BiggerPockets Money Podcast

BiggerPockets Money Podcast 141: How to Graduate College Debt-Free and Pursue FI Before 40 with 4 kids!

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Blake Nielson is a college professor whose wife stays home to raise their four children. Despite having only one income – and six mouths to feed – they have paid off their home and are on the path to early financial freedom. Blake currently loves his job and has no plans to stop working – but still wants the freedom that financial independence gives.

So how did he do it? He started off debt free from college, a HUGE leg up in life in general. Blake details just how he accomplished this feat, from college selection to funds available, scholarships and even working during the school year and especially during the summers between.

Blake even shares a Solid Gold tip for finding out about scholarships that aren’t well publicized!

Blake also strategically chose where he lived during his college years. He specifically chose a rental that was priced significantly lower than the "college" rentals in town – but still close enough to walk to school.

There is no secret to Blake’s success. He put in the work at an early age and is on track to hit lean FI by age 40 and Fat FI by 45. Spend less than you earn, invest wisely. Blake shows you can live the FI life with four kids and one income.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

Mindy:
Welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast, show number 141, where we interview Blake Nielsen, a college professor on the path to financial independence with four kids and a stay at home wife. Hello, hello, hello. My name is Mindy Jensen and with me as always is my “I-think-raising kids-is-going-to-be-so-easy” co-host, Scott Trench.

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Scott:
Oh, thank you, Mindy. I always do enjoy kidding.

Mindy:
Scott and I are here to make financial independence less scary, less just for somebody else and show you that by following the proven steps, you can put yourself on the road to early financial freedom and get money out of the way so you can lead your best life.

Scott:
That's right. Whether you want to retire early and travel the world as a college professor, go on to make big time investments in assets like real estate, or start your own business, we'll help you build a position capable of launching yourself towards those dreams. Today's guest is Blake Nielsen. Blake has a great story, a highly repeatable journey. He started young with the idea of just making the most of the best financial decisions he could. He doesn't have any crazy income or asset or entrepreneurial journeys. He just kind of did it right, I think, over the last 10, 15 years here and is now sitting pretty as a college professor with a paid off house, a pretty clear coasting path to FI over the next couple of years. And I think you're really going to admire his approach to financing college, working in the summers, financing a Master's degree, financing a PhD, and then setting himself up for life at an early age.

Mindy:
Yeah. He did the work. And that’s kind of the theme of this whole episode is Blake did the work. He didn’t shy away from doing the work. And when you put in the effort, you will reap the rewards. And his entire story is, “I did this, I did this, I did this.” And he didn’t try and get by by pushing that easy button. I can’t even remember what company that’s for, the easy button, but the easy button doesn’t work on the way to financial independence. You have to do the work. But when you do the work, when you do the work early, you can see it pay off in spades.

Scott:
That’s right. You’ll love the picture of his life that he’s painted and how his decision-making over the past 15 years has allowed him to get to this point and be in such a wonderful position that he can sustain indefinitely from here.

Mindy:
That’s interesting that you say that, Scott, 15 years. Yeah. He is an overnight success in 15 short years. Blake Nielsen, welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. I’m super excited to have you on the show today because you are not a blogger, you are not a podcaster, you are a… I don’t want to say regular old person because that sounds kind of down, but that’s awesome that you are a person on the path to financial independence with nothing to sell.

Blake:
Yeah. And that’s funny because I’m actually in sales or I teach sales for a living. But yeah, I love getting all the content I can, but I’m not interested in starting my own platform. That’s not my focus in life.

Scott:
Well, there you go. Well, why don’t we start from the beginning and can you tell us where your money story begins?

Blake:
Yeah. We’ll go back. Both my wife and I… and throughout this theme, you’ll hear that we’re a married couple with four kids on our way to FI. And we both grew up very humble I would say. Always had everything we needed, but blue collar families. I grew up on a farm in central Utah, worked chores before and after school from the time I was in kindergarten, probably. And my wife through her high school career, she did some cleaning and by the time she was in high school, she ended up in Idaho and she actually was what’s known as a field roguer. Have you guys ever heard of a field roguer before?

Mindy:
No.

Blake:
Yeah. Her job… And good for her for doing this. Literally in Idaho, she would just walk through fields all summer, finding the weeds to document to help with the integrity of the plants. You could say it’s even harder than my farm life growing up. So we were not accustomed or worried about not having a hard day’s work in our life just from our upbringing. So that was that. And then that took us to the college years.

Scott:
Yeah. So what was your position going into college?

Blake:
Yeah, the, the position going into college was amazing. I had about $5,000.00 saved by the time I went to college and my own car paid for that I had purchased myself. In high school, I had a couple of odd and ends job, at a carwash, I was a janitor, and did some different things. And so, yeah. I was a thousandaire by the time I went into college just from those jobs growing up.

Scott:
That’s pretty good. A thousandaire with a car paid off.

Blake:
Yeah. A car paid off.

Scott:
That’s FI to a college kid.

Blake:
Yeah. I mean, it was a very inexpensive car. I got a car when I first turned 16 for like 800 bucks. my brother wrecked it. So I negotiated with the insurance company to get about 12 or 1300 out of that. And so from there, I used that to get about a $2,500.00 car. And it worked great.

Mindy:
Sounds like Craig.

Scott:
Yeah. So how did the college years go then? How did you finance it? What was that like?

Blake:
So college years, interesting time. So part of my story is that 5,000 that I had saved up, I use that for a two-year service mission from 19 to 21. So even though I had that big savings account, that was basically blown over those two years by my own choosing. So that cost about $10,000.00 I paid for half and my parents had paid for the other half. So then the key was just like anyone else, just making sure that I was very intentional with money and work. So part of the story is I went through a Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD, all debt free, 100 percent. And there was definitely some principles to take away from that journey.

Scott:
Yeah.

Mindy:
Yeah, let’s rewind a little bit. You went for Bachelor’s, a Master’s, and a PhD debt free?

Blake:
Debt free, 100 percent all the way.

Mindy:
Let’s start with the Bachelor’s.

Blake:
Yeah. So two caveats there. So one, I did take out student loans at one point to invest the money into a money market. So never spent them, but I had such a bad feeling about it, about six months later, I just paid them right back. So it was never for the income. I thought, "Look, if they'll give me free money, why not just throw it in?" I think the money markets at this time was paying close to 4 percent. We're talking about 2006, '07. So before the big downturn, the big crash. So that's the caveat. And then the other caveat was I had a grandpa who helped with tuition, but not as much as you would think. It ended up being about $10,000.00 he gave. and I always had more in my savings account when I graduated than he pitched in.So those are the two caveats.
So definitely not a spoiled… Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but not a ton of help from the parents. But was able to get through just by simple principles of frugality.

Scott:
Wow. And it sounds like hard work as well.

Blake:
Yeah. So if you don’t mind, let’s talk about the number one key to that process.

Scott:
Perfect.

Blake:
Yeah. And I think there’s four keys. The first one I would take away or give out is school selection. And this is a big, big all over the place still because the problem is you have 17 year old kids deciding where they want to go to college without good advice from counselors, parents, or just the world at large, at where they should go and what they should pay for. So, Scott, I know you went to Vanderbilt, but you probably did undergrad somewhere else because Vanderbilt’s just a business school for MBAs, right?

Scott:
No, no. Vanderbilt is a private undergraduate university as well. So I went there for undergraduate and I do not have an advanced degree.

Blake:
Okay. And Mindy, we talked about your journey. You kind of went to just kind of a cool school. Was it Chicago?

Mindy:
It was in Chicago. It’s called the International Academy of Merchandising and Design where they teach fashion design. It’s not an accredited school or it wasn’t when I went, which I didn’t know about. I thought that if you went to college, it was an accredited school. I had no idea that that was an option to not be accredited. And I didn’t discover that until I lost my job and I applied to be a substitute teacher. And they’re like, “Your college isn’t accredited. You can’t be a substitute teacher.” I was like, “Wait a second. What?”

Blake:
Right. Yeah. Kids just… It’s hard to make that decision when you’re 17, 18-year-olds. Now, some kids are blessed with great parents that help them along the way, and I would probably fall into that category. But what I found, and as I stated, my grandpa was willing to help with our college tuition, but he also said, “Look, if you get a scholarship to a university, I’ll kick in to help with books.” And so I could have went to the top tier university in our state I’m sure. I didn’t even apply. But I found that by going back to the state school and not the flagship state school, I was able to get that scholarship.
And so a lot of people, and I hear this debate all the time, “Should I go to a private school or a public school?” And a lot of times people say, “Well, if you don’t have the money, you should just go to a public school,” but it’s a lot deeper than that. Because if you look at some of the top public schools in the nation, they can be three or four X, more than a regional university that has a quality education as well.

Scott:
Well, you mentioned several times that it’s difficult for a 17 or 18-year-old to make this decision. You were 20, 21 when you made the decision, is that correct?

Blake:
No. So I went to college for one year and then took a two year break.

Scott:
Got it. Okay. Sorry, I missed that. Yeah.

Blake:
Yeah. And what’s interesting, my GPA went up from a B average to an A average after that two year break. And it just goes to show, sometimes 18-year-olds aren’t the most mature and ready to jump into something like that.

Mindy:
I think it's really asking a lot to ask kids just coming out of high school to make this life choice. What are you going to do with your life? Where are you going to go to school? How are you going to pay for it? Oh, I'll just take out student loans. How hard is it to get a student loan? I think anybody… I'm showing my ignorance here, but anybody can get a student loan, right?

Blake:
Yeah. Oh, oh yeah.

Mindy:
Or a grant or… Not a grant. No, a loan is money that they give you and you have to pay back. A grant is money that they give you and you don’t have to pay back.

Blake:
Yes, so that…

Mindy:
Right, okay?

Blake:
Mindy, you hit it on the head there. And in fact, some students, many students don't know the difference. And unfortunately, I'll throw my industry under the bus here, sometimes the counselors do not do an adequate job showing students the difference of what they need to pay back versus what you grant. That is a big issue. In fact, I've looked at certain things with different offer letters, and it's very hard to tell the grant part versus the loan part. Because you literally have students… And as I said, I told you the story. I did take out a loan once, but it was not for income. It was literally I thought I was just going to invest it. But most students, when the time they graduate, they don't even understand or know their true number when they graduate. Because it's just so easy to go to that bursar's office or whatever it is at your university, and they'll just write you a check to an 18-year-old.
And I tell everybody, “Look, college really is. If you look at the stats, it can be one of the best decisions for life, but it has to be done with a plan and a purpose. Don’t just go into it blindly.” Because how many people have y’all interviewed that talk all about their student loan payoff story. Just because they didn’t know the process.

Scott:
Yeah. So, sorry, can we go back to the four keys? You have school selection. Could we maybe list them out and we can go through them and get your framework?

Blake:
Yeah. So school selection, that’s number one. We talked about regional, maybe even community college. Number two is definitely budgeting and recognizing which assets you have based on your unique situation. Is there parents’ help, is there not? I’ll just list out the third. The third would definitely be scholarships. We can hit that more here in a second. And then the fourth is working. I recognize that’s an interesting thing. And some people think, “Oh, college students can’t/shouldn’t work.” But the statistics actually show that a little bit of work for college students part time, and they’ll do better than those that don’t work at all. So a lot to unpack there, but yeah, four keys that I’ve found that any person can go to college debt free.

Scott:
Especially if you’re busy, you can stay out of trouble.

Blake:
Yeah. That’s right. Yeah. Less beer pong, right?

Scott:
That’s right.

Mindy:
I think that school selection has to be one of the top ways to avoid massive student debt.

Blake:
Right. And just going back to that, just to talk about some of the practices in the industry, I’m not going to bash private versus non-private schools, but I know different schools that might charge it tuition of $40,000.00 a year. They give every student at least a $5,000.00 scholarship. Why do they do that? Because if they do it, they know that a 17-year-old is going to be so excited about paying them $35,000.00 a year just because they got a scholarship and they get to tell that to their friends and parents. Where if they’ll look, they could get the same education at a state community college, a regional school for maybe $5,000.00 a year.

Mindy:
We interviewed Julien and Kiersten from rich & REGULAR on show 80. And Julian said, “Oh yeah. Once I was working at this college, I got school for $25.00.” Or something like that. I can’t remember the way he phrased it. And I’m like, “Oh, wait a second, Julien, you mean $25.00 a credit hour?” He’s like, “No, no. $25.00”

Blake:
Yeah.

Mindy:
Whoa. “You gave them a 20 dollar bill and a 5 dollar bill and they gave you school?” He’s like, “Yep.” So going back to your number four, working, try to get a job at the school. I don’t know. I’m sure that there’s different levels of financial help for full time versus part time, but there’s gotta be some sort of benefit to working at the school from a college tuition standpoint.

Scott:
Yeah. Well, going back to the school selection piece here, when you’re 17, 18-years-old and you’re graduating high school. And let’s pretend that you listening to the money show, that means you’re a top student at this point in your career. So, when I was in that position, I was a pretty good student. And so my philosophy was and my parents’ philosophy, we all shared it. There was a lot of alignment was go to basically the best school you can get into give or take… Not necessarily the best school you can get into, but within that very narrow range of those best schools that you applied to, the one that you like the best out of those. Who cares if it’s number 10 versus number 15, but that experience. That assumption was completely unchallenged for me until a decade after graduation, basically. And so what do you have to say about that framework that parents and kids are going into the college selection process with?

Blake:
So Scott, yeah. I’m happy to address that. So the research shows and I’ve looked into this, a student that gets into a top school versus a mediocre school, they lose no earning powers throughout their career, by choosing a less… Whatever you call it higher tiered school. Now higher tiered schools do do better the students from them, perhaps than all students from a different school. But on an individual level, if you get into school A and school B. School A is known as the top school, school B is not, but school B offers you a full tuition scholarship, the research shows that you’re actually better off and you’re not going to lose your income power by choosing the lesser school.

Scott:
So it’s your SAT, grades, and curriculars, the credentials that they’re using to select you in the college credential process that contribute to your earning power, not the education at these universities.

Blake:
That’s right.

Scott:
Is that what the research is saying?

Blake:
Yes. So every school… Just think about this. Every school has amazing success stories. It doesn’t matter because people are successful from everywhere. And so there’s people from companies that recruit back. So if you’re a big fish in a small pond, let’s say you’re just brilliant. And you decide, “Okay, I’m not going to spend money at the top school. I’m going to take a scholarship at a lesser.” They’re going to find you and you are going to be successful.

Mindy:
Okay. I have a question about the networking. “Oh, you’re a Harvard guy. I went to Harvard too. I like you more than this Vandy guy over here.” So how does that fall into place with regard to school selection? Because there are people who are more apt to hire you because you went to the same school that they did.

Blake:
Yeah, no, that is very true as well. I call them degrees snobs. And that’s fine, but I’ve learned that networking, there’s still a network from every single institution. And once you get to a certain level, it might help you get your foot in the door somewhere, But Mindy, you’ve had two kids. Tell me where the doctor that delivered your two children went to school.

Mindy:
I have no idea where either one of them went.

Blake:
Right? So at some point there’s a leveling factor and, look, networking is very important. Do not get me wrong. And if you can afford or your family can afford for you to go to that top school by all means, go for it. I am here to say it’s not worth taking on loans. There’s a better path.

Mindy:
Ah, okay.

Scott:
Okay.

Mindy:
Okay, good. I know somebody’s listening and saying, “Well, there’s the networking aspect.”

Blake:
Oh yeah. And that’s true. So if you can afford it, great. We talk about that all the time. People can choose how they want to spend their money, but I do not think with the statistics we have in our country, it’s worth going to massive a debt based on an unresponsible decision.

Mindy:
Okay. Let’s move on. We’ve jumped all over these. Let’s move on to a budget and unique assets. How do you take into account what’s going… Do you just write out, “School A is going to be 40,000. School B is going to be 25,000. And I’ve got 25,000 in unique assets.” Or how do you think about that?

Blake:
Yeah. So you’ve got to take the whole picture. And this is very hard for a 17, 18-year-old to do, but you’ve got to be realistic with yourself. So, for example, in my summers, I tried to work as much as possible. And a lot of people do this. Not to spend money in the summer, but to save up for the entire next year, knowing I was probably going to be working part time instead of full time. And so you’ve got to look “Okay.” The budget’s where you pull in everything? Do I have extra help somewhere? What can I do to make sure I don’t run out of money this school year before May hits and I can go back to a more focused, harder working situation. And does part time work, play into that? I know that’s another step, but what income am I bringing in during the school year?
And this is where frugality comes into place. The different types of housing you can hack while you’re in college, just going where the university tells you to stay versus finding some friends, sharing a house or an apartment, being willing to live at a lesser standard than you might for the rest of your life comes in key here. You’re choosing these decisions. What car am I driving? Am I even going to have a car? Is that necessary at a lot of universities today? It might not be. So it’s just taking a true, realistic approach to all of your own personal budget, not getting mad because your friend’s parents gave them a 529 and you don’t have one. Just being realistic and saying, “Okay, I can do this. This is my situation. I’m going to make it work.”

Scott:
So can you, can you walk through very quickly maybe, can we… There's a lot in there, but what do you think the two most important points are or what a couple most important points are? And I would love specifically to get some interest in the house hacking or however you phrase that, how you can live affordably.

Blake:
Yeah. So, so let’s start with house hacking. Because I’d say that’s probably number one. House hacking is big. And, look, I wasn’t buying a house and renting it out. There was nothing like that. But what I found is we went down to… I did my undergrad in St. George, Utah by Zion National Park and then the Bryce Canyon Las Vegas area. And when my friends and I went down to find a house, we saw that there was some places where that were double as much as other places. Seriously, twice as much for apartments about the same distance from campus. And we were fine going… And it’s not like we were living in slums or anything. These might just not have… I mean, college students now have granite countertops. Is that really necessary?

Mindy:
No.

Scott:
Central air I hear.

Blake:
Yeah. There you did need central air, but yeah.

Mindy:
Listen, central air is important and I will pay more for that. But…

Blake:
Yeah, but what if you could walk another block every day to save $300.00 a semester? That’s a no-brainer to me.

Mindy:
That’s a no-brainer to me too. But I wonder, I just think there’s so much out there. It’s so overwhelming to people. Oh, I need to apply to get into school. And then once I get into that school, I still need to find housing. The school said, “Here’s a dorm,” so I’m just going to go with that.

Blake:
Yeah. And you, you can’t think that way. You have to hack all the way through. Just because you get a good deal on a house doesn’t mean you don’t need to shop your loan.

Mindy:
Exactly.

Blake:
Yeah. And so it’s the whole process. So we found for sure that’s key. Number one is housing. We found it literally as inexpensive as we could. I’m talking about me and my wife as well as my friends as we went to college. But then key number two, you’re going to have friends in college or any season of life that live at a higher standard than you especially if you’re in the FI community, you can be completely happy with doing things your own way and not having the newest phone, the highest plan, eating out nonstop, spending money on everything in college. Colleges can be expensive. You can spend your money everywhere or you can choose not to. It’s just that simple.

Mindy:
Yeah. Ramen is 10 cents a packet, isn’t it?

Blake:
Yeah.

Mindy:
Or maybe it’s gone up. Maybe it’s 15 cents a packet now. Back when I was buying it, it was 10 cents a packet.

Blake:
Yeah. And you know how many free dinners we got during college just because we went to a little meeting on the way home from something? and our other friends might go into Applebee’s. Not slamming Applebee’s here, but that’s another 20 bucks, we just got a free dinner on. Just simple process. And luckily for me, my friends and I came from this small town, we all came from frugal families. And so sure we had some that were outlandish from time to time, but we all kind of had the same core values of, you know what, it didn’t even make sense to us we were going to take out debt to go to a school.

Scott:
Love it. Well, let’s move on to scholarships. How do you think through kind of helping out using those to pay for college?

Blake:
Yeah. So scholarships, it’s definitely… There’s books and blogs just about college scholarships. I’m not going to go that deep. What I will say is I would definitely look into the different institutions. So let’s break it down into two different levels. There’s institutional or state scholarships, and then there’s personal scholarships through the school, and I guess a third one would even be private scholarships just out there that are floating around. So my biggest key to start is what institution scholarships can I get at X, Y, and Z school? And that’s going to help my college selection process. And then after that, and I tell students this. Once you choose your program, your best friend needs to be the department administrative assistant. You need to go and talk to that person because they know about scholarships that students don’t even apply for from time to time. It’s unbelievable. So there’s donors everywhere. So every school’s a little different. Every program’s a little different, but you at least need to ask the question.
So I teach in a high demand field now and we have donors and we have to beg students to apply for these scholarships. Literally send them email after email, “This is how easy it is. We have this extra $50,000.00 a year we’re giving out to students from X, Y, Z donor, please apply.” And they don’t check their email or talk to our admin. It’s unbelievable.

Mindy:
Okay. So who is that person again that’s my new best friend?

Blake:
Yeah. The department secretary, administrative assistant. Faculty sometimes will know, but when you choose your major, I would definitely go and have a conversation with them. And look, this is not a conversation like, “What can you do for me?” This is a persuasion like, “Hey, it’s good to meet you. Thank you for all your work. I’m just wondering if you know about any other scholarship deadlines coming up within the department.”

Scott:
So were you able to do this personally?

Blake:
As I went through school, yes, once I got to my Master’s degree. I actually messed up on my undergrad and did not know these tricks yet.

Scott:
Fair enough.

Blake:
So I absolutely aced the institutional scholarships for undergrad. I did not maximize this other thing I found out as a Master’s level student.

Scott:
Got it. Okay. Well, fair enough. That’s a really good framework for attacking the problem, even if you’re already in college, obviously there’s a lot more you can probably do before before you… In the school selection process and as you apply for scholarships, but good to know, there’s even things you can do afterwards.

Blake:
Yeah. And then I’d say, just as you’re going through school, I was not the best at this either, but there’s many students and there’s blogs and writers out there apply to as many as possible, even private ones, because I do not remember the stat now, but between a third and a fifth of private scholarships go unfilled because there’s not applicants who apply for them or meet the merit. So yeah.

Scott:
Okay. Well, I’m sure after all of this work you did and the scholarships and the budgeting and all that kind of stuff, you still had some expenses. And so that brings us to the last point here around working. How did you manage that? What did you find to be the right balance? And it sounds like you have some research around that shows that working’s actually a little bit is pretty healthy.

Blake:
Yeah. It is very healthy. And let me tell you, so this is kind of where you find your career. The other advantage of working during college, especially if you go… When you asked the question a minute ago, what if you go to Harvard, you have a network. That network probably will get you a job. If you go to a regional school work may be even more important because you have job experience coming out of college, which a lot of employers definitely like. So when I started at college, first job was Walmart. I’m just going to throw the company out there. Because I was coming from a small town. I didn’t know where else to apply, to be honest. And it was a great job, but I was only there for four months. And then I went into reffing, just local youth soccer, basketball, umpiring. It was a great job. It was after school hours. But let me tell you the…

Scott:
Did you ever make any bad calls and get some feedback from the parents?

Blake:
Oh, my word. Luckily, you guys, I’m a pretty even-keeled person. So getting yelled at over second grade soccer didn’t ruin my day.

Scott:
I can’t wait to be that dad.

Blake:
Yeah. I’m not that dad. It’s a real thing though, man. For some reason, second grade soccer is some people’s highlight of their day from the parent’s standpoint where I just think kids need to have fun, but yeah.

Scott:
Fair enough. Okay. Well, so after reffing, what was the…

Blake:
Here’s the job I found that I got paid to sleep in college, which is kind of an interesting concept. You hear about… And Mindy or Scott, I don’t remember who mentioned it, working for the university can be great. Sometimes you might get a discount, but a lot of work study students don’t get the discount, but they can study while they’re at work at the university. Well, I had a friend… Talking about networking… He was from my small town not a close friend, but I ran into him and I said, “Hey, so what are you doing? What’s going on in your life?” And he told me about a job he had where he was getting paid to sleep. I’m like, “Okay, What is this, a clinical trial? This sounds weird.”
But the more questions I asked, I found out he was working at a local youth rehabilitation center. And so the job was you’d show up at 5:00 p.m. at night, work until about 10 with the kids, have dinner with them, they paid your dinner. Once again, not paying for your own dinner. You got to eat with the kids on the company. You did a little family night activity with them. And then you slept from about 10:00 to 7:00. You’d put a mattress in front of the door, so they couldn’t get out of the room. These are teenage boys. And then you’d wake up, have breakfast with them, and then go back to your day. So you would literally do that three or four times a week. I thought I’d hit the jackpot. Absolutely. Because what am I doing? I’m getting my food taken care of. I’m sleeping while I’m getting paid. And I’m not really losing out. This was an every other night deal.So I wasn’t losing out on full social life. It was a beautiful thing. Absolutely.

Scott:
And you’re doing good work.

Blake:
Yeah, doing good work. And what’s interesting is we found a way to optimize this more. This went on for a few months. I don’t remember how long it was, but that’s when I started to go into sales rather than other jobs that I had in the past. And I found, I guess, would be my calling of persuasion and sales. So that was kind of the transition out of a normal job. And I’ve either been in sales or teaching sales ever since.

Scott:
Awesome. So what was your position that you graduated college with? What was the relative general financial position?

Blake:
So when I graduated from college in sales, I believe I was right around 50 grand or so working part time while I was working on an MBA pretty quick. And then that jumped up to about 80 pretty quick right after that.

Scott:
And this was all with no debt?

Blake:
Yeah. No debt and commission goes pretty quick. The first year might not be as good, but as you get better and better, you start to do better. And if you don’t mind, while I was in college, when I started my first sales position, it was at an insurance company and this was where I left getting paid to sleep, to go do, which my friends told me I was crazy. Like, “Why would you give that gig up in college? They’re feeding you.” But I said, “You know what?” I negotiated with the company I was going to and said, “Look, how much do you need me to produce each day? What will you pay me for that amount? If I can do that in two hours, rather than it takes someone else to do five hours, can I just go home and be done for the day?” So that was kind of the optimization of my time at college when I found that I could still make the money in less time based on my production. So that was key.

Scott:
That’s awesome.

Mindy:
Okay. So you got married at some point.

Blake:
Yeah. So after college in between the Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, got married. And obviously reading my story or going through this, my wife was very fiscally responsible as well. Still is. She probably likes to spend more than I do, but she’s not outlandish in any way. So we got married and we had to finance part of our own wedding. That was just kind of the situation we were in those years with our parents and what they had going on. And we went about the whole marriage thing. We were about 24 when that happened, both me and my wife. So comparatively young compared to the world, but it was the right time for us.

Mindy:
And did you talk about money before you got married?

Blake:
Oh yeah. Scott, I know you’re getting married this year, right?

Mindy:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Blake:
We’ve all been on that date when we have FI tendencies and they say, “Oh, I took out a student loan and bought a car.” It’s like, “Okay, never calling this one again.”

Scott:
Oh, geez.

Blake:
Yeah. So we did. We had those conversations. We knew exactly where we were at. And we were basically, as I said, we had about as much money as my grandpa had funded me to get through college in our savings when we got married. So poor, didn’t seem like the right thing, but at the same time we had just financed our own way through school. And my wife is a pharmacy tech. So all the time this was going on for me, she was kind of growing at a pharmacy through her own career. And then by the time we got married, she was managing the bubble packing for the retirement homes in the area I lived in for the pharmacy she worked for. So she had grown in her career as well.

Scott:
Awesome. So can you walk us through kind of a general framework of your financial journey, following graduation, going into Master’s, it sounds like a PhD and those types of things? Can you kind of just walk us through chronologically the rest of your story here?

Blake:
Yeah. So Master’s degree. I told you, I was able to… Same decision. I got into the top or I guess I didn’t officially got in, but the counselor told me I was into the top school in Utah. I chose not to go there because this other school was less expensive and they offered me a working tuition scholarships/assistantship. So to me it was a no-brainer. So I was working through those years while she was working. It was 2009. So y’all remember 2009, this was the year that most of our friends were calling us, “Hey, do you know any job opportunities? What’s going on? You’re doing well. What’s out there for me?” And so 2009, we peaked out. It was our first year in six digits between us, 115 or so. So we were doing really well. I had just barely finished my Master’s degree.
And this is kind of where we made a decision like, “Look, our future… We could ride this out.” We didn’t know what FI was at that point. But we can definitely be on that journey pretty quick, but we decided to totally throw a curve ball in life and say, “You know what? No, this isn’t the way we’re going to go.” So that was an interesting year.

Scott:
Well, can I ask you a question? You get graduate college and then you go into sales and then you get a Master’s degree. What was your education in and how did that… What was the thought process there, if you’re going on a sales path, and then getting advanced degrees? That seems unusual.

Blake:
Yeah, so it was an MBA. So I got an MBA.

Scott:
That makes sense.

Blake:
Yeah. Right. Yeah.

Scott:
Okay, fair enough. Yeah.

Blake:
And so the key was I was in sales leadership at that point. So I had done very well in sales. So I was managing a team. I was considering is the next move to the corporate office in our company, which would have us leaving Utah anyway, going over to Georgia. And so this was kind of the decision point. Like, “What do I want?” And what I found when I was managing a sales team was I really loved teaching others how to improve their life. I had already learned in college, I can work two hours when most people take four. But what if as a sales manager, I can help someone go from 30,000 a year to $60,000.00 a year and completely change their family’s income, or even more drastically than that. In 2009, is when we were going to start our family, and that happened, our first child was born in 2010. So we decided let’s throw this up in the air. Let’s go get a PhD. I kind of want to teach the university for a living and teach students in sales and sales management. And that’s exactly what’s happened.

Scott:
Awesome. So, so how would you kind of describe your overall financial journey and net worth at a high level? You don't have to go too much into the specifics, but just at a high level, how did that evolve coming out of undergrad, going into the MBA program and then any years following your PhD?

Blake:
Yeah. So those years through the PhD, we were pretty stagnant. It was not growing by any stretch. Your PhD is pretty intense, but we also weren’t going into debt. So through those years I was selling door to door in the summer actually to maximize whatever. Go to school for nine months. The day I’d get done at school, we would go somewhere for the summer and I would work full time in the summer, 70 hours a week give or take and then go right back to school. So that’s how we financed our way through the PhD program. We decided… I guess we didn’t really decide, but when that first child was born, because of this lifestyle, my wife…

Scott:
It’s the most on-brand way for you to finance your sales PhD.

Blake:
Yeah.

Scott:
It’s amazing.

Blake:
Yeah. Right? Doesn’t that make sense?

Scott:
Yes.

Blake:
Yeah. And it’s funny, because the whole door to door thing, people will be like, “What are you doing?” But people don’t know how successful and how good someone could do at that. Not revenue, but income those two years, the second year was closer to 75 grand I believe I made in the summer. That’s the revenue after all expenses. And the first year was less than that. Probably about half of that.

Mindy:
Wait. You made $75,000.00 in three months?

Blake:
Yeah. And what’s interesting. I’m going to give you the exact numbers because I want to be up front. Yeah. 73,000. And that’s what I reported in taxes. So I brought in that second year about 120 in revenue, but it’s obviously an expensive thing to move across the country, drive around nonstop all summer, had some other business expenses. So yeah, 73 was the income that year in the summer.

Scott:
Man. So…

Mindy:
What are you selling?

Scott:
Yeah.

Mindy:
Sorry, Scott.

Scott:
No, yeah. Do we need to call the police.

Mindy:
Were you in Colorado?

Blake:
No. Yeah, this was before the Colorado changes.

Scott:
He reported it on his taxes, Mindy, so it’s not what you’re thinking. Yeah.

Blake:
So this goes back… So the first year I was selling… I sold a few different things through the years. The key to me these years, the fastest amount of money, the quickest. And so for me, those years was home security systems. I did other things I tinkered with, but what I found, I didn't sell that many more accounts the second summer. But what these companies do, they recruit so many college students that they want top performers on their teams. So after I had proven myself first summer, the negotiation I could take back to the company and play my services for a couple different companies made me almost double my income. Just because I said, "Look, now you can say to new reps, we're going to have Blake on the team, who's this big of a performer. Just to be able to be around him is adding extra accounts to you because he's going to do some of the trainings on the way to area or whatever."
So I found… And I was lucky enough to… I did a couple of flights in the off year just to negotiate with those companies to pay me more. So that’s what the key was. Yeah. Because the first summer pretty regular, I looked at the income here. It was low thirties and then it jumped all the way up to 73 second, and I was a better sales person in that space at that point. But the key was the negotiation for sure.

Scott:
Awesome. So that’s amazing. So it seems like you were probably able to save that year and build your wealth. Not just…

Blake:
Yeah, we did. We had enough to put money down on our first home because of that summer. And then the next summer I couldn’t work because I was working on my dissertation. So we had enough savings to get through the program.

Scott:
That’s awesome. One other thing with PhDs is often I’ve heard that PhD students will also be working during that period, teaching and those types of things. What was your experience like while…

Blake:
Full disclosure, $1,200.00 a month. So we made $1,200.00 a month for the nine months during the school year.

Scott:
Okay.

Blake:
And my tuition was covered through that. Now, if you’re thinking about getting a PhD that maybe some of the listeners are, let me be very frank. Make sure it’s in a field where jobs are given at the end of your degree. This is more crucial… I have so many friends who chose a PhD in a field that’s not in high demand. They can’t get a job. Where the program I went to has a 100 percent placement. They’ve never… And it’s a business build. The business builds are much in more demand than perhaps other fields, and so that’s very important. Do not waste four years of your life if you’re not going to get a job.

Scott:
So what was your experience like after completing your dissertation or getting a PhD?

Blake:
Yeah, so that’s where we started going to… That was finally… What were we, 29 years old at that point? So we’d basically just spent a decade in college and having kids. We had two kids at that point. And so from there, it was just, okay, let’s go through the process. It’s time to really rack up some savings. We want to pay off our house pretty quick. And that’s what’s brought us to where we’re at today.

Scott:
And where are you at today?

Blake:
So today… We paid off our home last year. So we were 35 when that happened. So that took us… We actually moved. So we started in Missouri and then we moved back to Utah where we’re from or where I’m from anyway. And so that happened when we were 31. So we bought a home here and it took us about four years to pay it off.

Scott:
Awesome.

Blake:
Yeah. And let me tell you. The budget being through these years… We found this the other day. Our PhD budget for me, my wife, and one child was $24,000.00 a year.

Scott:
That’s amazing. Yeah.

Blake:
So, and it’s funny, she literally found that in an email the other day. It was lost to me, but she’s like, “Remember this?” I’m like, “Oh yeah.” And it doesn’t mean we were perfect on that number, but that was the plan.

Scott:
You can cover that in your bad year selling in the summers.

Blake:
Yeah, right. Yeah. I remember I only had two summers though for three years of living. So, but yeah it was…

Scott:
That’s right. Yeah.

Blake:
Yeah, we were good.

Scott:
Yeah, that’s awesome.

Mindy:
So what is your job now?

Blake:
So currently, now I’m what’s known as associate professor, which means I’ve been through the tenure process. I now have tenure, so I teach sales and sales management. And then I’m also currently a department chair. That will probably dry up over the next couple of years as I get closer to FI. It’s not something I want to do forever. Got it.

Mindy:
What university are you at?

Blake:
So Weber State University, Ogden, Utah. A great school. It’s one of those regional ones I was talking about right from the beginning.

Scott:
Awesome.

Mindy:
Do you still go over the summers and sell home security systems?

Blake:
No. That was the plan. But then as I got into department chair stuff, stuff like that, that’s just kind of dried up.

Mindy:
Okay.

Scott:
Got it. Well, so what’s the kind of rest of the journey to FI looking like for you? Do you have a timeline? Do you know what your moving targets or anything like that?

Blake:
Yeah. So like I said in this story, we now have four kids. So our family has grown for sure. And we’ve loved that process. So we run the numbers like everyone in the FI community. We’ll hit a lean FI perhaps 40, 41 years old, more of a fat, maybe 44, 46, in that range. But we’re not changing our lives. What we are changing… Look, I know lots in the FI community, perhaps switch work at some point, the RE is always questionable. I’ve got the job I want for the next 20 years.So I’m going to do it differently through that time as I step out of leadership roles, but we’re where we want to be. So our numbers, sure, we’re saving over 50 percent, maybe closer to two thirds depending on how you measure it. But once again, we have no house payments in the world. So that’s pretty easy to max out all of our retirement accounts.

Scott:
Awesome. It does seem like… I’ve thought about this and I don’t know how I would ever go about it, but it does seem like, hey, rather than completely outright retire, being a college professor seemed like a pretty reasonable thing one day to do, if that opportunity ever arises. I always had an inkling of that as a one day initiative I can figure out that decades down the road. But And so I love it. That’s a wonderful situation it sounds like.

Blake:
Yeah, and Scott, you’re not alone. I get those emails every week from people. “What do I need to do?” Teaching has got to be one of the best things you can do, especially if you’re teaching something you know and you’re good at, and you’re not just doing it to fill a paycheck, right?

Scott:
Yes, absolutely.

Mindy:
Scott, do you want to be a fifth grade professor?

Scott:
No. I want to do what he’s doing with teaching business. I don’t know sales, but that would be a fun way to conclude the career at some point.

Mindy:
I could make your dreams come true right now, Scott, if you want to be a fifth grade professor.

Blake:
Yeah. It’s like go grab my kids to bring them in on the Zoom call. It’s our whole day of school.

Scott:
Yeah. All right. What we doing? Statistics? Applied statistics?

Mindy:
No math.

Blake:
Yeah. And let me just state this. I would say for us at this point, the whole retire early for us, it just doesn’t make sense because one, I love my job. Two, my kids are going to get even a better deal on college because they get a discount because their dad’s a professor. And there’s four of them. We’re not talking a little expense here. So that’s going to happen someday. And then two, I get the HSA still. How awesome is that? I get the retirement account.
So back to the paying off the mortgage story, we were a lot more aggressive on that than most people in the FI community probably would be because my employer was putting in 14.2 percent of my salary into retirement. So I had that start without anything I did. So we said, "Look, if we buckle down for four years, sure, the math might still be better to max out retirement accounts and take longer, but let's just attack our mortgage, get rid of it, and just have that stress out of our life, knowing that our employer is doing so much for us already." So just everything I make now I get another 14.2 percent they put in. Plus, I max out my 457, 403(b), Roth IRAs. HSA. It's a great thing. And it's a beautiful life for us balance wise.

Scott:
Awesome.

Mindy:
So wait, say that again, your employer puts an additional 14 percent on top? They pay you 100 percent of your salary plus 14 percent?

Blake:
Yeah. So going through a PhD program, you kind of find out all different States have different retirement programs. Even though I’m from Utah, Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming had the most attractive retirement plans to me. And so we really targeted those States when we were looking for jobs. So yeah, if you make a 100,000 dollars, they’re putting 14,200 in your retirement account and then you can still max out your 403(b), 457. And we’re lucky enough, unlike normal school teachers, elementary school teachers, our 403(b) and 457 is typically through a company called TIAA. And so our fees are much less and we can still do the low cost funds. So just to throw that out. A school teacher in elementary school, their 403(b) might be closer to 1% in fees where we’re only at eight basis points. So much, much different.

Scott:
So we’ve talked about your four ideas here around school selection, budget scholarships, and working throughout college. But right now I think we’re getting a real system shock that could potentially have lasting consequences to the college education system here in the United States. If you’re putting yourself in the position of a college student right now, or going through that process that you went through all those years ago applying for colleges and those types of things. How do you think the discussion changes now in the context of coronavirus in 2020 and maybe 2021?

Blake:
Yeah. So I’m not strategist in this area, but let me give just a couple thoughts. There’s going to be some schools and there already have been schools. We haven’t been hit by this, but you’ve heard of furloughs throughout the country, right? You’ve heard about there might be some institutions that don’t survive this. So this may be even more crucial for students to shop around their education a little bit because schools may need you there more than others. I’m lucky enough, the institution where I teach we’re in kind of a Metro area that’s mostly fed from students from the local area. But this fall a lot of the schools that are destination schools we might call them are small town schools where kids come from all over the country. How are they surviving? I have no idea. I’m not in that institution. But I do know from friends I have around the country, some are very worried. Some states are very worried they won’t be able to fund this. So I would say for the student, be very selective and look at your options when choosing a school because schools may even be looking at extra accommodations to get you there. Is that fair?

Scott:
I think that makes sense. Do you think that the… Basically you’re saying that negotiation power for students may be that much higher in selecting colleges and those types of things. Do you think that applies to thoughts around transfers or those types of things. If you’re not having those…

Blake:
Yeah, and transfers, you always want to be careful. You want to make sure those credits are looking good as you go over. But yeah, I would say I’ve heard from parents around the country that, “We’re not sending our kids across the country this fall to some private school. We’re just going to keep them here at the local state regional school and save a bunch of money. And we’re just going to go about it that way.” So, yeah, it’s definitely an individual decision still, but my biggest advice would be just still shop around and some schools may be changing their processes even more as we speak.

Scott:
Yeah. It just seems like it's a good time for people going into college or currently in college to just acknowledge the fact that all of a sudden you're in a dramatically different position of power relative to the dynamic of you versus the institution you are attending or going to attend. And it would be a shame not to leverage that and take advantage of that moment in time.

Blake:
Yeah. And recognize too, depending on the school you want to go to, believe it or not, you can negotiate your way into school and negotiate a scholarship package perhaps if you’re willing to go and try to have that conversation with the scholarship office.

Scott:
There you go.

Mindy:
Okay, I’m going to go off script a little bit here and say you keep saying negotiate, negotiate. And you seem to have a really good sense of what you’re worth and what you can do for people, for employers specifically. How did you learn the art of negotiation? How did you learn how to figure out how much you’re worth? Oh, you want me to sell X number of insurance units? If I can do that in two hours, can I go home? I would never have the.. Oh, I need to rephrase this because I was going to say something rude.

Scott:
Just don’t hold it back. Just go with whatever you were going to say.

Mindy:
Well, I would say I would never have the balls to ask that question.

Scott:
I knew it. I knew it. That’s exactly what you were going to say.

Mindy:
Oh, no, but that’s… I would never because I’m a girl, but what’s…

Scott:
So, Blake, more directly how do you pluck up the balls…

Blake:
Well, luckily I do have the balls.

Scott:
How do you get the balls together to go after asking for what you’re worth in these negotiations?

Blake:
So let me give this advice to the entire community who might get to hear this. The problem that most people have with negotiation is they just make it weird. If you’ll just go and talk to someone you’re negotiating with like you’re a person and they’re a person and not make it awkward, you can get through the process. I don’t think we have time here to go into negotiation 101 and all the techniques I use. But I would just say the biggest key is just have confidence and don’t make things weird. I learned a lot. Let me tell you a quick story.
When I was in my MBA program, one of my best friends to this day, he actually is also now a college professor. He said, “What are you doing tonight?” And I said, “Oh, I have an MBA class.” He was like, “Oh man, I’ve been thinking about getting an MBA.” I’m like, “Okay.” He’s like, “I’m coming to class with you tonight.” I’m like, “What?” And sure enough, he went to school with me that night and they’re calling roll. And the professor who was the Dean of the College of the business school said, “I don’t know who you are.” He’s like, “Oh, I’m Isaac. I’m going to talk to you after class about admitting me into the program.” And he got into the program that night. And this is a school that turns people down, but he negotiated his way into class that night because we called and had a phone call at 4:00. And actually, ironically, this was a class on negotiation. It was an MBA class on negotiation.

Scott:
That’s hilarious.

Blake:
So yeah, I think the biggest key is people, when you negotiate and you’re asking for something more, be a likable person. Because people, if they like you, they want to negotiate. Don’t be a jerk. The whole negotiating where you’re screaming at someone, no. You’ve got to become a likable person and just turn that mold and just don’t make it weird.

Mindy:
Yeah. I don’t know. I just, I would feel awkward.

Blake:
Yeah. Yeah. I remember the whole thing. When Ramit was on the show and he did a role play with Scott negotiating a salary increase. If you want to just practice, I don’t know what bill you could do because most of us are on the prepaid cell phones anyway. Maybe an internet bill or something. Just call and practice negotiating it down. And you’ll be amazed how it works.

Mindy:
Oh, that’s good advice.

Scott:
And also probably we should also acknowledge that it is difficult for some for some people and everyone has different strengths. And Blake, you are so clearly strong in this area. And it’s so clearly in an area of passion and interest for you that you majored in it, got an MBA, got a PhD, and now teach it at a college for a living. So we should acknowledge that you’re particularly skilled in that, but also that it is a skill that can be learned and applied by anybody to better their lives to a certain degree.

Blake:
Yeah. And the biggest thing is practice. In college, I negotiated at Walmart. That’s a true story. I knew if I got an assistant manager and there was something I wanted to buy, I could get a discount. I don’t have to do that anymore. But the big things do I still negotiate on? Of course. When I got the home loan for this house, you go to Zillow mortgages or Bankrate, you find the three cheapest online mortgages, and then you call them all and you have them start playing off each other to get the best deal. People think that… It’s the bigger pockets. They have some real estate here. Yeah. People think that the house is important to get the deal on. The loan is just as important.
And the way loans work, they make money on the closing cost type fees, but they also make money when they sell it. So those closing cost fees, those are so easily negotiable because they don’t need it to keep their business open, especially if they’re an online mortgage company. So just be willing to say, “Hey, this other company is offering me this. I do like you because of these reviews. What else can you do to earn my business?” Something as easy as that will get the ball rolling.

Scott:
I'm getting wildly different quotes from lenders right now, just dramatically… A difference between $12,000.00 in closing costs and none by some of them around.

Blake:
Yeah.

Scott:
On a $350,000.00. refinance. Yeah. It’s amazing.

Blake:
Yeah. So just be willing to practice. It’s a skill to learn, to grow with. But, as I said, I don’t do the Walmart anymore. That’d be kind of petty at this point in my life, but I still find opportunities. And the other thing I’ve learned is I don’t ever want to make someone feel uncomfortable on the other end. So don’t negotiate if you’re going through a drive through for fast food or something like that. That’s just taking it way too far.

Scott:
I’d like a bigger Chicken Select, please.

Blake:
Yeah. Right. What if I only pay you this much for the fries upgrade? No, you don’t go down that road because that makes you a non-likable person and they don’t have the power to make that decision anyway. So you just be a likable person. And there’s tons of books. I don’t even know one I’d recommend off the top of my head. But if you start learning what a BATNA. Best alternative to negotiate an agreement, the negotiation range, as you start to learn those terms, you can easily Google that, you can kind of learn how to get better deals.

Mindy:
Okay. Well, shall we move on?

Blake:
Yeah, it’s been great. I appreciate you guys having me on. It’s been fun.

Mindy:
This has been a lot of fun, but we're not done yet. We've added a new segment to the show called the financial scan because we want to know what you're investing in and our listeners want to know too. Where are you planting your money so that it grows for retirement? And we know there's no one right answer, but we also know that it will take forever to become a millionaire based on your W-2 job. So Blake, where are you planting your funds to grow?

Blake:
Yeah. So just to go kind of a bigger view. We’re very close to that number. We’ll definitely hit the net worth over a million before we’re 40 pretty easily. But the way we’ve broken it down… And I only say that to preface this… a big percentage of our net worth is still in real estate. Because we have very aggressively paid off our personal residence. So and I’m not the guy that loves rentals, managing rentals. It’s not the way I’ve gone. And so all the rest is in index funds. We have some cash on hand emergency/maybe 1-2 years savings, one year normal expenses, two years crazy back to college days expenses type deal. But yeah, I literally drink the Kool-Aid. I do not understand if you’re investing why you would not just do those low mutual funds. Or, sorry, index funds. Not mutual. Yeah.

Scott:
Do you have any bonds or anything like that or it’s just kind of all stock market index funds.

Blake:
Remember back to the story. I’m 36 now. Probably plan on retiring maybe at 60. But, look, it all depends. If I’m still loving what we’re doing, and we have summers off and Christmas off for a month at that point, are we really going… I have no idea. So yeah, we will probably go to a 10 percent allocation at about 50, 55, maybe 20 percent closer to 60 type deal. But now it’s 100 percent equities.

Scott:
Awesome.

Blake:
Yeah.

Mindy:
Okay. And you did touch on this. I just want to ask this anyway, in terms of annual spending, how much do you have on cash normally? And did you increase that for Coronavirus?

Blake:
Yeah, so we had a lower amount of cash all those years we were paying off our house. I say all those years. It was four. So it was pretty quick, but yeah. Yeah, so now we have increased that. That was not because of the Coronavirus I would say. It was just we paid off our home a year ago, July. And so that was just kind of the time that we wanted more of a cash cushion. So the way we break it down, and I told you 24,000 was kind of the budget in college. While we were paying off our house, we were probably closer to mid forties on our budget for our family. And now we’ve jumped it up to maybe mid fifties. So we definitely keep that much in a savings account, give or take. So, and look, maybe the FI community is saying, “Uh-oh. Marginal propensity to consume. They’re spending more each year,” but the family has grown through those years as well. We still like to go to Disneyland from time to time. Guess what? those extra tickets do cost money. So that’s just the way it rolls.

Mindy:
A lot of money.

Blake:
Yeah. So and traveling with four kids, boy, travel hacking, that changes things just a little bit.

Mindy:
But still, I know a lot of people who are single and spend more than $50,000.00 a year.

Blake:
Yeah. They do. And we don’t feel… We’re not deprived. That’s what’s amazing. And it’s just the small things. We track it and we make sure we don’t overspend and we spend the money where we want to spend it. We had an epic Alaska trip last summer. That’s where my wife was raised for 13 years. And we went back and, man, it was the most epic trip ever. And we travel hacked that a little bit for our family and it was awesome.

Mindy:
Yeah, you can still travel hack hotels. But can you even get six people in one hotel room?

Blake:
Yeah, we do. But that goes back to the negotiation. You call a hotel, their price for one bed might be this amount. We need the two beds plus the pullout couch. And can you just match the same price? So you get a better deal than Priceline just by making that phone call. When we went to Alaska, I would use the Alaska card. “My wife’s from Alaska and it’s expensive to come back.” So I would always negotiate a better price than you could get on Priceline. Yeah.

Mindy:
I love it.

Blake:
And let me tell you real quick. For us, the travel hacking with a family of six, six tickets on a flight can get rather expensive. And so for us, we just made it a funner trip. We drove to our friends in Seattle, and I got to stay with them for a couple of days because we found the flight for our whole family round trip from Seattle to Anchorage, it was 750 bucks with taxes and fees included. So that’s the whole family.

Mindy:
For six people?

Blake:
Yeah. And we got to drive to Washington go right by Mount Rainier. So disclosure. Our baby at that point was still a lap child. So it was five, but yeah, it was still an incredible deal.

Scott:
That’s awesome.

Blake:
Yeah.

Scott:
Yeah, you seem like a master at this too, with the travel hacking.

Blake:
Yeah, just trying to… Look, if you can save money, why not? That’s just…

Mindy:
Yes. Yes. You don’t win any points for spending the most.

Blake:
No, no. It’s the other way. And you can still enjoy life. Our kids are not deprived in any way. In fact, if you followed my wife’s Instagram account, you would think we’re living like kings and queens, just because we’re very intentional on how we do it.

Scott:
Love it.

Mindy:
I love that. I think that’s a great place to end that and go to the famous four. Are you ready for your famous four questions, Blake?

Blake:
Yes, we are. At least three of them.

Mindy:
What is your favorite finance book?

Blake:
So I’m going to have to give a shout out to my uncle. When I was in college… Growing up on the farm, I loved finance much more than I should have, but didn’t know a ton. When I was young in college, right after I got back from my two year trip, he gave me The Millionaire Next Door. And it was the first time I realized, “Look, I can be a normal person.” You guys started this podcast, “We got a normal person today.” I’m happy with that, but I can still be incredibly successful by living the way. And I already knew that. I started doing time value money calculations as a sophomore on my TI-82 or TI-83 scientific calculator. So I knew the numbers were there, but it was the first time it became real to me that holy cow, I can still do my thing. I don’t have to be in the NBA or a CEO and I can still live a great life and become successful. So that’s what the book did for me.

Scott:
Awesome. Love that book. Very data driven.

Blake:
Yeah. And I’m an academic now. So it makes sense. And the original. I just love the original too. I don’t need any of the updates, even though the numbers are out of date, it’s the principle.

Scott:
That’s right. I read the original as well, almost once a year. So what was your biggest money mistake?

Blake:
So back in 2009, we told you all, we had that really good year, but then we made the decision to step back that year we did the home. And I’m going to tell you my mistake on buying that home, two of them. We talked about negotiation. I did not do a good job negotiating that loan. So that’s mistake one. And then when we sold it, when we moved across the country for a PhD, I did not negotiate with the Realtor. So the house had gone down in value a little bit. We did do a normal sell on it, but we had to write a somewhat big check for us at the time to get out of it. I definitely should have went back to the Realtors at that point and said, “Hey, look, I need some help here. Let’s eat up some of those commissions.” Because they would have definitely done that. And I know I could have gotten it done. So that was the biggest financial mistake was at home in the front end and the back end.

Scott:
Not negotiating a real estate commission is a first here. So what I think that speaks to is you being very intentional about everything you’re doing with your money and really thinking through and doing retros on decision-making throughout what I imagine is your entire journey with money because that’s a very sophisticated mistake to self actualize.

Blake:
Well, I got to give another shout out to my friend, Isaac, the one that negotiated his way into an MBA program. He actually told me I should do that. But I was so… I was in the mode of, “I’ve got to just get across the country.” I should’ve listened to his advice. So yeah, that was it. That was the biggest mistake we’ve made.

Scott:
There you go.

Mindy:
What is your best piece of advice for people who are just starting out?

Scott:
Yeah. So I got to give mad props to my wife throughout this process. All these years that she’s been a stay-at-home mom with raising these kids. But with that being said, she is definitely a little bit more of a spender as I am just naturally, which is fine. So I think the best advice I could give… And maybe this is a families push because I have talked about families throughout the podcast a little bit is just be honest with you and your partner, whether or not you need a budget, whether you just need to track expenses, what you need to do based on your individual behavior. Look, maybe you have two super savers in the relationship. Maybe you need a budget for fun that you have to spend just so you spend a little a week. Whatever it is.
Or maybe you’re two spenders. You’ve got to control that money. So we have budgeted from the beginning, the two of us, we’ve fine-tuned it through the years. And now it’s the easiest thing in the world. It’s automated. We’ve just figured it out. So it’s really, money’s not a stress in our marriage. We had to work to get there, but it was worth the journey for sure. And be realistic with you, your partner, yourself. If you’re not paying off your credit card every month in full, you obviously have a problem, and it’s time to reassess your situation.

Blake:
Awesome. That’s great advice.

Mindy:
Yeah, that is really good advice. I am constantly surprised at the people who have financial infidelity where they lie to their spouse about their finances. You will always find out or the other. I’m sorry, your spouse will always find out if you are lying to them about money and it just gets really ugly.

Blake:
Yeah. And let me say this because some people are gonna listen, it’s like, “I can’t do a budget cause I can’t have that individual have control over me” type deal. For my wife through the years because I am a little cheaper than I should be from time to time, it’s actually been good for her because after 10 years of marriage or I guess 12 years now. she can buy a new silverware set for the first time in our marriage because it’s in the budget and I just have to shut my mouth. Like, “It’s there. That’s a reasonable expense. So just chill out, dude and move on.” So it’s actually a good thing for sometimes both parties, and people don’t see it that way. It can actually be empowering rather than restrictive.

Mindy:
Yeah, that’s a good point.

Scott:
All right. So here’s the most difficult question in the famous four, but I know you’re going to ace this one. What is your favorite joke to tell at parties?

Blake:
Let me tell you this I think. I don’t know if I was ever funny at a party where I told a joke, but for the last 10 years, every joke I have told is just unbelievable because you have four little kids at home. The quality of a joke is much different than perhaps different areas. So in the lieu of back to school week this week, let me… My wife has a joke on the board every week upstairs just for the kids. So, and with coronavirus and everything that’s going on, where do sharks go back to school?

Scott:
I don’t know. Finishing school maybe.

Blake:
Finland. Yeah.

Scott:
Ah, nice. All right. I love it. That’s awesome.

Blake:
And to be honest, that was a little bit of stretch, but luckily she had the joke on the board and it was a little different, it was vacation. I just changed it for the back to school flavor for the kids. So yeah.

Scott:
I love it. Well thank you. That’s awesome. And I I know that my future children one day… Because the ease of parenting as we’ve discussed in recent weeks, they’re going to love my jokes. I’ve got them all prepared.

Blake:
Well, Scott, with how much you love jokes, kids are worth it just for that because they think you are hilarious every time, at least to a certain age. Right, Mindy?

Mindy:
Yeah. To a certain age. Once they get to be 13, they’re like, “Mom, that’s so dumb.”

Scott:
I don’t do it for the honest laughs. I do it for the eye rolls. So I will look forward to that even more.

Blake:
See, you’ll get both of that with kids.

Mindy:
If you like eye rolls, come over. Oh my goodness. Both of my kids. I think they’re going to bruise their eyes they roll them so hard at me.

Scott:
All right. Well, Blake, where can people find out more about you?

Blake:
From the beginning, I don’t have a blog. Maybe that will be in the future. Maybe it won’t. I’m not interested now. You never know how it goes, but if someone has something really interesting, good old LinkedIn, Blake Nielson. I believe it says PhD on the end. In the episode it says I teach at Weber State University. Feel free to connect if you want to have a chat about something.

Scott:
Well, we will with your permission link to your LinkedIn in the show notes here BiggerPockets.com/moneyshow141.

Blake:
Yeah. That’s great.

Mindy:
Awesome. Blake, this was a lot of fun. Thank you so much for reaching out, and thank you for coming on the show today and sharing your story.

Blake:
Yeah, no. You know what’s funny? I sit in a little silo. I’m not at FinCon. I’m not at a lot of the groups. I’m basically living an FI life with my family. So it was just kind of fun and hopefully others in our situation can kind of see, okay, this is… Some of the steps you can take through college, through marriage, through kids. FI is still very possible and should not be put down as not possible. So thank you to both of you.

Scott:
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for your story.

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