Welcome back to the millionaire interview series. I started this series to get inside the heads of actual millionaires and see what they did to get there. It really matters who you get your information from so I thought it best to go out and find millionaires we can listen to.
If you’ve got a million dollar net worth and would like to share your story with us, I’d love to hear from you!
Today’s guest is Marc from vitaldollar.com. Marc is 40 and married with two kids ages 6 and 3. Understandably, Marc ins’t comfortable sharing his exact net worth number but assured me that it is in excess of a million dollars. I think Marc has a really cool story. He has worked for himself the past few years and has obviously been quite successful. I too would like to break away from traditional jobs at some point to be an entrepreneur.
What is your net worth and what does it consist of? (Is it in stocks, real estate, something else? Do you currently have any debt?)
My net worth is $1 million+ and consists of home equity (we own our home mortgage free), index funds and other mutual funds, cash in savings accounts and money market accounts, real estate (REITs and crowdfunding), and a small amount in dividend stocks.
Currently, we don’t have any debt. We paid off our mortgage about 4 or 5 years ago and since then we’ve been debt free.
At what age did you become a millionaire and how long did it take?
I was 37 when our net worth crossed $1 million. Almost all of our net worth has been accumulated after my 30th birthday, which was the same time that I left my job to pursue my own online business full-time.
Tell us a bit about your childhood, where are you from, what were your parents like? Did they teach you much about money?
I spent most of my childhood in Pennsylvania, the same area where I live now. My parents are very well educated but had a low income when I was growing up because they worked in missions. They managed their money very well, but money was never the most important thing to them.
My parents taught me a lot about money. Sometimes it was direct lessons, but I also learned a lot just by watching their actions and how they lived. They taught me to respect money, to manage what I have, and not to spend money that I don’t have.
How did you learn what you know about finance?
I learned basic principles of managing money from my parents, but nothing about investing or anything beyond the basics. I’ve learned a lot over the years by reading. When I was just out of college I read several finance books. These days, I don’t read many books but I read a ton of articles online.
I’ve also learned plenty of lessons from my own mistakes. Making mistakes isn’t fun, but it’s definitely a good way to learn.
What is the best advice you’ve received about money?
I think I’d say the best advice I ever received was that there are more important things in life than money. Money makes a lot of good things possible (like having time with family and friends, or traveling), but money itself isn’t really that important without those things.
I also really value the advice I got when I was just coming out of college to start saving and investing for retirement right away. I knew a guy (he was the husband of one of my co-workers) who was a financial advisor and he explained to me the importance of saving at a young age. I used some retirement calculators after talking to him and I was amazed at the impact I could have if I started saving early. Unfortunately, throughout my 20’s my income was pretty low, so although I was saving, it wasn’t that much. And then the recession came and my investments took a pretty big hit.
What is the worst advice you’ve received about money?
One of my friends from college told me to buy as much house as I could afford. Fortunately, I didn’t listen to that advice.
Did you go to college? If so, where and what was your major?
I went to a small Christian college in Philadelphia and I majored in Business Administration. I also have a bachelor’s degree in Bible, but I never planned to use that for a career.
What is your career story and are you still working?
Throughout my 20’s, I worked a few different jobs in the finance industry. For the last four years or so I was an auditor. It was an ok job in terms of low stress and regular hours, but I didn’t make very much for the location (Philly suburbs) and I really had no opportunity for advancement.
The frustration from my job led me to start a side hustle designing websites for small businesses. I started that in late 2006 or early 2007. In 2007, I launched a web design blog and that’s really when I started taking the side hustle seriously.
The blog grew pretty quickly and allowed me to quit my job in 2008. Since 2008, I’ve been self-employed full-time managing my own websites and blogs. I’ve had blogs in different niches like web design, photography, travel, and finance.
My goal is to be able to retire when I am 55, which gives me 15 more years. At that point, I’d like to be able to scale back and work on my own terms and as much or as little as I want. I need something to keep me busy, so I doubt I will completely retire at that age, but who knows.
Are you happy with your career choice? What would you have done if you had to do something else to make a living?
I’m happy with my career choice, but in some ways, I wish I would have started my own business sooner. When I was in my 20’s I was never happy with the jobs that I had, and I was always looking for something else. It wasn’t until I gave up on the jobs that I decided to try something different and start my own business on the side. After that, everything changed for the better.
Looking back, I’d probably be in a much better spot financially if I had started my business a few years earlier. But at the same time, I think I need to go through that frustrating experience with bad jobs in order to get to the point that I wanted to be self-employed.
What has been your average annual income up to this point?
I honestly have no idea because it’s been all over the place since I’ve been self-employed. There are also other complications related to being self-employed. For example, I am technically an employee of my own business, and the business can give me a match of my 401k contributions. The 401k contributions can be significant, so it makes a difference if you’re going based on the number before or after those contributions.
But the biggest thing that makes my income vary is the fact that I’ve sold several websites over the years. When I make a sale, I’ll get a nice lump sum which boosts my income that year. But then since I no longer own the website, I lose the on-going revenue and my income will be down the next year unless I have something to replace it. The end result is a lot of peaks and valleys.
I know my average income the past 10 years has been six figures, but I couldn’t tell you specifically what it is because of those reasons.
If you’re married, what has been your spouse’s annual income up to this point?
My wife has been a stay-at-home mom since our daughter was born six years ago. Before that, she had an annual salary in the high five figures.
Did you or your spouse do anything on the side for income?
It depends how you look at it. If you were to ask me if I have a side hustle I would say “no”. I feel that the best use of my time is focusing on my business, so any extra time I have to work will go towards that. But I do approach some websites sort of as side hustles. Usually, I have one or two websites that account for most of my income and take up almost all of my time. A lot of times I’ll have some other small websites that I work on whenever I have the spare time. I approach those websites sort of as side hustles. I might use some spare time in the evening or weekend to work on those types of projects, and then if they grow I’ll start dedicating more time and attention to them.
A few years ago, we did have a side hustle that we worked on together. We started a business selling on Amazon. Originally, we intended to only spend a little bit of time on it, but it grew and wound up taking more time. It did well (more than six figures in profit part-time the only full year we did it), but we sold the business in 2017 because we didn’t really want to continue doing it.
What was your average savings rate from the time you started making money until the time you became a millionaire? (roughly speaking)
I have no idea what my savings rate is because my income varies so much, even month to month. I’ve never tried to calculate my savings rate because it seems futile. Instead, our approach is to try to live on a consistent budget, regardless of whether income is up or down. When my income is good, we still live the same way and we save as much as we can.
What is your average annual spending?
We spend about $60,000 per year for our family of four.
Have you had much debt over the course of your life?
No, we haven’t had a lot of debt. We both have similar backgrounds and similar approaches to money. Both of us graduated college with no student loans. We’ve had car loans in the past, but both of our car loans were paid off in one year. We also had a mortgage for a while, but we’ve paid that off. Neither of us has ever had credit card debt aside from me forgetting to make a payment one month 🙂
What has been your investing strategy?
Our investing strategy has been pretty basic. We try to invest as much as we can in a 401k or traditional IRA to reduce our taxable income. We’ve also invested in Roth IRAs a few years. Those investments are with Vanguard in index funds and other basic mutual funds.
Within the past few years we added some other types of investments, and I’m looking to do more of that in the future. That includes REITs, real estate crowdfunding, and dividend stocks so far. I’m interested in pursuing a few other passive income ideas that could help to provide some income in retirement. Right now, all of the dividends are being re-invested, but that would be easy to change if we need that money for living expenses.
What was your best investment?
I think the best investment has been time and money that I’ve put into my business. We’ve had some decent results from our other investments, but much bigger results have come from simply making more money.
What was your worst investment?
A few years ago we invested in a company that produces natural gas. We weren’t really familiar with the investment but we did it because it reduced our taxable income. It was, and still is, a terrible investment. We get paid quarterly, but we hardly get anything. In five years I think we’ve probably got like 10-20% of our investment back.
What has been the average rate of return on your investments?
I’m not sure because I’ve never calculated the overall average. I’d guess maybe somewhere around 6-7%. Our mutual funds have done well the past few years, so it could be higher than that.
Are you currently trying to accumulate more wealth or are you done with that phase of life?
Yes, I am trying to accumulate wealth through my online business.
What would you have done differently with your finances if you could go back?
I mentioned earlier that I probably should have started my own business sooner. That would be the biggest change. Our investment strategy has always been pretty basic, so I don’t think I would make big changes there.
One change that I might make would involve houses. We’ve owned three different houses in the twelve years that we’ve been married. Moving is expensive, so we probably could have been better off by avoiding some of that. Also, the costs of owning our current home are high, so if I were to go back in time, I’m not sure I would buy the same house.
What was the biggest roadblock to becoming a millionaire?
Not making much money in my jobs was the biggest roadblock. I’ve always managed money pretty well, but I wasn’t making much progress until my income increased.
What is your favorite thing that you’ve done with money in your life?
Probably travel. Before our kids were born, my wife and I traveled a good bit. I love seeing and experiencing new places, so that’s money well spent in my opinion. The past few years we haven’t traveled as much because it’s difficult with young kids, but now they’re getting to ages where it’s not as bad.
Has giving money played a part in your finances?
Yes. My parents were missionaries, so their income was dependant on donations from churches and individuals. They also gave to others and taught me the importance of giving.
My wife and I have a few different organizations that we support, and we talk to our kids about that a lot too.
Do you plan to leave an inheritance when you pass or where do you want the money to go?
I hope to leave an inheritance to our kids. It’s not my number 1 goal in life, but it would be nice. There’s no specific amount that I want to leave to each of our kids, and to be honest, it’s not something I spend much time thinking about at this point.
Do you think anyone can become a millionaire today?
I think some people have much better opportunities than others. There are a lot of people around the world living in poverty, and many have the odds stacked against them. I consider myself fortunate to have much better opportunities that many people.
What’s you’re one piece of advice you would give to someone trying to become a millionaire?
There are a lot of different paths you can take to reach the same end goal, but for me, getting out of a traditional job as an employee was key. I have a few friends who are perfectly content in their traditional jobs and they do extremely well, but it didn’t work well for me. I don’t know if I’ll always work in my own business or if I’ll go back to a traditional job at some point, but I know up until now, working on my own business has produced much better results.