Meet Miguel – an Immigrant Who Became a Multi-Millionaire Without Any Help or Money

by J. Money -

statue of liberty sunrise

Good morning!!

Was talking back and forth with a reader of the blog here, and the more we got into it the more I realized just how powerful his story is.

Most of us have come from a pretty solid background with plenty of opportunities to (easily) take advantage of, but Miguel here is proof that even without any of this privilege you can still succeed – and well!!! – with some good grit and determination.

Here’s his story of how he went from nothing to millions, all by the time he reached his early 40s. I hope it inspires you in some small way!!

(And if any of y’all would like to share your story/net worth with us, I’d love to hear it too because I’m no longer allowed to share my own anymore and we need to keep the $$$ train going!!! You can easily shoot me a note here!)

Show ’em how it’s done, Miguel…

*******

Hello,

I am a legal immigrant from Guatemala on my own since age 15. While in high school, I knew that I had to continue my education if I wanted options aside from the few limited possibilities that I had available.

I worked hard to stay focused in keeping my grades up, applying for every program possible to help me. During my college time in the mid to late 1990’s, I came across a few financial magazines and books which inspired me to seek out ways to start building my net worth.

As a sophomore in college, I began by buying a severe fixer upper home for $7,500 (monthly loan payment was $150, taxes around $800 a year). Also during college I worked part time jobs, which kept me afloat but kept me stuck financially especially with the home maintenance expenses. The home I bought was a huge learning experience about how difficult it is to take on work that you know nothing about.

After my college graduation in 2000, I sold the home for $41,000. Most of the money went to pay off loans I had taken to stay afloat during school and to pay for the home renovations. Although I did not come out with a large sum of money from the sale after paying off debt, I learned a lot about fixing homes, which would help me in the future.

After graduation, I moved to a bigger city and tried a couple of jobs before settling in a federal one, climbing the ranks through the years. I began to save as much as possible early on, starting with 5% pretax deductions (to get the 100% match), and eventually reaching my goal of maxing out to $19,000. I have kept the funds in the stock market without touching it, buying low during bad years and doing great through stock market highs.

As I gained knowledge, I adapted and did the following:

  • Bought reliable used cars at discounted prices through private sellers (having them inspected by mechanics and negotiating rock bottom prices)
  • Annually review companies for lower insurance rates
  • No cable or landline! We try to avoid reoccurring memberships or monthly fees that trickle down our savings.
  • Cook most meals at home. When we get take out we usually get it from ethnic restaurants where the food goes along ways at a reasonable cost.
  • Began a Roth IRA in my early 20’s contributing the maximum through today (<– that alone will get you to a million dollars over time!!)
  • Very rarely buy anything “new” – most of my furniture comes from local ads or consignment stores (including electronics)
  • Bought cheap fixer uppers in good neighborhoods, slowly moving up by taking principal from one to another
  • Without exception always pay off our credit cards in full every month. Points earned automatically go to an investment account (see Fidelity credit card)
  • Save for retirement in ETF’s (why pay mutual fund fees when most cannot even match the S&P benchmark?)
  • Always looking for ways to save and finding ways to earn money on the side by subscribing and learning from financial blogs like J. Money!
  • Most importantly, keeping track of all expenditures and savings in a notebook. Tracking my net worth and investment performance while continually setting higher goals

Aside from that, I also gained tremendously by having found a wife with a similar mindset and focus. I remember hearing from women while dating on how odd it was that I would bring up financial questions, but I knew that compatibility on that is essential (financial problems are the #1 reason for divorce after all).

I remember meeting a woman that had $150,000 in student debt and over $10,000 in credit cards but only earned $30,000 a year. I thought – Am I going to have to pay for that, and how long would that take? Most surprisingly was that she spent as if she earned four times what she earned thinking she would marry someone that would eventually pay off her debt (well that would not be me!).

I was very fortunate to have found a woman that had similarly worked as hard as I have, and who carried no debt with similar savings as mine. Although our strategies were different, we were able to align and coordinate to mutually agreed goals, constantly learning from one another.

Our summary net worth is as follows:

Home Value: $625,000 – Paid in full! This is our final home for the long run because buying and fixing homes gets old after several homes, and this is of course before we downsize to something smaller in retirement.

CD savings: $120,000 – We buy CD’s for emergency savings because they provide at least 2% interest, and we have applied the laddered CD strategy so money is available without much penalty if we truly need it.

Bank Savings: $10,000 – We keep a modest amount that, although does not provide much interest, is there for any immediate emergency and is quickly accessible.

Pre-Tax Retirement Savings: $1,200,000

Roth IRAs: $100,000

College Savings: $40,000 – We have just one child.

Vehicles: $30,000 – Both Japanese models, bought used through private parties after mechanic inspections.

Cash, coins, etc: $5,000

Although we put a big emphasis on savings, we are not by any means “misers.” We believe in keeping a careful balance, enjoying travel and things that makes us happy now because after all, we do know how long we are going to live.

Now in our early 40’s, our goal is to retire by age 50.

******

I asked him about his debts since in his first email to me he mentioned he was “almost” a multi-millionaire (and clearly these numbers above add up to over $2,000,000), and here’s what he said… Chock-full of even more insight!

******

Yes, a multi-millionaire, but just over – and because the market has been shaky it is why I have not really solidified the “multi-millionaire” status. Whenever I have hit a milestone, it seems surreal and yet I don’t feel any different inside except at times fear of loss and thought of how to retain what I have.

I tend to be very hard on myself, always thinking of what I should have done (and should be doing) a lot more in life. I also have a hard time dealing with the imposter syndrome or whatever it is as I am not sure how else to explain it.

Otherwise to address your question, we do not have any debts.

Our cars are bought used and paid in cash after we have saved for them (my Toyota for example has been an amazing truck with very few issues for 11 years and purchased used).

We did of course have a home loan mortgage. I applied various strategies to keep a low mortgage; applying the principal from the previous home fully to the next, avoiding paying closing costs, and buying the cheapest house on the nicest neighborhood (with good schools because that helps retain the value!), that needed work and strongly negotiating a price as low as possible.

In keeping the costs of buying low for example, I found after much research that Pentagon Federal credit union would pay for the closing costs (up to $15,000) if one would use their agents and closing company (which was not a problem and a no brainer). That saved us $40K in three homes that we bought/fixed and sold. Every home that we fixed up was in a real estate market that fortunately did well. We paid off the last mortgage after heavily sending everything possible each month. A big sacrifice, but it gives us a great sense of peace knowing we are just liable for taxes, insurance and maintenance.

As I mentioned, we put everything on credit cards but we don’t spend on unnecessary things. We never buy the latest electronics, and keep our monthly costs low. Our cards are paid in full every month – we use them because we get cash back and the cash back money is automatically invested through Fidelity, which I transfer to my daughters’ college education fund.

Our goals have also been helped from my wife who recently started earning a higher salary (it does not bother me that she now earns more than me, the more the merrier!), and she did her education in Europe so it was free.

When we met, she only earned around $35K but had no loans of any kind; she drove a used Toyota Echo without any options. :) I had college loans because I did not have anyone to help me with my tuition, but I paid them off in full. I also went to a state university where the tuition was very low.

We are both immigrants, arrived to the US without any money, did not receive any help from anyone, and used our education and hard work to help us propel to good paying jobs.

******

For more posts divulging peoples’ money, click here.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dave @ Accidental FIRE September 16, 2019 at 5:54 am

Wow, what a great story. Just goes to show that opportunity in America is here for the taking, despite our flaws.

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2 J. Money September 16, 2019 at 7:52 am

Haha, yup :)

And I’d imagine the same is for most other countries in the world too if you have the heart/hustle!

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3 Ev September 16, 2019 at 7:46 am

Awesome story Miguel… and thanks for sharing J… question Miguel… how did you come to your financial mindset? Does it run in your family?

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4 Miguel September 16, 2019 at 10:07 am

Financial management does not run in the family and I did not learn it growing up. In my early 20’s, I would pick up financial magazines to read at the public or school library when I had free time. Magazines are written to be easily understood and most articles explain simple strategies or concepts that can easily adopted. As I gained interest and realized this was important, I moved to reading books on the subject (Suzie Orman, Rich Dad Poor Dad, etc.). Because I have been on my own, having financial security has always been important (and as a pressing urgency). Knowing that I do not have anyone to help me if anything happens, has been my survivor instinct to get my life in order.

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5 Debra September 16, 2019 at 9:42 am

Awesome!!!

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6 Joe September 16, 2019 at 10:30 am

Congratulations! You’ve done very well. Nice job with PenFed. I’ll look into that because we’re going to refinance. Keep at it! I’m sure you can retire by 50. That’s plenty of time for you.

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7 Miguel September 16, 2019 at 10:42 am

I suggest to do further research, that was the best option for us at that time. PenFed offered very low rates without closing costs. This is from a review of them at Nerdwallet: PenFed charges an origination fee, which varies by loan. However, if you use partner services like PenFed Realty or preferred title partners, PenFed waives the fee. Depending on the loan product, PenFed will pay up to $10,000 toward closing costs. Average closing costs are $4,700, excluding the origination fee. PenFed also offers free rate locks.

See NerdWallet’s review here: https://www.nerdwallet.com/reviews/mortgages/penfed-credit-union-mortgage-loans

In four occasions, we did not pay closing costs through PenFed. We were unable to find a better offer through extensive research (but that was over five years ago since our last review of this).

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8 BC @ FrugalWheels September 16, 2019 at 11:13 am

Miguel, that is an amazing story! And I can totally relate to the dating aspect – I’ve dated some women with terrible financial habits. One had tons of credit card debt from mindless spending. I was young and thought I could help her. But I agree, I think it’s better to find someone with a similar mindset.

Anyway, I love this story Miguel – thanks so much for sharing it!

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9 Elise @ Financial Fitness Fanatic September 16, 2019 at 12:51 pm

What a refreshing and inspiring story to get this Monday started off right! Great reminder that financial success is possible for most anyone willing to work hard for it. I got a chuckle out of the fact that you were willing to drop a girl because she didn’t have her finances in order! Although, if all men did this, my fiance may never have ended up with me due to the $40,000 of student debt I had early in our relationship… 8 years later and I’m a changed woman on a mission. So, there’s hope for all of us! :)

Thanks for the Monday motivation Miguel!

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10 J. Money September 16, 2019 at 2:00 pm

Student loans is also a lot different than credit cards or shopping sprees ;) You come away a winner of a pretty important piece of paper!

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11 Miguel September 16, 2019 at 1:11 pm

The responses have been humbling. I appreciate the positive feedback and I am glad my point got across well and is not misunderstood as choosing money over love/attraction but rather in making a conscious decision to have a better assurance that the relationship will last. Adding a high priority to the life decisions that both parties have made up to when met. No one is of course perfect because that is highly subjective but having a person that coincides with most of your life decisions helps to strengthen and endure the relationship.

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12 Dani September 16, 2019 at 1:25 pm

Very impressive. It is so true that what we have since childhood, we take for granted; I wish more of our youth had the independence mindset that I see in so many successful immigrants. Congratulations on making a whole series of wise decisions in regards to finances, spouse, etc. You’re well on your way to being able to retire in your 50’s, but what are you going to do when you retire? I am not there yet myself, but it seems from all the many articles that I’ve read that it’s best to have something to retire “to” rather than “from.” I know a few people who retired to their easy chairs, and their health is now suffering; I know others who have retired to active lifestyles where they volunteer their time. It’s got to be hard to be the person that works hard every day and suddenly gets to write their own schedule! I’m more than a little jealous ;)

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13 Miguel September 16, 2019 at 1:57 pm

Thank you, I agree with your point. To me, retirement does not mean leaving the workforce and sitting at home but rather moving onto things that have a greater meaning to myself (spending more time with family, taking up a hobby, helping others, etc.). My considerations have been to either joining a non-profit organization or in teaching (part time ensuring that I spend enough time with my wife and daughter). My focus of reaching the “retirement” goal has been to get to a point where I do not have to rely on a check for survival. My biggest fear is to being homeless without anything, that is how I started out at a young age and will never forget how that feels.

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14 J. Money September 16, 2019 at 2:01 pm

Damn good motivation right there, man….

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15 Ev September 16, 2019 at 1:55 pm

Respect Miguel… we took different paths to arrive at similar places. I definitely appreciate what it took for you to blaze your own path.

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16 Shay September 16, 2019 at 9:14 pm

Miguel, I am so impressed and salute you and your wife for all of your hard work. I appreciate that you took each experience as one you learned from and also that you had standards and goals for yourself and your family. Best wishes on your future success.

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17 Bald Money Guy September 16, 2019 at 9:54 pm

Wow– this is a very inspiring and refreshing to hear story! Appreciate the actionable steps.

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18 Sergei Klebnikov September 17, 2019 at 10:51 am

What these types of success stories all have in common (regardless of how they did it), is passion, patience, persistence, and a vision for what their wealth can achieve. Money may not buy happiness, but having more of it gives you the freedom to make choices that can bring satisfaction, whether that means buying your dream car, escaping the grind of a 9-5 job, or giving generously to charity. Some of us are naturally big savers; others, need to work at saving until it becomes habitual. If you are having a hard time getting into a money management habit or are just getting started to manage your finances, find information on these topics: 1. Setting goals 2. Know where your money goes 3. Pay-off high cost debt 4. Automate your savings 5. Seek support to help you get on the right track or to develop a plan.

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19 J. Money September 17, 2019 at 2:30 pm

Amen on that, brother…

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20 Financial Freedom Countdown September 17, 2019 at 11:00 am

Being Financially Independent removes the day to day stress. But after reaching FI, I can attest that it becomes the new normal. Humans are remarkable at adaptations. Any positive or negative aspect becomes part of daily life. I often catch up with former coworkers to remind myself of the life I do not miss

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21 J. Money September 17, 2019 at 2:31 pm

Hah – excellent idea!!

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22 JR September 17, 2019 at 4:14 pm

Awesomeness!!! Stay the course!

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23 Frogdancer Jones September 18, 2019 at 7:54 am

Good on ya mate!

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