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 took place in September.
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’m 50. Wife is 47. Married 27 years.
Do you have kids/family (if so, how old are they)?
We have 6 kids ranging in age from 9 to 29.
What area of the country do you live in (and urban or rural)?
We live in the Midwest. Urban area (although I grew up in a rural area).
What is your current net worth?
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?
- Mutual Funds/Retirement: $1M+
- Business Valuation: $3M-$4M
- Home: $250K
- No Debt
What is your job?
I own a consulting company.
What is your annual income?
Approx. $250K-$350K per year.
That includes $100K salary + another $250K in owner equity paid out quarterly based on company performance.
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 spent the first 10 years of my career working for nonprofits.
Began part time first year $15K (1993). Wife made the same, so combined household income was $30K.
My second job 3 years later paid $32K. Got promoted to a $48K role with same organization. Left there after 7 years at $60K.
Started a consulting business in 2003 living on $1,000 a month from savings and other sources.
Within 2 years I had replaced my salary of $60K.
Within 5 years I was making $100K from consulting.
Past 5 years that went to $250K and now $350K+.
When I was working for an organization, I grew my income by increasing my value internally and being willing to take on new challenges (which included helping to launch a new concept inside of an existing nonprofit).
But the biggest boost to income was taking what I had learned as an employee and offering it to my network of nonprofit contacts as a consultant.
What tips do you have for others who want to grow their career-related income?
The biggest thing I learned was that the experience I gained on the job was worth a LOT more as a consultant than as an employee.
Instead selling my hours to an employer (ex. 40 hours per week), I was now selling “value” (ex. consulting clients weren’t paying me for hours, but rather for my expertise and ability to deliver a particular outcome).
In short, I learned the power of leveraging my time – creating more value for me (income and enjoyment) and more value for my clients (paying for a result or an outcome rather than paying for a salary, benefits, etc).
What’s your work-life balance look like?
Better now that I’ve built a team. In the beginning, the work-life balance was way off – lots of extra time spent building and managing the business. Not only was I the only one doing the work, I was also the one who had to get the work on the front end, and then on the back end manage the paperwork of running a business (ex. billing, taxes, etc).
Over time, I began to reach out to people to help me on a part time or contract basis to help me with specific tasks. Then over time we began to build a team of FT and PT people, where now I can focus on a few things I do best, and the team can do what they do best.
This has created tremendous freedom and flexibility where I can do what I most enjoy doing – whether that be in my business, or with my family, or church, or other involvements.
What is your annual spending?
We withdraw $3K per month to live on for ongoing household expenses.
Add in taxes, charitable giving, and education, and our annual spending rises to $175K per year.
What are the main categories (expenses) this spending breaks into?
- Save and Invest: $125K
- Taxes: $60K
- Household: $40K
- Charitable Giving: $40K
- College Tuition: $40K
Do you have a budget? If so, how do you implement it?
We don’t have a formal written budget anymore.
In our first 15 years of marriage, we were much more intentional about written budgets, cash envelopes, etc. Watching every penny. Working hard to become 100% debt free including our house by the time I was 31 and my wife was 28.
Then once we became 100% debt free, and the business began to flourish, we developed a more “macro” view of our budget: live on $3K per month, give away $30K-$50K per year, make sure college funds are in good shape for our kids, then save and invest the rest (with ample resources available to do what we want to do for fun, such as occasional trips, home improvements, etc).
The way we split it up is I manage our savings, investments, charitable giving, and education funds. My wife handles paying the bills.
What percentage of your gross income do you save and how has that changed over time?
We save about 30-40% of our gross income now.
When we were first married and had very modest resources, we subscribed to the 10-10-80 Plan – first giving 10% to God (ex. church and charity), then 10% savings, and use the remaining 80% for living expenses.
Then when we bought a house, and determined in advance we wanted to pay it off in 7 years, the ratio was more like 10-50-40 (with 10% to God, 50% “savings” to pay down our mortgage, and 40% to cover living expenses).
In all of our 27 years of marriage, we have always strived to live small, save big, and give big.
What’s your best tip for saving money?
I came up with a phrase years ago that contentment isn’t getting what you want, it’s wanting what you got.
We are very content with our simple lifestyle (our friends have no idea we are millionaires). We find great joy in the Lord, our broad network of relationships, and having fun doing simple things together (ex. walking around the neighborhood, board games, hanging out with neighbors, going on day trips, etc).
What is your favorite thing to spend money on/your secret splurge?
Now that we have adult kids, we enjoy creating experiences that bring us together.
If we take a vacation, we invite them to join us for all or part of it and pay for them to come.
What is your investment philosophy/plan?
I am a person of faith, and as such have developed 3 levels of investing:
- Level 1: Short term such as college savings for kids.
- Level 2: Long term for retirement although I don’t plan to fully “retire” until I physically can’t work, too much energy and purpose connected to my work.
- Level 3: Eternal investments into the cause of Christ. Jesus said “store up for yourselves treasure in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy.” And so over the past 10 years we’ve invested in 100+ Christian causes we believe in.
What has been your best investment?
We’re pretty “vanilla” when it comes to investing. We have an excellent financial advisor who specializes in working with higher net worth clients. And he helps us rebalance our mutual fund portfolio as we move through different seasons of life.
We don’t invest in individual stocks, so we don’t have a “best” investment story.
Honestly, my best investment has been my business. Excellent growth over time there. We could be making a lot more, but we are very generous with our staff and pay them like owners. That arrangement has been great for them, great for us, and great for those we serve.
What has been your worst investment?
Again, because we don’t pick individual stocks, or get involved in other investment opportunities outside our business, we don’t have a “worst investment” either.
The “stress” of running a company is plenty for me. Chasing and managing additional investment possibilities outside of my business would add more layers of stress to my life that I don’t want or need. I want to be present for my family, and my business, and my church, and my friends. Investing in my business and mutual funds allows me the margin to be the best I can be in all areas of life.
What’s been your overall return?
Our approach generally does a little better than the market.
So for example, the market average in 2019 was 15% and our portfolio was in the 18-20% range, and we were very happy with that.
How often do you monitor/review your portfolio?
Given our pretty standard approach to investing in good mutual funds, this may be a bit surprising, but I monitor our portfolio several times per week. Partly because we are actively moving money around paying current college bills, or transferring money into our college, retirement, or other investment accounts.
Our Donor Advised Fund (aka giving fund) is also on the same website, and we are constantly moving money in and out of there as well for charitable purposes.
How did you accumulate your net worth?
Looking back on our journey, there were at least 6 principles that contributed to our ability to accumulate our net worth:
1. Inspiration over information.
I know many of my fellow millionaires love to “geek out” on technical information about investment vehicles, rates of return, etc. Or read lots of books related to wealth accumulation and management. And that’s great! I do appreciate the value of this information, and have certainly done some of this research and reading myself. But I don’t enjoy it.
The key for me was inspiration over information. My problem wasn’t a lack of access to financial information. It’s everywhere, and honestly, it’s a bit intimidating (and boring) to me.
My challenge was to get motivated to do the right things financially. Most of us have heard the advice to live within your means, pay yourself first, etc. But having a sustained passion to do the right things is another matter.
For example, I love reading success stories of people who got out of debt, or succeeded in business. Those stories motivate me, and give me fresh ideas and motivation to do what God has uniquely called me to do.
2. Live simply.
My wife and I didn’t start with any resources. Both of our families earned very average wages. We didn’t inherit anything.
In fact, my wife and I were a single income household for the first several years of our marriage (and I was working for a nonprofit, so our income was quite modest). We quickly learned the art of living simply.
We borrowed a book multiple times from the library called Global Family Portrait which pictured 30 “average” families from 30 countries with all of their earthly belongings. And we realized that if we never earned another dollar we were already wealthy in comparison to the rest of the world. This motivated us to live simply, and to be very content and grateful with our lives and relationships.
3. Pay off debt.
Before I got married, I was a horrible money manager.
I used credit cards to pay for every day things like groceries, and considered it a success if I could pay off my minimum monthly balance each month. I bought a car I couldn’t afford with debt, and didn’t have enough money for the down payment, so I went to a second bank to finance the down payment. In short, I was a clueless financial walking disaster.
Then before I got married, a friend invited me to a financial seminar at a local church sponsored by Larry Burkett. He pointed out that the Bible talks about money and possessions 2000 times – more than the topics of faith and prayer combined. Why? Because money is simply a picture of what our heart values most. Debt then was a flashing red warning sign that my heart and values were not in the right place. Debt is getting ahead of God‘s provision.
Larry‘s book, Complete Financial Guide For Young Couples, was a lifesaver to me. It spelled out, in very simple terms, a practical biblical plan for being financially free. I absorbed the content, read it several times, and began to apply the principles in this book with great tenacity.
My wife and a lived very frugally, and paid down debt with great passion. When it came time to buy our first home, we told the realtor we’d like to find a starter home that we could potentially pay down in seven years. And we did. I was 31 years old and my wife was 28 when we made the last payment on our home and became 100% debt-free.
4. Give generously.
As we studied the Bible to learn more and more about what God says about money, we became more and more energized by the idea that money was a picture of what we value, and a tool to accomplish the purpose that God created us for. That meant that becoming 100% debt-free was not an end in itself and the purpose for us in becoming 100% debt-free wasn’t really about us.
Our church was going through a very popular book at the time called The Purpose Driven Life by Pastor Rick Warren. The first line of that book says: it’s not about you. When applied to our money, we discovered the joy of realizing that the purpose of financial freedom is to set others free to pursue the purpose God created them for as well.
For us, that meant investing in charities that advance the cause of Christ. Alleviating poverty, promoting evangelism, discipleship, and missions.
We discovered the joy of generosity and that infused new purpose and new passion into our work, our living, our earning, our saving, and our investing. But how does giving generously help us “accumulate” wealth? The answer is found in 2 Corinthians 9 where God says he resupplies givers. In other words God tends to financially bless those who use their wealth to bless others.
5. Start a business.
Being freed up financially also opened up new options for my work life. I was happily employed at a nonprofit organization. But over time the travel and expectations began to feel out of sync with the rest of my life.
A Christian businessman asked me what I’d want to do if money were no object. And in one sense, that was already true. Because we were 100% debt-free and had very low expenses, it already felt like money was not an object. So I begin to dream and pray and talk about my ideal job.
When I shared my dream with others, they laughed or criticized me because no such job existed in the real world. It seemed like a fantasy. But I knew I was in a position to take a risk because although our income was quite modest, our expenses were so low that we felt great freedom to step out and take a risk.
So I became a consultant in a very unorthodox niche. And after a few years was able to replace and then exceed my income working for a nonprofit. Today I have a thriving company and have essentially worked myself out of a job. The work I do in my company are things I choose to do and I am uniquely gifted or energized by.
And I have experienced the counterintuitive truth that the less I do, the more I make, as other talented people take ownership and invest in the mission of my company.
6. Pursue mentors.
I saved this principle for last, and I think for me it has been one of the biggest game changers of my life.
There are five older wiser Christian businessman in my life, either because I pursued a relationship with them, or they were somehow referred to me. Their advice, mentoring, and friendship has been absolutely invaluable.
One of them taught me the value of focus. For example as a consultant it’s very tempting when you are beginning to try and be all things to all people. My mentor taught me the value of saying no to many good things in favor of the one thing where I could truly shine.
Another mentor asked me a life changing question five years ago: are you trying to build a practice or a business? A practice would be like a dentist where I hire a team of specialists to help me do what I do. A business is the pursuit of building services and systems that don’t need me. I chose the latter, and that has made all the difference.
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?
No question it is earning.
Saving and investing are important, they are disciplines, but they are what I consider to be commodity skills that anybody can apply. Decide what percentage do you want to save and invest and do it.
But earning, that’s an entirely different matter altogether in my story. My wealth building accelerated to a level I would have never dreamed possible as I took the time to really dig into who God created me to be. Why did he create the world? Why did he create me? What are the unique skills and passions and experiences he poured into me in order to make a contribution to his larger global purpose.
My journey down that path made a tremendous difference in my life and my sense of calling and purpose. Earning and wealth building are a natural outflow of that.
It’s important to adhere that earning and wealth building are not the purpose of my life. You could take all of that away and I would still have great purpose and joy in my life. Earning and wealth building are the fruit of a life lived in sync with who God created me to be.
What road bumps did you face along the way to becoming a millionaire and how did you handle them?
I could write an entire book on this question, because the speed bumps and obstacles and failures are many, but they are also essential to get you where you need to be in life.
The first speedbump was mind set. I did not have a picture of wealth growing up. I lived in an average income family, in an average income neighborhood, had average income friends, and went to school and church with average income people.
When I entered the nonprofit world, I began to rub shoulders with very wealthy people. And I discovered early on that even if you could take away all of their wealth, they would earn it all back in a very short amount of time because of their mind set. It was a millionaire mindset.
For example, when I began consulting, one of my mentors who sold his company at a very young age, counseled me to sell value not price. Most consultants were happy to charge a fair price for their hours. My mentor encouraged me instead to think about the value I was creating and package that value in a way that clients would never count ours, but would instead be very happy to pay premium consulting fees because of the value they were receiving. That required a shift in my thinking, a millionaire mindset.
The other speedbump was debt. Even today, I encounter other entrepreneurs who think death is normal and good and a smart way to leverage resources for business growth. I developed such a strong distaste for debt because of my poor handling of debt and bad experience with it that I committed to never use debt again. And that has made a tremendous difference in my wealth building journey as well.
Our company has never used debt. In fact we turned down a generous offer to buy the company a few years ago that would have been financed using debt. This approach has made our company strong in so many ways. Most recently during the Covid era we have been able to sail through with ample cash reserves, we continue to pay our team generously in wages and bonuses, and are experiencing record growth this year. If we had been saddled with debt payments, it would be an entirely different story.
I could mention many more speedbumps, but I’ll close with this one: Comfort.
In the early days of my business I would do whatever it took to get consistent cash flow going. That meant I built relationships with certain clients that perhaps were not a great fit for me or them, but I did it because it helped the business. And there was a great comfort in that steady cash flow.
But over time I begin to see that some of these relationships, though financially fruitful, were sucking the life and energy and focus out of me. So I had to learn to let go of the comfort of the consistent cash flow from these clients. And in doing that I learned the truth of what John Maxwell has often said, you need to give up to go up.
The Bible compares this to a gardener pruning, cutting away, at a plant to make it even more fruitful. This is absolutely true. Pruning things out of our lives and business that at one time may have been a good thing, may now be causing a comfort speedbump that is getting in the way of future growth.
When I let go of some of these key relationships that at one point would have been unthinkable, I discovered that it freed me up for much bigger opportunities that I couldn’t have even imagined several years ago.
What are you currently doing to maintain/grow your net worth?
Getting out of the way.
I hired a team of people that are very gifted, committed, and loyal. And if I creep back into the rules I used to play by, they graciously push back on me a bit now. So I’ve had to get very intentional about the new role I play.
In a nutshell, I say my job is now messenger not manager. I show up but don’t follow up. Doing this well has a multiplication effect on wealth building and net worth. It feels counterintuitive at first because I am actually doing less and making more.
Do you have a target net worth you are trying to attain?
No. I don’t plan to officially retire. I enjoy work and having a sense of calling and purpose so much that I can’t imagine ever not doing these things.
But I also recognize that there may come a day decades down the road where I or my wife need some supplemental income. So we certainly have a good plan for retirement savings. But beyond that, there is no magic net worth number that would make me any happier than I am today.
In fact one of my millionaire mentors challenged me to think about establishing a lifestyle line. A lifestyle line is the point at which all of my physical needs such as monthly expenses, college savings, retirement savings are satisfied or on track. Then give the rest away.
We are not quite at that point yet – we have kids that are either at home or not quite fully independent yet. So we are still navigating through normal family expenses and provision planning. But we are certainly on the path of having a lifestyle line and giving the rest away.
How old were you when you made your first million and have you had any significant behavior shifts since then?
I am really not sure when this happened because I really haven’t paid a lot of attention to net worth.
I guess the first time it dawned on me that we were in the millionaire realm was when someone offered to buy our company a few years ago and the valuation was at a level that I realized we had surpassed the million dollar mark along time ago.
It really hasn’t changed our behavior at all when we realized we crossed the million dollar net worth threshold. We are grateful that God has provided in such a way that part of our identity is now millionaire. But that is such a very small part of our identity. 98% of our relationships have no idea that we are millionaires.
And our overriding identity is in things that will last forever. Money is temporal and does not last forever. But my identity in Christ, my identity as a husband and father and more recently a grandfather, those last forever. And my identity as a person who encourages and energizes others to become everything God created them to be. That is who I am and I hope that my behavior reflects my core identity.
The money and net worth is nice, and we praise God for his overflowing blessing, and the freedom and the opportunity that the money brings. But the money is not who I am.
What advice do you have for ESI Money readers on how to become wealthy?
Don’t try to become wealthy.
Jim Carrey, the famous movie actor, said that he wishes that everyone could receive all of the fame and fortune they desire so that they could see that it absolutely does not produce the happiness you are seeking. The happiness you are seeking is in the journey of discovering the unique purpose that God created you for.
For some of us, that unique calling and purpose leads to great wealth and that is wonderful! We need people with the gift of wealth building to build wealth, and build great companies, and provide generously for their employees, and to give generously to those in need. But if your God-given calling is to be an elementary teacher in an inner-city school, or a hospice social worker, or any other were the calling that makes a difference in the lives of people, and reflects your God given gifts and passions, go for it! Don’t worry about wealth building. God will supply what you need.
One of my powerful breakthrough discoveries is how the Bible defines riches. It certainly can include financial riches, and the Bible, surprisingly to some, affirms wealth. But if I am wealthy and have a crappy marriage, or kids who don’t talk to me, or can’t sleep at night because of anxiety, or am having health issues because of my poor diet, I am not rich at all.
A rich life, I found, is surrendering all areas of my life to Christ – my mind, my emotions, my body, my work, my relationships, my money, and my health. That’s what I think about when I consider what it means to be wealthy.
And so nearly every morning, I take about an hour or so to do a process called resurrection morning. When most people think about resurrection, they may think about Jesus rising from the dead on Easter morning. And that is true. But resurrection is also something that we can all experience on a daily basis. The entire message of the Bible is bringing dead things to life.
And so every morning I go to God, seeking his wisdom and strength to bring dead things to life in me. Negative thinking. Negative emotions. Negativity in my relationships. Hurtful habits in my life. I look to God’s living word and the power of prayer to create a daily resurrection in all areas of my life. And I found that when my life lines up more and more with my creator, and the people he’s put in my life to encourage and to serve, and his will and desire for me and how I think and feel and act, I find that then and only then do I build true wealth.
In my case, it certainly includes financial wealth. But it is so much more than that.
What are your plans for the future regarding lifestyle?
This is something I am thinking about quite a bit. In fact I just met with one of my older, wiser millionaire mentors on this topic last week.
The way I am approaching that now is to give my business the attention it deserves, which may be much less time than it was before, but still needs me to provide energy and vision and culture and encouragement to help the business thrive.
The metaphor I use is revving up an engine. My job is to rev up the engine of my business. It’s good for me, it’s good for my team, it’s good for our clients, and it’s good for the people and communities that our clients serve.
But then on the flipside of that coin, I am also in a process of giving more strategic attention to how I best use my freed up time. I have not fully resolved that question yet, but I am enjoying the process of exploration into how God wants to use my energies and passions and skills.
What are your retirement plans?
Years ago I read a research study on Harvard graduates. And it looked at a wide range of their alumni and how they used the decade after their 65th birthday. The conclusion was crystal clear. The ones who slow down, and took life easy, and pursued what we think of as retirement experienced depression and death at much higher and earlier rates then their peers who use that same decade to pursue their passion and to be productive in someway.
In a nutshell, I hope that I never retire, but instead want to re-fire!
Are there any issues in retirement that concern you? If so, how are you planning to address them?
As many others have mentioned, the big question for self-employed millionaires is healthcare and health insurance. The conventional health insurance plans remove all subsidies for people in our income bracket, making those plans outrageously expensive.
One of the alternatives are Christian sharing programs such as Medishare or Samaritan Ministries. We have been enrolled in Medishare for many years and have generally been quite happy with it, as our premiums for our family have been in the $300-$500 per month range with a deductible of $10,000.
But recently we discovered that the major omnipresent health system in our area is out of network with Medishare. I did the math with out of network penalties and fees, and discovered that we could sustain a $100,000 medical event with Medishare and still come out ahead compared to other conventional health plans. But if we were to sustain a chronic disease such as cancer or had a major medical event in the $500,000-$1 million range, it appears that Medishare may not be our best option anymore. So we are currently looking into that.
How did you learn about finances and at what age did it “click”?
As mentioned earlier, before I got married I attended a seminar with the late Larry Burkett who at the time was a financial author and radio host. I bought his book Complete Financial Guide For Young Couples, a biblical and very practical guide to using money God’s way. And it was at that moment that the lightbulb went on for me and completely changed how we approach money from that day forward.
Who inspired you to excel in life? Who are your heroes?
My millionaire mentors.
There are five wonderful older wiser Christian businessman that God put in my life. They have generously given their time to speak into my life. Their hard-won lessons in life, family, ministry, and business have completely changed my life.
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?
Complete Financial Guide For Young Couples by Larry Burkett. I mentioned above why I like this book. But I’ll give one more example here that stuck with me to this day. Larry gave a story of two hypothetical young men buying their first house – Sam Small and Bill Big. Bill Big bought the house his bank told him he could afford. But Sam Small bought a house much smaller than what he can afford. Sam Small paid off the house within seven years and invested his monthly payment into a mutual fund. When Bill Big finally paid off his house, Sam Small had an exponentially larger net worth than Bill Big.
The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn. This book completely transformed how I view the purpose of money. It can be read in less than two hours and I have recommended it to countless people. In a nutshell, the treasure principle inspired me to see the value of the joy of generosity. It’s filled with inspirational stories and examples to communicate God‘s plan for the money he allows us to manage during our short time on earth. One of the principles, for example, is that God prospers me not to raise my standard of living but rather my standard of giving.
The Purpose Driven Life. This isn’t technically a financial book, but next to the Bible it is one of the best selling books on planet earth. Pastor Rick Warren unpacks the five major purposes that God created us for. I discovered that when I am in alignment with those five purposes, it has a very natural and exciting connection to my earning, saving, investing, and giving of money. Highly recommended.
Do you give to charity? Why or why not? If you do, what percent of time/money do you give?
Yes! Since 2011, my wife and I have contributed to over100 charitable organizations that we believe in. I am not necessarily proud of that fact. My older wiser mentors have shown me the value of over time, trimming down that list, and focusing larger gifts on fewer organizations.
I am middle-aged, but consider myself in the adolescent phase of my giving, where I am spread quite thin across many organizations that we believe in, or have relationships with personally or through my business. And so we have a wonderful sense of duty and delight in giving to a range of charities. But I can see in a decade or so that I would want to move in the direction of my mentors and trim down our list to say 5–7 very special charities that we invest heavily in.
We use a donor advised fund to make giving simpler and easier. Most financial services companies like Fidelity, Schwab, Vanguard, etc. offer donor advised funds. In a nutshell, you can make a gift to your giving fund and receive an immediate deduction, then give those funds away whenever you want to, anonymously if you’d like.
Now at tax time, I just press one button on my laptop to spit out a report from my accountant on our giving for the year. Super simple and super rewarding!
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?
Yes. In fact we just met with our estate planning attorney to update our plans.
We created our first will when we had kids. We updated it again when we took an international trip for our anniversary several years ago. And now with some kids out of the house and some kids in the house and the expansion of the business, felt it was time to update our plans again.
In a nutshell our estate plan is to make sure our kids are provided for through the age of 25. When we die, we have designated a gift to each of our children that communicates our love to them, but would not significantly alter their lifestyle. There are great dangers in giving kids too much money that they did not earn and we want to avoid that potential headache and heartache in our family.
Instead, once the love gifts to our children have been distributed, all the rest will be distributed to the charitable causes that we have loved and invested in during our short time here on earth.