From Minimum Wage to Millionaire (Part 5: My Early 40′s)

Note: This post is part of a series about how I became a millionaire. The series starts here. The most recent installment (my 30’s) is here.

Happiness Is A Choice

After exiting the growing real estate bubble by selling our home, our intention was to take a year-long travel adventure across America in a recreational vehicle. We would submit our adoption paperwork before leaving and keep our eyes peeled during our road trip for the perfect place to call our next home. Then we’d decide whether it was better to buy another home or rent. We were ecstatic about the prospect of living as vagabonds for awhile before welcoming a child into our lives.

But then, two months later, my mother was diagnosed with leukemia.

Whoa. Not only did our trip preparation come to a screeching halt, but so did my carefree and positive outlook. My mom wasn’t just family — she was one of my dearest friends. She was only 59, she’d always been extremely active and up until this point, she’d been the model of perfect health. I was completely thrown for a loop.

My mom came to live with my husband and me for much of her two-and-a-half-year-long battle with cancer. I watched helplessly as her once strong body weakened, withered and starved. I’ve never before felt such intense and prolonged pain.

I realized I had to do something to avoid going completely out of my mind with fear, grief and overwhelm. I tried all the usual things: support groups, therapy, sleep. While these things certainly helped, I discovered something even better. And it was so ridiculously simple.

During this intensely difficult time, I realized that I could be happy anyway.

How? I made it my mission to look for at least five things each day that make my heart melt, my soul sing and my smile grow. I wrote a list of five happy moments everyday. I actively searched for things to add to my list. My focus changed and in turn, so did my mood. I learned that happiness takes practice. With practice, I developed a habit of feeling happy.

At first I felt like a traitor. How could I think about happy things while my mom suffered? Was I being unfair, insensitive? Fortunately, I realized that I couldn’t be a good caregiver for my mom when I felt bad. Fortunately, I chose happiness over guilt.

My Takeaway: It isn’t circumstance that dictates whether you live a happy life; it is a matter of choice.

Bonus: Happy people make more money!

Millionaire Milestone

The morning I calculated our net worth to be north of one million dollars, we were living in a rented apartment, driving a six-year-old car, and wearing used consignment store clothes. At age 40, we were “closet” millionaires.

I’ll never forget the walk we took that beautiful, sunny day. We lived in a nicely landscaped, well-appointed apartment complex half a block from a neighborhood park. Directly to the west of our community stood hundreds of $500,000 McMansions.

During our entire 20 minute walk, we saw no one else out and about. Where were our neighbors?

I suppose the kids were at school and the adults were at work.

I felt like a bird who had just been set free from the confines of its cage. My husband and I, completely unhindered by debt and financial obligations, had found freedom. Unlike our neighbors, we didn’t need to go to work!

Contrary to popular belief, most millionaire households do not live the extravagant lifestyles that many assume. In fact, a millionaire or two may be living inconspicuously next door to you. The authors of the bestseller, The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy found the top reason for why some people manage to accumulate wealth is that they live below their means. Many millionaires have found that living in a status neighborhood is not only a poor value, but it makes one feel the need to keep buying status objects to keep up with the Joneses.

My Takeaway: Live life your way, not like the Joneses.

Two Becomes Three

This dream of mine took ten years to come to fruition, but we had stuck to it and we reached our goal: to be financially-free before starting our family.

We submitted our adoption paperwork and eight months later, while vacationing in Hawaii, we received our daughter’s referral picture.

Since bringing our daughter home from China, we’ve scaled way back on our construction business and work only when we want to. We can afford to be selective in the projects we accept. I hired a bookkeeper to replace me so that I could focus my time, energy and attention on parenting and pursuing my hobbies. Additionally, I’ve learned how to effectively manage our investment portfolio in such a way that this task requires just one or two hours per month of my time.

Our family hasn’t set an alarm clock in years. Whether it be work, parenting or play, we wake with the sun, eager to spend each new day doing whatever we choose. For us, this is financial freedom.

My Takeaway: Hold fast to your dreams and they will come true.

…  to be continued!

The beginning of this series started here: 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.

45 thoughts on “From Minimum Wage to Millionaire (Part 5: My Early 40′s)”

  1. I sent you in e-mail with answers to the coaching questions, but never heard back. Are you still consulting?

    Thanks in part to you, we are renting and on our way to FI!


  2. Sennait, hmmm, I don’t see your email. Maybe my spam filter was too aggressive? Anyway, yes, I am available for coaching. Would you mind emailing me again without the questionnaire so I can add your email address to my “approved” list of senders? Then resend your answers? Thanks!

    1. Hello,
      I love your articles. However, you really don’t describe how you became FI in any detail. Obviously, you are above average intelligence. Is your reason for not giving details on how to become FI because you sell or coach the information for a price? I would love to learn but cannot afford ANYTHING right now, including food!!! There is absolutely no money coming in at all!!! I already own a business and it seems as if the economy has really taken over. I haven’t even been able to make payroll and now the department of labor wants to fine me.

  3. SonyaAnn, we already live in a great school district. At this point, we plan to homeschool part-time and have her attend public classes part-time. (We’ve spoken to a couple of school principals and yes, this allowed.)

  4. Are you going to home school your daughter or are you going to send her to a public school? And if you are sending her to a public school will you move to a neighborhood with better schools?
    Thank you for the wonderful article!

  5. Thank you so much for this! I decided when I was 16 or so that I would NOT live like the Joneses’! You help me so much with information & inspiration! Thank you again!

  6. Can I just say that I love reading your stuff. We all need to be sure and keep ourselves focused on hope these days, and you are great at doing that for all of your readers.

    We can never get more than we can dare to imagine.

  7. Very inspiring overall. I like how you make a point of choosing to be happy in a really difficult time of your life. From all the different books I’ve read it seems people that have positive outlooks are the ones that achieve their dreams.

  8. I just want to say that I find your article very enlightening. I will start making the 5 things that made me happy list. Thanks again for inspiring.

  9. Wow! I’ve loved reading about how you came to FI. I developed bad habits early in life. Thanks to mistakes, my husband, and sites like yours, I’ve made a complete turnaround :-) I’m now observing my parents reach their 60s and watching their retirement go down with the economy. It’s a whole mess and now they’re freaking out about retiring… it makes me so sad, but it’s a constant reminder and motivation to live within my means.

  10. I’ve read this before (a while ago at the blogspot location), but I liked reading the ‘millionaire milestone’ part again. I look forward to that walk with my husband. I’m sure it won’t be for a while, yet I have no doubt we will achieve our goals. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately and just wrote my own post about it. Even though we are not a millionaires, we are very secure and our savings are growing fast….that, especially in this economy, makes me feel ‘free’ as well.

  11. Hi Jen,

    Truly Inspiring!
    I read the book ‘The Millionaire next door’ and yourlife reflects that.
    You are a living example of happiness not lying in stuff.
    Thanks for sharing.


  12. Your story is very inspirational! You give true advise as I have learned the hard way that it is important to live BELOW your means to be wealthy!

  13. Jennifer,

    Just read your series, and WOW how it opened my eyes. You have always been a true inspiration in my life (I think about you and your family all the time) Wow, how things in my life are going to change….Thank you

  14. Dear Jennifer, Your series is inspirational. I feel the same way. We’re moving into a slightly smaller place and downsizing our stuff that we don’t use often and feeling a lot of freedom from doing so. We’re considering going from a 1 to 2 bedroom if only because we would enjoy that little bit more of space. But other than that, we don’t feel a need for a McMansion. I also taught my wife that “bling” can cost very little and while most women sneer at zirconia or coupons, they bring a lot of freedom. She has jewelry that matches every outfit she has, she doesn’t worry about losing it, and she gets compliments everywhere she goes.

    One tiny critical remark: You have a picture of yourself with your daughter, but you talk often about your husband. I thought maybe you were a single mother because so many women I have dated in the states seemed to have an attitude that men weren’t important to them in their lives and that they only cared about children, so I didn’t pursue a marriage with them. Perhaps it’s a stylistic choice (the readers might think it’s your husband’s blog, and not yours) but if your daughter is a member of your family, shouldn’t he be pictured too?

  15. @PolishKnight: I love “costume” jewelry. I buy interesting pieces — cheap — from consignment boutiques (a nice name for secondhand store), flea/antique markets, and directly from the artists that sell their unique pieces from under pop-up canopies. I’ve never spent more than $60 for a piece of jewelry, but gain great memories, and receive much enjoyment and plenty of compliments.

    I just asked my husband why he doesn’t want to include his photo on my blog. His response: “It’s 100% your blog. You are the money gal. Besides, I’m not ready to come out of the closet yet — I’ll come out (as a closet-millionaire) when you get invited to appear on the Oprah Show.”

    Gotta love him.

  16. Loved your story…I believe in many of your principles myself…I would never buy a new car ever (it’s never a good investment). I use public transportation frequently and fortunately live very close to where I work so easily walk to work all year except in winter. (That’s money well saved AND free exercise to boot!).
    Use the free public library as much as I can, as well as the free gym at my apartment complex. Eat out as little as possible (am lucky in that I’m a good cook and love what I make at home). Have a decent portfolio with half my money in mutual funds and half in CDs and with my lifestyle save about 50% of my salary on most months.
    I do like to indulge in clothes n bags (my weakness) but manage to get great discounts most of the time! Its been a good life so far…

  17. Jen, I was most impressed while reading through your story. My husband and I have long felt good about being frugal, and both shop almost exclusively at consignment stores. Your excellent, commonsense approach fits right in with my philosophies of making health care cheap and simple.

    Keep up the great work; I look forward to learning more!

    Susan Mead

  18. What an inspiration. Everyday for the past week or so, I’ve been reading and re-reading your story. I am in the process of accepting my debt, my fear of the debt, and facing up to it. I am ready to get out of this cycle. Thanks so much for sharing your story. I look forward to more!

  19. Hi Jen! I think that was a very interesting story.I would like to know how i would be able to become successful in investing or real estate. Im 18 years old with a high school diploma and i live in well not the sunniest side of town lol.But its hard making good friends over here who know how to help me. Any advice on where i should begin??:))

  20. @SteVe-0: Kudos to you for starting to think about personal finance at age 18! Because you say that it’s hard to find people who know how to help you in your ‘side of town’, I suggest starting your journey by finding a mentor — someone who has done what you want to do. Read books (see my resources page for suggestions). Discover the power of asking for what you want. Invest in yourself — save at least 10% of your earnings. Best wishes!

    @Shogun @ Financial Samurai: Net worth is calculated by subtracting your total liabilities from your total assets (whether they be stocks, bonds, real estate, gold, businesses or cash). As for us at the moment, we have 0 liabilities and the majority of our assets are in cash.

  21. inspiring! i especially like the part on “It isn’t circumstance that dictates whether you live a happy life; it is a matter of choice.”

    thanks for the blog, i am a fan now!

  22. I found your site while searching for the book the Millionaire Next Door. Reading your story gives concrete evidence of the teachings in that book. Congratulations on your success!

    It takes two things to find success in any endeavor. One is the knowledge to accomplish your goals and two is the discipline to follow through. Most people fail at both. You’ve just given us part one. The second part depends on the individual.

  23. Hello Jen, today was my first time learning about you and your success. I’m really trying to find my niche in life. I just graduated as an LPN and I’m not sure if that’s what I want to do. However I am finding myself with the desire help less fortunate people,and struggling businesses to succeed. Also i really would love to help less fortunate but, yet talented, skillful, “just need a chance” type of people. I know my innovative ideas will help someone, somewhere, sometime. Please guide me on what steps i need to take to get in the face of existing businesses that need a “boost” or shall i say someone that has money making “ideas”.

  24. Hi, thank you so much for sharing your life . I want to learn how to invest in mutual fund, stocks etc… which book should I get first. I don’t know anything about investment.
    Thank you

  25. Past 20 years I was working with some manufacturing firms , 2 years back I quit my job and begin with some agriculture business and I fail in my busineesss , currently I am working back because I lost all of my saving US 50k ., after going through your writings I feel like I gain back confident to start back my businee with proper planning .

  26. This was an excellent story of financial planning and execution. I truly believe now that the frugal life is the good life. I had a large home that we sold and walked away with a very nice profit. Now we did just buy a smaller home, but real estate is very cheap in Florida and we wanted to own. We have a pool and even a steam room that came with this small 1530 sq ft. home and we love it. I love finances and making money and look forward to reading more of your blog. Come over and read mine sometime. Take care Jen!

  27. Hi Jen, I am so inspired by your story and what you do. I am a mom of a 9 yr old and a 13 yr old. My husband lost his business 4 yrs ago and I started working in real estate when things are going crazy. It was out of necessity that I went back to work after being a stay home mom ( part-timing at a call center ). Fortunately, I quickly learned the ropes in real estate and became knowledeable with short selling. I have been making good money in real estate but work long hours and on weekends. I rented our big home in 2005 for a year, for the same amount of the mortgage payment and I rented a house for ourselves, for half the mortgage amount. In short I started savings. After a year of renting the big house, I sold it short sale. I have been renting since then, and saving money. I am still working and enjoying helping my clients in real estate … and my husband is helping me with the business. I use Quicken to track my expenses and income and I think I have a handle on that department. I know that I can save more by spending less. Where I lack is the knowledge where to put some savings so it can work for me. I lack the knowledge in investing for the future. Pls help me out. I also preach savings and paying off debt to my clients but dont know what to share when it comes to “how to grow savings” and prepare for the future. I am so excited to learn from you. In fact, I also want to share and possibly teach what I learn to my clients … who have lost their real estate investments and lifetime savings , lost their credit … and would like to start all over. The real estate business had never been the same. It’s now about helping homeowners and persons, deal with the loss of their biggest investments. It’s been rewarding though. I learned a lot of life lessons from my clients than they learn from me. And the income had been very good. Hope that you will contact me via email on what direction to take from here. regards, Angie

  28. Thank you so much for sharing your story! I’m 24 and trying to figure out what to do with my life.
    Right now I’m in Japan teaching English. Many of the other young foreigners here spend thousands of dollars traveling in East Asia, mostly to shop and eat, because everyone thinks that they need to “live it up” while they can (before they have kids and settle down). I’ve come to realize that by investing now, I will end up with more money when I’m older and ultimately more time and money to travel.
    Growing older should mean growing more free, not becoming more trapped.
    Thanks again!

  29. What are your annual expenses and are you covering those with investment income or with “work” income?

    What nest egg withdrawal rate are you using?

    Also while 1 million dollars is an admirable portfolio, and may seem like a lot, it’s hardly enough for most people to retire in their 40’s and expect to remain solvent and fully work-free for the next 50 years even with average or better market returns and below average inflation unless you are living on 30k/ year or so. 2 million seems “just” manageable and probably more like 2.5 to 3 million to survive q decade of flat returns like we have just been through.

    I do enjoy your posts, and am one of the 35% of men on here. Joe.

  30. Your site represents the frugal and responsible lifestyle that I hope my readers will adopt once we reach our financial goals.


  31. What an amazing story and so inspiring! Thank you so much for sharing your journey and inspiring me to follow the path that will eventually lead to my own freedom. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

  32. Heya.

    I just read your chapters and I think this is the last one? It’s very inspiring.
    I’m 16 and I’m hoping to progress in such a way like yours. You’ve made me feel different about how I view things and it makes me feel happy reading your blog.

    Thanks so much :)

  33. I am sure that you are right.
    People invest and earn a large return every day. The only problem is that life gets in the way.
    Live a good, frugal, honest life and invest wisely and the rest will come to you.
    I am 55 years old and, this year, finally came to the realization of the words you speak and the life you live. Now it is my turn!
    Thank you for enlightening us all.

  34. Hi Jen,

    I end up on your website by accident. I was searching on google about “my husband is not supportive of my business but he’s the financial support, what would happen if he unplugged everything?”
    …and I found you.-:) After being laid of in 2010, I open my showroom the same year. I am only getting paid every 8 months, when each of my customers are shipped their merchandise. ( I am an agent – commission only- and wholesale children clothing) I’m turning 40 years and has no saving anymore and need to count on my husband salary to help me…( we rent our apartment, my office etc…) what do you suggest?
    Thank you,

  35. Your story is very inspiring.

    I am 32. Work a 9-5 and earn 55k annually. I have a daughter that will need to go to college in 4 years. I have bad credit. Rent. Live pay check to paycheck. Luckily I don’t have any credit cards. The only debt I have are from student loans and my car, which will all be paid off by the end of next year. I don’t know too much about handling my finances as I never seem to have enough to save. Where can I start and where do I go to have financial security? If I were to loose my job I would have zero income and no savings. Any insight would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

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