothing, but we have been able to increase our income from $0 to $160K to $400K+.

We blog at where we give practical and out the box career and financial advice to those interested in increasing their income and achieving financial independence/freedom.

2. What challenges have you overcome?

The challenges were mainly adapting to the North American culture. For example, finding our first apartment was a big challenge. My sister and I applied and called a lot of places, but only one place was willing to give us a chance.

We went to visit the building and apartment after school. It was kind of far, so by the time we got there, it was dark. Everything looked ok, so we signed the lease.

A couple of weeks later when we moved in, and this time during the day, we were able to see everything and realized it didn’t look as good as when we first visited at night. The place was noisy and unkept.

However, since that’s the only place that called us back and the only place we could really afford, we decided to stay put.

Our neighbors included a phone sex operator, a gambler, an alcoholic, a drug addict, and an alleged gang member.

However, some of us were students and/or professionals, working hard so we can move out of the neighborhood. We weren’t all criminals.

I remember when about $70,000 was delivered to our apartment by mistake instead of being delivered to the superintendent’s apartment, and they seemed very surprised when we returned the money!

3. Do you have any debt?

We have paid off our student loan and our car loan. The only debt we are left with is our mortgage.

4. How did you pay off your debt?

I accumulated $40,000 in student loans, and one year before graduating, panic set in as I did not really want to end up with more debt than that.

I started looking for a job right away, went through a few interviews, and was able to score an entry level accounting job starting at $40,000.

I did a lot overtime, and was bringing in $70,000/year. I paid about $4,000/month and was able to pay off the full $40,000 in 10 months, just two months before graduating.

Fortunately, Max never had student loans. During college, he always made sure to be one of the first people to register for classes so he could have as many options as possible when setting up his timetable.

He would pack up all his classes into two days and work the other five days. In doing so, he was able to graduate without any debt.

However, as soon as he graduated and got a good job, he went and bought a $30K+ used luxury car and put it on his credit line. After getting married, we decided to pay if off and committed to no more debt except for the mortgage.

We also gave ourselves a goal of paying off our $550K mortgage within eight years (five years from the time we got serious about it) at 39 years old by 2020. We call this our Vision2020 😊.

5. Can you tell me how you built a $100,000 emergency fund? Why did you choose this amount?

After paying off my $40,000 student loans, I still continued to live like a student, being very mindful of what I spent. A year later, my sister and I were able to move out of the not-so-safe neighborhood and bought a condo in a decent neighborhood.

After that, my next goal was to save for an emergency fund. This was during the 2007-2010 recession, when a lot of people were losing their jobs, and it was taking them months or years if ever to find another job. And, some ended being homeless.

Thus, I decided to continue the frugal life and save as much money as possible and prepare for the worst, while I still had my job. I was able to save $100,000.

Though, we haven’t had an emergency requiring us to use the funds, we have used the fund to take advantage of financial opportunities that have come our way. The fund has made us a lot of money, so I guess you can call it an emergency/opportunity fund.

6. What’s it like going from not having very much money to earning over $400,000 per year? What have you done to make such a leap in income?

We were able to increase our income from $0 to $160K to $400K+ by opening our eyes and realizing we were not reaching our full potential.

First, we realized we were underpaid. I noticed this when I started doing tax prep for my colleagues as a side hustle.  Even though I was the team lead, and employee of the year, it turns out I was the least paid.

I worked on getting my CPA, improving my salary negotiation skills, and researching the best paying employers in the industry.

After I got my CPA, I was offered a promotion but with only 10% increase, the maximum allowed per “company policy”. I rejected the promotion and started looking for a new job outside the company.

Within a couple of months, I got hired by the top paying employer in the industry, and was also able to leverage two other job offers and negotiated an even higher salary than they usually pay!

Max also realized he was underpaid when HR sent him, by mistake, the salary of a new employee he was going to be managing. It turned out the employee was going to be making more money than him, yet Max was the manager and had more experience.

This motivated Max to take the risk and become a contractor. As soon as he secured his first client, he left the full-time permanent job and has not regretted it. Being a contractor allows him to charge a high rate for every minute he works.

We also have side gigs, such as a consulting business and a tax prep business.

We don’t come from rich families, didn’t go to ivy league schools, and we don’t consider ourselves geniuses. If we can do it, anybody can do it.

7. How has money changed your life?

We still spend mindfully. We spend only 15% of our income and the rest goes to investments, taxes, paying down the mortgage, and giving.

Below, is what we spend in a year on average (mortgage not included):

The few family members that know about our financial situations have made some comments such as:

  • Why don’t you hire a chef?
  • Why don’t you upgrade your house?
  • Why don’t you hire a nanny?
  • Why don’t you upgrade your cars?

But we really enjoy cooking for ourselves and raising our own kid. We love our cozy house, we don’t feel the need to upgrade it. Our 11 and 13 year old cars still get us from point A to point B, no need to upgrade them.

However, having a little bit of money kind of gives us peace of mind. For example, we know if we were to lose both of our jobs and side businesses, we could live off our savings for years. If we were to liquidate some of our assets, we can live off of that forever.

This allows us not to take BS from anyone anymore, whether it’s a colleague, an employer, or a client, which in turn makes the work even more enjoyable.

8. What’s your next financial goal?

Once we have paid off our mortgage at 39 years old, we will continue to hustle for a few more years until we reach full financial freedom that will allow us to secure a great future for our kid(s) and grandkid(s). We wouldn’t want them to go through what we had to go through.

At that point, we also hope to have enough resources in terms of money and time, to start a school for kids, especially underprivileged kids. We started the project this past spring but had to suspend it, as we realized we need a lot more resources in order to comply with the government bylaws and bureaucracies.

9. What is the biggest lesson you have learned about money?

We have made so many financial mistakes, but one lesson we have learned is that it’s ok to try and fail, but it’s not ok to fail to try. If you have an idea, jot it down, research it, and pursue it if economically feasible. If it works out, great! if it doesn’t, you have learned something.

10. Lastly, what is your very best tip that you have for someone who wants to reach the same success as you?

One. Stay determined and positive. Stay away from negativity or negative people. Stay away from anybody who says you can’t pay off your debt, you can’t make good money, you can’t achieve financial independence, etc..

Two. Seek out knowledge. One way to do this is to follow personal finance blogs.

In real life, it’s kind of taboo to talk about money. However, personal finance bloggers are very open with their income, and/or net worth and provide plenty of tips on how to make, save and invest money.

For example, on our blog, we even provide samples of our resumes that have helped us secure multiple job offers.

And on Making Sense of Cents, you provide a lot of tips on how to grow your income. In 2018, we hope to take your course Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, to learn how we can take our blog to the next level.

So please, seek out knowledge because knowledge is power.

What questions do you have for Tina? She has a great story, right?!

Filed under:

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

Like this article?

Join the Conversation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Yaz | The Wallet Moth

    I love how humble you are, Tina. You can tell that no amount of money will go to your head, and you seem like a lovely woman with a wonderful, grounded family.

    Congratulations on your success 🙂

    1. Thanks Yaz! We do try to stay humble and grounded.

  2. Sean @ Frugal Money Man

    I am a big fan of!

    Your articles and stories are always enjoyable to read, and I really enjoy that I seem to learn something new about you and your husband through every new post. I learned recently of your goal to build a school for children, and that is simply AMAZING! Talk about wanting to give back and leave a legacy.

    Keep up the great work!

    1. Yes, hopefully our dream becomes true one day…

  3. What a cool story! Always inspiring to see other immigrants making it big!… I can’t imagine living next to a sex operator how crazy lol

    1. Yes, it was crazy. And the stories she told us were even crazier 🙂

  4. So inspiring! Thanks for sharing, Michelle.

    Tina, do you think paying off your mortgage will be business as usual? Or will it feel amazing? I look forward to finding out — with a 3-year countdown it’s within your grasp.

    1. Yes, it was crazy. And the stories she told us even crazier 🙂

      1. sorry, mixed up the replies. Meant to say, paying off the mortgage will be amazing. We will finally feel free. A $550k mortgage feels like cuffs on your hands.

  5. Bernz JP

    Classic immigrant story. You’re smart and working hard. Building up that 100k emergency fund takes a lot of self-discipline and hard work. Looks like the turn around was when you left your job for a better-paying one which is pretty much the norm nowadays specifically in the high paying tech industry. Congrats!

    1. Yes, that was the turn around. And it can benefit anyone in any industry really.

  6. Mrs. Cooper

    “Max also realized he was underpaid when HR sent him, by mistake, the salary of a new employee he was going to be managing. It turned out the employee was going to be making more money than him, yet Max was the manager and had more experience.”
    “HR sent him by mistake salary of a new employee he is going to manage” Not sure if I understand this correctly, but every manager has to get approval from HR and CFO to make an offer, so they are able to properly manage their payrol. When you are the boss, manager you don’t manage just people but money as well, your own payroll. Not knowing what your team is making, or what your payroll is and how it works is so confusing.
    I do however applaud sticking to your plan, and achieving your goals.

    1. It’s one of those things you might not believe until it happens to you AND you get to find out.

      I actually also happened to me. But I was the employee who was making more money than my manager; and the director and HR were trying hard keep that information from my manager!

      How did I get to know? Because when I got a raise, I went to thank her and she had no clue I had gotten a raise.

      And that’s when she confessed to me about her frustration, how my salary and increases are kept a secret and that she already suspected it might be because I earn more than her!

  7. Anett

    Such an inspiring story, thank you for sharing!

    $20.000 a year for daycare for 1 child is absolutely crazy, that’s like 35% of your total yearly expenses?! Is it so expensive for everyone in the US?

    1. It depends on the area. We live in Toronto btw, and daycare costs just shoot up even more because of an increase in minimum wage. And there’s another increase in minimum wage planned next year.

    2. Claudia M

      Its about 12,000 for us per kid. We live in Texas.

  8. Thanks MsFAF, I do love your immigrant success story as well. You and your husband have come a long way!

  9. Great story, very inspiring. I am an immigrant too, and just getting started with personal finance blogging. Will definitely check out your site.


    1. That’s great! Will check out yours too

  10. Angela

    Wow, just the inspiration I needed today. So tired of the negativity at my 9 to 5. I just keep my head down and stick to my plan. Thank you for sharing. I am looking forward to checking out your blog.

    1. Thanks. Hopefully your plan works out. Rooting for you!

  11. Leona Werezak

    You inspire me! Thank you for sharing your story, your struggles, & your successes. You and your family have come so far in so many ways. It makes me realize how fortunate I am to live in a free & prosperous country & how many opportunities surround me. I simply need to recognize them & go after some of them. Thank you again for “waking me up” to the gifts all around me.

  12. Thanks! Good to here we inspired you.

  13. It’s possible for anyone to go from poverty to prosperity if they only believe and do the transformation business work at full strength. 🙂

    1. It’s so true. Believing in yourself, visualizing success, staying positive, doing the necessary work…can move you from poverty to prosperity.

  14. Hi Michelle,

    Had to double back one more time to add in dept valuable feedback.

    I’m glad you’re in the side hustle blogging business and take time to discuss extraordinary transformation business success stories of people who started from the bottom like you and I. And I’m really glad moreover that you blogged about this amazing story from rags to riches because little do you know you are giving people so much hope about not being confined to their jobs and giving them inspiration to take a leap of faith in online entrepreneurship. Definitely a good thing if you personally ask me. And to know JP Livingston retired with a net worth of over $2 million at the age of 28 is really going to bring some positive things out of people that are reading this post. Is this such a beautiful feeling to know the Internet can anyone’s life who desires to use it to start a business from the ground floor up and go from poverty to prosperity?

    I was sitting here thinking to myself that’s a pretty good thing to do. I don’t think it’s a good idea to have all of their money in the bank. I’m not saying they also have their millions hidden under up underneath their mattress or tucked away in an addict or buried deep in dirt underneath house baseboards. But having an emergency fund and liquid cash on hand is a good thing, just in case one is unable to get to the bank access large amounts of cash.

    Paying off debt is definitely a good thing to do while accumulating Internet revenues, because you don’t want to be a millionaire entrepreneur with any kind of outstanding debt. I say that to say because sometimes, people and companies find out you have millions of dollars, they tend to do secret research on you to see if you have any kind of outstanding debts anywhere. And they may threaten to expose your debts if you don’t end up palming them some cash. So yes, making money online can change your life and put you in a position to be debt-free, as well as inspire you to make better financial decisions.

  15. MissSaraBee

    Very inspiring story!

    I love that you mention developing negotiation skills were essential to your growth. It is important to emphasize communication skills in any job, even careers that focus in science, math, and technology. A basic understanding of how to talk to people will take you far. Learning respectable debate and negotiation skills will launch you to places you never knew you could reach.

    1. Thanks Sara. Glad to hear you found the story inspiring!

      You are right, communication skills, people skills,…are as important as technical skills.

  16. […] MakingSenseOfCents – Rags To Riches – Interview by Michelle, another blogger we look up to. Check it out. […]

  17. What an inspirational sorry. I love that anyone can do it! I’m sure it wasn’t easy but good for you for making good decisions and continuing to!

  18. What an excellent example! These type of posts are useful for two reasons:
    – Inspiration to continue
    – Learn strategies to overcome our own problems.

    Keep on going!