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 July.
My questions are in bold italics and their 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 59 and my wife is 61.
We’ve been married 32 years.
Do you have kids/family (if so, how old are they)?
We have no biological children. We have two God-children, two nieces, and two nephews and all of their children that we provide living inheritance via birthday, Christmas, and special times each year.
We’ve been doing this for over 35 years for the oldest ones and more are added over time as more children are born.
What area of the country do you live in (and urban or rural)?
We live in the Midwest in an urban setting.
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?
Sixty percent is invested in no-load, low-expense stock index mutual funds within 401k, 403b, 457, Roth IRA, and brokerage accounts.
Twenty-eight percent is invested in stable value and guaranteed income funds in our retirement plans.
Three percent is invested in no-load low-expense Real Estate Mutual Funds.
Two percent is in credit union emergency reserve savings accounts.
Seven percent represents our home market value.
We have no debt. We paid off our home mortgage 19 years ago, after having it for 13 years, and have not looked back since. By God’s grace, we plan to remain totally debt-free for the remainder of our lives.
- $1,020,000: No-load index funds in 401k, 403b, and 457 plans
- $ 460,000: No-load index funds in Roth IRA accounts
- $ 200,000: No-load index funds in Brokerage accounts
- $ 409,000: Stable value funds in 401k and 457 plans
- $ 375,000: guaranteed income fund in 403b plan
- $ 84,000: Real Estate Mutual Funds
- $ 56,000: Credit Union accounts
- $ 196,000: Home market value
Net Worth: $2,800,000
What is your job?
We both retired four years ago.
Prior to retirement I was an executive group administrator with the insurance department and my wife was a microbiologist with a state university health system.
What is your annual income?
Our pension income is approximately $60,000 per year.
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?
Our first professional jobs out of college (37 years ago for me and about 39 years ago for my wife) paid each of us a little less than $6 per hour. I completed over 100 applications and many more resumes to get that high level of pay (LOL), whereas my wife simply stuck with the employer for whom she did a summer internship during her junior and senior years in college.
My ending salary was $115,000 per year. I only made six-figures during my last three years of employment.
My wife’s ending salary was $57,000. She earned a little more than $50,000 during all but one of her last six-years and (about three years before retiring) she made about $60,000 after taking on supervisory duties until the supervisor position was replaced. She was a lead worker during her last seven years, but did not want the supervisory role because it did not fit her personality, goals, or desires.
I started my career as a landlord / tenant housing counselor with a non-profit agency (approximately $12,000 per year). I worked that job for one year, then moved on to the organization from which I retired, starting there as an analyst trainee (started at approximately $22,000 per year). My career progressed as follows:
- Promoted to lead worker after five years (started at approximately $32,000 per year)
- Next, a specialist position after another three years (started at approximately $41,000 per year)
- Moved to a higher level specialist after another three years (started at approximately $53,000 per year)
- Took an entry level supervisory role after another five years (started at approximately $65,000 per year)
- Advanced to a mid-level management position after another five years (started at approximately $80,000 per year)
- Moved to the executive group administrator position after another six years (started at approximately $93,000 per year)
I worked a total of 31.5 years for my last employer.
My wife started and ended her career with the same employer. Her progression started at $12,000 per year and moved up to the height of her pay ending at $57,000 over her 34 and a quarter-year career as she gained years of service, experience, took on the lead worker role, and helped by filling the interim supervisor role for one year.
On many occasions, we thanked the LORD and continue to do so, knowing it is His mercy and grace that allowed success and income growth we’ve had over the years. We have nothing special in and of ourselves that suggest we were entitled to what we received, yet we understand we also had to partner with His calling and plan for our lives by learning to expertly make our widgets and perform our service in ways that benefit our employer’s customers and help our employers have good reputations in the marketplace.
As mentioned above, we retired four years ago and live on our pension income for right now. It doesn’t look like we’ll have to begin taking money from retirement accounts until RMD’s are required. On occasion, we also use earned interest from our savings accounts for travel, renovations, and other things we want to do.
What tips do you have for others who want to grow their career-related income?
Our church taught a 26-week class on understanding the Lord’s plan for living under His authority and earthly authorities that He allowed to be in place. It showed how people are supposed to respect authority, buy into the employer’s vision (in every way that does not compromise His standards for morality and conduct), be teachable and adaptable, have a servant’s heart, and seek to be Christ-like in all we do. This class and continued training on these principles over our 30-years of being born again believers have been the biggest advantage we’ve had in growing our careers and income over time.
It also led us to be creative in ways that fit our personalities and helped us gain influence among our peers, management, and executive staff by having can-do attitudes, working to promote company goals and strategic plans, and dealing with others in a respectable and honorable manner, and apologizing to others in the instances where we fell short of this goal.
In addition, we each engaged 30 to fifty types of training allowed, recommended, or required by our employers and sought to keep our job skills at the optimum level. We never pursued graduate degrees or higher, but we each received a few certifications in our respective areas of work.
We also did more listening than talking, but asked questions to better understand issues, and spoke up on issues that affected the workplace and products and services once we understood the issues at hand and believed we could offer possible solutions to problems and dilemmas, that would meet the needs of all stakeholders.
We believe the training and traits mentioned above would help anyone who chooses to engage them.
What’s your work-life balance look like?
All my work now is volunteer and my balance is good in that I get proper rest each night, I serve in a variety of Ministry arenas a few hours each week on average. I vacation and take time each day to rejuvenate my mind and body through worshipping the LORD, prayer, short naps, bible reading, and fellowship with other people, serving them in ways I can.
I believe the principles that help keep me in proper balance are to love the LORD with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love my neighbors like I love myself and to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. These guide my actions and let me know when I have gotten off course, so I can make a necessary course correction.
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 but no other earned income.
What is your annual spending?
About $51,192 per year.
What are the main categories (expenses) this spending breaks into?
On a monthly basis our planned (budgeted) spending is:
- $ 500: Tithe to church
- $1,000: Free-will offerings to church and other charities
- $ 100: Telephone & internet
- $ 77: Dish Network
- $ 100: Water, Electric, & Sewer
- $ 60: Natural gas for home
- $ 34: Mobile phone
- $ 200: Property Taxes
- $ 350: Gas for cars
- $ 500: Groceries
- $ 480: Personal money – me
- $ 480: Personal money – my wife
- $ 50: Lawncare
- $ 335: Miscellaneous (vacations, etc.)
$4,266: Total planned expenses
Do you have a budget? If so, how do you implement it?
Yes, we have a budget. I created an excel spreadsheet template for it based on budget I had seen years ago.
We talk about and agree on spending categories and maximums and we hold each other accountable for adhering to it by regularly checking it and having two to four conversation each month on spending and financial goals.
I usually do the data entry for the budget each week, but sometimes my wife takes this over for a month or so to ensure she remains adept at doing so.
What percentage of your gross income do you save and how has that changed over time?
Currently, we do not save any portion of our income.
When we started investing thirty-years ago we put about 10% of our income into our employer 401k plans.
Within ten years of retiring, we were putting 30% of our income in our 401k plans and Roth IRA’s and saving at least $5,000 per year.
What’s your best tip for saving (accumulating) money?
The best tip I can give is to automate savings / investments via direct deposits from your paycheck by your employer into employer retirement plans (or from your checking account into IRA’s and brokerage accounts) and to progressively pursue total debt elimination to increase your cash flow so you have more discretionary cash flow to invest over time.
What’s your best tip for spending less money?
Set your mind upon things above and not below, understanding that the borrower is a slave to the lender, and that one should seek to owe no one anything but love. I do not believe the LORD wants me to be a debtor. He wants me to be financially free and out of bondage so I could pursue His calling for me at every stage of life.
I know a thing or two about spending beyond your means. Prior to becoming a believer and starting our good stewardship process in mid-1992, we had $135,000 total debt and negative net worth of $35,000. You have to know that debt is insidious and that if not carefully monitored your spending can get out of control for current and future income and thus wreak havoc on your finances.
Know your budget items and the maximums you’ve listed for specific expense categories.
Also, write out lists whenever you are going shopping and buy only things on the list that are no more than your expense maximum amount for the month. Comparison shop online and via brick & mortar stores for good quality items at bargain prices for the things you will buy.
Let deferred gratification lead your planning process for spending in most situations to motivate you to save up overtime to accumulate cash on hand to be able to buy the things you want.
What is your favorite thing to spend money on/your secret splurge?
My favorite thing to splurge on is a day trip or three to various towns on Lake Michigan during the Summer to walk the sandy beach with our feet in the water, spend time on the piers, have a nice meal at one of many quaint restaurants, and eat a delicious flavor ice cream before we return home.
What is your investment philosophy/plan?
Our investment philosophy currently is to keep:
- Sixty percent of our assets invested in no-load low-expense stock index mutual funds within our 401k, 403b, 457, Roth IRA, and brokerage accounts
- Twenty-eight percent invested in stable value and guaranteed income funds in our retirement plans
- Three percent invested in no-load low-expense Real Estate Mutual Funds
- Two percent in credit union emergency reserve savings accounts
- Seven percent as our home market value
Of course, market downturns can skew the percentages, especially short-term. Annually, we make adjustments to maintain desired ratios.
What has been your best investment?
The total U.S. stock market mutual funds have been our best investments.
What has been your worst investment?
In 1995, I bought $3,000 worth of Excel Telephone stock, that six years later was worth about $1,200. I sold it at that point and unfortunately solidified the loss.
The company was bought and has subsequent name changes. I am not aware of what actually happened to the stock or its replacement since then, however that let me know individual stock picking is not for me as it does not fit my personality and risk tolerance.
What’s been your overall return?
About twelve percent on our investments.
How often do you monitor/review your portfolio?
Once a month to quarterly we check our investments to ensure accuracy and to see how they’ve done against market benchmarks.
How did you accumulate your net worth?
By the grace of God, and our partnership with His instructions to eliminate debt so we don’t live as debtors, and to save and invest to make it comfortably through periods where economic trouble may come upon the earth. Debt-freedom increased, for many years up to retirement, our discretionary cash flow allowing us to use our greatest wealth building tool (our income) to increase our investments and net worth.
The miracle of compound interest / exponential growth works when you regularly invest long-term – we’ve seen it with our own eyes via our portfolio. The sooner you start, the better off you’ll be and the more you invest, the greater the amount your investments will grow to.
Of course, we believe tithing and abundant offering and giving to charity have helped discipline us financially as we seek to love and serve the LORD and other people. We cannot help but believe these disciplines played a supernatural part in helping us be where we are financially, as our income has by no means been high-falutin.
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?
Investing has been our greatest strength.
Debt-freedom takes you to a great place, and certainly takes you to another level, yet investing in the stock market helped our money make money at a rate that quintuple-plus-ed our principal investment over the thirty-years we’ve been invested.
What road bumps did you face along the way to becoming a millionaire and how did you handle them?
- Family and friends telling me that I should be spending more to enjoy life.
- Seeing them spend and take on debt and not seem to worry about their future financial condition. Mess eventually hit the fan for many of them years down the road.
- The dreaded emotions that makes most people pull money out of the stock market when it experiences downturns, thus buying high and selling low instead of buying low and selling high, which is the formula for success when investing in any arena (stocks, bonds, real estate, antiques, art, crypto-currency, etc.).
What are you currently doing to maintain/grow your net worth?
- Managing our finances to consistently live beneath our income.
- Putting our emotions in check – knowing the historical stock market record shows that downtowns and corrections have been short-term blips that on average last only a couple of years and that it usually has three-to-four positive growth years for every year of negative growth it encounters and afterward it rises to levels far higher than it was before the downturn occurred.
- Continuing to recognizing the formula for successful investing is to buy low and sell high and that time in the market (long-term investing) helps us do this whereas market timing (short-term thinking) would foil us and fail us, keeping us from attaining to the financial independence we desired.
- Continuing to adhere to biblical financial principles that instruct us on giving, planning (including monthly budgeting), saving & investing, debt elimination, avoiding cosigning debts for other people, and diversifying assets.
Do you have a target net worth you are trying to attain?
Not really. We have no need at this time, nor in the near future, to withdraw money from our investments. So, we believe they will continue to grow.
When we start taking RMD’s over a decade from now, they’ll probably start at about 4% on those accounts.
Our money should last a lifetime with plenty left over to leave inheritances for nephews, nieces, God-children, our church, and a few other ministries.
How old were you when you made your first million and have you had any significant behavior shifts since then?
I was forty-eight.
Not really, other than we took early retirement four years ago and now live on one-third of our former income, which is what we were living on even before retirement.
What money mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from?
- There was a time early on in our investing years where for a few months I let pundit talk about Y2K financial devastation and a market downturn scare me into putting everything we had into a stable value fund.
- I pursued individual stock picking when I was not educated enough to do so, did not have the risk tolerance to handle it, and was not going to put in the hours needed to research individual investments. I walked into a loss and hope others will avoid this situation.
- I impulsively bought a few expensive new cars in 1996 and 2000 that cost us dearly in yearly repair costs after the warranties ran out. The quality just wasn’t evident on these high-cost vehicles and I believe this is one of the reasons the auto manufacturer went bankrupt – though I’m sure that was never stated in the court documentation or the press. Our saving grace has been to keep our cars for ten to twelve years, which minimized that mishap and helped us minimize the annual average costs (including maintenance and repair) of all our cars.
Deferred gratification has worked in our favor and so has not trying to follow the Joneses. We’re overjoyed with the humble life the LORD allows us to live and certainly enjoy the things we do.
What advice do you have for ESI Money readers on how to become wealthy?
- Manage your finances to consistently live beneath your income. A budget of some type is needed, whether its detailed, or photographic memory expense tracking, or saving a percentage of income first and then spending and giving no more than what is left over. As your income increases you will be able to have more and do more without filling your life up with debt and the chaos and bondage it brings with it.
- Put your emotions in check. While past returns are not a guarantee of future return, know the historical stock market record shows that downtowns and corrections have been short-term blips that on average last only a couple of years and that it usually has three-to-four positive growth years for every year of negative growth it encounters and afterward it rises to levels far higher than it was before the downturn occurred.
- Believe the formula for successful investing is buy low and sell high and that time in the market (long-term investing) helps you do this, whereas market timing (short-term thinking) often causes people to fail.
- Adhere to biblical financial principles that instruct people on giving, saving & investing, debt elimination, avoiding cosigning debts for other people, and diversifying assets.
What are your plans for the future regarding lifestyle?
We’ve already met the goal of early retirement.
We plan to travel a few times per year mostly to other cities in America and maybe to a few international destinations in the long-range future. Some of our travel may be gospel missions related.
What are your retirement plans?
We will maintain our current investing philosophy explained above, enjoy our volunteer ministry endeavors, our home life, our time together, and time with friends.
Are there any issues in retirement that concern you? If so, how are you planning to address them?
No issues concern us.
We both have great health insurance plans with low deductibles, co-insurance, and copays.
We also have our wills, financial power of attorney, health care power of attorney, living wills, ladybird deed, and other estate documents in place, as well as desired beneficiaries on all our investment accounts.
How did you learn about finances and at what age did it “click”?
Researching what the bible had to say on financial topics, reading Money magazine and other financial magazines (Kiplinger, etc.), reading the financial articles in women’s magazines (Glamour and such), reading the financial articles in the AARP newsletters and magazines at my in-law’s house and at doctors’ offices, reading The Wealthy Barber book, and continuously chowing on other financial books and articles daily.
It started clicking for me 30 years ago. Interestingly, when I was a young boy my mother and siblings called me a miser because I would always keep some amount of money on me and when they would want to borrow it my standard replay was “Pay me back Friday!” I started working at odd jobs (cutting grass, shoveling, and such) at about 9 years old to earn at least a couple of dollars a week, and had official minimum wage jobs starting at fourteen and moved on from there doing co-op in high school, work study and internships in college, and then into my career.
Getting deeply in debt early in our careers to the tune of $135,000 and having no savings to speak of helped us see we needed to engage a process that would help increase our cash flow to save & invest and properly provide for our future (senior years where we would need more money than we would in our younger years due to inflation, physical needs, and health needs. We were partially motivated to save & invest for the future because we didn’t know what our health and health insurance plans would be at that time to help care for our needs).
Who inspired you to excel in life? Who are your heroes?
My mom, by loving me and always wanting me to be in a better position than the poverty we grew up in. I saw her struggles and wanted to make life better for me and her, which I was able to do for many years before she died. She was a single mother raising four kids and she is definitely my hero.
Throughout my life she never got into debt, she trusted the LORD to provide our needs. At most, she would put things she desired in the lay-away and get them out another day.
I saw her consistently tithe and give offerings on our welfare income, and yet our home was fully furnished with nice things and we had a cornucopia of food via the little food stamps she received and on the blessings of friends who loved her cooking.
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?
- The Bible is our foundation for life (including finances), showing us the Christ-like mindset and practices we must engage to eliminate bondage in our lives and build wealth in a way that pleases Him.
- The Wealthy Barber gives an example of how anyone can be successful at financial stewardship and accumulating wealth.
- The Total Money Makeover provides practical, precise steps that help people see the intense focus they need to be successful stewards of income and wealth.
Do you give to charity? Why or why not? If you do, what percent of time/money do you give?
Absolutely, about thirty percent of our gross income.
We believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ and desire to share in evangelism and disciple-making to lead others to Him.
Also, giving to specific charities helps the homeless, the impoverished (needy), and others experiencing hard times.
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?
Whatever money and assets remain at our death, which we believe will be substantial, will go to partially to our God-children, nieces, nephews, our church, and a couple of ministries and charities.
We believe it will help each of them further the God-given plan and purpose for their lives and operations.