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Millionaire Interview 224 - ESI Money 2Here’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 September.

My questions are in bold italics and his responses follow in black.

Let’s get started…

OVERVIEW

How old are you (and spouse if applicable, plus how long you’ve been married)?

Hi, my wife and I are both 57 yrs. old. We have been happily married for 32 yrs.

We both started working right out of college at the same company, we met there. I moved to another company 2 years later and she stayed at the same company her whole career, but it was bought out twice during her career.

I want to say up front, we have been pretty good savers for most of our careers, but that changed somewhat after our kids got of out college.

My wife had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma back in the mid-90’s. She had the Chemo and radiation and has fully recovered, but this changed her view on how long she will live. She feels there is no way she will reach too old of an age having gone through the Chemo. No way to debate that, just hope she is wrong.

I am telling you this, because once the kids made it out of college we started spending more than saving more. We still saved the same, but any extra money we made, my salary also jumped up during this time, was spent on traveling more, nicer vacations and dining out more. Trying to find that balance between living now and still saving for the future.

Do you have kids/family (if so, how old are they)?

We have 2 kids.

Our son is 29 yrs. old and our daughter is 26.

They are both out of the house and nicely employed, so they don’t need financial help from us, mostly.

What area of the country do you live in (and urban or rural)?

We live in a suburb of a large North Eastern U.S. city. We have lived in the area since we were married.

What is your current net worth?

Our net worth is roughly $2.4 million.

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?

  • 900K in IRA(~80%) and Roth IRA (~20%) – wife’s 401K rolled over into an Vanguard IRA when she retired last year. These funds are mostly in retirement date funds. We picked the 2030 date fund, even though I hope to retire in 2025. I did this because I wanted a high percentage in Stocks and 2030 is my Full Social security date and maybe I will have to work that long, we will see.
  • 900K in 401K (98%) and Roth 401K (2%) – from my current job, managed by Fidelity. My company just started offering a Roth 401K, so I switched over to having all my 401K payroll deductions going into the Roth. Fidelity has a date fund, but I thought its fees were a little high and created my own date fund by putting 50% in a U.S. stock index fund, 25% in an International stock fund and 25% in bonds. Feed is .2% and the Fidelity date fund was 0.26%. not much, but still lower and I am thinking of doing the same with my wife’s IRA money as well.
  • $80K in Vanguard balance fund
  • $75K in stocks
  • $35K cash
  • $410K in house equity (what we should clear when we sell)

Not part of Net Worth, but part of our retirement:

  • $1,000 /month pension (mine)
  • $500 / month pension (my wife’s)

EARN

What is your job?

Senior Director of a mid-size IT Services company focused on security.

I run the Engineering development side for one of our products.

What is your annual income?

~$250K (this includes bonus’s)

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?

Good question, haven’t thought about this in a while.

I started at $26K for a Healthcare IT company when I came out of college at 22. I remember I had 2 offers, so the company I went with offered me $2K more and went for the money. Kids out of college today in the IT field make around 3 times that now depending on location.

My salary grew just through normal raises each year, always working to make myself seem indispensable to my boss.

I made my one company move 2 yrs. later and got a bump up to $33K salary from my new company. I have been at that company now for 32 yrs.

It was probably about 10 yrs. or so later my salary moved into low 6 figures when I moved into lower level management. I have been in the same area of the company, just various different jobs as I move up in management and responsibility. Can’t say I did anything special other than focusing on the saying “my job is to make my boss successful”. I still have that view today and it has done well for me as the various boss’s I have had over my career have taken care of me.

It wasn’t until around my late 40’s / early 50’s my salary really took off with salary increases and bonus opportunities. When I started out I never envisioned I would ever make this much money, just being honest.

What tips do you have for others who want to grow their career-related income?

Understand what your boss and company value. They will reward you based on THEIR perceived value you bring to the company, not yours.

If this frustrates you, look for another company to work for (previous statement stays the same) or try starting your own company.

What’s your work-life balance look like?

It has fluctuated over my career.

Long hours initially, more evenly split when the kids arrived, went back to longer hours when we became empty nesters and now back to more evenly split once my wife retired last year.

In mid-career I wanted to make sure I was home for dinner every night with the family. I was able to make that happen and coached them in every sport they we interested in trying. My dad was around when I was growing up and it was great, so I wanted to make sure my kids had the same.

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?

No other sources.

For most of my career we had dual incomes with both my wife and I working. I met her at the start of my career at the Healthcare IT company.

At the very start of my career I did own a rental with a couple friends, but that did not last long, bad renter, so I got out of that and never went back to owning real state for renting.

SAVE

What is your annual spending?

Great question and I know this is going to kill some of the readers, but I don’t know.

As we get closer to retirement, we are just starting to track our spending.

How could this be you say……………it really is about having all your savings (401K, kids college, personal savings) and bills (mortgage, etc.) automatically pulled out of your monthly pay check. So we did pay ourselves first and then pretty much just spent what was left. I am not saying this is the best way, but I have always been able to do our spending math in my head and knew what we could afford and what we could not.

Now that we are tracking our spend, it is coming out to around $9K a month.

Our house is by far our largest buy followed by new cars, every 10 yrs. or so. While the house was our largest expense ($225K) it was below what the mortgage companies “said” we could afford.

What are the main categories (expenses) this spending breaks into?

Essential or Necessary spend (property tax, medical, home maintenance, utilities, etc.): ~$5K

Discretionary spend ( travel, charity, entertainment, shopping, etc.): ~$4K/month

Do you have a budget? If so, how do you implement it?

As I said, no real budget, we paid ourselves first and then the necessary bills and then saw what was left and figured out how to spend that.

What percentage of your gross income do you save and how has that changed over time?

Today it is ~25%, but probably closer to 15 – 20% when the kids were young.

What’s your best tip for saving (accumulating) money?

Pay yourself first, especially 401K’s and any separate savings you want.

For the 401K’s, put it mostly in equity index funds and then “kind of” forget about them and they will grow nicely over time.

Work up your retirement % over time as your salary increase until you hit the maximum, but also remember to live today, the future is not a given.

What’s your best tip for spending less money?

Have a priority list of what you want to save for and fund them first. What you have left is what you can spend and remember to not spend more than what you can afford.

We always plan to pay off credit card bills each month, which helped us keep our spend within what we make. The only loans we ever took was for the house and occasionally for a new car.

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I would also say, re-evaluate your essential spends periodically to make sure you really need them. When we started out everyone had a house phone. Now, I feel very few have a house phone and we cut that expense years ago when we all had cell phones and only my parents ever called us on the house phone.

What is your favorite thing to spend money on/your secret splurge?

Early on our spend was focused on our kids, but now our key spend is around travel and making memorable memory’s by seeing the world.

Also, when we go to events and there is a VIP option to get in early or to beat the crowds, we will consider it and probably pay the extra. We don’t go to events a lot, so when we do, I want the experience to be the best possible.

INVEST

What is your investment philosophy/plan?

Save and forget mostly.

My parents stressed putting money away in a 401K right away with my first job. I started at 6% to cover the company match and then increased it over time to eventually maxing it out for both my wife’s and my salaries.

We have our investments mostly in stocks and I pretty much always let it ride. I was a firm believer in by not messing with it, my monthly deductions would buy more shares when the market was down and less it went up.

Our 401K’s, my wife’s and mine, just naturally grew over time until we have about $1M in each of them.

What has been your best investment?

Finding a person who viewed life similar to me to share my life with.

I know that sounds corny, but divorce definitely limits the amount of money you will have available in retirement.

What has been your worst investment?

Not sure, but it might have been the loan I took off my 401K early on to help buy our first house.

Overall it was not that bad and we got the house we wanted, but probably would have gotten better return if I didn’t have to take the loan.

What’s been your overall return?

I would say roughly 8%, but again never tracked it over my work career.

In the past couple of years, since thinking of retiring in 5 yrs. or so, have started tracking our retirement savings more closely.

How often do you monitor/review your portfolio?

I now monitor it monthly and have a financial day once a year.

Interesting point is our son is very much into FIRE and tracks everything he and his wife save and spend, probably similar to most folks reading this interview. By now, you know that was not what my wife and I did, but he did get the saving first plan from us.

He actually holds the financial day with us each year, where we review how our investments did. He probably wants to make sure he doesn’t have to take care of his parents if our money runs out. 🙂

NET WORTH

How did you accumulate your net worth?

No inheritance for either my wife or me. Both our parents did not have a lot of money, but we never felt poor growing up. Really our accumulation of wealth was just putting money into our company’s 401K’s and slowly increasing our contributions over time (1% increase at a time).

It is really amazing how much you can grow your wealth over time. I know it is an overused phrase, but if we could do it, most anyone can.

We set up investing in a Vanguard balance fund early to save for our kids college costs and then just kept putting money into it even after they got out of college. This fund has done very well for us and maybe where we will put out money when we retire. The fund does a 60/40 split for stocks / bonds, which might be ok, but with possible 30 yrs. of retirement we might need to be more aggressive.

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?

Earning since it leads to more savings, percent of pay, into our 401Ks.

Our Investment strategy to date has pretty much been autopilot with a focus on mostly stocks.

What road bumps did you face along the way to becoming a millionaire and how did you handle them?

I cannot say we really had any bumps.

We have been lucky to never experience any layoffs and we didn’t have any large expenditures, other than our house, the could have derailed our plans.

What are you currently doing to maintain/grow your net worth?

Continue to pay ourselves first.

My company just started offering a Roth 401K, wish we had this earlier. This year was the first year for me to save into a Roth 401K, which I have all my 401K payroll deductions going into the Roth.

I also found out I would use my company’s after tax, non-401K, payroll deduction and using a backdoor method move this money into my Roth 401K as well. Nice little option to save even more in my 401K.

My wife had a Roth 401K option previously at her company, so we do already have some money saved in a Roth 401K.

Do you have a target net worth you are trying to attain?

Not really, but $3M sounds like a nice round number, but not sure I need to achieve it before I would retire.

How old were you when you made your first million and have you had any significant behavior shifts since then?

I would say somewhere in my 40’s and at the time I did know when it happened, just don’t remember now.

No change to our behavior, just a cool milestone.

What money mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from?

I dabbled in individual stocks early in my career and that never worked out. I did not have enough time to spend learning what the key indicators are for a company.

If you don’t give yourself enough time to get competent in an area, don’t spend money in that area.

What advice do you have for ESI Money readers on how to become wealthy?

The turtle does win the race to retirement.

Automatic paycheck to paycheck deductions into your 401K will get you to be a millionaire. We did not use real-estate or any other investment methods to become multi-millionaires.

FUTURE

What are your plans for the future regarding lifestyle?

I am 57 now and hope to retire in 5 yrs (62). That is my goal and according to the Fidelity planning tool I use, that should be doable using their “market will significantly under performs” scenario.

As most are probably familiar, the recommendation seems to be is to plan for the worse and you will be ok.

Interesting to note that the other scenario’s (market under performs or market is average) give me $2M or $5M left over when we die. I guess we will re-evaluate our retirement spend each year or so to see how we are doing.

What are your retirement plans?

This is the part I need to work on. We will travel and I will probably pick up golf again, but I do not have many hobbies and especially ones that don’t cost a lot to do.

We will do hiking, biking and exercise a lot, but I really do need a couple hobbies.

I may do more money management and that is why I am here reading and learning from ESI and the commenters.

Are there any issues in retirement that concern you? If so, how are you planning to address them?

I see 2 main issues.

One will be around when to retire, do I really have enough, and can I walk away from my high paying job. I plan to deal with this by reading and studying as much as I can to educate myself on all the risks.

The second is around how much should we spend on travel early in retirement when we are more active verse later when we are less likely to be all that active. Not sure how to deal with this one yet, so any ideas would be appreciated.

MISCELLANEOUS

How did you learn about finances and at what age did it “click”?

Funny story, but my first recollection of finance as a boy was a wooden ruler that my parents bank gave out that showed (on the back) how much saving a penny a day will grow overtime.

This led to me buying in on investing in 401K’s for my whole career.

Who inspired you to excel in life? Who are your heroes?

My parents. They made my brothers and sister feel safe and have a great childhood.

We all have done well and financially better than our parents, but the values they instilled led the way to all our successes.

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?

Not really any favorite money books, actually need to read some of the ones recommended at this site.

From a life perspective, “Make Your Bed” by US Navy Admiral William H McRaven is a fantastic book and you should listen to his speech as well.

Do you give to charity? Why or why not? If you do, what percent of time/money do you give?

We average around 10%. Our focus has been Cancer research and local homelessness.

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?

Leaving an inheritance is not the plan, but as I noted about the Fidelity planning projections there is a good chance their will be an inheritance at the end.
We have helped our children for their whole lives (paid for college, paid for cars, etc.) and expect to continue helping as needed through retirement, but no specific plans on leaving an inheritance.

I have told my parents multiple times they should spend every penny they have and if in the end they run out, I will help them out. They of course will not do that and I would not do that to my kids, but I would prefer that over them leaving me an inheritance.

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