A 30-Year-Old Millionaire Changed the Way I Handle Money

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  • As a financial advisor, I saw wealthy clients follow the same path to millionaire status.
  • They kept their debt low, delayed gratification, and invested at least 15% of their income.
  • But my strategy changed when I met Grant Sabatier and realized I wasn’t enjoying my money the way I wanted to.

On paper, the process for wealth-building is simple: Spend less than you earn, keep your debt low, and invest 15% or more of your income. After about 20 to 30 years of discipline and modesty, you could retire wealthy. 

That was the template for wealth-building I had come to embrace, the path of least resistance, and the most proven route to financial freedom that I abided by for the majority of my career as a financial advisor. Every high net worth client I met with was confirmation of this strategy, as most of them were in their late 50s and 60s and had reached the million-dollar mark by delaying gratification and playing the long game. 

But as tried and true as that method is, it doesn’t mean that following it for decades is easy. 

The conversation that changed my thinking

Personal finance is essentially a series of trade-offs. Spend and enjoy the majority of your money now or delay those luxuries in exchange for a comfortable retirement in the future. Another common example is to sacrifice work-life balance and long hours in exchange for a higher salary. These trade-offs felt inevitable to me, so I opted for the modest-yet-consistent approach to wealth-building and delayed many of the lifestyle experiences I knew I wanted to enjoy. 

That changed when I interviewed then-30-year-old Grant Sabatier for a local New York City radio show in 2019. He’d amassed a net worth of $1.25 million in just five years. 

Midway through our interview, I asked Sabatier what the average person can do to achieve similar results. I wanted to know how to accelerate the wealth-building process while also enjoying the fruits of your hard work. 

“I think the important thing is to really figure out what makes you happy in life,” Sabatier began. “The most important question is not how much money do you need, but what kind of life do you want to live?” 

He continued telling me that at age 25, he sat down and listed the 10 things that made him happy. Eight of those items, which included spending time with family, were free and the other two were “pretty inexpensive.” The next step was to ask, “Why can’t I optimize my life to have more time to do those things? I realized that I needed a lot less money than I thought to be happy,” said Sabatier. 

At that point in the interview, things clicked for me. I began to reorganize my own finances to better fit the life I truly wanted to live. Since that 2019 conversation, I’ve become a homeowner and increased my income by $50,000 while also staying on track to pay off my undergraduate loans this year and travel the world.

These are the steps I took to create and maintain balance in my financial life. 

Read More: How to choose a financial advisor»

I made a list of the things that make me happy

I started by listing a few things that make me happy; at this step, I didn’t limit the list based on how much something costs or the time restraints.  

For me, watching college football in the fall is something that made me happy, so attending more live games was something that I wanted my lifestyle to include. Growing up in Oklahoma, college football was our rite of passage, and watching games reminds me of the Saturday mornings we would gather around the TV to watch “College GameDay,” a tradition I continue with my kids today. But I had never attended a game in person, so I made a point to change that. 

Another item on my list was learning to play an instrument; due to the demands of my career I often felt like I didn’t have the time. I added it to my list.

I broke the list into smaller items

To make my goal feasible, I decided to go to just one major football game each year. 

Depending on your goals, it may not be feasible or realistic to tackle them all at once; that’s OK. This is where you’ll want to break your goals down into sprints, small goals and milestones that won’t take you away from reaching your long-term financial goals. 

I priced out my list

Next, I gathered estimates for what each item would cost. When I was ready to learn an instrument, for example, I started by purchasing a used trumpet for $300 in 2021 and as I improved, I bought a brand new one.       

If one or more of the items on your list includes travel, it is OK to estimate since you may not have locked in a date yet. If you’re looking to learn a new skill, check to see what the cost would be for private lessons for a few months, or look for less expensive used items to start off with.

I optimized my income and schedule 

The most important part of this process was arranging my finances and time to help fund the lifestyle that I wanted while also securing my financial future. I did this by setting aside 5% of my side-hustle income each quarter and spending it exclusively for game tickets and music lessons. The remaining 95% was allocated to taxes, investing goals, and paying down student debt. 

This had two effects: Not only did it help me achieve portions of my ideal lifestyle in the present, but it also helped me to avoid burnout. This is because a portion of my income was being set aside to splurge on an exciting experience. It also helped that I did fewer time-consuming tasks, like one-on-one financial planning, and instead did higher-efficiency tasks like speaking engagements, as one speaking gig was worth five planning clients. This gave me more time to spend with my family as well as learn fun new skills. 

Too often we see terms like budgeting and planning as restrictive when they can be used to strategically splurge on things that bring you joy today. There is a famous quote that says do what others won’t today, so that you can live tomorrow the way that others can’t. I’ve learned that finance doesn’t have to be binary. When you align your finances with the things that make you happy, it helps supercharge your focus and keep you on track towards your longer-term financial goals.

This article was originally published in June 2022.

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