When most folks think of going to community college, they don’t think of one day becoming a millionaire. This particular post was inspired by some conversations on Twitter with myself and several other amazing money folks who got our start in a community college (you can see how I myself went from community college to MBA here). When I added on to my guest post policy that I was interested in interviewing people who went from some sort of disadvantaged start to seven figure success, I was fortunate that my friend FI Journeyman responded.
He and I have known each other online for a long time now, and we met in person at an NYC meetup. We both immediately hit it off. We both come from similar backgrounds and have a very similar type of history in our careers and financial lives. We both worked full time and went to school in the evenings, started at community college and got MBA’s, worked hard and saved/invested for a long time, are interested in Bogleheads…it’s like we’re twins, only totally not twins.
So when he reached out in response to to my request for guest posts, I was really excited and interested to learn more about (and to share) his story. I bet you’ll love it as much as I do – here you go!
Tell us about yourself!
Thanks for the opportunity to share more about myself on your blog. The more guest posts I do, I feel that I am revealing more details about who I am and how I landed in my current situation. If I can help one person along the way, it was worth the effort.
This is a very cool series. Liz and I had the opportunity to meet and talk in person at a personal finance blogger meet up. We found out that we were both non-traditional students during college and graduate school.
People laugh when I say it, but I am just a simple guy from Scranton, Pennsylvania. I currently work as the Manager of Recruiting for a large not-for-profit healthcare provider that operates in PA and NY. I am responsible for all the hiring at four campuses. I have worked in HR for 8 years and worked in marketing 7 years before I switched to HR.
My wife and I have been married since 2007. She is a public-school teacher. We live with our Yorkie on a two-acre farm in the Pocono’s. My wife’s Grandfather once owned a large farm and left all his children and grandchildren two-acres each. My boss jokes with me and says that I live on a compound. It is nice to have family close to us.
I started working full-time when I was age 19. I worked on an assembly line in a mattress factory. Yes, it was probably worse than it even sounds. I did not like performing manual labor, but the money was good. It shaped my work ethic. Waking up at 4:15 am to unload 53’ trailers motivated me to use my brain. CMO Note – my father also started working full time around the same age in a ball bearing factory. And I started working full time at 19 in a call center, so less physical work but more people yelling at you.
I reached a crossroads because I did not want to give up the money, but I also knew that I had to get a college education. As I matured, I craved mental stimulation. The factory was not for me, but I did not want to give up saving and investing. Like Liz, I did it the hard way. I performed manual labor in the day and attended community college at night. After I finished my AAS Degree, I started working in the sales office at Keystone Automotive (LKQ). While at Keystone, I attended Misericordia University, in Dallas, Pa at night. A few years after I finished my BS Degree, my employer at the time offered tuition reimbursement as a benefit. I took advantage of that benefit and went back to graduate school to earn a Master’s in Organizational Management. CMO Note – tuition reimbursement is how I got my undergrad debt free. The company with the call center I talk about above was a Fortune 500 company that offered reimbursement as a benefit.
Even when things get tough, just keep on keeping on.
We were talking a few months ago about starting out in community college. Tell us more about that journey.
I went to Luzerne County Community College. It was a no brainer. At the time, it cost $68 per credit. It now costs $120 and that is still super cheap. I looked at Penn State and a few other state schools, but they were in the $220 per credit range. My goal was to pay cash for my first two years of college, so the cost was a major factor.
Another factor was that I was not a very good student in high school. It was mainly a maturity issue. I lacked direction and wanted to hang out with my friends. I was always in trouble for cutting class. My friends and I would skip school and go driving around in the country or hang out at the houses where the parents worked. It was my free-spirit stage. I often think back to those days and wonder what was I thinking? I guess I wasn’t thinking. I had a teenager’s brain at the time.
As the result of not doing much work in school, I never took the SATs and had poor grades. I never took an entrance exam to go to college. I just signed up as an adult student for night classes. Going to community college was a good place to learn how to become a student.
The funny thing about my story is that when I decided to study, I made a complete turn-around. The first two or three classes were a challenge and I gave them 100% effort. I passed with B’s. Once I learned how to study, I never looked back. My GPA was a 3.85 after my first two years of college. I finished my BS with a 3.75 and my MS with a 3.9 GPA. CMO Note – I’m similar, I graduated from undergrad Magna Cum Laude as the member of several honor societies, and have my MBA I finished with honors.
What was it like to go to community college, and how would you compare it with a four year school?
My classes were almost all at night. I had to take one or two weekend classes. I only remember taking one day class with traditional students. At the time, I was only 25, but I felt older than them because I had been living like an adult for a few years. The funny thing about my only day class with traditional students was that I met 21-year-old girl and we started dating. We dated for a couple of years and even got engaged. We broke up and I met my wife 6 months later. Keep an eye out for my post on how to hawk an engagement ring at a Las Vegas pawn shop and lose money.
Anyway, I have always found that the adult students were more focused than the traditional students. They had to be. They were working, had homes, and many had kids. They had to manage their time well because they did not have too much time to waste. The classes at the community college were hard. I remember having more work than at the four-year university. The teachers were all very good. I learned so much. I had to work for my grades. Out of the 20 classes that I had at the community college, I only recall one class that was a total waste of time. CMO Note – this is really true. I noticed the difference in attitude during my MBA most of all, because there I was in with a lot of people who had been traditional college students. The people at the community college wanted to be there, they wanted to work hard, and they wanted to learn. They were paying their own way and sacrificing a lot of time to be there.
If you are considering going to community college at night, be ready to work. You will be with adult students. It is not 13th grade. If you are not willing to work and to participate, nobody will want you on their group projects. These people don’t have the time to play around and drop classes. That type of nonsense does not happen much with adult students. Most are there to become better providers for their children. How can you not respect that?
How did you become interested in personal finance?
After I was working for a little while, I managed to save up $1,000. I asked my dad who was an Accountant what I should do with the money. He told me to invest it. He and I went to the book store at the local mall and I bought two books and a mutual fund magazine. I remember reading about compound interest and it blew my mind. There were charts that gave examples of how much money an investor would have after 10 years if they invested different sums of money based on different rates of return. My life has honesty never been the same. I became an investor at that moment. That was 1997. I don’t recall ever receiving a paycheck and not putting between 20%-50% away towards my long-term goals.
Since that point, I have read close to 100 investing books, subscribed to investing journals, spent 1000’s of hours on forums and blogs. I am an investor. It is what I do. I have other interests and hobbies, but investing is my main passion.
Becoming a millionaire seems like an impossible dream for many people. How did you achieve seven figure level success?
In my opinion, $1,000,000 is still a ton of money. Some people will get overly technical and say at a 4% return it is only $40K per year. Reaching a $1,000,000 net worth took me 20 years of working hard and sacrificing. I was single for 10 of those years and married for the second 10. CMO Note – I’ve also talked about my 20 year long pursuit of financial independence before. See? Twins.
While I was working and going to college, I saved $100,000 by age 30. It was closer to $120,000, but I had $18,000 in student loans. Over the last 10 years, my wife and I had some decent wage growth, we saved between 40% – 50% of our salary, and never strayed from out investment plan.
However, we are not misers. We travel, eat out on the weekends, spend money on things we enjoy, and even have cable TV. What allows us to save so much is that we never upgraded from our starter house, drive our cars for 8-12 years, and try to keep our essential expenses as low as possible.
We have experienced very minimal lifestyle creep. That takes effort and budgeting. Ten years ago, our combined income was only $80K per year. It has doubled in the past decade. Our sending has increased some, but not very much. We reached the $1,000,000 net worth mark last summer and are closer to $1.1M now. Our net worth is about 20% in home equity, 10% in the cash out value of a pension, and 80% in all our other investment accounts (403B, IRA, Etc.).
If you want to become a millionaire, start saving and investing today. Remove any excuse from your mind that is holding you back. Excuses are easy. Start by paying down debt, saving, and investing. It is OK to do without. It is OK to struggle when you are young. It might even be natural. Keep trying to do a little bit better every day.
Start small, set goals, and track your progress. Saying that you want to be a millionaire is too large of a goal for most people to try to accomplish without setting many small goals along the way. Save $1,000 in two months. Save $5,000 in one year. Save $50,000 in 4 years.
It is hard in the beginning. As I stated earlier, saving $100,000 took me ten years. It took me that long because I was not earning much money. You can probably do it much quicker. The second $100,000 took less than 3 years. After that, we our net worth has been growing at $100,000 or more per year. That is the magic formula of combining a high savings rate with compound interest.
What advice would you have for others starting off their lives in similar circumstances?
Education: Focus on getting the most education at the lowest cost. Get a degree that makes you more marketable to employers (IT, Nursing, Accounting, Etc.). When you are in college focus on learning as much as you can about your major. Don’t look at the liberal arts classes as a waste of time. They will teach you how to think in different ways. Specialization is great but being well rounded is also very important.
Technology: Stay ahead of the curve with technology in your field. Embrace change. Most people fear change. View it as progress and get on board with it before your peers do.
Read: You should always be reading. I am talking about books. Blogs are great and should be your primary source for personal finance information. However, don’t look past the classics. Study your chosen discipline, but also read literature, history, and psychology.
Selling: Technology has changed, but people have not changed all that much. People do not like salesmen, but we are all salesmen. You are a salesperson if you are teacher, engineer, manager, or stay at home parent. If you want to be successful and influence others, become an expert in human behavior.
Attitude: When you go to work, look at it as service. Don’t show up thinking that you are owed something. Instead, ask your boss what more can you do. Join committees, volunteer, get certificates, take advantage of educational opportunities both in and out of the classroom. Be an asset and not just an expense. When the next recession comes, employees who are viewed as expenses will be the first ones cut to increase profits.
No Drama: Don’t bring drama to work. It is not cute or appreciated. Be a servant leader. Always be looking for someone to help. Sometimes it can be as small as asking someone how they are doing? Don’t look for the quick pay off. Building a career and reputation takes time.
Move On: Don’t ever stay stuck in a bad situation. If things are not improving, remove yourself. That goes for any situation.
Independence: Having money to buy things and to not worry about paying the monthly bills is nice. Working towards early retirement is motivating and a great goal. Having the means to walk away from any situation that does not mesh with my values might be the greatest benefit of financial independence.
Where can readers find you?
Thefinancialjourneyman.com, or Twitter: @TheFiJourneyman
CMO Here Again
Thanks again to my friend FI Journeyman for stopping by to share his story. I’d suggest you go back and re-read the advice he shared – the wisdom there is huge, and all matches what I’ve found to be true in my own life.
As I mentioned at the start, we have a lot in common in our backgrounds, and I can really relate to his story. Those of us who had to work really hard to get where we are today have a lot in common. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did – and that you’ll leave him a comment below.
Did you have some kind of disadvantaged start – started in community college, lost everything in a divorce, went broke starting a business, had a medical crisis, were a teen mom, etc. – and today you’re a seven figure success? Drop me a note at email@example.com so I can share your story.
Want to be financially free, or learn more about my money story? You can see all my financial freedom strategy and articles here.
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15 thoughts on “Community College To Millionaire – Seven Figure Success Stories”
I have been following you both, separately, since I got into this personal finance community and now to have you team up in one post is a real treat! Your backstories are real and your journey is very admirable.
The “Attitude” point is my favorite. It has been the biggest contributor of my wealth (i.e. good attitude at work = promotions and incentive compensation). My entire career has been about being a true partner with everyone in my company and external clients. When you are helpful, you are valuable and we all know that people pay for value.
I’ve seen this more times than not, the smartest person in the room, is never heard because of their poor attitude. Eventually they get frustrated and move on and the cycle begins again. Knowing how to balance the attitude and knowledge is the making of a leader.
Thank you again for teaming up, it was a pleasure reading!
Thanks Church. Yes, attitude is key. It is also noticeable. A positive attitude attracts others. It is easy to fall into negativity. Being positive takes some effort, but it is worth it.
I love this interview! What useful, hard-won wisdom. I so agree with FI Journeyman about bringing a good attitude into the workplace, knowing it will take time to build your reputation, and avoiding drama at all costs. I also agree that reading books on investing, saving, and achieving financial independence has been a key way for us to grow our net worth so high. And yes, that first $100K takes forever! But after that adding another $100K takes less time each time. Compound interest is indeed the seventh wonder of the world. Congratulations on a financial life well-lived, and thanks for sharing your *journey* (see what I did there?!). 🙂
Thanks Laurie. It seems like many people in the FI Community say that saving the first $100K was the hardest. A positive attitude makes life easier. If I am having a bad day, I have found the quickest path to feel better is to try to help another person.
Awesome post and great interview! There is such a misconception out there that you have to go to a big school and get a super-high paying job in order to reach FI. Inspiring to see someone who took a different path!
Great story! There’s nothing at ll wrong with community colleges, it all comes down to how hard you work like everything else in life. My best friend has an Associates from a local community college and makes around $150k a year as a purchasing manager. He works hard, bottom line.
All I gotta say is that I am super jealous of that family compound. How awesome of your wife’s grandfather to be thinking ahead like that. What a legacy to leave your family.
Thanks. Yes, it was a nice thought. Having family so close is a blessing. It comes in handy if we need someone to let our dog out. For others, it is nice to have a relatives around for babysitting.
I am a product of community college as well. Thanks for getting this story out there. I’m an advocate that more kids should leverage community college for the first two years.
The section on the best advice to give someone starting out was especially great. No drama, servant leadership, continuous learning, and getting education at the lowest cost are all so important.
I am not a millionaire but similar to you, most of my net worth is tied up in illiquid assets such as home equity and retirement accounts. Do you have any plans to become more involved in income streams such as real estate, dividend investing, or side hustles besides your blog?
Thanks for the comment and congrats on attending a community college. For now, my career and blog take up a good chunk of my time. I am, however, always interested in learning about new side hustles. Over the past few months, I have started travel hacking. As for real estate investing, I am more interested in learning about commercial than residential.
Great interview series Liz and enjoyed FI Journeyman’s story. I had a similar experience, but in a second tier, affordable state school. It was so important to find the students that were there with the right reason and be around them. There were so many people not taking this seriously!
You are right, people do not take this decision as seriously as they should. Going to a state school or community college can save a person from student loan debt. My wife went to a state college for her teaching degree. She has a coworker who went to NYU. They get paid the same salary, but my wife paid $25k for her degree and her friend paid $120k.
This is interesting. I’m a big believer that college isn’t the right choice for everyone and community college/vocational school needs to be better integrated into the post high-school conversation. Congrats to you both on navigating the educational path successfully.
Very cool. Thanks for sharing. I thought about going to a community college when I was in high school. The cost was so much cheaper and I could live at home.
Keeping your lifestyle inflation low was a really good move. It really creeps up on you if you’re not careful.
Thanks Joe. The low cost of community college allowed me to pay as I attended and to reduce my overall student loan bill. Yes, it takes some effort to be mindful about needs and wants. It is worth the minor sacrifices to manage lifestyle creep.