Here’s our latest interview with a millionaire as we seek to learn from those who have grown their wealth to high heights.
If you’d like to be considered for an interview, drop me a note and we can chat about specifics.
My questions are in bold italics and his responses follow in black.
Let’s get started…
How old are you (and spouse if applicable, plus how long you’ve been married)?
I am 52 years old.
My wife is 49 and we have been married for 24 years (28 years together).
We met in college.
Do you have kids/family (if so, how old are they)?
Yes, two daughters. 18 & 16
What area of the country do you live in (and urban or rural)?
We live in the Chicago area (West Suburbs).
Originally from NY where we were both born and raised.
What is your current net worth?
Just shy of $3,000,000.
What are the main assets that make up your net worth (stocks, real estate, business, home, retirement accounts, etc.) and any debt that offsets part of these?
- 401k’s = $750,000
- HSA = $25,500
Post tax accounts
- Roth IRA’s = $350,000
- Brokerage accounts = $1,300,000
- Cash = $90,000
- Primary home value = $600,000 (mortgage of $200,000 @ 2.875% interest. 4 years left on loan)
What is your job?
I am a VP for a packaging company and my wife is a Sales Director for a software company.
What is your annual income?
Mine is $300,000 and hers $90,000 (not including our annual bonuses that range from $50-150,000 combined).
Tell us about your income performance over time. What was the starting salary of your first job, how did it grow from there (and what you did to make it grow), and where are you now?
My first job out of college was working for a local municipality making $32,000 a year. I maintained local public lands for pedestrian use (parks, trails, bike paths). It was the first job I could find immediately after college and wanted to get started with paying my student loans and starting our life together.
After 3 years I left that job to work for a small private textile company that paid $40,000.
Shortly following that I took a job in the packaging industry for a Fortune 500 company. My starting salary was $45,000 per year plus commissions on sales. All in I made $68,000 the first year I was with them.
This position was my launching pad that led to 15 years with this company. After only 18 months they asked me to take over as the division manager of a small $14,000,000 division. This location had a long history of negative EBITDA. So the company was simply taking a chance on my ability/personality to make a difference at this distribution site.
In the first 2 years we had the business in the black and over the next 4 years I managed the operations we grew the EBITDA to over $650,000 on an annual basis. This performance led to a relocation opportunity in Pittsburgh, PA as the General Manager of a $65 million dollar distribution operation — again with a long history of negative earnings. In only 28 months we improved their performance to $1.25 million in annual EBITDA.
All of this hard work and results led to another relocation to take over the Chicago, IL operations as the Vice President/General Manager of a $200 million operation. Only this site averaged losses of $5,000,000 annual EBITDA. Again, a great opportunity to create a positive change on the many people who worked there and for the companies over all performance.
So the company had appropriately identified me as a turn-around specialist. In less than 4 years we had Chicago posting $9,000,000 in annual EBITDA. In fact, it was the top producing division out of 110 sites across the US and Mexico during the time I was managing the operations.
What tips do you have for others who want to grow their career-related income?
Take chances. You have to make sacrifices sometimes to get ahead and for others to recognize your for your abilities. In my case it was taking the risk of moving my family to attempt turnarounds that those before me were unsuccessful at achieving.
For me, nothing worth doing has ever come easy. You have to be willing to step out on the ledge to test yourself and demonstrate what your abilities are.
What’s your work-life balance look like?
It has always been fairly balanced. But that is from my perspective.
Because of the roles I have had over the past 22 years, there has been a lot of travel and many nights away from the family when the kids were young and my wife was home taking care of them and her own career.
I missed more than most parents but definitely not as much as I am confident some have.
Do you have any sources of income besides your career? If so, can you list them, give us a feel for how much you earn with each, and offer some insight into how you developed them?
I have a pension that will payout out $3,100 per month in my future (65 yrs old).
But other than my income and out investments, no we do not have a side hustle.
I had started a house flipping business with another person in 2017 that started out very profitable (25-30% NET income on sales). We did only 10 homes over a little under 2 years time but my partner got bit by the greed bug and a case of sticky fingers before he dropped out of the business.
I have not had the time to reinvest in another start up just yet. But definitely plan to at some point.
I was the financial side of the business. Floated all the working capital and managed the books. It is all my full time career allowed me to do at the time.
What is your annual spending?
That is a bit of a moving target most years. The short answer is $145,000 per year, which includes every cost we have (mortgage, taxes, fixed variable spending, vacations, co-pays , etc.)
That being said the kids’ college is 100% covered (4 year degrees out of state) and we have zero debt other than the $200,000 balance on our mortgage.
What are the main categories (expenses) this spending breaks into?
Mortgage, taxes, food, utilities, insurances, fuel for cars, spending.
Do you have a budget? If so, how do you implement it?
In a sense we do.
We each have a fixed amount of our before and after tax incomes that are dedicated to the above bills.
All extra income and bonuses go to our retirement savings.
What percentage of your gross income do you save and how has that changed over time?
We currently save 42% of our gross “base incomes”. But our bonuses go to savings as well each year.
However we never know how much those are until each year comes to a close. (It varies from $50-150,000 annually)
What is your favorite thing to spend money on/your secret splurge?
We like to go out one if not both weekend nights for a bite to eat in our home town area.
We also travel several times a year to see family and friends. They are spilt up between the East and west coast.
But in total we seldom spend more than $10,000 annually on travel.
What is your investment philosophy/plan?
I manage all of the investing in our household as my wife is not that interested in the details of it.
We have always followed the moderately aggressive approach through stocks, ETF’s and tax advantaged accounts.
What has been your best investment?
Investing in myself and my marriage.
We are very committed to each other and I have always been very driven by money. It truly is my hobby.
I use that term loosely as I am not the academic type that many of the bloggers I appear to be. But I have committed my learning to their blogs and methods to accumulate savings.
What has been your worst investment?
My current home. We purchased it for a lot of money in July of 2008. Everyone knows what happened to housing a few months later in early 2009.
Our home is currently worth $200,000 less than we paid for it, not to mention what we put into it to make it our own.
I have lost plenty of sleep over this reality. It has been 11 years and the prices have never come back in our part of Chicago.
What’s been your overall return?
Well, in terms of our investable assets it has ranged between 7.5 – 9% if I blend all of our investments.
Frankly, I have not attempted to go back 27 years to figure out our blended average. But the last 15 years or so is in that range.
How often do you monitor/review your portfolio?
I keep an annual spreadsheet that I update on the last day of each quarter.
This breaks out each fund/holdings, net worth, balances on all debts (mortgage) , etc.
How did you accumulate your net worth?
The hard way.
I was raised by my Grandmother from when I was just 13 years old. She was widowed in her early 50’s but owned her home outright and lived on $230 a month of Social Security.
It forced me to work odd jobs as a young boy. Paper routes, restaurants, construction crews.
I put myself through college but that too was done the hard way. Working a minimum of 25 hours a week in local bars while also being a full time student — at times carrying 24 credit hours in a semester.
Of course as life progressed both my wife and I got jobs after college and we earned and saved as much as we could.
What would you say is your greatest strength in the ESI wealth-building model (Earn, Save or Invest) and why would you say it’s tops?
I would have to say all 3.
I grew up pretty poor. To add to that I dropped out of high school in the 9th grade for some difficult reasons within my family structure. Hence going to live with my Grandmother. I created my own environment and took responsibility to make it work despite many critics and hurdles.
Being raised by someone who lived through the great depression, you can imagine the words of wisdom she would impart on me over the 13 years she raised me: “save your pennies and your dollars will grow”, “don’t let money burn a hole in your pocket”. What I did not realize at the time is that those words were shaping me as a man at a very young age. There were a few other quotes she would throw at me from time to time but I will spare the readers those details.
I always had a passion for working and saving up to buy the next flashy object. My own clothes, my first car and every car after that. My problem was that I had to have the best. That caused me to waste a lot of money over the early years.
But as those lessons grew old, I grew wiser and more frugal with my money. But it was a slow process.
What road bumps did you face along the way to becoming a millionaire and how did you handle them?
Controlling my lifestyle creep has haunted me up until about 40 years old.
I have always been an over spender on the things I felt were important. I believe this behavior stemmed from my lack of ever having anything given to me in my youth. It seemed as though I was always saving for something else — what was next on my wish list.
The saving grace is that I never did it on borrowed money. I have always paid cash for everything. Just another lesson from Gram.
It was not until about 35 years old that I started getting serious about saving for the future.
With children came the sobering reality that I needed to grow up even faster and wiser. I went from being a boy to a man the day our first daughter was born. Or so it seemed that way.
What are you currently doing to maintain/grow your net worth?
We invest a lot of money towards our future. I have had a goal to retire by 55 for more than 20 years now. We are further ahead than I had expected to be so we keep moving the goal post out.
Compound interest is truly amazing if you have the fortitude to invest when you are young and let it grow. Added to that behavior comes the mindset to never have debt (except a mortgage if necessary).
I have taken a lot of risk to grow my annual income over 3 relocations and now working for 6 different companies. When the Fortune 500 company announced they were spinning off our distribution arm and the company pension was going to freeze in place with no pension under the new company going forward, I left and took a new job for greater compensation.
Two years later I changed jobs again for a much greater compensation package.
It sort of feels like a mercenary approach but that’s what I have chosen to do to grow, maintain and monetize my net worth.
Do you have a target net worth you are trying to attain?
I would like to get to $5 million but it would require me to work until 60 years old at the current pace we are tracking.
Frankly, I am not sure I can keep working that long. I am definitely at the end of my chosen path in terms of working for someone else.
How old were you when you made your first million and have you had any significant behavior shifts since then?
I was 41 years old when my investable assets reached $1 million.
Yes, I have made the career path changes mentioned above and as a results have increased our annual savings to over 50% if I count our total annual compensation.
What money mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from?
I spent all the money I made in my youth and through college chasing nice things. In hindsight, I wish I had listened more intently to all my Grandmother’s subtle wisdom. I would already be at my net worth goal.
Maybe I should have put more into my kids’ youth and less into my career. By all indications they have no resentment towards my random absence. I do think it was balanced pretty well.
What advice do you have for ESI Money readers on how to become wealthy?
Anyone can do it. Fortune favors the bold (however you define that).You read stories from all walks of life. There are many ways to do it but nothing outweighs your own sheer will and determination. You have to dig deep to make the commitments to become wealthy by whatever definition you choose to put around it.
I learned the most from the FIRE movement. The Mad Fientist (Brandon), Financial Mentor (Todd Tresidder), Retirement Manifesto (Fritz Gilbert) and ESI Money (John) to name only a few.
But in the end, no one can teach you to “want it”. For whatever reason that may be, only you can answer the question of what you want out of life.
For me it has always be the ability to provide for myself, own my decisions and walk a fairly fine line between enough and too much. Pulling back on your own reigns is not as easy as it sounds.
What are your plans for the future regarding lifestyle?
We will not change who we are when we retire. We will live on approximately $100,000 a year of which $65-70,000 will come from SS and a pension.
We intend to downsize our home because it is not necessary to have the home we have had over the years.
Traveling more is definitely in the cards but still do it on a budget.
We want to leave our children and grandchildren with the means to have a rich life that is full of experiences and security. Passing that gift on to the next generations is important to us with the hope that they too will have the motivation to grow their own net worths exponentially greater than what they are born into. Pay it forward in as many ways as they may choose.
What are your retirement plans?
We are looking at settling in the NC Mountain region of the United States. But we are well aware that our children may not want the same so we will remain flexible on our permanent residence over the next 4-7 years before we leave our career jobs. Our children are everything to us and continuing to be involved in their lives is critical to our happiness.
Anything outdoors aligns with our ideology. Music, food, fly fishing, hiking, water, travel. Most of the things that are free or have minimal cost associated to them.
Are there any issues in retirement that concern you? If so, how are you planning to address them?
There are many. Maybe too many to list.
But I am made up in a way that I worry about too many things that I cannot control. So I address them by over planning / saving in hopes that what I cannot control we will be able to afford to work through when the inevitable happens. Whether it be a significant market down turn, reduction in Social Security, world wars that can upset the economy etc.
I am not a believer that you can save too much. We don’t spend nearly what we could so why not have it set aside for the things in life that we or others cannot possibly foresee in their futures? If we over-accumulate savings that never gets spent, that’s fine too. It is part of the plan.
How did you learn about finances and at what age did it ‘click’?
My Grandmother’s oldest son is a Wharton school of business graduate. He is the kind of gentle soul anyone would be lucky to meet. This man sets the bar for integrity in everything he does. He retired from his finance career in his mid 50’s as well and has amassed a fortune. He lives on less than most people do in a year because he chooses too. He invests to this day as if he were going to live another 100 years.
The path he has set for his three children is most likely yet to be realized for the magnitude of how fortunate they are.
It was in my early 20’s that I wanted to be as much like him (as a person) as I could without being quite so conservative and frugal. I am just not hard wired that way.
The truth of the matter is that I am pretty much self taught in finance. College does not prep you for life’s financial maze. I believe it is in my DNA as a results of my grandfather and Uncle on my mother’s side.
Who inspired you to excel in life? Who are your heroes?
Absolutely my Grandmother. Her unconditional love and affection for me in life was my saving grace. If not for her I really am not certain I would be the man I am today.
Other than her, my wife is my best friend. She has taken the role of my Grandmother since the day I met her in 1991. We are about as opposite as two people can be and her genuine caring nature and loyal commitment to family and love of all people is truly amazing. She has inspired me to be the best I can be at all times.
She brings the most joy into our family unit. She is as steady as they come.
Do you have any favorite money books you like/recommend? If so, can you share with us your top three and why you like them?
Well I would probably name all the well-known books out there.
But my first was The Millionaire Next Door.
Another was It’s Your Ship by Michael Abrashoff. He was a Naval officer of a challenged vessel in the US Navy. It was relevant at a time in my life when I was getting deeper into the corporate leadership ranks. We met him in person at a company speaking engagement. He blew us away with his story.
In terms of financial it was actually the FIRE movement and 100’s of blogs that have earned my respect and admiration. There is so much material and great advice out there.
Jack Welch and his wife have written great material on leadership and personal development that also helped shaped my personal and business goals.
In the end though, it has been the gift of others throughout my life that have best helped me along the way. If it were not for the lessons I learned (good and bad), opportunities to take on new responsibilities as well as simple coaching advice from so many great people, I really do not believe I would have personally developed as far as I have in life.
I have always surrounded myself with very smart people — my friends and co-workers.
Do you give to charity? Why or why not? If you do, what percent of time/money do you give?
We do not give a lot to charity.
We have a couple of donations we make to local animal shelters and 1 event we participate in frequently for the Leukemia society. We lost our first child to this awful disease when she was only a few months old.
We will definitely get more involved in the future. The thought of a child’s life has a big impact on me personally. The fragility of their youth and upbringing is always on my mind when I look at my children or someone else’s.
When we leave our busy careers we will have a plan (no surprise that we are planners) for how to give back. Fritz Gilbert and his wife started a foundation called Fences for Fido that has won our hearts. We love dogs so much that we can see ourselves getting very involved in something along those lines. Once upon a time in my early years I raised hunting Beagles. My love for the breed and their devotion to what they pursue runs deep in my veins.
Do you plan to leave an inheritance for your heirs (how do you plan to distribute your wealth at your death)? What are your reasons behind this plan?
In short I mentioned this above. In summary, we have had very challenging experiences throughout our young lives. Everyone experiences life’s curveballs. Like many people, you push through the circumstance and with the guidance of loved one’s and a higher power, persevere through them.
We want to be able to give our family as much as possible without creating a sense of entitlement. We insist both our children work, manage their teenage lives within the parameters of what their part time jobs and life experiences can afford. We subsidize the obvious things in their lives that a parent should take care of if they are in the fortunate position to.
It is our hope they will continue to be the beautiful (internally and externally), respectful young ladies that we have raised to this stage of life.
At some point we would anticipate they will take the reins of their own financial lives and most likely ours in some capacity. Until then they will mature into adulthood by whatever means they choose for themselves (with a little coaching from mom and dad of course).
We have set up a trust for all of our assets. When the inevitable time comes for us, we are confident we will have lived our best life as a couple and family that walked our journey with respect and dignity towards all.