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I have worked full time continuously since I was 25 and have maxed out every retirement plan since I turned 26. This is the answer that makes me seem virtuous and meshes with the dominant culture of this newsletter.
But the luck of being born into a family of professionals who taught me how to take advantage of privilege and paid my way is the biggest achievement and one I had no control over. Starting at my salaried job with zero debt, after an A average Ivy League education, would be my greatest achievement if I had anything to do with it.
Well, many; however, the best one was after my last divorce in 2007. I was left with about $70k in my 401k. We robbed my 401k to pay off (our debts from the marriage) of about $200k in loans, credit cards, etc.. All part of the divorce decree. No penalty for robbing the 401k, for those of you wondering, just look it up in the IRS code. My Ex had a $650 an hour divorce lawyer that came up with that side contract in the divorce decree.
I was sleeping on the floor of my brothers home on a twin mattress, could not get a credit card for a $300 pre-paid card and was making six-figures+. Credit bureaus and credit card companies don’t care what you make. Why, well it’s the dreaded FICO score or dings on your credit. Anyway, I retired in 2016, with $458k in my 401k, a seven-figure defined benefit lump sum, as well as, a supplemental retirement plan lump sum of $700k. So, persevering after the last divorce, finding a wonderful new wife, sacrificing and re-building my 401k balance, taking care of my sons obligations from the divorce and re-building my credit in those 9 years was my greatest financial accomplishment.
PS – Those pesky credit card companies are begging me to apply for their cards… it never ends with those vultures.
Just continuing to invest over the years and later in life figuring that budgeting could be a good thing before I retire. Budgeting led to learning about tax planning and I think most readers get all the rabbit holes one can go through in their personal financial journey.
I was also fortunate to work for large companies that gave me stock, options and both. I didn’t know what to do with them so kept them and they continued to grow. I’m more intentional today than I’ve ever been. If only…
I was lucky enough to invest in Berkshire Hathaway after the 1987 stock market crash thanks to reading John Train’s The Money Masters book. Following Mr. Buffet’s advice in Forbes magazine, I tracked down a copy (this was in the pre-Internet days) of Phil Fischer’s Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits book through his family foundation. (It was a really hard book to find back then). I also spent months reading and re-reading the Benjamin Graham book The Intelligent Investor. Those three books (and Graham’s Security Analysis book) gave me enough information to become a pretty successful investor.
Starting my first company with $3,000 to selling my previous company for 150M. I grew up in a working class household, worked full-time through college, never took a business class, and though hard work, integrity driven focus on my customers and employees, I was able to achieve more than I dreamed. I have achieved the financial American dream many X over.
Having no cash in my pocket until after college and entering the work force I found it easy to save. I could go weeks and weeks without cashing pay checks, so saving was easy. But I had no idea how to invest so the funds did not grow. Now that I am 20 years out of the work force, and collecting Social Security I have learned how to carefully sell a few options each month to supply enough cash to cover all expenses and tuck away a dollar or two for a rainy day. I am in control of my financial well being.
And, I sure do not understand people talking about removing 4% per year to live on?? Any decent sum of money tucked away can easily earn 10 to 20% per year. Live off the income and not the nut itself.
I set goals at eighteen (really). It took the next fifty years, but I met every one of them and more. Someone else may have done better and sooner, but given my career started as a mail boy right out of high school, I’m happy and FI. Likewise for non-financial accomplishments.
I’d point to two things. First, I’m thrilled that my two kids have grown up to have good financial habits. I made a big effort to teach them about money. Even when you do that, there’s no guarantee it’ll work, but in this case it did. Second, I quit working on Wall Street after six years, leaving behind the highest-paying job I’ve ever had. It would have been so easy to keep collecting the big paycheck, but I traded money for happiness—which seems like an obvious thing to do, but it’s harder than it sounds.