A 30-year-old millionaire changed the way I handle money

  • As a financial advisor, I have seen 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 that I wasn’t enjoying my money the way I wanted.

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

That was the template for wealth building that I had come to adopt, the path of least resistance and the most proven route to financial freedom that I followed for most of my career as a financial advisor. every high


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The client I met with was confirmation of this strategy, as most of them were in their 50s and 60s and had hit 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 following it for decades is easy.

The conversation that changed my mind

Personal finance is essentially a series of trade-offs. Spend and enjoy the most of your money now or delay those luxuries for a comfortable retirement later. Another common example is sacrificing work-life balance and long hours in exchange for higher pay. These trade-offs seemed inevitable to me, so I took the modest but consistent approach to wealth building and delayed many of the lifestyle experiences I knew I wanted to enjoy.

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

Halfway through our interview, I asked Sabatier what the average person can do to achieve similar results. He wanted to know how to speed up the process of creating wealth and at the same time enjoy the fruits of his hard work.

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

He went on to tell 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 “fairly 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,” Sabatier said.

At that point in the interview, things fell into place for me. I began to reorganize my own finances to better fit the life I really wanted to live. Since that 2019 conversation, I’ve become a homeowner and increased my income by $50,000 while keeping up with paying off my college loans this year and traveling the world.

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

I made a list of the things that make me happy

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

For me, watching college football in the fall is something that makes me happy, so attending more live games was something I wanted to fit into my lifestyle. Growing up in Oklahoma, college football was our rite of passage, and watching the games reminds me of the Saturday mornings we’d gather in front of the TV to watch “College GameDay,” a tradition I carry on with my kids at present. But I had never been to a game in person, so I set out 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 time. I added it to my list.

I split the list into smaller elements.

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

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

I put a price on my list

Next, I put together estimates of what each item would cost. When I was ready to learn an instrument, for example, I started out by buying a used trumpet for $300 in 2021 and as I got better I bought a new one.

If one or more of the items on your list includes travel, it’s okay to estimate, as you may not have set a date yet. If you’re looking to learn a new skill, check out what the cost of private lessons would be for a few months, or look for less expensive used items to get started.

I optimized my income and schedule

The most important part of this process was organizing my finances and my time to help finance the lifestyle I wanted while also securing my financial future. I did this by setting aside 5% of my extra income each quarter and spending it exclusively on game tickets and music lessons. The remaining 95% was allocated to taxes, investment goals, and paying off student debt.

This had two effects: not only did it help me achieve parts of my ideal lifestyle in the present, but it also helped me 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 was doing fewer time-consuming tasks like individual financial planning, and instead doing more efficient tasks like speaking, since one speaking was worth five planning clients. This gave me more time to spend with my family and 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 do today, so you can live tomorrow the way others can’t. I have learned that finance does not have to be binary. When you align your finances with the things that make you happy, it helps improve your focus and keeps you on track toward your long-term financial goals.

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