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.
This interview raises a very interesting question: Should a pension (or similar “asset” — for example, this could even apply to Social Security) be included in net worth? And if so, how should it be valued? Without it, this interviewee is not a millionaire. With it, she’s well over $1 million.
I’m making an exception (generally I wouldn’t count a pension, but maybe I’m wrong) and allowing this interview to see what everyone thinks about it. I’m sure the conversation around this topic will be interesting.
This interview took place in August.
My questions are in bold italics and her responses follow in black.
Let’s get started…
How old are you (and spouse if applicable, plus how long you’ve been married)?
40. Husband 45 (married for 5 years).
My husband and I have been married before.
Do you have kids/family (if so, how old are they)?
In the home: Boys: 16/11
4 adult step kids (3 boys and 1 girl: 20-26)
What area of the country do you live in (and urban or rural)?
Southern VA-urban area.
What is your current net worth?
My husband and I have chosen to keep our personal expenses separate. We have a joint account for household bills and this system works well for us. I am not sure of his net worth but he does have debt.
$495,573 + pension + Tricare health insurance
Present pension value if I retired today ($1.6 million): $55,000 per year with COLA.
Currently obligated for 5 more years. Present pension value for O5 @ 28 years ($2.5 million): $93,000 per year with COLA.
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?
- TSP Roth: $40,000
- TSP: $182,500
- Vanguard Roth IRA (Managed-VTSAX/VTIAX): $53,000
- Vanguard Money Market (Managed-VTSAX/VTIAX/VTABX/VBTLX): $119,000 (likely house fund)
- VA 529: $46,000
- Emergency Fund: $26,000 (Took $5,000 out when the market dropped in March 2020 and put into Money Market account)
- Other Sinking Funds: $8,500
- 2020 Honda CR-V: $30,000 brought in Feb 2020 and financed until June 2020
- Debt: None
What is your job?
I currently work as an advanced practice nurse (APN) in the military. I will have 23 years of service in Dec 2020.
I joined the military at 18 and spent six years enlisted starting as an E-1 and commissioning at E-5.
The military offers commissioning programs where they will send you to school and your only job is to be a student. You usually owe 6 years after the completion of these programs. I did not apply for the program and opted to do it on my own because I don’t like people to choose my faith.
I worked full-time, stood duty (work outside of regular hours), went to school and sometimes moonlighted (EMT & Registered Nurse). By the time I commissioned I had finished two associate degrees and my bachelor degree.
I was commissioned at 24 as a bachelor nurse. By then I was a wife and a mom. Pregnancy delayed my commissioning by six months because I could not go to officer training. Leaving my three month old baby was HARD but it was only six weeks and I knew it would improve my income.
Two years after my commissioning I started working on my master’s degree which would allow me to practice as an advanced practice nurse. For those three years, I worked full-time as a staff nurse on 12 hour shifts 2-5 times a week, completed courses, completed clinical hours on my off days, juggled motherhood/wifehood and I was pregnant with my second son. Looking back I don’t know how I did it but I managed. A benefit of working 12 hour night shifts that I was able to complete school work after patients were asleep.
I had my second son in March 2009 and finished my master’s degree in May 2009. That seemed to be my trend, baby then degree. This degree allowed me to re-designate as a nurse practitioner and I moved to my next duty station. This job change increased my income due to a bonus and certification pay. In the military you also get a pay increase after every two years until you hit a certain amount of years based on your rank.
Promotion for my branch is automatic from O-1 to O-2 and O-2 to O-3 as long as you don’t do anything wrong. O-4 and above are competitive which means your record goes up to a board and you are compared to your peers and not everyone is selected for promotion.
In 2013, I put on O-4 which meant a pay increase. On September 1, 2020, I will put on O-5. I was selected for O-5 in June 2019 but you have to wait your turn to put it on and actually get paid for it.
Due to bonus obligation, I have five more years of service left. As long as I stay out of trouble and don’t have a major illness, I will retire with 28 years of service. As an O-5 with 28 years of service, I will get 70% of my base pay. At 20 years of service you get to keep 50% of your base pay and for every year after 20 years of service, you get 2.5% more of retirement.
What is your annual income?
Taxable: $142,000 ($107,600 + $35,000 yearly bonus). I’m on year 2 of 6 of bonus.
Non-taxable: $37,000 (housing allowance, board certification pay and food allowance).
Child support: $9,840 (Goes into 529s plans)
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?
I have listed my taxable income below. This chart does not include my non-taxable income (housing allowance, uniform allowance, COLA, special pays) which is hard to track at this time. I spent a good amount of my career overseas which I think is more lucrative.
What tips do you have for others who want to grow their career-related income?
The military is not for everyone but it worked for me. My military career has been kind and stable. The job you pick has a huge impact on your quality of life. My job is not a sea based job. I’ve only been away from my kids for six months in 23 years. At that time I was a single parent and was given a two week notice that I was leaving for six months and I was overseas. Their father and I are not on the best of terms but he will take them if needed.
I always try to make the best of the situation. I have never gone to the duty station that I wanted but I have always enjoyed the adventure while I was there. I am an adventure seeker and like new experiences.
The military paying for my education and my education have been the biggest tools in increasing my income. I have utilized tuition assistance and GI Bill to finance two associate degrees, one bachelor’s degree, one master’s degree and one doctorate degree. The highest student loan balance I have ever had was $11,000. When I used my GI Bill, I had to pay up front for my tuition and the VA paid me later so I took out loans but paid them off aggressively.
Before I commissioned I was thinking about leaving the service but I did a calculation and found that I would make more as an E-5 in the military then as a registered nurse in the civilian world. I don’t pay any healthcare cost and most of my income is non-taxable.
What’s your work-life balance look like?
My work-life balance is currently excellent and I owe that to my doctorate degree. I am in a non-traditional role for my skill set which allows for tele-working and flexibility. Unlike other primary care providers in the military, I am not required to be in the clinic every day which is a nice change.
If anyone is not aware of the work-life of a primary care provider, most providers see a patient every 20 mins and then they are responsible for charting the visits after hours. This cycle day in and day out is mentally and physical exhausting.
I have one year left in my current position and will return to a traditional provider job at that time.
We like to travel as a family and the military gives us 30 days a year for vacation. The boys and I have visited Italy, France, Germany, UK, Netherlands, Austria, Spain, Romania, Australia, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia & Panama. Before COVID we had plans to visit Spain and Japan again this year. We are economical travelers so we try to balance cost with experiences.
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 moonlight sometimes for locums. I value my time off from the military so I rarely do it but the pay and light workload is nice.
I also like to see how the civilian world works.
What is your annual spending?
As mentioned above, my husband and I have opted to have a joint account for our household expenses and separate accounts for personal expenses.
- Household: ~$40,000 (comes from joint account)
- Personal: Expenses: ~$12,000
- Save: ~$60,000
What are the main categories (expenses) this spending breaks into?
- Rent: $2050. We have chosen to rent because we like the flexibility and less responsibility. I think it also saves money because you don’t do upgrades because it is not our home. We have been able to negotiate our rent down twice in the last three years.
- Utilities: $600
- Groceries: $400
- Dining out: $200
- Vacation Fund: $200
- TSP: $832
- Dental: $30 (for kids)
- SGLI: $27 (military life insurance)
- Life insurance: $72 ($1,000,000 30 year term)
- Kids: $300
- Fun: $400
- Gas: $100
- Clothes: $200
- Christmas Fund: $150
- Vacation Fund: $400
- New Car Fund: $333
- Sunshine Fund: $150
- Tithes: $1140
- Life Insurance: $72
- Car Wash: $25
- Non-profit: $50
- Roth IRA: $500
- Savings: $2000-2500
Do you have a budget? If so, how do you implement it?
I use zero based budgeting each month but I am not strict.
My savings comes out automatically so as long as I have cash in my checking to cover my credit card bills, I don’t pay that much attention.
I try to put most of my expenses on my credit card for points but pay my bill off monthly.
What percentage of your gross income do you save and how has that changed over time?
These are my current savings rates. I like using sinking funds which are included below.
I am definitely a better saver now then I was in my younger days. I find the use of sinking funds helpful.
- 33% long-term savings (retirement, new car & house savings)
- 9% short-term savings-plan to use in next 12 months (Christmas, vacation, car fix)
What’s your best tip for saving money?
Don’t pay interest. I can’t believe I used to give away $150 a month in interest.
Make it automatic. One less thing to think about.
Make a written budget and compare it against your actual spending. I know I could save more money if I wanted to but I am trying to balance enjoying life now because tomorrow is not guaranteed.
What is your favorite thing to spend money on/your secret splurge?
I love to travel. Once I retire in 5 years, my plan is to work part part part-time to fund my vacations. I am hoping to work eight hours a week but I don’t think I will find a job that will allow it. I will likely do locums until I’m 60. After being in the military for so long, I crave the freedom to come and go as I please. If I want to travel overseas now, you have to fill out numerous forms and submit requests to certain people and I will not miss that.
I also like to spend money to help others. I have a sunshine fund line on my budget and I will buy things that local teachers need, donuts for staff or donate to a GoFundMe campaign. I also like buying gifts for my kid’s teachers. Teaching like nursing is a thankless job so I try to show my appreciation with gift cards to their favorite restaurants.
What is your investment philosophy/plan?
My investment plan has been to set it and forget it. My savings comes out automatically and once you make changes to your budget, you get used to living on less.
I use Vanguard Personal Advisor Services because I don’t want to worry about rebalancing. I think the fee is reasonable.
Choose FI has helped me to understand investing better.
What has been your best investment?
Myself. The sacrifices I made earlier in life have paid off. I am thankful that I have made it this far with my health, pension and healthcare.
I hope to pass the lessons I learned to my kids and it will help them rise to the next level.
What has been your worst investment?
1. Paying high fees for investment accounts through my bank. You assume the bank is looking out for your best interest and that is not the case. I didn’t have family or friends to guide me. I am thankful to Podcast and Youtube for teaching me the way.
2. Placing money in “safe” funds because I didn’t want to lose money and not realizing safe funds don’t keep up with inflation. I know better now and realize that the stock market always bounces back and I have time for it to bounce back.
What’s been your overall return?
I have no idea.
How often do you monitor/review your portfolio?
I look at my balances on my TSP and Vanguard daily and do a net worth update with all my accounts each month on my spreadsheet.
How did you accumulate your net worth?
My wealth came from saving and my twenty years in the military. I never planned to stay in the military but I am glad I did. I am thankful for my lifetime pension and healthcare.
I did sell a house in 2017 which netted me ~$30,000. When I think about the repairs I made during the 10 years that I owned it and the repairs I had to do to sell it, I think I broke even or lost money. You live and learn.
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?
Earn. The military has funded my education which allowed me to earn my current income.
It is harder to save and invest if you don’t have the money to cover your living expenses. Covering my living expenses has never been a concern for me.
What road bumps did you face along the way to becoming a millionaire and how did you handle them?
Making bad choices with my money such as buying a home, credit card debt, co-signing on a loan and putting money in high fee investment accounts have been some of the road blocks during my journey but you live and you learn.
I hope to pass the lessons I learned to my kids and to be more open with money with them so that they avoid my mistakes.
What are you currently doing to maintain/grow your net worth?
I continue to work and save.
I always hope to tighten my budget and reduce spending in categories that don’t bring me joy but it is a balancing act.
Do you have a target net worth you are trying to attain?
My goal is to save enough money to pay cash for a house in 5-10 years.
My pension will cover my expenses so anything else is extra funds for my travel.
How old were you when you made your first million and have you had any significant behavior shifts since then?
TBD but Personal Capital is predicting 47.
I personally consider myself a millionaire. I have a pension that will pay out for the rest of my life and is currently valued at over a million. If I passed away today, my son’s would get over a million in benefits from my personal savings, my insurance policy and the military.
What money mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from?
Buying a house does not always make sense.
I bought a house in Texas for my sister to live in because I thought it would help reduce my tax burden. I’m not sure if it did. If I could take the money I spent helping her with the mortgage, repairs and other expenses and put it in the market, I’m sure I would have done better in the long run.
Credit card interest. If you can’t pay it off by the end of the month, don’t buy it
Don’t co-sign for anyone. If they can’t get it on their own, they don’t need it.
Investment fees can eat away at your earnings.
What advice do you have for ESI Money readers on how to become wealthy?
You will have to be willing to sacrifice.
I left home at 18 and I have missed many holidays and birthdays due to my military life. Personally as long as my kids are with me, I am okay. When I look at the lives of many of my peers I know I am doing better than 99% of them because I chose to leave home and join the military. I don’t think many people are willing to make that kind of sacrifice.
I also made sacrifices to complete my schooling. I worked full-time and went to school. When I was pregnant with my last son, I was either working or doing clinicals seven days a week. The night I went into labor, I worked a 12 hour shift and got off at 7 pm and went into labor at 11 pm that night. I knew that short term sacrifice would give way to long-term gains and I was rewarded for my sacrifices.
What are your plans for the future regarding lifestyle?
My pension will cover all my expenses. I want a larger vacation budget so I will work part part part-time to fund that.
I will retire fully at 60 and start withdrawing from my TSP. I plan to start withdrawing my social security at 62.
What are your retirement plans?
On a typical day I want to be able to wake up around 7 am and workout.
I don’t have plans for the rest of the day but I would like to help with reading programs for children at community centers.
I would like to fund a reward program to motivate them to read. My youngest son had some trouble with reading when he was in early elementary and I am thankful I had the knowledge (research different programs), work flexibility (child could not participate in after school tutoring program if they are not picked up by 3:30pm) and money (tutors are not cheap) to get him the help he needed. I can see how children can be left behind.
I want to be able to spend time with the kids and grandkids when I want. Since we are a blended family I am not sure how that will look.
I also want to do weekend trips, one overseas trip, one stateside trip and one cruise a year.
Are there any issues in retirement that concern you? If so, how are you planning to address them?
My pension is pretty solid but I wish I had saved more in my retirement accounts.
I hope I get to enjoy my retirement because life is not guaranteed. My oldest son was diagnosed with cancer 18 months ago and you realize how life can change in a blink. He is doing awesome but life is not always fair.
How did you learn about finances and at what age did it “click”?
In 2013 (33 years old), I noticed I was paying over $150 a month in credit card interest and I couldn’t believe I was just giving someone $150 a month.
After that, I made a plan to pay off my credit card and started listening to Dave Ramsey and Suzy Orman. Following their advice, I become more interested in saving, being debt free and never paying another cent in interest.
Who inspired you to excel in life? Who are your heroes?
I always said I wouldn’t have children until I could afford to take care of them on my own without help for anyone. My father was not involved in my life and my mom struggled.
The well being of my children motivates me.
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?
My favorite podcast is Choose FI & Afford Anything.
Women Who Travel. I love to travel.
Do you give to charity? Why or why not? If you do, what percent of time/money do you give?
Giving is my love language.
- I tithe 10% each month to my church. I am blessed and realize life could have been much different.
- I give to Patreons like Humans of New York and Hasfit.
- I also give to a friend’s non-profit in San Diego.
- I believe in giving teachers gifts. I think they have a thankless job and I want to show my appreciation.
- I also give randomly to GoFundMe funds when I see campaigns that I am drawn to.
- I like to buy food for co-workers to help them make it through the week.
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?
I plan to die at 100 and I do not plan to leave an inheritance. I plan to help them during their lifetime and make parenthood easier for them. I’m not sure what that may look like but it could mean helping with home down payment, funding 529s or paying for kid activities.
If I have money left when I die, I will give to Planned Parenthood. As a woman, I know that family planning has a big impact on quality of life and long-term earning potential and I want to limit barriers to family planning.