Journey, Lessons, Privilege, and Reflections [Long post warning]

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by suckthingsforcash

FI journey and learning

Just checking in with the community, this is a quick story of where I am in the journey and the biggest learning along the way for me.

I am a 31M single and in a MCOL City. My assets are $1,182,000 USD, my liability is my mortgage of $237,000. So my net worth falls somewhere around $945,000. Expect to exceed $1M NW by Q1 next year. FI number $2M+ Visual Chart of NW (I tried to recreate a complete picture from 2010 via old spreadsheets before mint but it was so shoddy in terms of data entry, I will just defer to starting with Mint 2012 vs trying to piece accounts on a spreadsheet)

Allocation is currently, 70% equities (VTI, SPY, small/mid caps, intl), 15% real estate, 12% short term duration bonds, 3% cash/liquid.

I grew up in a ghetto part of town. I lived most of my childhood in 1 bedroom apartments with my mom and my sister. Never had much but still was very fortunate with what I did get. Growing up poor shaped my self-esteem and my ambitions, I want to illustrate my mindset. This isn’t a “woe is me, but look at me now”. I graduated with a finance degree from a public college. Below are a few items that were my privilege and good fortune. In addition, a few controllable items I did to ensure a high chance of success.

Below is an extensive calculation of the prior 9 years of work history with salary + benefits total. I save around 60-70% of my after tax salary.

Salary/bonus & Benefits history:

  • 2006- $8k Bestbuy PCHO (PC home office) sales person $10/hr Senior year HS
  • 2007- College/summer school no income
  • 2008- $8k college part time work $13/hr, “busy season” bump to $15/hr
  • 2009- $8k college part time work $18/hr, intern pay
  • 2010- $65k sales, product rep (first job after graduating)
  • 2011- $68k sales product rep
  • 2012- $60k sales hunter (changed jobs, lower pay but got better training)
  • 2013- $83k sales account manager (new job)
  • 2014- $125k sales account manager
  • 2015- $129k sales account manager
  • 2016- $160k sales account manager
  • 2017- $158k sales senior hunter (promotion)
  • 2018- $115k sales senior hunter (bad performance year) (Jan 2018 –> Dec 2018 NW $718k)
  • 2019- $178k sales senior hunter to sales trainer (raise and decent performance) (Jan 2019 NW $748k, July )
  • 2020- $140k trainer role (1st year no longer in sales) expected earnings

Biggest FI Events (Privilege & Controllable)

  1. Privilege: I accumulated no debt during college because parents were poor enough for me to receive full financial aid, I earned an endowment but the aid was reduced by the endowment amount so it basically gave me no monetary benefit. But financial aid basically paid me to go to school. I skipped studying abroad because it added no job prospect value but would have added all the costs. That’s how I was able to finish school without debt.
  2. Controllable: I either worked 2 jobs during the summers in college or took 1-2 summer classes for credit. I wanted to capitalize on the 4 year time line of graduating. I worked office desk jobs & tech support phone jobs.
  3. Controllable: I worked during high school at a retail job and saved $5k for college; the cash was an advantage during school. I focused hard on having cash for entering college, so I skipped homecoming and prom. I worked my prom night while my friends partied. I wanted to improve my chances of success, it was a fair trade.
  4. Privilege: I inherited $45k during the last year of my college. This money couldn’t be invested as I didn’t feel entitled to it, so it sat in a bank account for 3-4 years until I was given the all clear (ie had enough of my own cash to pay back the inheritance). This amount was later invested in 2014 or so. Windfall #1. Edit: Since people asked. The $45k was a portion of real estate sale in my home country for property that my biological father owned with my fathers side of the family. Every head of the family that had a hand in the property received $2M but since my father passed away, and I being the male heir who didn’t have a living father to fight for the claim, got royal fucked. It was funny because the family was so adamant I take the $45k, but it wasn’t disclosed to me that the share was $2M. There is no contract no record of ownership that included my father, it was a family covenant among all the living brothers and my grandmother. But my grandmother was suffering from Alzheimer and could not longer guide the family.
  5. Controllable: My first estate purchase was $33k in 2014 and I worked on the renovations myself costing $7k. I lived in my first condo then left after two years and rented it out. I later sold it for $63k in 2019, netting $57k after fees/cost. Finding cheap living situation is a top 5 for all successful FI strategies.
  6. Privilege: My second real estate purchase was in 2016 and I received $28k from my parents as a gift. This is something I need to point out as it was not from my own work, it was given and a privilege. Windfall #2 Edit #2: This amount came from my step father. He came into my life right around my junior year in highschool (didnt marry my mother until Senior year in college). He was well-to do and takes care of my mother. I respect him for basically gifting me this amount, I help him manage his 401k.
  7. Privilege: I received an early finance education when I was 12 years old. I received an easy to understand book about money/fiat currency and securities. So I knew my way around the concept of money/investing asset classes in middle school. Priceless windfall. Edit: heres the book (The Book of Money: Everything You Need to Know About How World Finances Work; Paperback; Author – Daniel Conaghan) So I can’t for the life of me remember the exact title, the book i mentioned isnt the same one as it was published in 2013… I will have to search high and low for the book if I still have it at all…
  8. Privilege: I landed a high paying role in the right market cycle time. From 2013-2019, total pay never fell below $110k, reaching as high as $170k. Averaging $135k overall.
  9. Controllable: I house hacked for most of my adult life, so either slumming it in a cheap condo or sharing a home, I’ve kept my month housing costs below $500/mo.
  10. Controllable: I killed my accent over the years when I learned English. Also, I quickly adapted to corporate America and learned how to deal with people and make myself more palatable. Admittedly, there’s a glass ceiling for me (as it exists for many others regardless of gender or race), but I’ve been able to find my niche in the middle.
  11. Controllable: Formal finance education, applied to personal life helped me overcome many “behavior finance” pitfalls or fallacies (sunk cost, mental accounting, loss aversion). Richard Thaler spells out some interesting concepts in the book, “misbehaving”, google and YouTube the concepts if you don’t want to read it. Interestingly enough, the “loss aversion” theory is applied to sales technique such as “The Challenger Sale”, if you guys happen to be interested in sales and are looking for additional skills and methods for your sales role.

12. Controllable: I don’t have children or married the wrong person. This part is mainly my choosing but also I’m glad I didn’t accidentally start a family. While I don’t have a dual income, I also don’t have expenses that are beyond my control. The risk and return for this setup is optimal for my life.

Here’s what I learned along the way.

  1. Finance education is always useful. I don’t know how all the parts of a cell (other than the mitochondria) but I sure do understand risk, volatility, regressions, and other finance related concepts. My side hustle is to keep learning more concepts and develop my knowledge. I know what I know but I also can identify where I am in over my head, it’s helped me avoid a lot of bad decisions.
  2. Income growth scales better than frugal savings long term. It’s good to be frugal but there’s a time cost to being frugal, if I had to focus energy in only one place, it would be on increasing income (improving my skills) long-term. This is not a message to say being frugal isn’t important. But I see way too many folks spend hours doing “frugal” things when they could have used the same time to invest in themselves.
  3. House hacking (jeez) *ahem* Splitting housing costs whenever possible has been a big driving force for my savings rate. Housing costs can ruin a good SR all day. Don’t be too proud to live with roommates. Buy a shitty starter condo and if you can average $300-$500/mo in housing cost, you’re going to stack a lot of capital quickly. No matter what income level. (example: I kept my condo to rent out because between the rents of the condo, roommate/airbnb, equity payment portion, and tax write-offs, I basically lowered my housing cost to effectively $0 for a few years)
  4. Stay humble and never be afraid to explore opportunities. Sometimes we only see the traditional progression of our careers. I have never met anyone (other than the medical field) that are doing exactly what they went to school for. Successful people adapt and jump at opportunities. Tunnel vision is our worst enemy. This will be the second time in my career where I took a pay cut so I can learn a new skillset and experience. After 3-4 years, I will repackage my skill sets and experience and chase after a “Director of Development” for a mid-size company and seek a $200k+ salary. Plot things out on paper, if things go as planned, great. If they do not go as planned, its ok, adjust and adapt.
  5. The goal is to scale your labor hours and automate away tasks. You are invested, that’s a great first step. The next step is investing in education (learn finance and behavioral finance) so you’re more efficient and effective in your decision making. Next, drop “tasks” as the labor hours involved in tasks aren’t worth the savings in the long run. Seek short cuts or outsourcing to automate those tasks. Do what you must in the meantime to save cash, but seek to be more efficient with your labor hours.
  6. Stay healthy by managing your food and exercise, control what you can and hope the genetics don’t doom you to any major sickness. Smoking or alcohol adds costs and provides no value. Pick a sport that you can play life-long. Such as tennis or cycling. Sports is cheap entertainment.
  7. Seek to always learn new skills at work. If you check in and check out, you aren’t investing in yourself. Investing in yourself has 100% ROI. Learn skills outside of your job scope. Ask to work on projects you aren’t responsible for. List them on paper and collect those projects and skills like pokemon cards. Play your hand later when the time is right.
  8. Education like all things, is an investment, there are good investments and bad investments. Don’t to a private school or get a hard to recruit major. Company recruiters are measured based on which school (business school, engineering school, etc) within the university they recruit. Big state schools are always hot on the charts for them. Smaller private schools (unless it’s an ivy) aren’t even on the radar. Even if I had student loan debt out of college, a public school tuition was around $12k a year, and room and board around another $15k (roommates and scrimping). So even a total debt of $25-30k would still be a good risk/reward trade for the degree.
  9. All decisions/projects have a risk and reward. The fear isn’t overestimating the reward (we often underestimate it) but rather we under assume the risks (aka costs). Risks are hidden and normalized in most projects. List them out no matter how weird or small. Risks are basically just a series of “costs” that aren’t full calculated, adjust for this in your project.
  10. Be a professional, at everything you do. I got my first job by being rejected after the interview. Everyone I knew that interviewed got offers but I didn’t get an offer. I had recruited with the company for most of the semester and put in a lot of work getting to know the recruiting staff. Unfortunately, they did not select me to intern for the summer. I was torn and angry, but I decided I was a professional and wrote the head recruiting manager a nice email thanking him and appreciating his consideration and time. I wrote that email with the idea that, no matter how I am treated, I am a hard-ass professional and rejection doesn’t change a damn thing. The recruiter called me a week later and said someone had rejected the offer and he said I was the only person who sent a thank you letter. He offered the spot to me. I accepted and worked my ass off.
  11. Understand your reality but do not let it fully define you. I know that when people read about my windfall or high income they roll their eyes and probably think. “yup another high income lucky asshole”. That’s ok to think that, but if you live your life in the negative and throw your hands up in defeat with a mindset of “not everyone can get a high paying job etc.” then you are correct, you won’t get a high paying job. We all know that billionaires and the rich have the system on lock. I’m not going to lie to you about that reality. But there is still opportunity to lift one-self to the next few levels. Having a better future is still success in my book, even if you aren’t a billionaire. My income wasn’t high initially, it might not remain high forever, but you can be sure that I will continue learning new skills and refining my craft. Even if I have to take a step back in earnings (like I did recently) to better position myself for future growth.

Thanks for reading.

PS: I received a few messages about my writing style and techniques. I am not a writer and the post was certainly not a polished piece of literature. However, the post contained several key elements of essential business communication techniques. Featuring… bulleted lists, executive summary style headings, and organized information sections. Far from perfection, I still commit the flaw of “I” in most sentences and structure them in passive voice. Admittedly, I also still struggle on the style issues (even in the professional setting).

If you are interested in learning a new set of skills for your professional role. Please take a look at Essentials of Business Communications. I am not affiliated with the publisher but it was a great resource in college.

Well written executive summaries or emails set you apart from the crowd. Vice Presidents and senior leaders don’t have much time to digest information, so form an easy to understand email or summary (with a story telling flow) helps them understand a new concept or issue/situation. This empowers them to understand and then to decide on a course of action. Empowering someone and making your ideas easier to understand are great soft skills for the corporate environment.


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