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 February.
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)?
I am 57 and my spouse is 60.
We have been married 37 years.
Do you have kids/family (if so, how old are they)?
We have 6 kids (same marriage).
They are 36, 29, 24, 22, 20 and 16.
What area of the country do you live in (and urban or rural)?
Urban North Florida.
What is your current net worth?
NET WORTH: $1,924,029
CREDIT CARD: $0
- Harris stock $4,286
- Investment Club $26,191
- TD Ameritrade Inc. $1,835
- Thrift Savings Plan $354,480
- Vanguard Rollover IRA $50,408
- Vanguard Roth IRA Rollover $155,016
- Vanguard S&P 500 account $9,237
- Fidelity IRA $59,876
- Fidelity inherited IRA $37,865
- Fidelity 403b $212,371
- Primerica IRA $3,814
- Primerica IRA $154
- HSA $2,356
- Transamerica 403b $450,122
- Transamerica 403b matched $124,702 (This account is in a stable value fund for our 3-4 years living expenses if the markets drop) I’m considering moving an additional $100,000 given the economic state and the fact we have to rely on some of our retirement savings for a few years.)
LOAN: $ 0
PENSIONS: 2 pensions. One starts upon husband’s retirement at $20,932/year and mine will be started when I turn 65 and is $20,760/yr. I believe these 2 pensions would be valued at a million dollars if I calculated that correctly.
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?
Retirement accounts ($1,500,000) and home (valued at $260,000).
We purchased our childhood home with my sister in Iowa when our parents passed away. This was a sentimental purchase but we paid $95,000 as-is 9 years ago. We put in $35,000 of improvements (with sweat equity) and it is now worth $190,000. I own half of it, so I only included $95,000 in my net worth. It has been a wonderful rental property.
We purchased 6 Prepaid College funds (tuition only) and did not include those in our net worth.
We have 2 vehicles about a year old that we paid cash for, valued together at $100,000. We also own an Airstream and a used boat. I do not include these in our net worth as they are depreciating assets but just to note that there is value in them.
What is your job?
I am a Registered Nurse and I worked in the ICU for 22 years.
After obtaining my Master’s degree I was promoted to the Nurse Manager role over an ICU for 5 years, which led to a promotion to a Director position that I held for 3 years.
After yet another restructure, I found that I needed to improve my work-life balance and moved to one of our hospitals 5 minutes from home and took an educator position. It was a $16,000/yr pay cut, but worth it since I was now 5 minutes from home instead of 45 minutes and I had a much improved work-life balance. I retired after 34.5 years in September 2020.
My husband was in the US Navy as an Avionics Technician for 9.5 years and he took advantage of president Clinton’s early out initiative and voluntarily separated from the Navy after 9.5 years of service which included time in the Middle East with Persian Gulf war.
I worked 2 jobs to put him through school full-time (Home Care and ICU nursing) and he graduated with his Electrical Engineer degree at the age of 36. He works for the Federal Government. (Pension and Medical for life!)
What is your annual income?
When I retired in September 2020, I made $104,000.
My husband makes $93,000.
We net $5365/yr from our rental.
For the next 15 months we will live on my husband’s salary.
We are very fortunate that we both will get a pension. His includes medical and dental insurance for life.
We plan on taking social security at age 67.
We will need to supplement our income with our retirement savings until both our pensions and social security each kick in. (Approximately 5-6 years.)
My husband is still working until he turns 62.
- 2021-2022: $93,000 Husband still working
- 2022-2023: $20,932 Husband pension which includes health & dental insurance premium/coverage
- 2023-2024: $20,932
- 2024-2025: $20,932
- 2025-2026: $20,932
- 2026-2027: $20,932
- 2027-2028: $49,960 Husbands Social Security starts (age 67)
- 2028-2029: $70,720 My Pension starts (age 65)
- 2029-2030: $70,720
- 2030-2031: $102,112 My Social Security starts (age 67)
- 2031- end of time: $102,112
We will select the pension options with the life insurance so that they will each continue until we are both deceased.
My pension grows approximately 8% each year that I wait until age 65. So I plan on waiting until then.
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 started as a brand new nurse in 1986 at $17,243/yr. I was an Associate Degree RN.
When I left bedside nursing I made $80,00/yr.
I earned $91,000/yr as Nurse Manager and $120,000/yr in my Director role.
As an educator I earned $104,000/yr when I retired in September 2020.
I obtained both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees of Nursing attending school part time while taking advantage of the hospital tuition reimbursement program. I was careful to only attend part time so that the hospital fully paid for the education. Obtaining higher education was key in advancing my career past bedside nursing.
ICU nursing was very fulfilling, but it is very hard physically. The 12 hour shifts that I worked for 22 years in the ICU allowed me to be off 4 days a week with our large family. I almost always worked the weekends so we only needed 1 day a week of childcare or 2 if I picked up an extra shift which was quite common.
My husband did not start earning a decent income until he graduated college at age 36. He worked at a few jobs and moved every 2-3 for significant pay raises but once he secured his job with the federal government he opted to stay for the pension and medical for life benefits. He could have made more in the private sector but we liked the security of the job as well as the federal benefits.
What tips do you have for others who want to grow their career-related income?
Be an overachiever.
Say yes often.
Be a team player.
Be open to advancing your education.
Strong work ethic.
What’s your work-life balance look like?
Wonderful now that I am retired.
When I held leadership roles, my work-life balance was terrible and I became a work-aholic. Every waking moment I was thinking about work, even while on vacation. I couldn’t wait to get to work each day. I loved what I did, it was challenging and I was respected.
I was always trying to get ahead, trying to achieve, please my boss. I am competitive and wanted to excel.
As a bedside nurse, I worked hard. I gave 100% every shift but did not bring work home.
As an educator, I enjoyed a very flexible schedule and had a wonderful work-life balance.
I had no idea I would be so happy retired. Every day, I wake up and think, “What do I feel like doing today?”
Having such a big family and always working full-time, I never got to enjoy staying home. I still have 3 kids at home. Youngest is 16.
I fill my days with home projects. Painting various rooms, painting the outside of the house. I have taken over the yard work, pool maintenance, vacation planning, household chores and maintaining the boat and camper. My husband is working from home and when he is done for the day…it’s time to fix things. That is his responsibility. Seems there is always something to fix.
I recently joined a gym. I thought about it for months because I really did not want to spend the money. The YMCA is across the street from our neighborhood and most convenient. I joined a few weeks ago and discovered that I love pickleball. So now I go Mon, Wed and Fri and play for 2 hours followed by some weight training. I have been retired for 4 months and have lost 10 pounds.
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?
My parent’s house that we rent out.
We are fortunate to have a very sweet elderly couple live there who take very good care of it. They signed a 5 year lease. We (my sister and I) net $10,730 after taxes, insurance and property management.
In addition we have:
- Rental $5,365 (my share)
- Pension #1 $20,928
- Pension #2 $20,760
- Social Security $29,028
- Social Security $31,392
What is your annual spending?
I have never been very good at keeping track of expenses because it is tedious and it would likely be very depressing.
We have always put money away for retirement, college funds and for private schools, then what is left we are free to spend.
It has varied widely based on our family needs. Our kids are 20 years apart and their needs are so different.
We paid for the first 2 kids to attend a college prep school-very expensive, then we have one with Asperger’s and his school was also expensive. For example his senior year was about $16,000.
We are debt free. We paid our mortgage off in 12 years. I was 38 years old. We had a 15 year mortgage, then refinanced to a 10 year mortgage. We also set it up to pay biweekly. Not having a mortgage payment was a huge burden off our budget but was soon replaced by the expense of having a large family. Our last 2 children were born after the mortgage was completed.
But it was a huge psychological impact in that we always had a roof over our heads no matter what happened to our jobs.
If you are debt free, it is very easy to reign in spending if needed.
For retirement, I budgeted $5,000 per month for living expenses, $12,000 year for vacations and an additional $12,000 year for 10 years, until all the kids are independent. I also budgeted for a new truck and car every 8 and10 years, respectively. That totals $84,000/year living expenses for 10 years then decreases to $72,000/year.
Like many, I was very apprehensive about retiring early and did my “one more year”.
In that year, I talked with 3 financial advisors. One was with our local credit union. It is a free service but very high level.
The second was with our retirement specialists at work who sat in my office and upon review said, “Can I help you pack your office? You can be done today!”
And finally, I hired a fee only financial advisor ($2500). The financial advisor helped us to understand the tax implications of having all this money in our pre-tax accounts and the effect of IRMAA (Income related monthly adjustments amounts) on our Medicare Part B, especially when RMDs kick in. He helped us plan our Roth conversion strategy. He also provided clarity on the pension options we will face when we retire.
All 3 advisors gave me the green light and said I can quit today but it took me a year to be able to pull the trigger. I would toss and turn all night worried about walking away from a high paying job and still having moderate expenses with kids at home, but I knew it was the right thing to do for my family and myself.
In that year, I focused on getting things in order. We replaced our roof, re-surfaced our pool and purchased 2 new vehicles.(Neither vehicle purchase was planned for at that time).
My financial planning came with a computer program called Right Capital which is a wonderful tool that you can enter your expenses, income, assets, investments etc. You enter goals such as vehicle replacements, Roth conversions, any future expenses that may be on the horizon. The program will run Monte Carlos and give a success rate. Ours is 96% successful. Apparently they don’t want you to be at 100% which would mean you are not spending enough.
Once I retired, I decided I did not want to think about money anymore because I had become obsessed with it. I decided to pre-pay all my expenses for an entire year. It cost me $16,000 to pre-pay our auto and homeowners insurance, property taxes, electric, water, internet, Sirius and Netflix.
The only thing left that we pay for is gas, food and entertainment and I absolutely love the financial freedom that this tactic provides. For years, I had to carefully calculate what we could spend. Having a large family, there were so many expenses. But we never carried credit card balances, but sometimes did have 1 car payment. We usually paid them off early.
What are the main categories (expenses) this spending breaks into?
- Prepaid expenses (recurring monthly bills) each month (water, electric, insurance…)
- Discretionary spending $3000-$4,000 a month covers food, (we rarely eat out) many camping events, gasoline, entertainment, kids expenses and lately a lot of money to Home Depot for home improvement project supplies.
Do you have a budget? If so, how do you implement it?
I love financial planning and am a bit of a financial enthusiast. I drive most of our budgeting, investing and planning but my husband is very informed and supportive.
He gives me credit for a lot of our financial success but he was the stronger parent. It is a great team effort.
What percentage of your gross income do you save and how has that changed over time?
We have always saved 10% of our income in our 401k/403b accounts.
We also had 6 college prepaid tuition plans.
What’s your best tip for saving (accumulating) money?
Paying yourself first by automating money directly into your investment accounts.
Remainder is for you to spend.
Slow and steady wins the race.
What’s your best tip for spending less money?
We have always been frugal and are debt averse.
We do almost all our home projects and repairs as DIY (Do It Yourself), including the first roof replacement.
As our family grew instead of purchasing a larger house and getting another mortgage, we put on a 1000 square foot addition ourselves, it took us 5 years but we saved a ton of money.
What is your favorite thing to spend money on/your secret splurge?
Adventure and activities.
We love exploring the country in our Airstream: visiting National parks, mountains, the Florida Keys.
We look forward to our annual family Halloween Disney trip and visiting family in Iowa. We love live music.
What is your investment philosophy/plan?
Dollar cost averaging. Pay yourself first.
We selected aggressive funds in our 401k/403b for maximum growth. I started my 401K at age 22 and put in 10% until the day I retired almost 35 years later. My husband put in 10% as well but didn’t start until age 36 after he graduated college.
I call it the “set it and forget it” philosophy. I knew that over time it would grow and there would be ups and downs.
We also never carried a credit card balance and paid our house off quickly.
What has been your best investment?
We certainly did well with the purchase of my parents’ home.
We purchased at $95,000, put $30,000 towards improvements and 8 years later it is valued at $190,000.
Currently we have tenants who signed a 5 year lease.
What has been your worst investment?
The IRAs that we opened with Primerica since they carried high fees. Fortunately we did not put much in them.
I also joined a second investment club which was terrible. It was not affiliated with NAIC (National Association of Investment Clubs) and they just selected stocks willy nilly. At the end of every 2 years they disbanded and just divided the stock purchased up between members. I only remained a member for 2 years.
What’s been your overall return?
I have never calculated it but our money was always invested in aggressive mutual funds within our 401k/403b plans.
How often do you monitor/review your portfolio?
For much of my adult life I glanced at the statements when they arrived in the mail, except when the markets tanked….then I didn’t open them at all and knew they would recover. I had no loss of sleep at all.
Now that I’m retired, I worry much more. We have to dip into our retirement funds for about 6 years.
We did move 3-4 years expenses in a stable fund to help guard against sequence of return risk.
How did you accumulate your net worth?
I believe this is covered in the other questions but to summarize, we saved 10% of our salaries, we drove used cars, generally Toyota’s, we never carried debt (except 1 car payment).
I would do anything not to have debt such as work overtime to pay for the item, work 2 full time jobs to prevent student loans while my husband was in engineering school.
We were raised to be frugal and those habits continued.
I did inherit approximately $120,000 which we used to purchase my share of my parents’ house, improvements on that house and invested the rest.
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 think we have a nice balance of all 3.
What road bumps did you face along the way to becoming a millionaire and how did you handle them?
We just stayed the course, when the markets dropped and people took money out of the market, I just thought, “I’m buying more shares, it is all on sale!”
What are you currently doing to maintain/grow your net worth?
This last decade has had great growth. We are staying the course, but did move 3-4 years worth of expenses from equities to stable fund to offset the sequence of return risk.
We are planning on a $100,000 Roth Conversions each year until it is all converted. We are young enough that we should get it all converted before RMDs. Of course the tax laws change so we will have to reassess each year.
Do you have a target net worth you are trying to attain?
I would never want to drop below $1,000,000 liquid net worth and would not like to drop below our current $1,500,000.
But we do have a significant income stream once we take our Social Security and pensions.
How old were you when you made your first million and have you had any significant behavior shifts since then?
We hit 1 million dollars liquid net worth when we were 53 and 56 respectively (2016).
Just like when we paid the house off, it was such a feeling of overwhelming security. No matter what happened, we would always have a roof over our heads. And we would likely never run out of money.
What money mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from?
I’m happy with the way we earned our wealth. We were able to enjoy a large family, take many trips and I have everything I have ever imagined.
We have lived a reality simple life, we drove used cars. Such as a Toyota Corolla, used Suburbans for our large family. Our house is a very average 3 bedroom 2 bath home (which we added an addition for our growing family and is now a 5 bedroom 2 bath home with an extra very large room which is multi-purpose).
What advice do you have for ESI Money readers on how to become wealthy?
Always put 10-15% in your 401k, get a 15 yr mortgage instead of 30, do not carry a credit card balance-ever!
Purchase used vehicles.
DIY when able.
We had our daughter’s wedding reception in the backyard (catered by Bono’s barbeque) and our son’s wedding rehearsal dinner in the multi-purpose room aka “banquet room” that sat 44 people.
We do not have “keep up with the Jones syndrome” and often secretly chuckle at some of the ridiculous consumerism of some of our friends.
What are your plans for the future regarding lifestyle?
For now, I am focused on home improvements and maintenance. But once our youngest graduates high school and my husband retires (same time) we are planning a 4-5 month trip to Alaska in our Airstream. We also are planning to rent a camper in New Zealand to explore the country for 4-6 weeks.
We will do some overseas travel but have already visited several countries and I really prefer to travel in our Airstream.
We did have an opportunity to visit Italy for a couple weeks and stayed in an apartment. That was much more comfortable and affordable than hotels.
What are your retirement plans?
I have already retired and have been very busy with home projects. If I run out of projects, I may be in trouble.
I also joined a gym and play pickleball 3 times a week. I definitely need to find some new hobbies.
My husband is a cyclist. I do enjoy riding with him but he is so much faster and stronger. I’m glad he switched from road bikes to fat tire bikes and they work really well with our camping and beach trips.
We also purchased a double kayak. So far our favorite kayak adventure was Jackson Lake in the Grand Tetons.
Are there any issues in retirement that concern you? If so, how are you planning to address them?
Just about all our money is in pre-tax accounts. So we will aggressively be converting over to Roth and try to keep our expenses low until our pensions, social security and RMDs kick in.
We do have one child with Asperger’s. (age 22) He is quite independent, he drives and works a minimum wage job but he will not earn enough to support himself and can not handle money at all. He has had 16 jobs in 2 years. Although this current one seems to be a pretty good fit.
There is also the question of medical insurance for him which is our biggest unknown. He still needs minor assistance, like reminding him to take his medication every day, managing his everyday spending and helping him with impulse control and impulse purchases.
He has matured a lot in the last year and we are hopeful that he will be more independent than our initial thoughts.
How did you learn about finances and at what age did it “click”?
We were fortunate to meet a friend of my husband’s who was in the military with him when we were in our early 20’s. He sat us down and tried to teach us about investing, life insurance etc. Of course, there were high fees. We did open 2 Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA) accounts to fund college for our then 2 kids, 2 IRAs and term life insurance.
We did not continue the accounts past a couple years. As I learned more about fees it became evident that there were better investments. We later moved from the UGMA to the College prepaid funds.
I learned so much from him. He taught us about dollar cost averaging, he told us we would be millionaires one day if we stayed the course and let us know we were among the top 10% earners in the country, which didn’t really seem possible.
Everything he taught us turned out to be true and I wonder where we would be today if we hadn’t met him. He set us on a good path for sure.
Who inspired you to excel in life? Who are your heroes?
I was always self-driven and somewhat competitive.
My parents instilled great work ethic and family values.
My mother was influential in many of my financial aspirations although I didn’t realize it until later. My mother had cancer since I was around 7 or 8 years old and the cancer would come back every 7 years, each time very significant. Starting with uterus and ovary, then to lungs, colon and kidney, then the next time her heart.
She lived 28 years and most of them with high quality but there was always an ongoing fear and anxiety. Obviously for her, but also for me. And I know she worried constantly about money and medical insurance. She was a secretary and never earned more than $12 an hour. She was extremely frugal, being a child of parents of the depression.
My dad had his own business but it never made much money. And he would spend money without discussing it with her and she would cry, wondering how they were going to pay the bills. His business got behind in taxes and I remember someone from the IRS coming to our door and my sister telling me if she did not come up with x amount of money they were going to put my dad in jail. She had to take some of my sister’s money that my sister was saving for college. (She promptly paid it back.)
My mother read books on investing and the stock market and she joined an investment club (National Association of Investment Clubs) where she was the only female. Later she was able to get a job at International Harvester, a good paying job (as a secretary) where she could pick up some overtime. She would keep putting money into mutual funds. The 80s were good stock market years and her money compounded nicely. She never told my Dad she was investing or how much money they had.
She died in 1997 at the age of 67. I was 36. When her cancer appeared in her heart, they did remove the cancer but she had already had all the chemo she could have.
A few years before she died, she put together a spreadsheet with all their investments and showed it to my dad, he was shocked. Their mortgage was a 20 year mortgage and I remember the day they paid it off. Such a happy day for my mom. My dad died 17 years later and he never spent any of it. The estate was worth more than $600,000 which was pretty great considering her relatively low income and my dad not contributing a significant amount financially.
However, my Dad was incredibly talented at fixing things so they never had to hire out repairs. After my mom passed away, he honored her in that he wanted to make sure all the money that she worked so hard for was left for their 5 daughters. She would have been so proud of him.
So, in looking at my own journey, some things I picked up from her lead was to get a 15 year mortgage. I remember her saying “If you can not afford a 15 year mortgage you are buying too much house. You do not want to be house poor”. It was my aunt that told me, “Once you have finished paying your mortgage, it is smooth sailing.” My Mom also said, “Never spend future income.”
It was years into my adult life that I understood what that meant. She also told me if I put 10% into my 401k/403b, I would be set for life. I joined an investment club and have been a member for 20 years.
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?
I read many blogs including Mister Money Mustache, Retirement Manifesto, Root of Good and ESI.
I listen to the podcasts Choose FI and YouTube channel Josh Scandlen with Heritage Wealth Planning. Josh was also our financial planner.
Do you give to charity? Why or why not? If you do, what percent of time/money do you give?
I have not been overly generous with monetary donations. But have always been generous with my time.
For example, we once re-shingled a roof of a co-worker who was a single mom.
And I have been volunteering in administering Covid vaccines.
I’m still struggling with the decumulation phase so not too eager to part with any of our money at this time.
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?
It is always a balance between enjoying your money and having enough to live on for the next 30-40 years.
There is lots of longevity in our families. I never want to have to worry about money and insurance the way my mom did.
I feel strongly that I would like to leave my kids with enough money for them to be mortgage free. But there are 6 of them….