Every time I've talked to a reporter or a company about my financial success story, it basically always goes back to the same pivotal moments in my life.
For anyone that has really been paying attention, there is a common thread that weaves through the most important elements in my story; getting interested in personal finance, making the decision to start paying off my loans, driving an old car and living frugally, starting a profitable online side hustle, and eventually taking the leap into working online full-time.
The common thread is my friend Mike. He's a 62-year-old multi-millionaire that I've mentioned/interviewed periodically on the site over the past few years. I've known him for about seven years now, and even though it's a little unorthodox to have one of your best friends be more than twice your age, that's just the way it worked out.
A little about Mike:
I met him through my wife. He was her Dad's best friend and has known her since she was a baby.
One day right after I had graduated college, my wife invited me to go water skiing (had never done it before) on Mike's boat (had never met him before).
We went out, and pretty quickly I got addicted to boating and skiing. But something else that's arguably even cooler happened. Mike started talking to me about money.
I had never even cared about it up to that point, but Mike had owned a successful swimming pool maintenance company since the early 90's, and for whatever reason loved talking about personal finance with people.
I was fascinated by all of the things he was talking about. Price to earnings ratios? Interest rates? Dollar cost averaging?
That's when he started asking me about my $40,000 of student loan debt, and I realized that I had no real plan for handling it. So, he told me I needed to pay them off quickly, and that paying off the 6.8% interest rate would almost be like a guaranteed return on my investment.
"Where else can you get a guaranteed return that high?"
Fortunately, I was still young enough to listen to advice (and realized that he had some money so might know a thing or two)...so I did it.
After I started making big payments towards my student loans, Mike and I kept hanging out and talking about money (usually over a couple of beers). There was all of this new stuff to learn that I had never heard of!
Over time, Mike pretty much took me under his wing and taught me hours and hours of personal finance lessons that he had learned over the course of his career and life. He showed me his accounting books for his business and explained the difference between top line and bottom line, accounts payable and receivable, etc.
We talked about legal structures for businesses, investing, saving, how to start a business...everything.
He's even the reason I quit my band directing job as early as I did to start my online business. I texted him the parking lot of the school one day and told him that I had a year's worth of my salary saved up, and I just needed to wait one more year before I could quit my job and start my own business.
"In the grand scheme of life, there isn't much of a difference between $50,000 and $100,000. You need to quit now."
So...I did. And now, here I am. Funny how that stuff works out, right?
I've learned some pretty powerful things from being friends with an older (sorry Mike) wealthy guy:
1. Life is long
The popular thing to say is always that life is short, and I definitely have seen that first hand. But at the same time, life is a long journey. Mike didn't tell me to quit my job as some kind of gut reaction. He knew that as a 26-year-old, I still had so much time in life to recover financially if it turned out that I couldn't run a business.
Fortunately for me, I'm actually good at this. But if I weren't, I would have been fine. I obviously wouldn't have been able to go back to the same job, but at the very least I could have found something else to do.
So now when I try to make decisions about my business, personal finances, or just life in general - I try my best to imagine it from the perspective of someone much older than me.
Using that mental technique has been so helpful for me as I've started to have success, and what would normally seem like a big decision for a twenty-something person doesn't ever feel as massive or earth-shattering anymore.
2. Baby Boomers and Millennials CAN see eye-to-eye
There is so much heated rhetoric out there about how Millennials are destroying: *insert whatever industry here*, and why Baby Boomers are to blame for: *our entitlement (which they are because we didn't raise ourselves)*. ?
Just through running M$M, I've learned that the blanket generalizations about Millennials and Boomers aren't that accurate. I have a lot of Baby Boomers that read my stuff, and I only run into a few angry ones haha.
But I think if anything, Mike and I have been able to show that a Baby Boomer and Millennial can see through all of that noise that's out there and learn from each other.
He inexplicably doesn't know how to save files to his computer, and I don't know what it's like to stare at the reality that you are going to have to retire soon because you can't work anymore.
Ultimately though, he's been able to see that all Millennials aren't lazy, and I've realized that all Baby Boomers aren't just angrily yelling at the wind.
3. ...but some Boomers still don't quite understand why some Millennials do what we do
Annnnd then there's the stuff that he doesn't quite agree with. There was a long time where he was telling me that I should be going out door to door trying to sell my marketing services when I was trying to explain that I wanted to sell things the way that I wanted to (aka online).
He literally thought I wasn't doing enough to grow my business, just because I wasn't doing it the way he had built his. Can't blame him, because, from an outside perspective, MOST people think I don't even work at all!
If I talk about optimizing my life (a la 4 Hour Work Week) to create more time by paying other people to do things I could do myself, it comes across as just being lazy or not being interested in hard work.
The internet has changed a lot of things for Millennials. I want more time because I'm painfully aware that I only have so much. Also, my time is valuable, and I'll make more money by focusing on what, well, makes me money.
That's an interesting concept to grapple with if you didn't grow up having access to fast information the way that people my age have had.
And that's not to mention selfies, expensive avocado toast (which I've still never had), or putting my life on the internet without being worried about safety and privacy. He definitely doesn't agree with the last one haha.
4. You should always have a side hustle
One of the crazy things about Mike is that even though he's a millionaire, he still finds extra ways to make money when he can.
I guess it's just ingrained into him to create additional income streams, even if it's something as small as recycling the brass that comes out of swimming pool heaters!
Fortunately, I picked up that habit as well. When I first started this site, I wasn't making a ton of money.
So, I started a small side business where I helped local businesses generate leads using Facebook ads. First, it was a jewelry company, and then a meat market, and so on.
Now, digital marketing is just one of the many ways that I earn money online. But I still do it because you can charge a really good fee and it doesn't take all of your time. You can charge $1,000 - $2,000 per month for local lead generation services, and it only takes a few hours per week to manage the ad campaigns.
So, obviously, there are a lot of side hustle options out there, but running FB ads for local businesses is my top side hustle recommendation right now.
Honestly, though, it doesn't really matter if you have an online side hustle or mow yards for extra money - you need to create more income streams. It helps you reach your financial goals so much faster.
5. Money doesn't change who you are
Mike has a net worth of about $5 million, and it will likely grow several million more in the coming years.
You would think that he would dress nicely and drive a nice car.
He drives a 2003 (one year older than my car) GMC Yukon. His service truck is a 2000 Chevy that he has to put a pizza box under so it doesn't stain his driveway with oil. He dresses like a scrub, and he probably always has.
I've learned that no matter how much money you have, you're probably not going to change a whole lot. If you're fancy and like to have nice stuff when you're broke, you'll be the same when you're wealthy.
If you're frugal, it will be hard for you to spend more even when you deserve to.
Seeing the way Mike has handled having money has taught me a ton about myself and how I'll probably act when I'm a multi-millionaire. I'm not quite as frugal as him, but I'm also not flashy. That probably won't ever change.
Side note - I do give him crap because I think he takes it too far (tries to reuse zip ties to save himself like three cents), but that's just how he likes to roll.
6. You can't manufacture wisdom (financial or otherwise)
Over and over again, as much as I want to think I have everything figured out...it always turns out that I'm not even close. That's been one of the most interesting parts of hanging out with someone with a lot more life experience than me.
Now when I'm around someone that's...errr...older than me...I always try to pick their brain to find as much wisdom as I possibly can. It's the only way that I can get around the fact that I'm too young to have much of my own.
Whether it's a mentor, a friend, or your parents, I challenge you to do more listening than speaking when you're with them. It's the fastest way to learn.