*How* we grew our net worth to $900k

by J. Money -

million dollar journey

It dawned on me the other day that unless you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you probably haven’t a clue *how* we’ve grown our net worth to where it is today.

Outside of the boring incremental gains/saving at least ;)

So today I thought I’d share a quick background on how we got to where we are now for anyone new to the site or those who just never felt like pouring through the archive of 2,500 posts (!)

There are some one-offs here, but by and large a bulk of our growth has come from some HUSTLING, PATIENCE, FOCUS, and then of course from a dollop of LUCK and PRIVILEGE thrown in.

Here are the highlights:

#1. I’ve been maxing out my retirement accounts every single year for a decade! The backbone of our net worth, and really the habit that started it all for me… I knew that so long I as I just did this *one thing* every year, there was no way for our $$$ not to grow over time. So I made it my #1 mission that no matter what’s going on in life, I have to complete this and everything else (*IF* there’s anything else) is extra. This has continually increased our net worth by at least $20,000-$30,000/year + compounding, depending on whether my wife maxes out her retirement accounts as well.

#2. I took advantage of an INSANE 401(k) matching at my previous 9-5. At the time I started learning about finances, the company I was working for offered an unprecedented 100% match on 100% of anything you put in, up to the legal maximum limit of $16,500 at the time. Which meant that if I contributed $16,500 to my 401(k) for the year, my company would match that with *another* $16,500 right there on the spot, and fully vested! As soon as I heard this I jacked my contribution amount to 90% of my paycheck (the most it would let me) and lived off $69/paycheck until I reaped every last penny from that perk, haha… And then did it again the following year until our company eventually phased it out… (What’s even crazier? Only like 3 of us even participated in it!!)

#3. I started all this major investing during the financial crisis of 2007/2008. This was pure luck, and played a huge role over the next decade as we continued picking up stocks on MEGA SALE while the economy rallied throughout. I’m under no impression that my success was solely based on smarts, haha, outside of realizing I needed to keep fueling the fire!!

#4. I married my (frugal) wife and then eventually combined finances with her. This not only of course cut back on living expenses, but also added another $20,000 or so to the pot. As well as helped streamline all future management of our finances as our family – and goals – began to grow.

#5. I sold off a dozen or so websites/projects I had built or purchased over the years. At the peak of my hustling I was running about 10 different websites and having all kinds of income streams coming in as I was trying to build my “empire.” After a while though, priorities – and kids – helped taper my obsession, and I eventually sold off everything except for this blog here that started it all :) Over time this netted us about $250,000, though would later prove troublesome as our cash-flow never fully recovered.

#6. My wife went back to work and turned our family from SIKs to DIKs! :) (Single Income with Kids // Dual Income with Kids) After 6-7 years of being out of the work force and earning her PHD, this was a welcomed change that not only brought our cash-flow back on track, but eventually allowed me to scale back my working even more and become the stay-at-home-daddy-blogger you see today. And now she’s the breadwinner of our family – Go Mama!

#7. We’ve received $30,000 of inheritances and gifts over time. None of which will unfortunately replace our loved ones we’ve lost, but all gifts very much appreciated and put to use in a way we hope honors them. One of these amounts was for $20,000 from my dear grandma passing, and the other amounts came from various other people and times which we plan on paying forward in the future.

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And that covers a majority of it!

A lot of other changes went down over the years as well – such as the *mental* transformations over time (minimalism, becoming a father, realizing life trumps money!) – but event-wise these items above are the biggies. And thankfully overrides all our failures from this time period as well! ;)

At any rate, hopefully this puts things in better perspective, and I’ll have to be better about referencing this more in the future reports we do… (which you can always find here, btw – all 135 of them!)

How are you growing YOUR money over there? Similar to this, or your own form of financial wizardry? ;)

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PS: Here are a couple of spreadsheets to help track your money and/or net worth if you're looking to get started (and love manually tracking it as I do :)):

If you're not a spreadsheet guy like me and prefer something more automated (which is fine, whatever gets you to take action!), you can try your hand with a free Personal Capital account instead.

Personal Capital is a cool tool that connects with your bank & investment accounts to give you an automated way to track your net worth. You'll get a crystal clear picture of how your spending and investments affect your financial goals (early retirement?), and it's super easy to use.

personal capital dashboard

It only takes a couple minutes to set up and you can grab your free account here. They also do a lot of other cool stuff as well which my early retired friend Justin covers in our full review of Personal Capital - check it out here: Why I Use Personal Capital Almost Every Single Day.

(There's also Mint.com too btw which is also free and automated, but its more focused on day-to-day budgeting rather than long-term net worth building)

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Christine May 6, 2019 at 6:25 am

Always nice to see a succinct timeline. 100% matching! Man, I had that once at a nonprofit I worked for, and I did take advantage of it though I think only to the tune of 20%. I think they smartly capped it at that, and considering how little they paid us, they didn’t have to contribute much. But still…compared to whatever ridiculous b.s. matching my company does now (I don’t even know…like 50% of 6% or something, and it has to be in company stock), I miss it! And my company recently changed that their contribution came at the END of the calendar year. So, I’m other words, you lose out any compounding on it, and if you leave, you don’t get it. Basically, an asshole move.

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2 J. Money May 6, 2019 at 7:23 am

Dang – that does suck! Especially the company stock part! Although I guess it’s better than having no matching at all which I hear a lot of companies still do… So good job for still taking advantage of it at least! :)

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3 Mike Monfredi May 6, 2019 at 6:56 am

It’s great to see that someone who’s so close to that $1M mark did it by just waking up and putting in the work every day. With small, incremental changes and no big windfall. More evidence for us to up that contribution and diversify income sources.

Nice work, J$!

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4 J. Money May 6, 2019 at 7:24 am

You know it, brother…

It’s not sexy, but it works!

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5 Marc May 6, 2019 at 6:59 am

Wow, that was an incredible 401(k) offer from your employer! At my last job the employer would match 50% of employee contributions up to 4% of their salary, so if I contributed 4% or more I would get an extra 2%. It was pretty poor compared to most employers, but at least it was something. Now I’m self-employed and I’m taxed as an S-Corp, so I’m technically an employee of my own business. I give myself as much of a match as I’m allowed to.

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6 J. Money May 6, 2019 at 7:27 am

Rock on! I always hear good things about S-Corps but haven’t taken the time to really see if it’s a better move for me than my current set up (LLC). I tend to set things up and then forget about it – for the better or the worse haha…

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7 Rho | Their Money Goals May 6, 2019 at 8:03 am

That company match was AMAZING! My firm doesn’t offer a match for the attorneys, but I heard the professional staff get one.

Similar to you, our plan for becoming debt free and ultimately building wealth is to live below our means and put the difference toward our goals. As you’ve shown, slow and steady wins the race, for sure. Great breakdown!

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8 J. Money May 6, 2019 at 9:48 am

You know it! Keep on pushin’!

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9 Mark Eichenlaub May 6, 2019 at 9:42 am

Absolutely fantastic!

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10 Joe May 6, 2019 at 9:45 am

Great job with the 401k. More impressive is selling your sites. That’s quite an entrepreneurial feat.
Is your wife planning to work until traditional retirement age?

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11 J. Money May 6, 2019 at 5:12 pm

Thanks!

Yup! She enjoys working and has no plans on stopping it anytime soon :) Plus she’s obsessed about healthcare benefits and I won’t get in her way there, haha…

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12 Josh May 6, 2019 at 10:32 am

Hey J$! I don’t stop by here with every post like I used to, so #6 was news to me! I mean I know she went back to work, but kudos to Mrs. J-Money for being the primary breadwinner! I’d love to read more (from her perspective?!) about that switch. All of that hard work in earning the PHR has paid off!

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13 J. Money May 6, 2019 at 5:13 pm

Good idea – will see if she’s interested in sharing something :)

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14 Sarah Jessica Farber May 6, 2019 at 11:26 am

I work for the state and get 0% matching. I also got 0% matching at my nonprofit job, and when I was self-employed, I was brokety broke broke broke! You are so lucky to have had that match, and to have had the flexibility to max out your accounts. I have never been able to max out. Goals, man, goals!

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15 J. Money May 6, 2019 at 5:15 pm

Dang, sorry they’re not showing you any love on that front! Maybe they have other perks that help make up for it?!

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16 Abigail @ipickuppennies May 6, 2019 at 11:59 am

100% matching?! Wowza! Smart to take advantage of that for sure. And lucky that you could live on a 10% paycheck for at least part of the year.

Alas, I’m self-employed so no matching for me. Though my company does contribute to a SEP, it’s still me doing the saving so… Not quite the same. But hopefully I’ll be able to really sock away some money starting this year, so maybe I’ll have some good net worth reports of my own. Nothing on your scale, but progress is progress, right?

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17 J. Money May 6, 2019 at 5:16 pm

100%! And don’t forge we’re all coming from different backgrounds and situations too!

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18 Life Outside The Maze May 6, 2019 at 12:08 pm

Cool, everything except for #5 describes my FIRE journey as well. What about ESPPs J Money? I just did a post on ESPP Arbitrage and I want to know if this is a new idea or something that suckas been postin on since 95?

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19 J. Money May 6, 2019 at 5:19 pm

Haha…. don’t know much about ESPPs, but if they’re free/cheap I can get down with them! So long as your entire nest egg doesn’t revolve around it.

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20 Eelis Vatanen May 6, 2019 at 12:48 pm

Aah, the 930k is a combined wealth!

You know what. I have to do the same calculation with my wife. I think we might be close to that combined. She’s very frugal too and has an insane income. Mine’s pretty nice, but hers is more. It’s a good milestone to have. I had originally aimed for an _own_ wealth of 1,000,000 but perhaps that’s over-doing it? Maybe?

You mentioned on Twitter that you stopped thinking about financials after about 400-500k – was that combined too?

So when you say you combined your finances with your wife, it’s all lumped together now? That’s cool. We have kept ours separate. In some way it’s been like Coca-Cola and Pepsi rivalry with wealth, we’ve helped each other grow it. But I do fully understand having them merged. Especially when life situations dictate that one stays home or something. We’ve had to do tricks to balance those out and it gets a bit overly complicated tbh.

Anyway, I’m going to get back to that combined wealth number. I’m so excited! It might also be around the 900k mark! We’ll see!

Thanks for your blog btw.

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21 J. Money May 6, 2019 at 5:25 pm

Haha sounds like a healthy battle between y’all for sure ;)

Ours has been merged for the past 6 or 7 years I wanna say – def. before we had kids – but really it just depends on what you’re going for and how comfortable you are merging or not. It was just easier to maintain for us and made sense since so much of our lives are combined but I know others who track it all separately too.

I roughly have an idea of how much would be “just mine” vs “just hers”, so maybe I’ll have a 2nd celebration once “mine” crosses that double comma club too ;) Can never be too nerdy about it!

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22 Holly G May 6, 2019 at 1:00 pm

Congrats! Love reading your posts each day. :) This is sort of a simple step by step how you did it. Everyone is going to have a different path and seeing the paths is so important so others can say…”Yes, I can do that!”

Both my husband and I maxed out our 401ks starting in 2008/2009 so a great time to max out when our 401ks were in the negative..buy low. Amazingly, when we switched from two incomes to one incomes he still maxed it out. I think at the time it was $16,500.

Staying the course was key and that has helped us too.

I think a lot of people get overwhelmed when they hear or see “max” as $19,000. When I started my first 401k the max in 2001 was $10,000 and there was no way I could do $10,000 not to mention $19,000.

I like to emphasis, getting the match and slowly working towards the max is a great goal. Up it up a percentage a year or when you have a raise. :)

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23 J. Money May 6, 2019 at 5:27 pm

You know it!! And doing it incrementally will help you barely notice it too – if at all! Especially if you up it every time you get a raise or bonus (I know some people who put 100% of those into their 401k so they don’t miss a thing! And are obviously already living just fine without the extra money :))

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24 Nicholas S Kroon May 6, 2019 at 1:14 pm

It’s been interesting following along with you in this journey. I have a similar net worth as you. I am guessing I am a similar age. My wife and I also were fortunate that we both saved aggressively during the recession. I remember years ago you sold your house. Do you regret selling it now that prices are up? Just curious on your thoughts. We purchased an affordable condo in an ideal neighborhood but now kicking myself for not buying a home when they were half the price in 2014 compared to now. ( I live on the west coast, Western WA).

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25 J. Money May 6, 2019 at 5:30 pm

You can only do what feels best for you *at the time*! :)

And what I felt then, and what I feel now, regarding that house is 100% the same: SO GLAD TO NOT OWN IT ANYMORE!!! It was much more an emotional issue than a financial one, otherwise perhaps I would regret it a little…

Now the challenge is sucking it up all over again to purchase our 2nd house haha… We’ll see how much wiser or not I am ;)

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26 TheFrugalChoice May 6, 2019 at 1:46 pm

100% match? WOUZERSS
here’s me thinking that my soon to start graduate scheme with it’s above standard pension contribution was a big win haha
Also quite inspiring to a new blogger like myself how you’ve got more than 2,500 posts under your belt!

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27 J. Money May 6, 2019 at 5:34 pm

Oh cool! Yeah – the longer you’re at it the more the #’s tally up, of course :) And it doesn’t hurt writing almost every single day either, haha… Just be sure to stick to a schedule whatever it is as that’s been by far the 1 thing that’s kept me going these past 11 years! No matter what happens I’m not allowed to miss a day or else I’ll start slipping and that’ll be the end!

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28 Laura May 6, 2019 at 2:14 pm

Way to take advantage of the 100% match! Your company had a great offer but you took advatage of it by saving more than most people do.
I am a newer reader and appriciate the recap. Great work on the websites and project. You must have invested a lot of time to get there.

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29 J. Money May 6, 2019 at 5:35 pm

Hey thanks! Yup – lots of time saving, and lots of time working on the blog each day :) Good thing both are fun!

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30 Nita May 6, 2019 at 2:51 pm

So, in a few words : diligent 401(k) investing, crazy hustling, and well-earning frugal partner. Did I get it right ?

… let’s look at it positively and say I clearly need to find my own recipe.
Which, at this point, is a mix of :
– investing in stocks (single-handedly, we have nothing like employer matches here) ;
– owning my home : I believe I bought well with excellent financing, and I’m betting I’ll pocket a chunk of cash when I resell if I do it right ;
Maybe later :
– real-estate investing and renting (I’m currently looking at my options)
– diversify the income (either by hustling or making money off my hobbies, or both)
Possibly :
– changing jobs (we’ll see),
Hopefully not :
– inheriting anything too soon,
– ditching my partner (seriously, as much as I like him, in terms of FIRE, he’s objectively a hindrance ; he lives above his means, paycheck to paycheck, and is aware of it but isn’t willing *enough* yet).
But again, I’m lucky enough to even be on a position to try it out, and also reasonably young. So I’m not that jealous of you ;)

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31 Nita May 6, 2019 at 2:54 pm

And I thought it but forgot to write :
Congrats on your good choices!

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32 J. Money May 6, 2019 at 5:39 pm

Haha, thanks Nita :) Congrats on your successes so far too! I admire all y’all who invest in real estate or even dabbling in it. I really wish it were for me but just don’t have the right personality for it. Good luck converting your partner over though!! Maybe when he finds out he’s in jeopardy of losing you he’ll wise up and change his ways ;)

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33 DB May 6, 2019 at 3:30 pm

Shame your company phased out the match!

Do you know of any companies that still have crazy large matches?

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34 J. Money May 6, 2019 at 5:45 pm

I don’t, sorry :( But in my experience it’s the smaller *startups* that offer the crazy benefits while they’re young and scrappy before turning into corporations ;) Every last one I worked with (in the tech industry) had amazing benefits whether 401k-related or paid time off or free healthcare/gym memberships or even free food and coffee every day! Now on the flip side they can go under at a moment’s notice, but hey – no risk no reward ;)

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35 Mr. Refined May 6, 2019 at 3:36 pm

After reading countless articles I still glean FI hacks. Got it, improve my 3% 401k match and my 3% chance of a doctor wife match. I see room for optimization in my plan.

Help me out folks. There has to be a list out there somewhere of employers that have ridiculously high 401k matches? Who has it? …In lieu, I could be persuaded to consider a list of where to meet single doctors to wife. Nice play J$, even in love, you win with $s. Also nice price on the sale of the empire, solid hustle!

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36 J. Money May 6, 2019 at 5:48 pm

I’d like a link to that list if you find one or make one, please! I bet it would get insane amounts of traffic ;)

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37 Debt Free in RVA May 7, 2019 at 9:30 am

J. Money – loved your summary!

Because of you I started tracking our net worth and we are at $ 750,000.

We got here through diligently saving $$$, and especially have ramped it up the past few years. My current employer matches 18 % of our salary/bonus which is incredible. We have T. Rowe Price and they consistently say we are the top company out of all their retirement plans. So, that has helped me bank away $ 50,000 into my retirement TAX-FREE each year.

I’m hoping to hit $ 1,000,000 in net worth around 40 years old….. 2.5 years away! I love the articles and ideas they spur. Cheers!

Other details:

-We have $ 200,000 in home equity
– $100,000 in college savings
– $ 250,000 in retirement accounts
-$ 200,000 in other liquid savings (non-retirement)

I drive a 15 year old beater (paid off) and the wife a 7 year old minivan (paid off).

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38 J. Money May 8, 2019 at 6:19 am

$50,000/year – baller!!!

You’ll hit that $1,000,000 in no time at that rate – congrats! My dream world was to hit it by 40 too but don’t think that’s happening as I now only have 7 months left haha… So you need to do it for the both of us :)

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39 Krisinaz May 9, 2019 at 5:32 pm

I was curious if you’ve considered adding another variable to your chart? I was wondering the amount you actually invested out of pocket throughout the years vs the return of compound interest (i.e the current graph).

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40 J. Money May 10, 2019 at 5:48 am

That would be interesting to know!

I’ve never tracked it so couldn’t tell you for sure, but if I had to guess I’d say maybe we invested $300k or so over the past 10+ years?

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41 Paul May 10, 2019 at 9:34 pm

I’m jealous of number 6. One day maybe…

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42 WhereIsTheBlackGirl June 4, 2019 at 5:58 pm

This is great stuff. I need to find the Canadian in equivalent to this. You have just motivated me into a new project.

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43 J. Money June 5, 2019 at 6:16 am

Good! Make it happen! :)

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