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The First Million

July 5th, 2019 at 11:30 pm

In the forums, it was brought up that the first million dollars is always the hardest, and that things only continue to accelerate from there. The idea resonated with me, and below is my response to the OP. I decided that I wanted to save those thoughts for myself to remember later, so here they are.
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I started investing around the end of 2006, but was negative net worth until sometime in the first half of 2009. As I mentioned elsewhere, I just hit $1M sometime in the last few weeks. So about 10 years to the nose for me to get from ~$0 net worth to ~$1M.

There's definitely alot of reassurance in those facts:
- Anyone can do it, and it doesn't really take alot of time if you work hard & focus on practicing good financial habits.
- Compounding is every saver's friend. I'm almost 33y/o right now. If I do nothing with my money and earn a decent ~8% average ROI, my net worth should double roughly every 9 years without saving another penny...which means I'm in a position to have ~$8M by age 60. That's not inflation adjusted, but even assuming 3% inflation, that's around $3.75M in today's dollars. Bottom line: we're in a good place.
- I'm not gonna quit saving anytime soon, which means those numbers will only get bigger, and grow even faster.

One thing that I don't think gets expressed well very often is our (or at least my) motivation for wanting to build that kind of wealth. Shoot, I don't think my own wife of 5 years even fully understood this until I sat down with her recently (after she recently took a medical retirement from the military) and I explained all of this. First and foremost, yes -- I want us to live a comfortable life & retirement, and provide a good standard of living for my family. I want us to travel whenever and wherever we want to. All of those things will be great, and alot of fun.

But beyond that, I really look forward to being able to be exceptionally generous with my time and money in helping the people around me to be successful in life. When I (hopefully/presumably) retire from the military in another 9 years (note -- net worth will have at least doubled by then), I want to be in a position that I can work in whatever job I want, and not have to worry about my income. That way, I can volunteer in communities to help teach people to learn how to improve their finances. I can work for (or start) a non-profit that focuses on helping students succeed from grade school up through college and beyond. My wife & I can serve missions for our church wherever we're needed. I can take on leadership roles (whether paid or unpaid) in my church, local schools/universities, and my community without concern for how I'll pay for our living expenses.

As I see it, we need about $2M-$3M (today's dollars) to be financially independent, and I plan to be there within the next 9 years. At that point (by my estimates), I'll have ~$1.1M in retirement savings growing on autopilot, ~$500k accessible in taxable investments, ~$500k in 2-3 paid off rental properties throwing off income, and our military pensions (~$6k/mo total, today's dollars) serving as a baseline income stream. All of our efforts over the last 10 years have made achieving those goals not only possible, but highly likely.

I'm a testament to this singular truth: deliberate efforts & sacrifice while young will, without fail, reap enormous opportunities and financial security in the long run.

Saving is simple -- do it early & often

May 24th, 2019 at 02:33 am

So I guess for my kickoff post, I'll lay out the foundation of everything that has brought me to where I am. And honestly, it's a mind-boggling reality. As I was putting together the numbers for my 'About Me' section, I was shocked to realize where we actually stand. As a 32 y/o military officer, I have built up a net worth of nearly $1M... I almost don't know how it's possible.

I went to college in 2004 with $3k to my name. I had gratefully earned a full scholarship to an outstanding university, and my small income of a few hundred dollars a month was sufficient for my needs (not much, obviously). In 2006, an instructor pulled me into his office with a few of my friends, and he taught us about retirement accounts, budgeting, debt, investments & mutual funds, and a bunch of other financial topics. In a way, he's my inspiration, because that's exactly what I want to be able to do for other people. I want to help them learn how to be successful with their money. And successful I have been, and I credit him with starting me on that path.

Soon after, I started my Roth IRA, and set up automatic transfers into the IRA and into my savings account. Mind you, I had a $10k annual income, so it wasn't much... But that didn't matter -- I had started! The next year, as a senior, I managed to max out the IRA, and have never stopped doing so ever since. That has been a cornerstone of my financial life.

When I commissioned as a military officer, I was young, inexperienced, naive, and relatively well-funded (suddenly earning $40k). Gratefully, I applied the lessons I'd been taught, created a basic budget, and started saving aggressively. I had been living on almost nothing, and with 2 roommates, continued to do so. That meant that saving 40% of my income was no problem, even in spite of my car payment (man, if I could go back & not get an 11% car note on a new Civic... Lol).

From then on, 40% toward savings has just felt right. In spite of living in (and enjoying) Florida, Oklahoma, Japan, Oklahoma again (stinking tornados), and now Alaska, I (and eventually my wife) have always managed to save right around 40% of gross income. "Live on less than you make." It's simple advice, but so very fundamental to financial success.

Which brings me to my point: by starting early, saving consistently, and living well within my means, I find myself in the strange position of nearly being a millionaire in my early 30s. I started my career with absolutely no expectation of wealth (after all, who joins the military for the money?!?). I simply created my budget based on priorities: 1) tithing; 2) basic essentials of housing, food, utilities, transportation; 3) saving; 4) everything else. By taking out & sending away my savings before I spent any of my disposable income, I simply never missed it, and it was always there when I needed cash for something: a car, buying a home, emergency airfare, paying for our wedding & honeymoon, or wiping out my new wife's student loans. Saving early & often has given me the freedom and flexibility to do a great many things. With the foundational philosophy of saving aggressively, as I've moved up in rank and pay, the dollar figures involved have grown, but it has merely accelerated my small family's financial strength. We stick to the plan, safe regularly, and we want for nothing. When something is important enough to merit spending our money on it, we do so with little hesitation. That freedom is directly enabled by the savings habits that I learned in college and have applied ever since.