How I Became A Millionaire (Part 3: My Twenties)

Note: This post is part of a series that starts here.

Wake Up Call

I was in my early twenties when friends and I took a fateful camping trip that changed our lives forever…

My friend, Linda, divorced for three days, was a nutty sass all weekend. She chased wild bulls through the remote Indian Reservation, cartwheeled across fallen trees bridging the river, and stopped us en route to our campsite to pour beer on a small lightning-strike fire to fan the flames. Then, perched upon the back seat of the Jeep I was following, with one hand tenuously grasping the roll bar to steady herself, she pulled down her jeans to flash me the moon.

That was her last act of sass. She fell head first out of the jeep and lay in the middle of the road, in the middle of nowhere, uncharacteristically still.

Linda’s premature death shattered my naïve sense of immortality. For several years afterward, I suffered from anxiety as a result of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). But along with my internal pain came an impetus for personal growth. The meaning of life became a subject of intense introspection for me.

My takeaway: It is only possible to live happily-ever-after on a day-to-day basis.

Buried Treasure

My husband and I married at the tender age of 23. Like many newlyweds, we wanted a wedding, a honeymoon and a home to call our own. But neither of us had any savings. Fortunately, we didn’t have a credit card, either, so we sold one of our vehicles to generate the cash to pay for a creatively frugal and fun wedding and honeymoon.

Additionally, by sharing one car we had reduced our monthly expenses enough that we could afford mortgage payments. We bought a foreclosure fixer-upper house priced below market value and spent much of our first two newlywed years stripping off dated wallpaper, tearing away landscape overgrowth, pulling weeds and patching holes in the roof. To raise cash for home renovations and furniture, we rented one of our spare bedrooms to a friend.

My takeaway: Where there’s a will, there is a way. Live within your means and pay with cash.

Moonlighting and Bootstrapping

I continued my work at a veterinary hospital and simultaneously started my own pet care and training business. I offered my employers a win-win situation: I’d teach dog training classes in the hospital’s backyard so they’d have a new service to offer their clients; I’d be self-employed with no start-up costs, minimal operating expenses, and a steady stream of customer referrals.

In addition to training, I recognized another need that I could fill. Many pets dislike boarding kennels, so I added home and pet-sitting to the services I provided.

Approximately one year later, I was earning more from my part-time business than I was working at the veterinary hospital, so I quit my job.

My takeaway: Starting a business can be done with little to no capital investment.

Leaving the Nest and Sprouting Wings

By the time we celebrated our second wedding anniversary, it was obvious that if our marriage was to survive, we needed to move away from his family. Quite frankly, my in-laws thought that I should “wear the skirt” and demonstrate subordination to their son, and since I was a “strong-minded” woman, they were not supportive of our relationship.

We packed our belongings and sold the assets that couldn’t move with us. Selling my pet-care client list fetched $10,000 and our renovated home netted $14,000 in capital-gains-free profit.

My takeaway: Reduce your exposure to toxic people.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Once in our new town, we opened our first retirement IRA accounts ($2,000 each at age 25, if I recall), banked the rest of our cash, and rented a small condominium. Hubby took a construction job, and I duplicated the same pet care and training business I had owned before moving.

Rather than spend money on advertising my services in a new town, I sought relationships with referral sources by introducing myself to complimentary businesses (veterinarians, groomers, kennels) and offered their staff free workshops and classes. My investment of time paid off profitably as my new business grew quickly via personal referrals. I hired a few part-time employees and created an apprenticeship program. It was at this point that I discovered the joys of working from home in my pajamas.

After a year of renting, we purchased our second foreclosed fixer-upper home, remodeled it, then sold it two years later (by owner) for a capital gains tax-free net profit of $25,000. We invested our earned equity into a seven acre piece of ground and built a home on it.

My takeaway: Replicate and expand upon previous successes.

…continued next in Part Four: My Thirties

Did you miss the beginning of this series? How I Became A Millionaire: Childhood

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Millionaire Mommy Next Door

A self-made millionaire shares her recipe for success, happiness and financial freedom.

13 thoughts on “How I Became A Millionaire (Part 3: My Twenties)”

  1. I really love this series. You have accomplished so much, and done so well with the hand you were dealt in life; choosing better ways, seeking more opportunities, etc. It gives me hope that I can also manage my life and finances in a similar way.

  2. Ah! Now I start to understand. My wake up call came when I watched my mother die prematurely from liver cancer. We do have a lot in common.

    Excellent post. Thanks for sharing. But back-in-the-day, real estate used to get a person some wealth. It can’t be replicated right now by using the old tactics. It’s time to invent some new ideas.

    (PTSD……..hmmmmmm?) I know the feeling.

  3. I have been reading your series out loud to my husband. He says it is “great stuff”and reminding him why he came home to work for himself. We really think that you have to take things into your own hands to get to be a millionaire.

    Your story reminds us the book “No More Mondays.” Thanks for sharing your story. it is great inspiration. Can’t wait for Part 4!

  4. I am so sorry about your friend, Linda, and that you were there during that tragety.

    But, I enjoy hearing how you took that event and eventually pulled strength in the matter. You sound like you have done wonderful with your life and I look forward to the continuing story!

  5. This is a fascinating series, and you should consider putting it into book form. Seriously. I like the part about how to lead yourself away from toxic people and relationships… so often these kinds of people offer no insurance of any type of support or love, but only draining emotion and running interference. Far better to sever the cord on that front! Thanks for your insights…

  6. wow I am 23 and i could definitely learn a thing or two, keep up the great post. I look forward to your other posts.

  7. Thank you everyone, for your nice feedback. This series has been a revealing exercise for me as I sort through various circumstances, life events and decisions I’ve made along the way. I find it interesting to reflect on what I learned from each piece. I hope there are some morsels you can use here, too!

  8. You have made it sound easy. Only God and you’ll know the hard work and determination and the many obstacles that you must have overcome to get to where you are now.

    Being able to reveal the sources of your wealth with pride and dignity. I admire this very much.

    We have listed this in our family mission statement.

  9. Interesting read considering I’m 24 now. My life changing circumstances happened at age 20 and now on the eve of being 25 yeas old I’m on the verge of transacting 4 duplexes to fund my dads retirement. Mind you me and my dad are both self employed truck drivers with nearly no savings. Soon afterwards I’ll be purchasing my own home to live in for the minimum required time needed prior to moving out to qualify it as a rental investment, during which the spare bedrooms will be rented out at fmr to match the principal and interest while my “rent” matches taxes insurance and repairs.

    The great depression affected people in two ways, I chose to be affected in the way I feel I must be rich to protect myself rather than fear money to protect myself

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