Henry and his Wife’s Journey to Financial Freedom

(Last Updated On: September 22, 2017)

When I initially created this blog I never thought I would encounter so many people who are passionate about taking their financial destiny into their own hands. Perhaps the #1 reason many readers have done this is because nobody else is going to treat their, and their family’s, financial future with the same level of care.

Since starting this blog in late 2016 I have received countless emails from readers who indicated they just got sick and tired of being sick and tired of being taken advantage of by “financial professionals”. Eventually these readers decided to take their financial future in their own hands and through education they came to realize they can make pretty good investment decisions on their own.

In today’s post, Henry shares his story. He and I have corresponded for several months. His, and his wife’s story, is definitely inspirational so I was extremely pleased when he agreed to my request that he share his story and thoughts.

Henry is extremely sensitive to sharing too much information publicly. I know he stretched from his comfort zone to provide the information contained in this post and for that I am truly grateful.

Here goes…..

Henry, thank you very much for agreeing to share your story and thoughts. 

Thanks Charles!

Let’s put a human touch to this. Can you please tell readers about yourself?

Sure. I immigrated to the United States in the early 1990s. I won’t disclose from which country I came from but suffice it to say that I am truly grateful for the opportunities this country has offered me.

I would be remiss if I didn’t say that my wife supported me through all the trials and tribulations we have experienced. I am truly grateful for her support!

My journey has definitely not been a walk in the park. In my first 5 years in the US we pretty much lived below, or at, the poverty income level. This resulted in us living in a less desirable zip code. Our apartment complex had a high crime rate and several of my neighbours were prostitutes and drug dealers. There were a number of single mothers trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty raising children with no assistance from the fathers.

I worked on a farm for $4.25/hour. I also worked as a dishwasher. You name the terrible jobs out there and I’ve probably done them.

I was determined, however, to build a better life. I improved my lot and progressed up the career and income ladders.

I am now a long-haul truck driver and often work 70+ hours/week. All this overtime has definitely helped me generate additional income to allow me to invest for the future so we can achieve our financial goals.

We live on a strict budget and well below our income level. We shop for bargains and paying full price for clothing and other necessities in life is unheard of in our household.

We shop off season. I brown bag my lunch every day. We coupon clip to the extent that if we go out to eat we make sure we use coupons; it is not uncommon for us to save 50% from the menu price when we go out to eat.

I don’t want your readers to get the impression we are cheapskates. Being frugal is very different from being cheap. For example, we tip the waiters/waitresses 20% of the full menu price. My wife and I both remember working minimum wage jobs and we know that these tips go a long way.

How did you get started as an investor?

My “real” investing journey began in 2001. A friend gave me a book and said. “You really need to read this”. The book he gave me was “The Millionaire Next Door” by Dr. Thomas J. Stanley and Dr. William D. Danko.

I read the book and it changed my perception of what it means to accumulate a 7 figure net worth. I finally understood why my friend repeatedly told me to open a Roth IRA.

I eventually asked him to teach me what he knew about investing. Rather than spoon feed me investment tips, he also gave me John Bogle’s book “Common Sense on Mutual Funds“.

Over the years he and I have read many more investment books.

In essence, the foundation to successful investing is knowledge.

What advice would you give someone interested in investing?

I strongly recommend you have an emergency fund equal to a minimum of 4 months’ gross income BEFORE you start investing. If you do not do this it is highly likely your investment account will end up being used as a piggy bank and it will naturally be the only money upon which you can rely in the event of an emergency.

Investing your hard earned money should not be taken lightly. Don’t just take it from me. Take it from Warren Buffett, the world’s greatest investor. His key “investing” rules are:

Rule #1: DON’T LOOSE MONEY.
Rule #2: DON’T FORGET RULE NUMBER ONE.

The best investment most investors can make is to participate in their employer sponsored retirement plan. This allows you to benefit from the employer’s matching contribution.

I suggest a target date fund or a low fee S&P 500 index ETF as well as a Roth IRA and investing in a Russell 1000 index or a total stock market index.

I also strongly encourage people who are relatively unfamiliar with investing, or who perhaps have a moderate level of investing knowledge, to read books and blogs about investing.

If you are relatively unfamiliar with the world of investing, refrain from stock picking. Investing in individual stocks requires a foundation of knowledge. Picking individual companies in which to invest without the proper knowledge is courting problems.

Your goal should be to invest a MINIMUM of 20% of your gross income on an annual basis.

I know you are a very strong proponent on goal setting. How did this come about?

When I started learning about investing I read that it is preferable to have a retirement portfolio that is equal to 20 – 22 times your pre-retirement income. This might sound like a lot but it is not unrealistic if you think that you could live for another 30 years post-retirement.

In essence, you need an investment portfolio that will generate an after-tax income that is greater, or at least equivalent, to your net employment income.

Fortunately I learned this many years ago because it can take a very long time to accumulate income producing assets that will generate that type of income. As soon as my wife and I realized how much we need for a safe and secure retirement we became “laser like” focused.

About 20 – 25 years ago I came across Brian Tracy’s Goal Setting program. He has a wealth of training material on his website. I purchased his audio program on Goal Setting and I highly recommend it.

The crux of his message is not pertinent solely to investing but to anything in life. In essence, Goal Setting is essential if you want to succeed at many things in life that will take you out of your comfort zone.

One particular quote of his that resonated with me and which I have etched in my subconscious mind is that “without goals it is impossible to succeed”. This applies to ALL areas of your life for which you want to achieve something great (eg. relationships, academic, professional, or financial).

In essence, without goals we end up drifting aimlessly through life. This may sound harsh but it is true.

Brian Tracy also stresses that you MUST write down specific and measurable goals and must regularly monitor your progress.

Let me give you a specific example to clarify my point.

Suppose you want to own $5000 worth of PepsiCo shares, $5000 worth of Colgate Palmolive shares, and $5000 worth of McDonald’s shares by the end of the second calendar year from the date set as your start date. In this case you must analyze your financial situation and come up with a game plan as to how you will accumulate sufficient funds and how you will go about purchasing these shares.

You must determine the frequency and the amount you will invest. Secondly, you must ascertain whether you will focus exclusively on reaching $5000 of one company’s stock before you start acquiring shares in the other companies or whether you will allocate money toward the purchase of each company’s stock simultaneously over the course of the two year period.

It is also imperative you know how you will track your progress. If you exclude this step from the process your chances of success diminishes dramatically.

Naturally, there are other factors to consider but this goes to show just how specific you must be when setting your goal.

Goal setting would also be required if you want to invest $18,000 this year in your 401k. In this example, you would write down that you must accumulate exactly $18,000 within 365 days and how you will go about doing that so you’re not scrambling to come up with $18,000 on the 365th day.

How long have you been managing your own money?

I started investing 20 – 22 years ago through my employer’s 401k plan but I really did not have a clue what I was doing.

After a few years of investing, the “dot-com crash” occurred (2000 to 2001). I panicked and did the worst thing possible! I liquidated my investments and crystallized my losses. In hindsight this is where a reasonable level of investment knowledge would have helped me avoid a 60% loss on my portfolio.

I find that when I learn lessons the hard way they stay ingrained in my mind forever. Now I don’t fret about market gyrations and instead I focus on my goals.

In 2004, I rolled over my 401k (from a previous employer) into a self-directed IRA and started managing a portion of my own investments. I opened a self-directed brokerage account and bought a “few” Berkshire Hathaway class B shares.

In 2007, I enrolled in my first Dividend Reinvestment Plan (DRIP). Through personal experience I have found this to be a good way to save. Everything is on auto pilot so with less intervention from me I am less likely to “mess up”.

I want to assure your readers that investing can be complicated if you want to make it complicated. The more complex your investment process, the stronger the probability that your returns will not be superior to that generated from a straightforward process. In fact, the probability that something will go terribly wrong increases exponentially as the complexity increases. In my case, I found that focusing on the basics has allowed me to generate great results.

Are there any things you did that you regret?

If I had to do it over again I would ignore CNBC, Bloomberg, and all the other financial news outlets.

What would you recommend be done so as to increase your probability of success?

I would do the following with incredible “laser-like” intensity.

  1. Get out of debt and stay out of debt;
  2. Live on a written budget;
  3. Set a very ambitious goal of saving up an emergency fund equal to 4 months’ gross income;
  4. As I previously mentioned, strive to invest 20% of your gross annual income. I have friends and mentors who invest north of 30%. They have created investment portfolios that will support them comfortably when they retire;
  5. Maximize your 401k, 403b or TSP contributions…every year. Do the same thing with a Roth IRA;
  6. Allocate your assets appropriately. Several factors come into play such as your investment time horizon, your age, your risk tolerance, etc.. In my/my wife’s case we allocate our investments as follows:
  • 30% Large Cap US Index
  • 10% Mid Cap US Index
  • 5% Small Cap US Index
  • 20%  Total Bond Market Index
  • 15% International Stock Index
  • 5% Emerging Market Index
  • 10% REIT Index
  • 5% Dividend Growth Portfolio

What short-term goals have you set which you want to reach through investing?

I have been extremely fortunate to have surrounded myself with several average millionaires. Their insights and accomplishments have helped hone my investing strategy.

In my case, it boils down to the unemotional nuts and bolts of investing.  The investing math works all the time. I just have to put enough money into tax sheltered accounts and it will grow.

My goals are:

  1. Contribute monthly to my Roth IRA to ensure I max out my Roth IRA each year;
  2. Invest in my 401k and get my employer match;
  3. Make additional principal payments on my mortgage each month so I can retire my mortgage well ahead of schedule;
  4. Continue to live on a frugal budget to ensure I achieve my financial, investing, and retirement goals;
  5. Read several investing books each year. I read a minimum of 6/year;
  6. Stay focused on the boring investment strategy that is proven to create wealth. Avoid the seduction of exotic investments which generally have unpredictable results;
  7. Celebrate investing milestones. I think of investing milestones as multiples of my gross income such as “ will I amass a nest egg that is 5 times, 10 times, 15 times, 20 times my annual income”?

What long-term goals have you set which you want to reach through investing?

Our goal is to build a nest egg equal to 20 times our annual income by the time we retire (this goal has specific milestones but I am reluctant to divulge details as I am a very private individual).

Before you impart your final thoughts, are there any particular individuals you can think of whom you admire because they built a secure future on a modest income?

Earl Crowley. Now that is someone who built a reasonably secure financial future from a very modest income.

Your final thoughts?

Beware of so-called “financial experts”.

There is a ton of valuable free information available to help you manage your own money.

Every investor should learn the basics of finance because financial illiteracy is extremely costly.

In my case I was lucky to find a friend, a mentor, and a “millionaire next door” who kept feeding me books!

Henry, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us. Truly appreciated!

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts on a subject matter that is dear to me.

Do you set goals in a similar manner as Henry? How has goal setting impacted your life?

Note: I sincerely appreciate the time you took to read this post. As always, please leave any feedback and questions you may have in the “Contact Me Here” section to the right.

Disclaimer: I have no knowledge of your individual circumstances and am not providing individualized advice or recommendations. I encourage you not to make any investment decision without conducting your own research and due diligence. You should also consult your financial advisor about your specific situation.

Henry wrote this article and it expresses his opinions. In addition, he is not receiving compensation for it.

Thanks for reading.

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