Today, I have a great guest post to share from a reader, Gary Grewal, on how he saved $500,000 by the age of 31. Enjoy!
Trust me, I know. The last thing you want to read is another millennial bragging about how he “hustled” and “optimized productivity” to become a semi-millionaire by his early 30s.
I promise that’s not how I got to where I am, or at least I’d like to think so. I always valued the fact that time, balance, and self-care is just as important as getting to financial independence.
So it takes me longer to get to FI, big deal!
Are we all about the prize without appreciating how life unfolds along the way? Anyway, my point is that my story about my personal quest to FI didn’t start off that uniquely.
Growing up in a fairly nice middle class neighborhood in suburban Northern California, I always wondered why some driveways had nicer cars than others, why some yards were more meticulously maintained, and how my friends with whom I played on the street had everything from torn hand-me-down LA-Gear flashing shoes (dating myself) to $120+ Air Jordan’s.
Then you go to high school, and everyone knows the girl who drives the new BMW or the guy with a brand-new Tacoma.
Kind of funny actually, but during my junior/senior year in high school (this was right before the housing crash of 2008) we had a career day in English class, and EVERYONE wanted to be a real estate agent, as they saw their parents bringing home $50,000 a month.
While things turned for the worst soon after, I couldn’t fathom at the age of 16 how someone who drives around showing people houses can make more money than a physician, which is, shockingly, what I was encouraged to be when I was younger.
It was then that I realized there must be a whole book of careers that I didn’t even know existed, many of which that I would enjoy more and make more money in than the medical route (I was pretty bad at calculus, which wasn’t helped with the fact that I hated it).
Further, it was only after talking to a friend where I learned of careers such as real estate developers, the enterprising folks who build the shopping centers and office buildings we all see around town, and how his family didn’t go to college, but boy where they successful (at least from the outside, don’t worry I’ve read The Millionaire Next Door.)
Anyway, my quest to become financially secure began in the middle of college.
I decided to ditch my plans of going to dental school after some very wise mentors told me I’d be miserable and in debt until I retired. I decided instead to graduate college about a year early (saving me almost $20,000) and I did this simply by challenging/petitioning for credit for AP courses and community college classes I took.
After graduation, I spent the first 6 months of what would have been “senior year” and I hung out at the public library (our library was cool, with sweet views and had tons of new personal finance books, mind you) where I couldn’t believe the things I learned that no one told me about.
I immediately opened an online savings account and set up automatic deposits, as well as opened a Roth IRA at my local credit union.
Now, when you’re young and naive like I was, you trust the guy in a tie sitting across from you and buy Class B mutual funds with a sales charge because he said that’s a good thing. Not a wise idea.
Always, always understand what you are investing in. I graduated college debt free, however keep in mind that this was 2010.
The recession was dragging on, and no one was hiring recent college grads for full time salaried positions, especially with a bachelor’s degree in physiology (now I know why the liberal arts kids were always so happy and had free time!).
So, I went on to work for a full-service insurance/brokerage agency, working on full commission as my first “real” job out of college.
You know, the one for which you have to wear a tie and actually be on time for Monday morning meetings? It wasn’t my ideal life at all, considering I had a degree from UCLA and the guy next to me dropped out of community college because he didn’t want to study.
Yet, this would be where my journey to Financial Independence begins.
After learning the ropes, getting my securities licenses and my Masters’ degree in Financial Services, I started to make as much if not more than peers in full time jobs at accounting firms and such.
Another tip, try as hard as you can to get your employer to pay for your graduate degree, or at least negotiate a reimbursement agreement and show them how it will add value to the organization’s goals.
With the cost of higher education rising each year and student loans at record levels, don’t let someone believe getting that next degree will cement your promotion or get you an automatic raise.
Know the path of those that went before you, network, and ask them what they would have done differently.
Working in an insurance agency, as unattractive as that sounds, did enable me opportunities that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. Many wholesalers (representatives from mutual fund companies and such that market their products to industry professionals) would take our office out to lunch at swanky restaurants and give beautiful presentations and literature out to us.
While many advisors glazed over the slides while they stuffed their faces with gourmet meals, I was intrigued. Things like Emerging Markets, ETFs, and REITs came into the picture and I was sure thirsty for more information, so I started doing research on it myself.
After that commissions-based stint, I secured a salaried position at a brokerage firm, and it seemed like all we did was watch CNBC all day in the branch. That’s where I started to get comfortable making stock trades outside of just buying index funds and ETFs.
While I don’t recommend you just rely on stock trading to help you reach FI, learning things like 200 day moving average, Earnings Per Share, and book value allowed me to keep tabs on companies I thought were going be profitable long term bets (I’d also encourage you if you do have a stock portfolio, make sure you create a watch list and set up alerts!)
Then I did something any advisor would probably strictly prohibit. I straight quit my job with no back up plan, and moved to Denver, CO.
Now, I think that was the best decision I’ve ever made.
I was 26, and I wanted to know what life was like in a city, and outside of the bubble of CA. After 2 months of job searching, (which was the best two months ever, a preview of retirement and being able to meander trails and read a book in the grass at 2pm on a Tuesday), I landed a role that paid 50% more than my last job, with more lucrative performance-based incentives.
Always be on the lookout for increasing your income potential, as that is unlimited.
I’d also encourage you to look for a job that has additional variable compensation, such as bonuses, performance incentives, stock options, and perks like transit reimbursement or a travel card.
Don’t just look at the salary, as sometimes employers want to reward you more closely to how hard you work and the kind of money you can bring in.
Starting my side business idea.
I also started a side business (hint: try to have at least one fun additional stream of income), renting out reusable moving boxes to people in the Sacramento area who wanted a more white-glove, eco-friendly moving experience. I had heard of the concept on the East Coast, but nothing was in my area.
Why did I choose this business idea?
Because it had low startup costs (buy a bunch of boxes for $1,500) and I didn’t have to manufacture, license, or sell a product, or hire any employees. In the early days, I rented a truck from Home Depot and did all the deliveries myself, but after settling in Denver, I found a business partner to arrange that for me.
So, if you want to move around like I did, be sure to have a business or stream of income you can manage remotely, otherwise you might be forced to close or operate at a loss.
Saving $50,000 by having roommates.
One of the biggest money saving strategies I practiced that helped me get where I am today, is living with my parents for as long as I could (Age 21-25) and then always living with a roommate.
Not everyone has the luxury of being able to live with family, true.
However anyone can live with a roommate or two. I didn’t know anyone when I moved to Orange County, or to Denver, but I’ve lived with roommates ever since, from finding people on Craigslist!
As crazy as that sounds, they were all amazing, super friendly, and clean.
Some of them I am still close friends with to this day. Think about it, housing is probably the biggest part of your budget, plus you are splitting utilities, internet, household supplies, and may not need to get that much furniture.
Plus, you have someone at home to sign for a package or turn off the oven if you forget.
Another way, obviously, is to live with your significant other if you’re lucky to have one, which is even more savings because instead of a 2-bedroom, you can split the cost of a 1 bedroom or studio!
Over the course of 5 years, I must have saved at least $50,000 just by having a roommate.
Make sure that you take advantage of move-in incentives posted by professionally managed buildings, and know you can negotiate that, along with the rent, parking, and addendums they may add.
Newer buildings, private landlords, and tenants who need someone to take over their lease may be especially willing to go the extra mile to make a sweet deal for you, so do keep an eye out for those.
Living in Denver opened my eyes to a lifestyle I thought only existed in movies.
While it’s getting increasingly popular now, it was still small enough to not have to deal with too many crowds or lines at the popular spots, but big enough that you had all the amenities, amazing restaurants, robust parks and infrastructure, and you’re close to the mountains.
Don’t take this as a suggestion to move there, at least not permanently, as I think it’s way too expensive at this time.
But it allowed me to rub elbows with other ambitious young people, to attend amazing events and make connections with people who have ambition in life, as well as to attend plenty of free startup oriented events.
This is something you should keep in mind.
Even though it might be cheaper for you to live in the suburbs or the countryside, consider the human capital and connections you can make in places with a vibrant culture such as a growing city. It will pay dividends not just with the social connections you make, but the things that you learn.
So, when you are ready to start a business or take an accelerated class in coding, you have people to turn to for advice that can help you make some of the biggest decisions in life.
After a little more than 4 years in that beautiful city, I landed a job at a personal finance startup that I currently work for now.
After living in Denver, which was increasingly becoming a hotspot for startups, I learned from friends in the startup world (see paragraph above for the connection) that they were getting stock grants and options in their compensation package.
I always wanted to work for a startup, which I did during a brief month-long stint at the beginning of my Denver adventure, because the laid back environment, free food, and ping pong tables made going to work seem more fun than the weekends. I learned though that the salaries are lower, and I was afraid to take a pay cut.
Let this be another lesson for you, reader.
Salary is not always the most important thing.
Especially if you are young and learning what you want to do. Some people who took low salaries at startups ended up cashing out big when they were merged or acquired and had a liquidity event with their stock options.
Which brings me back to the stock form of compensation.
After learning I could be given equity along with a raise at my current job, I jumped at the chance (plus we get to work from anywhere). Sure, some startups may not provide as generous benefits as a Fortune 100 company, but you’ve got to decide what is more important to you at a certain time in your life and trust your gut.
Right after I took this new job, the pandemic hit hard in the US.
Everyone who could was being told to work from home, and our lives changed in ways we couldn’t have imagined before. This was welcome news, as many people were able to eliminate their commutes and save money on gas, parking, tolls, transit, etc.
Either way you look at it, transportation, after housing, is going to be one of your biggest expenses.
Ever since I moved out of my parents house, I always found housing within a half mile of my work. Why? Especially when you work downtown, being able to walk or bike to work you save a ton on gas, parking, maintenance, car insurance (because you’re putting less miles on your car and it’s now for leisure, not commuting), and more.
Always try to be close to your work if you have to actually go in. Not only does it save in transit costs, it’s also more environmentally responsible, plus it saves you the most precious resource you have: time.
Do you really want to spend 2 hours each day going to and from work?
So here we are today.
I love my job working as a financial planner, running my moving box rental company, and finally making my book into a reality.
I’m not different from you, and you too can become a semi-millionaire by 30 or your early 30s.
It will enable you to have freedom.
Freedom to work where you want, with how you want, and for how long you want.
You don’t have to stay stuck in a job, relationship, or adverse housing situation because you’ve got the cushion of your assets. You can take time to explore what you really want to do after a layoff, or test out a business idea.
My top 5 takeaways for you are:
- Always pay yourself first, and work to save at least 40-50% of your pay
- Automate everything, including monthly savings, investment accounts, bills and debt payoff
- Negotiate (respectfully) everything you can, including rent, salary, employee benefits, car prices and loan terms, and even open box appliances or electronics
- Minimize your housing and transit costs as long as you can (live with family, or close to work) and
- Try at least one way to make extra or passive income, preferably doing something you enjoy, are skilled at and have a penchant for.
It doesn’t have to make $6,000 per month, but maybe it covers all of your food and entertainment budget, and now living on half your salary isn’t so bad.
Oh and an extra – ABL: Always be learning.
There is an unfathomable amount of information out there, from negotiation and investment books, to incredible blogs like Making Sense of Cents, where real people tell you exactly what worked for them and what they’ve learned along the way.
Financial Independence is yours for the taking, and you have what it takes to make it happen!
Author bio: Gary Grewal is a remote financial planner, entrepreneur, current nomader and author of Financial Fives: The Top 325 Ways to Save, Earn, and Thrive to Retire Before 65. He also writes at financialfives.com.
Do you have any questions for Gary? What are you doing to save, earn, and thrive?