My Story: From Minimum Wage to Millionaire Mommy

by Millionaire Mommy Next Door

From Minimum Wage…

Money was a constant source of tension and stress when I was growing up. My parents were intelligent, well-educated and hard-working, yet they lived paycheck to paycheck. When I was 13, they divorced, then my mom struggled to raise three kids, often relying on free lunch tickets and food stamps. As my mother approach retirement age, she was riddled with anxiety over the fact that she hadn’t saved for her golden years. My father had always been (and continues to be, even in his 70′s) a workaholic — my siblings, his grandkids and I have always wished he’d figured out a way to work less and spend more time with us instead.

I started my adult life working a series of dead end jobs, earning minimum wage.

As a young adult, I dropped out of college and spent the next couple of years drifting from one minimum wage job to another, paying more attention to the boys I was dating than to my financial future. I ended up broke and alone after my fiancée and I broke up. I learned that I couldn’t count on Prince Charming to sweep me off of my feet and take care of me.

My parents were struggling to make ends meet, so I couldn’t go home and become a burden on them. I abandoned my broken-down car, reduced my rent by sharing a one-bedroom apartment with three other women, and scarfed down free food during Happy Hour at our local bar (free appetizers with the purchase of a $2 draft). I learned to be resourceful and to do whatever it took to survive.

One night, while working the graveyard shift at a donut shop and pouring coffee for a homeless woman, I realized that I was one paycheck away from being homeless myself. That was my wake-up call. Motivated by fear of an uncertain future, I opened the Yellow Pages, called professional dog trainers and negotiated an unpaid apprenticeship. Less than a year later, I was hired by my mentor, and I loved the work. A couple years later, I started my own successful dog-training school. I learned the power of asking for what I want.

23 years ago, I got married. (No, that’s not how I became a millionaire… He was a construction worker, earning just $8 bucks an hour…) Anyway, by the time we had 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. I learned it was critical to reduce my exposure to toxic people. We packed our belongings and moved to Colorado.

…To Millionaire Mommy!

Money ranks as the first most argued topic for many couples. It has been estimated that an astounding 80% of divorces are the result of money disagreements. Having a child is considered the single best indicator of financial collapse.

I wanted a family, but I didn’t want to be one of those statistics.

My choice to form a family through adoption rather than pregnancy was a decision I made when I was an idealistic teenager. (The way I figured it, why “make my own” child when there are countless orphans dying for a family already?) Since I planned to adopt, my biological time clock wasn’t a ticking time bomb. When I was 30, I decided to achieve financial freedom before adopting our daughter because I didn’t want to repeat our parent’s experiences. Both my husband and I grew up with young, struggling, work-all-the-time parents and quite frankly, that often stunk. We didn’t want money issues to negatively impact our family.

Over the course of the next couple years, I made it my mission to learn about personal finance, investing, entrepreneurship and lifestyle design. With this newfound knowledge, I created a plan that would allow my husband and I to be free of our money worries.

And it worked! By age 40, we were 100% debt free and had over a million dollars in the bank!

Today, we are proud and happy stay-at-home parents to our amazing young daughter. Financially free, 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.

We consider ourselves “closet millionaires”. You’d have no clue that we’re millionaires by looking at our Stuff. Our family lives a typical middle-class lifestyle with one fantastic exception– we only work when we want to. Financial freedom affords us the gift of free time.

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.

Would it surprise you to learn that my husband and I rent instead of own our home, share a car, and don’t subscribe to cable TV?

Like most millionaires in their study, we live our lives and spend our money in ways that are in alignment with our values, interests and passions. We tend to be do-ers, not have-ers: we don’t care much for “stuff” (a McMansion home, new clothes, iPads or jewelry), but we spend generously on recreational pursuits, organic foods and long trips to faraway places. We make efforts to be environmentally green. By reducing our consumption, we save money in the process.

Why I Created “The Millionaire Mommy Next Door”

Women need more money than men. Why? (No, not so we can buy more shoes, handbags and manicures.) We need more money because we live longer than men, make significantly less salary than our male peers, and are more likely to be single parents raising a family on one income. Women comprise 87% of the impoverished elderly. A woman who works full-time for 40 years will earn $523,000 less than her male counterpart. At age 65, that extra half a million dollars could keep her from becoming one of the elderly poor!

What do these grim statistics tell us? They tell us that women, especially as they become older, are not prepared to take care of themselves financially. Yet nearly 90% of all women will end up managing their finances alone at some point in their lives.

I want to share my story and lessons learned because I’m at a point in my life where I’d like to “pay it forward”. The financial industry is rarely focused on women – my intention is to offer a supportive community and a female perspective. And my blog isn’t just about sharing my story: I’ve pledged my blog’s profits (from paid advertisements placed in the sidebar) as no-interest microloans for small businesses operated by working, impoverished women in developing countries.

Wowza! 5 months after I started blogging, I was invited to share my story on national television! What a trip!

Attention MEN! You are most welcome here too! Last surveyed, 35-40% of the readers of my blog are men. The topics I write about are gender-neutral and relevant for everyone, whether you have ovaries or testicles. I dare you not to learn something new here! And while you’re at it, please tell the women in your life to check it out as well.

Want To Know Even MORE About My Journey???

I’ve written a five-part series that details my story and the important lessons I’ve learned along the way:

  1. How I Became a Millionaire (Part 1: Childhood)
  2. How I Became A Millionaire (Part 2: Early Adulthood)
  3. How I Became A Millionaire (Part 3: My Twenties)
  4. How I Became A Millionaire (Part 4: My Thirties)
  5. From Minimum Wage to Millionaire (Part 5: My Early 40′s)

Finally, here are the archived blog posts I’ve written that are tagged “about me”.

If you are new here, WELCOME to my little corner of the blogosphere! Subscribe to receive free email or RSS notifications whenever I publish a new blog post. No spam, no risk, and it is easy to unsubscribe should you ever change your mind. Follow me on Twitter (@MillionMommyND) where I share interesting articles, opinions, quotes, tips and other bite-sized tidbits relevant to success, happiness and financial freedom.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

SeeJaneGetRich February 9, 2010 at 2:33 pm

What an inspiring story. I am especially impressed by your dedication to donate all the profits from the blog as no interest microloans. Way to go!

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Bankruptcy Ben June 10, 2010 at 11:43 pm

I’m agree completely. Everything but the homeownership I’m working on owning my home outright by 32 that’s my plan. Then i figure i’m free to do what I want without accomodation costs

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Jeff June 14, 2010 at 6:16 am

I too am one of those Millionaire Next Door types who looks and acts like a regular middle class person. The “stuff” that most people love to accumulate, whether status symbols or just junk to fill the McMansion, doesn’t interest me at all.

I’m also a big supporter of Kiva.org- I think it’s a far more effective way to help impoverished people than just sending them money.

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Henry Ho July 19, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Hi Jen,

What a sweet and inspiring story! I admire your courage to beat your own path and follow your heart, and be green at the same time.

Growing up in Singapore, we were poor but good savers. I crossed $1M when I was 30. Now having lived here in CO the past 11 years, it has been a challenge to keep life simple (3 car garage slowly filling), but we definitely live way within our means.

As an independent fee based financial advisor, I too am constantly looking for ways to help my clients and friends. I look for cost savings every step of the way, as they do add up over time. One simple example is mint.com, a free site that tracks your net worth daily. Another is OOMA – using broadband internet as landline – no more monthly phone bills. Too many households pay too much in taxes too. I think everyone has to find the balanced lifestyle they are happy with.

It would be great to share cost saving ideas on your blog.

Thanks Jen!

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MakingaMillionDollars July 26, 2010 at 12:37 am

Really enjoy your writing. I did want to make a point though. I agree with the whole compounding interest over time. In my past renting was a pain, we would get bad landlords and we were great renters. We have moved around the country with my job a few times and each time I owned a house and sold it and make a large chuck of money. With the new recession yes it probably makes sense to rent, but I still love owning my current home we just purchased a few months ago. I think you had even mentioned you had made a bundle on your land and house that you fixed up and ended up selling before the drop in prices. Realestate is the way most people built their wealth. I keep hearing about renting, but if you pay cash for a small home or have a very small mortgage you are at least in control of what you do in and with that home. I also would like to know more about your stock trades and investments you made to kick over a million dollars. I am not a millionaire yet, but am working on it. Like your articles and advice and congrats on the lifestyle I am working towards. Steve

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arlene b. pandaraoan November 4, 2010 at 12:11 am

Hi Jen,

I was inspired by your life story. Same as your family background, i also came from working parents. I am in my 4o years now, and still indebted. My debt is more than my earnings. I have two teen age children. They were both doing good in school. My husband is unemployed for 8 years years. My husband took care the households when our children are in their growing stage. At present, he is looking for a job, but can’t find so far.

I was wondering, how will i start a free debt life. My take home pay is not enough to cover for a week’s basic needs (food, bills, children allowance). Then i resorted to renew loan or seek for another loan which only balloon my debt. The situation repeat in cycle.

Can you help me please? I really wanted to be free from debt ………

Thanks

Arlene

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J.C. Dean November 20, 2010 at 8:56 am

This is really a wonderful post.

My problem is that I am a do-er not a hav-er but I am married to a hav-er and my do-ing is not paying off enough to keep up with her hav-ing :(

I love you blog subscribed to your feed, thanks!

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LifeAndMyFinances November 28, 2010 at 7:12 pm

I love it!

You could have had a pity party and blamed your parents for your poverty, but you didn’t. You took matters into your own hands and became a success story!

Thanks for taking the time to put your story online. I’m sure it’s an inspiration to many!

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Jason Baudendistel December 2, 2010 at 11:44 pm

I am a 25 year old college student and one of the few guys on here ..lol Definately inspiring I am already in the black and plan on being a millionare by 35 Hardwork and discipline will get me there but I can relate to your story its not where you start but where you finish.

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Prince Of Thrift January 29, 2011 at 10:47 pm

I was very inspired by your story. Thank you. It proves that it can be done, but we have to be willing to give up some things. Something I sometimes forget.

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Tom Durham March 11, 2011 at 3:47 pm

AWESOME!

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Susan @ Bankaim August 5, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Do you still rent your home now? Or did you rent until you were financially free to do whatever you wanted?

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Mary October 31, 2011 at 11:19 pm

I remembered reading your story a few years ago and thought of you this evening. I googled for your blog wondering how you were doing. I’d love to hear an update; I’m sure I’m not the only one!!

Your story is an inspiration.

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Terry November 18, 2011 at 6:52 am

Hello Jen,
I’m up early this morning looking on the computer for ways to make a little extra money online. I came across your story and was inspired to drop you a line saying congrats. I really appriciate the fact that you and your husband enjoy your lives without acting like millionaires, middle class mentality. I worked for 32 years for a major utility and retired a couple of months ago. I’m not a millionaire but I am comfortable and middle class with a little more time on my hands, looking for a way to generate a little spending money and give me somethng to do. I’m sure something will come along that will be interesting for me. I wish you and yours the best and thanks for such a great story!

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Erinn November 29, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Wow. This is very inspirational. I cannot say that I’m on the same path, but I’m working to become stable. I’m 20 going on 21 very soon, I have a daughter who will be a year old very soon as well, and I’ve been married to my husband who is a year younger than me for a bit over a year. We struggle financially right now, but we do love each other (Contrary to popular belief that people our age are mindless robots who don’t know how to love or maintain a family.) I’m in school right now to be a paralegal which is going great, and my husband works full time at a hospital. I actually came across your blog while looking up things about home ownership (We are planning to buy soon). Most of my family is like yours was, and so we have hardly any help or support, rather people trying to assure us we will divorce and we WILL stop loving each other. But you know, we’re working hard for our futures and our daughters, and once I finish my degree, my husband will go to school for his Engineering degree that he has always wanted. We may never be millionaires, especially because neither of us are the entrepreneur type, but your story gives us the will we need to work hard for what we want. Congratulations on your success and thank you for sharing your story!

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VJ January 7, 2012 at 12:34 am

This is great, and quite frankly just what i was looking for. I am 21 and i have always dreamed of never ever worrying about money ever!. So i have been trying to look, think and decide how i want to start my plan. Guess where i landed. Here! Finally there are people out there like you who give me hope that a lifestyle with true happiness and not debt is achievable.

Thank you!

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gordon March 7, 2012 at 11:05 pm

I thought I was a millionaire in 2005., then the real estate market collapsed in 2007. Now I guess I am broke but at least I am very healthy. I am helping people with personal training.

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Mihaela April 2, 2012 at 9:59 am

Hi!
I´m Romanian, but living in Spain. I´m very interested in your story, but my english is not so good. Could you translate some of your articles in spanish? It would be also interesting to have a book or even an e-book in both languages.
Best wishes and thank you for sharing your story.

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Almari April 24, 2012 at 8:05 am

Hi there I am from South Africa.
I don’t understand this I always read about other people that became millionaires but it is never me.
I work hard for my money and it feels like I am just living to earn money and not even enough to go on holiday o anything like that.
I would like to know what can I do to become a millionaire, I will do anything.
I am not afraid of work I work hard.
I am 41 already and I never put money away for my pension. I don’t have a medical aid.
I don’t have children and I really don’t know what is going to become of me.
I have searched on the internet to see if a millionaire will employ me.
As I said I am a hard worker.
I just need someone to help me in the right direction or give me the opportunity to work for someone that can teach me.
All the sites of how to become a millionaire is in the end you must buy something then you will get some information.
After I have read it, it still does not help me.
What am I doing wrong?

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Brandon Pipkin June 21, 2012 at 11:51 am

Love these stories! Everyone who has made a million understands the power of decisions, hard word, and a little (or a lot) of luck. Jen’s story is so powerful because it shows how someone living an ordinary life can change it!
Thanks for sharing.

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