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3 Steps I Took to Reach Financial Independence by Age 32

Do what this man did to become a millionaire by 32, starting from nothing. This man's story of growth is moving as we went from poverty in a rural area to massive wealth in a few short years. See what he did to accumulate his massive wealth and become a millionaire.The news feeds seem to be filled with story after story of people retiring at a very young age and how they did it. Most of the stories are very similar and goal always seems to be retirement and world travel. 

But what about the rest of us who want to continue making a difference in the world and refuse to bow to hedonism? 

Most people, I think, are unhappy doing nothing for long periods of time. Travel is fun until it becomes your full-time job. 

There are the hyper performers — the Steve Jobs’, Elon Musks’ and Warren Buffetts’ of the world — who never stop working and then there are the folks we see in the news feeds looking to check out at the earliest date. 

Most folks, however, are somewhere in the middle. They want financial independence for the freedom and security, but enjoy the social and productive nature of gainful employment. These people might work a traditional job, run their own business, consult or volunteer. 

That is what this story is about: How I reached Financial Independence (FI) by age 32, defined as net worth north of $1 million, and the steps I took to get there while retaining a happy and productive life.

The finish line will not include exotic travel. Instead, I focused on what I considered important: family and community. I still run the same business I did back then and I’m married to the same woman (31 years and counting and it just keeps getting better!). I’m most proud of my successful and happy marriage, though that doesn’t seem to sell considering the number of stories on long and happy marriages in the news feeds. 

So this is my story of how I accidentally discovered I was a millionaire.

 

Humble Beginnings

I never inherited a penny in my life and if I am so blessed in the future it will make no difference in my lifestyle. Born to a poor family in the backwoods of Nowhere, Wisconsin, I learned of family and hard work from little on. When Vince Lombardi said “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing”, he gave my dad the adage, “Family isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

And good thing, too! When you live on a farm in the middle of nowhere there are not many folks to socialize with other than family.

We never had much money growing up is what I’m saying. We always had food on the table, but I remember when I was very young my dad put a piece of plywood across two sawhorses as our kitchen table. (Well, it seemed like luxury living to me!) We were happy because the outside world had not yet crept in to educate us to how backward we were.

Somewhere in this utopia I decided I wanted to be rich some day. It was probably the outside world sneaking in and corrupting a certain accountant in the room, but I had to be receptive to be tainted.

But there was trouble in paradise. The late 1970s were a difficult time for farmers. By 1982 when I graduated high school the writing was on the wall and I was oblivious. 

Less than six months out from graduation the farm was gone. I had no skills to sell in a world not hiring. In 1982 no employer was hiring in the county I lived in. It was so bad employers no longer kept up the illusion and didn’t waste paper giving you an application. The answer was NO!

I managed to save a bit in this environment. I turned 18 with a couple thousand to my name and no debt. 

 

Budding Entrepreneur

The money I had came from a variety of sources, a common theme in my rise to FI. In high school I got up every morning to milk cows at 4 a.m. After school I started milking cows again for 4 hours. I pulled a lot of teats, folks. You might laugh at that, but you would lose that grin if you were there.

For 56 hours per week I milked cows, plus other farm chores, and was paid $40 per month for the effort. I spent nothing! Not because I was smart, but because there was no place to go to spend the money. Town was a long walk and there weren’t many stores in the closest towns.

My freshman year of high school I joined the Future Farmers of America (FFA). To raise money members of FFA sold light bulbs. (Back then we only had the incandescent bulb which burned out a lot.)

I took to selling like a duck to water. I talked to everyone in town and every farmer within a day’s drive (I might be stretching the truth a bit). And when the light bulb drive was over I had sold more light bulbs than anyone in FFA history by a very large margin. 

I could sell. That is an important trait other articles on FI don’t mention. Working a job with good wages and benefits and living a frugal lifestyle has several glaring problems.

First, you might not have a high paying job. Minimum wage is not going to get you there by age 32.

Second, you might live in a high cost area of the country. 

Third, formal education and high IQ — and EQ — also make a difference

Forth, it assumes you are in good health.

Fifth, that you never lose that high-paying job while running for FI.

I certainly wasn’t connected and let me be honest here. I, ah, ahem, don’t have a college degree either. {cough} 

You heard me! I did take some college courses, but not enough credits or the right combination for even an Associates. And here I am with my enrolled agent license (the EA is a licence, not a degree) teaching other tax professionals and hiring highly educated people, some of whom have moved on and work for the IRS now.

Not being the smartest guy in the room or with the right education (or pedigree, I might add), I wasn’t on anyone’s radar as Most Likely to Succeed. So what did I do to reach FI so young?

 

3 Steps to Financial Freedom

From graduation day to my 22nd birthday I put those selling skills to work and managed to accumulate a $200,000 nest egg. And remember, this was back in 1986 when $200,000 was serious money. A $10 an hour job was good money in those days. (And I walked up hill to school (both ways) in snow all year around. Just sayin’.)

FFA decided to expand their light bulb fundraising to include garden seeds. There were no records to break as it was the first year offered. Needless to say, I sold a lot of seeds too. (Would you like some light bulbs with those seeds, sir?)

Ditch the job and start living. No more daily grind for the man. Instead, use these 3 steps you build your fortune. #retirement #job #finance #work #wealth I bowed out of selling for the school my junior year and started selling imported goods wholesale to retailers (and anyone else who would buy). I got my supply from a company called Specialty Merchandising Corporation (SMC). Oh yeah, those were the days. And, oh what a lesson I learned.

You see, people will buy over-priced cookies from young girls when it feeds corporate headquarters of a non-profit. But start selling stuff to line your own pocket and the number of “yeses” to “nos” changes radically!

So I improved my skill sets.

By the time I reached the age of majority I accumulated more experience than wealth. Sure, I had some money, but I wasn’t flush. The family farm was gone and that avenue of gainful employment with it.

I worked a short time in my dad’s agricultural repair business. It was tough sledding for dad back then, too. He’s doing well now, but in 1982 it wasn’t a pretty sight.

While working for dad earning a meager wage (money was preserved to pay other employees and to get the business profitable enough to feed a family of four) I worked 80 or more hours per week (record week on the job: 122 hours). I supplemented my income preparing taxes in the winter months. 

Before we knit our eyebrows in dad’s direction, understand it was survival back then. I worked long hours 7 to 9 months of the year (depending on the weather); January and February were light so I had time to prepare taxes. Late May got really busy and for the rest of summer and autumn. So I could earn more in a few months doing 50 or so tax returns than I could working day and night the rest of the year.

To be fair, dad paid me $40 per week, if memory serves, and later, $100 per week. (After I got a raise I quit. Ungrateful kid.)

Readers quick at math will realize this doesn’t add up to $200,000 in 4 years. And that is where we begin our journey of Steps to FI:

 

Step 1:

Unless you make a lot of money at your traditional job you will need multiple sources of income

Let’s count where all my money came from. 1.) Dad was paying me $160 a month, 2.) I was still selling SMC and profits were growing, 3.) I was preparing a small number of tax returns with virtually no expenses (gross margins approached 100%!) and, 4.) interest and dividends.

Interest rates were sky high in the early 1980s. Passbook savings accounts (remember those) paid a minimum of 5%, but most bank products yielded near or over 10%.

While bank interest was guaranteed and the rates mouth-watering, I decided I wanted to own a piece of America by owning stocks. I fondly remember one of my first purchases, a company called, ah, what was that now, oh, Phillip Morris (MO). And I owned a piece of Wrigley, too, until Warren Buffett screwed it up by funding the buyout of Wriggly by Mars, Incorporated for cash. 

I still own those shares of Big MO, now called Altria. The dividends were and are a growing part of my income and don’t think for a moment I didn’t realized the value of getting paid for not working; just for own a piece of a business.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to have more than one source of income. If all your income sources are in one basket and that basket withers you are screwed. You might put all your eggs in one basket with a business since each client is a separate income stream, but relying on one traditional job as your only financial resource is problematic. A simple layoff can destroy all your plans.

 

Step 2:

A few years later I got it in my head I would invest in real estate (RE) and go full-time as a tax professional. SMC died on the vine as I focused on building my practice and managing my RE investments.

Which leads to the second step I took toward FI: I owned income producing things (RE and the business) that I had a reasonable amount of control over. 

A job can disappear just like that through no fault of your own. The company can go belly up, the economy can slow, or your job gets outsourced.

Business and real estate have plenty of risk, but it was risk I could control. The Tax Code is never going away and when people try to stop paying less in tax I’m in trouble. Until then I’m golden. 

RE is also risky and comes with a mortgage to increase the incentive to get those units rented. Doing proper research before buying and joining your local apartment association (as I did) and applying some sweat equity increases your chances of success.

I used Step 1 above in RE as well. One vacant unit, if that is all you own, is a 100% vacancy rate. I bought several properties fairly quickly because I knew a few vacancies would only be a nuisance then rather than a catastrophe. 

I worked hard at my businesses. There was no free ride for this backwoods boy. Sometimes it hurt, a lot. There were times I didn’t know what to do. But I never stopped learning and never backed away from labor: manual or desk work.

In Step 2 I structured several income streams into something I had at least some control over.

 

Step 3:

You would think after my business was profitable and the rentals started throwing off reasonable income I could lean back and enjoy the ride. And if you think that you are wrong!

Retire early with these 3 steps used by a wealthy accountant to retire at 32. Early retirement can happen if you follow the simple steps this man used. #FIRE #financiallindependence #money #wealth #earlyretirement Before it was made popular by the tech industry, I always pushed my business into new territory. My goal was to create the company that would replace my business before competitors do.

I was the first in my community to offer free electronic filing. That might not seem like much now, but back then it caused my tax practice to grow explosively. When Wisconsin offered e-filing I was first on the list because the state knew I offered it for free and had no fraud cases. In other words, I could offer State of Wisconsin e-filing in my Wisconsin community for free before competitors could even offer the service. By the time e-filing was rolled out for all I had a commanding lead.

I also sold life insurance in the business for a while. I was never big on traditional life insurance, but key-man and for buy-sell agreements it made sense.

I was also a stock broker for a number of years before I realized I’m a tax guy first and hawking high-fee investments rubbed me wrong.

You can read this blog and see example after example of things I tried. Some ideas worked great; others I’d rather not mention (but share anyway so you benefit from my experience). 

And that is Step 3: Try an idea. If it doesn’t work, step back and reevaluate, then try again until it works. Never over-commit. Test small before jumping in with both feet. You don’t want to do something that destroys what you’ve built to-date. Once you determine you have a winner you can expand. Remember, most ideas don’t work! Trying a lot of ideas to see what works best before committing serious resources is a better way to reach FI at a young age.

 

Accidentally Get Rich

Of course, you need to avoid debt as much as possible and pay it down quickly when it arrives. You also must spend less than you earn if you are ever to build real wealth. You’ve heard it all before. It’s really simple. Spend less than your earn; invest in index funds; wait. If you want faster you better be good at sales or business; preferably both.

And this is where it gets interesting and how I discovered I blew past a $1 million net worth without even knowing it!

From age 22 to 32 a lot happened. My business grew and I got married. (Marriage brings in additional considerations.) Mrs. Accountant was open-minded, allowing me to funnel excess cash into investments rather than a higher lifestyle. I went from around $200,000 in cash to $1.2 million.

Remember the real estate investments I had? Well, eventually my dad, brother and I started a partnership with one-third ownership each. We bought a lot more properties. 

The bank that funded our RE holdings required we provide a personal financial statement every year or so even if we were not borrowing more money.

So I sat down to figure out what I was worth. I valued all RE holdings at what we paid for them rather than what I thought they were worth minus mortgages. I added retirement and non-qualified accounts. I valued my tax practice at zero and the practice had no debt (I only had real estate debt at the time).

As I added the values of all the accounts it started to dawn on me I might be a millionaire. I had a good idea what my share of the mortgages were and the assets were climbing too far above $1 million to drop below that level once mortgages were subtracted. 

When I struck the double lines below the bottom number it was clear I surpassed $1 million by a large enough margin to say I was a millionaire. 

Mrs. Accountant was in the dining room clipping coupons. I shared the good news. All she said was, “That’s nice,” and kept clipping coupons.

You see, I was more important to her than any amount of money. She lives frugally as I do and enjoys every day we are together. She saw, better than I, what was really important.

It was a let down in so many ways. Mrs. Accountant wasn’t excited about the money! I didn’t feel different either. I missed the big day when I crossed that magical seven-figure number. There was no bump or turbulence to indicate I crossed into another zone of existence. In reality nothing had changed; only my mindset.

Once I digested that it was only a number I decided to do what I always did. I tried lots more things, grew my business and expand my sources of income, much of it passive.

You see, I learned the most important step of all: It’s the journey that matters, not the destination. And I had the best mate in the world along for the ride.

It was that day when I was a 32 year old man that I learned to live life for the first time. Live, for Real. 

And I discovered I was always wealthy as long as I had my family.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Keith Taxguy

8 Comments

  1. Robert on May 20, 2019 at 8:17 am

    Simply…. A great summary of your family’s journey. Keep spreading the message, work (earn), spend less than you earn (save), invest in a variety of businesses/income sources (index funds are a nice variety) ….. repeat.

    I sooooo, wish I had been taught these simple concepts when I was younger. My wife and I finally got through it and for us, things worked out just fine. My immediate family is almost all on-board. It is now great fun to listen to them and watch their faces light up when they see how a simple Family Financial Plan can change their lives. Less stress, more satisfaction. I still chuckle inside as they, “talk the talk…. and walk the walk.”

    Good work my online, fellow Wisconsin friend.

    • Keith Taxguy on May 20, 2019 at 1:14 pm

      It is our job, Robert, to pay it forward. Whether we were given this knowledge at a young or old age, we need to share it with the next generation often so it becomes habit. It is the only path to a better future.

  2. Cathleen Cooks Stuff on May 20, 2019 at 12:06 pm

    Your means for determining your networth regarding your real estate investment, I like it! My major problem with some of the networth calculators is
    “what is your home worth?”. That can fluctuate based on the market, and does me no damn good unless I sell it! But using what you paid for it (assuming that the market has increased, it’s been a few years, you didn’t buy stupidly, and you’ve been paying down the principal) makes a bunch more sense. Until you sell it, you technically only have equity of what you’ve put into it against the original buy price. I’m going to start using that (so I recalculated my net worth, not counting depreciating stuff like our cars), it’s at $647k. I’m a bit over 32….but live in a HCOL, so there’s that. Compare that with what “I think my house is worth”, at a net worth of $880k. Huge difference. Much bigger motivator.

    • Keith Taxguy on May 20, 2019 at 12:59 pm

      I think it’s an honest way to determine net worth (real estate valued at it’s unadjusted purchase price). I didn’t say it in the post, but I consider all my vehicles and miscellaneous personal items at zero as well. Basically, I count RE and other hard assets and liquid savings and investments minus liabilities.

  3. TJ on May 20, 2019 at 12:51 pm

    I like JLCollinsnh’s manifesto. “If you reach for a star, you might not get one. But you won’t come up with a hand full of mud either.” I keep reaching a little higher, and when I passed the $1M mark, I was still struggling to keep everything going. I had also thought life would change when I became a millionaire. It didn’t. The one thing I can say it gave me was more choices. I like having more choices, and time to work out what the best next step will be. I still strive to do a little better today, improve and increase other income streams, invest a little wiser, save a little more, etc. What is the magic number going to be for me? Who knows. I am enjoying the path to Financial Independence so will continue to walk it. As you say, It’s the journey that matters, not the destination. Maybe the trick is to find a path we enjoy on the journey to FI?

    • Keith Taxguy on May 20, 2019 at 1:12 pm

      That is a mouthful, TJ. I think the biggest take-away people running for FI need to know is that when you arrive it is anti-climatic. After all these years it is the clearest part of this story. I really thought I would feel something and instead: THUD!

      I shared the story because I had several requests. There is more on this throughout this blog, but I wanted to reiterate the emotional aspect along with the things I did to achieve the goal.

    • Adam on May 28, 2019 at 7:19 am

      Thanks for sharing your history. If I hit my FI target would like to celebrate it some way to make it memorable! Now you’ve achieved success is succession planning something you’ve thought about. I think leaving to family members may make your business unproductive unless they were 100 percent fully engaged in it? l like your blog, helpful to us on the path.

  4. Katie Camel on May 28, 2019 at 2:32 pm

    Great story with an even better life lesson! Every time I hit a milestone I feel the same way. It’s nice, but it doesn’t change a thing about me or even my life. When I hit FI, I’ll still work. I love traveling, but there’s no place like home. I’m not someone who can travel indefinitely, though it’d be nice to spend a year in Europe at some point, I think.

    Well done! And thank you for sharing.

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