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 August.
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 46 years old and my husband is 47.
We have been married for 22 years.
Do you have kids/family (if so, how old are they)?
We have two children ages 17 and 14.
What area of the country do you live in (and urban or rural)?
We live in the Northeast near the Maryland and Delaware borders.
I love our location! It makes for tax free shopping, camping/hiking in the mountains and beautiful beach vacations, all within a few hours drive.
Plus we have the luxury of experiencing all four seasons each year.
What is your current net worth?
As of July 2023 our net worth was approximately $2.4M.
That includes our house and Zillow indicates it’s worth about $600k. I don’t consider this part of my net worth when calculating how much money we will have for retirement because we love where we live and don’t have any intentions on moving. We live in a ranch style house with laundry and all living spaces on one floor. We also have enough land that we don’t see our neighbors, so why move when we have it all!?
This also doesn’t include the value of my kids 529 accounts or our vehicles.
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?
We don’t have any debt; all cars are paid off, as well as the house.
Below is the breakdown in percent of assets:
- 46% — 401(k)s with Vanguard
- 25% — House
- 12% — Taxable mutual funds with Vanguard
- 9% — Cash in high yield savings account
- 7% — Mix of Roth/Rollover/SEP IRAs
- 4% — 529 accounts
- 1% — Ibonds
- 1% — HSA
We have a pretty big portion in cash, but it’s in a high yield account and I am nervous to invest all of my money in the market. I know I hold well over the traditional 6-months in emergency savings.
We both will need new cars within the next 3-6 years and one of them will be a pickup truck. I like to pay for vehicles in cash, so I keep the cash as-is.
What is your job?
My job has become more popular in the last few years, but if I had told someone what I did 5 years ago they would have asked many clarifying questions. I am an Enterprise Data Governance Specialist in the financial industry. With data breaches and companies failing to safeguard our Personally Identifiable information, my job has become more in demand than ever before.
I am at the top level as an individual contributor for this role. I have been a manager in the past and could continue to move up in the company if I am willing to take on a senior level managerial job, but I am enjoying my time right now not having to deal with employee reviews and all the drama that comes with being a people leader.
My husband is in IT as an Engineer who works on program level projects to bring in new software to the company. We actually both work at the same company, but this has only been the case for the last year and a half. He has moved around to a few different companies throughout his career, growing his salary and knowledge along the way. He has the opportunity to move up and most likely will in his current role.
What is your annual income?
My annual income with bonus is about $150,000.
My husband’s income with bonus is just about the same as mine.
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 haven’t had many jobs compared to the interviews I have read. My career seems boring compared to most, but I am happy and content with how things have progressed.
I started like many high schoolers babysitting neighborhood kids. I received $2-$5 per hour. That’s nothing compared to what my teenagers can make today!
My first W-2 job was working for a local retail store, TJ Maxx. I did the typical sales associate roles and made minimum wage, with small increases. I can’t remember the exact rate, but probably between $7-$8 per hour and I stayed with them for 3 years. I made my way up to the role that tally’s the cash register receipts to the cash in the drawers, to ensure it was all accounted for. This is when I started to realize I was interested in some sort of Finance role as a career.
I then moved to a small local rose grower, who also sold flowers imported from around the world. It was a wholesale and retail shop run by a local family and employed around 12 people. This was a great job during my college years because they were very flexible with letting me balance work and school schedules. I think I started around $10/hour and when I left I was making $15/hour. It was one of my most favorite jobs. I got to play with flowers all day and customers are generally very happy when buying flowers. I also got to know my local community and it felt like a family.
I completed my college internship with this flower company by keeping accounting records for them during one of my semesters, to complete the required credits. It was another opportunity to solidify that I enjoyed Financial roles.
My first job after completing my undergrad degree in Accounting and Finance was a role with a large financial firm. I have been there ever since! My starting salary was $32,000 plus bonuses and my role was valuing mutual funds at the close of the markets each day. It was a great first step into this company and I moved around in several financial roles as both an individual contributor and a Manager.
The last 5 years out of my 24 years at this firm has been in Data Governance roles. I have helped to stand up a Data Governance organization from the very beginning. It is important work that is often under-valued. As I stated earlier, Data Governance has become more main stream and seen as an added value investment given all the data breaches we have experienced across multiple companies. It’s scary what can happen with our personal data and I am in the thick of it, keeping it protected and properly documented as new regulations are continuously changing.
I realize that I could probably have moved companies to make more money, however the company I work for is one of the best in the industry and I feel that I have excellent flexibility, benefits and opportunities to move within. I have never been locked in a job that I disliked. If I need a change I simply start looking around the company for where I want to gain more expertise and expand my knowledge. I hope that I will be fortunate enough to retire from this company.
What tips do you have for others who want to grow their career-related income?
I am probably not the best one to address this question, as I stated earlier I am not out to make the most money in my career. However, I will always do a job to the best of my ability and take constructive criticism to heart.
I value work-life balance and have always found jobs that are challenging and will set me up for success for the next role I want to advance to. It’s about finding a role that interests you and then looking for ways to improve it so that your manager sees that you are a benefit to the team.
What’s your work-life balance look like?
My work-life balance is ideal for this stage of my life. I am able to attend all of my kid’s activities and have a flexible in-office, work from home schedule.
When I was younger and before kids were in the picture I completed my master’s degree and worked as many hours of overtime as possible. I wanted to move up in the company and make as much money so that I could pay off house/cars.
Once the kids were in the picture, I wasn’t as motivated to work as many hours. I was more interested in getting quality family time and less worried about moving up the corporate ladder.
I am at a level of satisfaction in my career and don’t strive to be the top dog.
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 do not have any additional income outside of my job.
My husband will do odd jobs here and there, but more out of enjoyment in working with his hands and building something, then for the money. He works a corporate job, but has passions that lie outside of work that he gets paid for.
Nothing notable and we mostly use these funds to go out to eat or he saves them to buy a new tool or gadget for the house.
What is your annual spending?
I only started getting serious about our finances and tracking our spending within the last 5 years. We never lived above our means, but with two kids in daycare, paying off our mortgage and cars, we spent most of what we made in those early years, only saving a little for retirement.
Now that my husband and I are both making decent salaries and I am more aware of early retirement, I have cracked down on trying to save as much as we can, while still enjoying spending money on things we love like beach and mountain getaways.
All that to say, over the last 5 years we have averaged about $95,000 annual spending.
What are the main categories (expenses) this spending breaks into?
- 51% — shopping, groceries, vacations, all the things
- 29% — 529 savings
- 9% — taxes
- 8% — utilities
- 4% — car/home insurance
As you can see I am currently saving a large amount into our kids 529 accounts. I was unable to save much when they were younger, so I am trying to make up for some of that now. We aren’t sure if we will have enough to cover their tuition in full, but we are in discussions with my oldest about starting at a local community college and then finishing at a state university. The cost of college is exorbitant and my oldest is not sure what career they are interested in yet. So, I will just continue to save and try to help with the expense as much as possible.
If I take out savings for 529, then our annual spending will be right around $70,000.
Do you have a budget? If so, how do you implement it?
We do not have a budget, but I do track our monthly spending in excel.
My husband and I are very like-minded when it comes to saving/spending and investing. Neither one of us spends frivolously and we talk about any big purchases together. We do lots of research to ensure we are getting the best value for our money and we rarely replace items unless they are no longer useful.
My husband is an amazing handy man around the house. He will google/you-tube every project we have to see if it’s something we can do ourselves. We only hire out for big jobs that are too much for us to handle.
What percentage of your gross income do you save and how has that changed over time?
We currently save 61% of our take home pay. We both contribute the max amounts to our 401(k) and then save the rest into Vanguard mutual funds. We basically live on one income.
It wasn’t always like this. I was the main bread winner for the first 20 years of our marriage. My husband had lower paying roles, but the flexibility we needed for kids in child-care. After several moves to different companies, he has started making more than me. We were so used to living within our means that when he got his new role and practically doubled his compensation (salary, bonus and retirement contribution from company), we just continued the same lifestyle. There was no need to change things because we were both very content with the life we had created.
Like I mentioned, our house is paid off and so are the cars. We will have enough cash saved to buy our next cars outright and support our children as much as possible through their college years. However, we want to try and save enough so that we can retire in our mid-50s, so saving right now is a huge goal of ours.
What’s your best tip for saving (accumulating) money?
We have tried to not let our lifestyle creep up by keeping up with our peers. We shop at Costco, we don’t buy luxury automobiles, we don’t need name brand clothing and we don’t take luxury vacations. Our goal, even when we didn’t make as much money, has always been to save so that if an emergency or unexpected bill were to pop up, we would never have to stress. Well, those unexpected bills are very rare and we just keep accumulating money.
I love personal finance and I love to see our money grow. It also helps that I have a partner that aligns to my dreams of early retirement. I would like to think that we are the “Millionaires Next Door” living in a middle class neighborhood just waiting for the day when we can say “see ya” from our corporate roles.
What’s your best tip for spending less money?
I drive my family crazy, but I am infamous for saying “there will always be a sale.” Kids are the ones that push my spending limits. Between peer pressure at school and always wanting the latest and greatest gadget, it’s hard to manage their expectations. I don’t usually say flat-out no, but I make them wait for a sale. I feel it teaches them patience and being smart with their money. Plus, if they want something that bad, they can earn it and then buy the items themselves.
It’s a good question to always ask if they are willing to spend their own money on what they are begging for. You would be surprised how many times they say no and then we just move along.
I definitely try to spend wisely by buying what’s on sale for the week at grocery stores and meal plan around that, doing a monthly Costco run to stock up on most used items. We make all our meals at home and make take-out or restaurant dining an exception to our weekly routines. We buy clothing on sale when it’s needed and don’t replace things that aren’t broken. We use our public library regularly and exercise at home with some basic equipment we own and take daily walks around our neighborhood to stay in shape.
We reserve several weeks a year for family vacations. We don’t travel by plane because most of my family gets motion sickness and I end up caring for sick people, which puts a real damper on the excitement of flying. We own several ATVs and live within 2 hours of the mountains. We love to camp and enjoy the trails that are scattered throughout our state. In addition, we spend at least 3 weeks a year at a family house near the Maryland beaches. It makes for very inexpensive vacations, but high quality family time.
So, a very small portion of our budget goes towards vacationing and we are very happy with our time together. Quality time with your family does not have to be expensive.
What is your favorite thing to spend money on/your secret splurge?
I love to buy clothing. It’s such an awful habit and I have definitely gotten better over the years, but I hate wearing items until they are worn out and out of style. My way to justify buying new is that I always have to get rid of something old. It keeps my closet organized. I have gotten way better over the years and have started realizing how ridiculous I was in my youth spending my free time in shopping malls.
I can also say I have spent more than my fair share on ATVs. Kids need new ones as they grow and one of my kids loves power sports. So, we have an assortment of ATVs and dirt bikes that just seem to keep growing. I guess this is where we make up for lower cost vacations; we spend our fair share on power sport vehicles. This is also where the need for a pickup truck comes in. We have to have a trailer and pickup truck in order to enjoy our mountain escapes, which can get expensive quickly!
What is your investment philosophy/plan?
My monthly bills are fairly predictable at this point. So, I pay them off each month and then just transfer the remaining balance of our paychecks into Vanguard. It’s very simple and boring, but it has worked thus far. I have always moved all the leftover money out of my checking account once my bills were paid for the month.
Before I realized that I should be investing my extra money into mutual funds, it all went to savings. I know I missed out on many years of investing, but I just hadn’t been that interested in my own personal finance and just kept building my emergency fund.
What has been your best investment?
My best investment has been my marriage.
Little did I know when we first were married that our investment philosophy would align so well. We never fight about finances. He just lets me do my thing and makes sure that he helps with research if I don’t know what to do about a tax or investment question.
What has been your worst investment?
Before I got this serious about saving, we had moved into a larger house. We bought a small starter home in our local town, but wanted something bigger after our kids were born and more room for them to play outside. We decided on a very large house that I regret. It was more house than we needed and I spent my free time cleaning it. Everything that broke was expensive to fix because of its size.
I started reading about the FIRE community and did the math and realized we could sell our house and purchase a smaller less expensive house on more land, all within the same school district. So, we made the move and have no regrets. Our house is not small by any means (2,800 sq feet) but smaller than the previous one and much less upkeep. We kept the mortgage payments the same as the larger house and paid it off in 2020.
I am so happy with the outcome, but regret ever buying the big house. We were in the mind set of keeping up with the Joneses. I am happy we course corrected and have time to get our finances back on track to fulfilling our dreams of early retirement. If we had stayed on that trajectory I don’t think I would have been able to help my kids with college and we would definitely be working to just pay the bills.
It’s nice to know that if one of us were to lose our jobs now, we would not have to stress. We can manage our current lifestyle on one income.
What’s been your overall return?
According to Vanguard my rate of return is about 9% over the last 10 years.
How often do you monitor/review your portfolio?
I monitor our accounts on a monthly basis.
I keep an excel spreadsheet of all the bills, which helps ensure I didn’t miss paying anything since most of them are online payments. I also keep an excel spreadsheet of all of our investment accounts so that I can see the growth (or decline) each month.
Since I work for a financial institution I see what the stock market does on a daily basis. I get nervous when it declines, but I try to do what advisors say and just stay the course.
How did you accumulate your net worth?
Slow and steady has been the way to our success so far.
My husband and I both entered our marriage with no debt, but no money either. We were fortunate that our parents set us up for success by helping us with college by either paying for it or earning scholarships that covered our tuition. We were both responsible for our own books and gas money to get there. We both commuted to a state university that was near our homes. We dated all through college and both had similar dreams for our future. We wanted to save up enough money to be able to afford a house right away, skipping apartments and town homes.
We lived in our first house for about 11 years before buying the “McMansion”. We sold the first house for double what we purchased and that’s how we afforded the bigger house. We stayed in that house for 5 years and broke even on the sale, when you count all the broker fees and money we put into the house over the years to fix it up.
We then bought our current house and like I said paid it off about 3 years ago. I am sure I would have more money in my investment accounts if I continued to slowly pay down my house, but for me it’s a mental load that I didn’t want to carry anymore. I have always hated carrying debt and am always nervous that one of us will lose our job and not be able to afford our bills. I never stress over it now and I sleep well knowing no-one can take my house and cars from me.
Another regret that I hope folks reading these interviews can learn from, is not investing the max amount into my retirement at an earlier age. My real interest in personal finance started around the time I turned 40. I started reading as many blogs as I could and all of them said to save the max. I always saved about 10% of my salary, but never hit the max. Once I started reading those blogs, I went full throttle and maxed mine out right away.
We couldn’t afford for my husband to do the same right away, we had to slowly adjust his and made every raise go right to retirement. He does now, but with the years of lower paying jobs definitely put a damper on his retirement savings. I regret not getting educated earlier. I hope to instill some of this knowledge in my kids so that they don’t make the same mistakes.
We used to max out our Roth IRA savings too, but now that we are higher earners, we don’t qualify. I don’t know if I should be doing something additional or different, I am open to suggestions. For now, its max 401(k), max HSA and then the remainder goes into taxable mutual fund investments with Vanguard. I try to keep our stock/bond ratio around 80/20.
What would you say is your greatest strength in the ESI wealth-building model (Earn, Save or Invest) and why would you say it’s tops?
I would say saving has been our greatest asset. I know if I had gotten smarter on personal finance at an earlier age, my savings would look even better. We have never had debt other than houses and cars and we pay our bills off every month.
I would say our earnings have probably been our weakest part of ESI. Neither my husband nor I made over 6 figures until we hit the ages of 43 and 44. I know many people make less, but many peers our age make more. If we had found success earlier in life we would be much father along this path. However, we are incredibly blessed and happy with how things have turned out, that I don’t think I would go back and change anything, for the risk of a bad outcome.
What road bumps did you face along the way to becoming a millionaire and how did you handle them?
The biggest road bump was not saving for retirement during a period when my husband was employed by a small company and they didn’t offer a 401(k). We weren’t thinking about saving and we were utilizing his entire paycheck to pay for child care and household expenses. We didn’t make an effort to try and save for retirement in a Roth or any other investment vehicle at the time and we deeply regret that. I did continue to save in my 401(k), but I wasn’t maximizing my contribution, so there’s that regret as well.
My husband’s retirement savings are minimal now (compared to mine) and we feel like we are behind for where we should be at this stage in life. So, as soon as he left that job, we amped up his savings rate each year until he got to the maximum contribution.
If we had been smarter and realized how we were only hurting our future, we would have made more of an effort. But, life sometimes gets in the way and we were just focused on raising our kids and not thinking about retirement. I wish we could go back and make up for it!
What are you currently doing to maintain/grow your net worth?
Staying the course through all of this market craziness.
Continue to be successful in our careers so that we don’t lose our jobs and save as much as we can, without sacrificing family vacations.
We have some expensive years ahead of us. My oldest will graduate high school this year, so we have college right around the corner. My youngest will be a few years later. Our goal is to help them get through college with as little debt as possible. They will have some financial responsibility because I don’t think getting a free ride from your parents teaches any financial responsibility. Most likely they will both start at community colleges and hopefully earn some scholarships.
I want them to start their lives like my husband and I did because everything is more expensive and I don’t know how young folks are affording life these days right out of college if they are carrying a bunch of debt.
We will continue to save as much of our take-home pay as possible. I don’t see our lifestyle changing, we have everything we need!
Do you have a target net worth you are trying to attain?
This is a hard question for me. I think that once our kids have graduated and gotten themselves a career, we can live comfortably on $60,000 a year.
If I do the basic math of retiring when we are 55 (that’s my dream goal) and multiplying by 40 (how many years I will live past age 55), then we need about $2.4M.
In my mind I am targeting $2.5M, but I am fearful that won’t be enough. I don’t have confidence that I will ever have enough money and I know I will have a hard time spending my savings when the time comes to retire. I am very afraid to be broke and don’t want to rely on anyone else to take care of me financially.
So, as we get closer I will do more modeling to get myself comfortable around what I really need.
How old were you when you made your first million and have you had any significant behavior shifts since then?
When I first started reading about the FIRE community and learned how to calculate your net worth, I was 40 years old. At that time, we had just about $1M in net worth.
Since then I have made multiple changes to help move us forward. I paid off the cars (and will never finance again), paid off the mortgage and increased our retirement savings to the max amounts. I have learned to be a better cook (thanks covid lockdowns to really driving that one) and spend less time on frivolous things like clothes and eating out. My husband found an amazing paying job and we ramped up our savings.
The FIRE community has blessed me with their knowledge and I am forever grateful!
What personal habits and/or traits have you developed that have made you successful at growing your net worth?
Realizing that I don’t need to keep up with the Joneses.
It is freeing to not care anymore and live with stealth wealth.
What money mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from?
My advice is nothing extreme and all the things you read about on personal finance posts.
Don’t buy that huge house because you want to do what everyone else that age does. Find a house that fits your needs and then keep it forever! It’s amazing how rewarding and successful you feel when you pay that last mortgage payment. It was a better feeling than any job promotion ever!
Also, don’t finance cars if you can help it. I know it’s tough when you are just starting out and you need a new car. But, pay it off and then keep those payments going into savings. Before you know it you will have enough to pay for the next one in cash.
The last one that I am trying now with my children is that you don’t need to attend an expensive college in order to be successful in life. There are huge financial benefits to attending a community college and then transferring the credits to a state university. Your employer only cares where you graduated from and not how you got there. Or, there are so many trade schools that provide you with the education you need to get a great job in the trades. These jobs are hot commodities right now as there is a lack of skilled tradesmen/women. There are lucrative jobs for the trades right now and the education is usually pretty minimal in both time commitment and money. I want to help set my kids up for success so they don’t make the same mistakes we have.
What advice do you have for ESI Money readers on how to become wealthy?
Read all the personal finance blogs and books you can.
If you don’t like reading start listening to podcasts or audible.
I am not that smart, but there are whole communities that can help you get there. If I can do it, anyone can. Lean on them because from what I have seen, they sure are a bunch of cool people!
What are your plans for the future regarding lifestyle?
I want to be able to fully retire. I don’t have any special skills and can’t see myself enjoying work outside of what I do now. So, I will continue full-time employment until I can retire however long that takes.
My husband enjoys helping friends and family build/repair things. I can see him dabbling in this in retirement because he will finally have the time. However, I don’t think it would ever be significant money to replace income we made while employed.
What are your retirement plans?
I want to make good use of the pickup trucks we buy and purchase a travel trailer and roam the United States. There are so many beautiful places right here in our country that I want to see, but I want to take my house with me. I want to slow travel and enjoy my time in each place. Maybe even find a nice southern location to stay for the winter, because even though I enjoy 4 seasons, I really hate the cold. I could use less winter and more summer.
This plan also gives me pause on whether or not we will have enough savings with $2.5M. I have no idea how much of my yearly budget would go to traveling in this way. I have to do a lot of research to figure out how much we would spend yearly to live this lifestyle, while keeping our current home.
Are there any issues in retirement that concern you? If so, how are you planning to address them?
As stated above, the unknown of travel expenses in addition to healthcare like everyone else. That’s another item that I don’t know if it will fit in my predicted budget for retirement.
I would likely look into a Healthcare Ministry plan or Open Market Health Insurance Plans.
How did you learn about finances and at what age did it “click”?
I went to college for Accounting and Finance, but I never really applied it to my personal life until more recently.
Don’t get me wrong, I have always been good with my money and never lived above my means. However, I never got serious about saving and setting my family up for success until I hit 40. I would spend the money I earned and never thought if I saved it more diligently, I could get out of the rat race early.
Who inspired you to excel in life? Who are your heroes?
My parents have always been good role models and taught me the basics of budgeting.
While they never retired early, they did model good fiscal responsibility. They gave me a great upbringing and have set themselves up for success in retirement.
I don’t anticipate ever having to support them financially and I want to do the same for myself and my kids. They enabled me to start my adult life off debt-free and for that I feel very privileged and appreciative.
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 Millionaire Next Door was the first book I ever read on personal finance and it will always be my favorite. I recommend it to anyone who wants to start this journey.
The Simple Path to Wealth made investing sound so easy and I try to apply those learnings to the best of my abilities. I still get nervous that I am not doing everything correct and this book is a helpful reminder to keep it simple and success will follow.
I read a bunch of blogs and get email alerts when new posts are published. These include, ESI Money (the OG blog for me when I was 40!), The Retirement Manifesto, Mr Money Mustache, The Frugalwoods, Apex Money, Route to Retire and probably a few others that may not post frequently, so they aren’t top of mind.
Do you give to charity? Why or why not? If you do, what percent of time/money do you give?
My family gives their time to charities.
We rarely contribute monetarily because I don’t feel confident that I know where my money is going and I would rather my kids learn good life lessons by doing.
We have worked for food cupboards, animal rescues and cat adoption centers. I find it rewarding to work with the people and animals that benefit from your time. When we volunteer we will bring along items that are needed and can be put to good use in our community.
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 don’t have plans to leave any specific amount of inheritance to my children. We have a will and they will receive whatever is left.
I don’t have any expectations to receive an inheritance from my family or my in-laws. They earned it and I want them to enjoy it all!
I will teach my children how to grow their wealth and my gift to them will be that they never have to take care of us financially. In my opinion, that’s the best thing a parent can do for their children. You only have to focus on your own wealth and you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor during retirement.