4 Wealth-Building Lessons From Set for Life (& How Living by Them Took Me From Kid Who Couldn’t Read to Millionaire at 27)

by | BiggerPockets.com

In 7th grade, I remember going into a room and taking tests all by myself. People would come into the room from time to time and ask me questions and then jot notes on a clipboard. What I didn’t know was that I was being tested for learning disabilities. At that time, my reading comprehension was horrendous, and my writing about the same. I struggled my way through most of school, later realizing I was dyslexic.

Looking back, I now see that being a “bad student” made me an outlier to the masses. It gave me a perspective the masses did not have. It gave me the ability to see things differently. That transitioned to career and financial choices as an adult. How thankful I am to be an outlier—because the standard career and financial paths that the masses continue to follow are terrible. Unfortunately, the norm is to spend the best hours of our day, during most days of the week, during most weeks of the year, during most years of our lives, trading our time for money and money for stuff until we die. No thanks.

Wanting to do something about these troubling norms, I thought for the longest time I would find some way to teach kids about financial education. I later realized that the fastest way to addresses these issues is to change the parents before they’ve even had kids. This very goal is what got me started writing for BiggerPockets. I wanted to reach as many of my peers as I could to share what I knew. I wanted to show young adults they didn’t have to take the beaten down path of financial struggles, working for 40, 50, or 60 years. I wanted them to know that there is a better way and that if a kid who could barely read could figure it out, so could they.

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Teaching a Different Way

The single biggest challenge is bringing awareness and acceptance to this different way of using money. It isn’t easy to redirect the herd off the beaten path, but I know if we do, it will help so many. Mr. Trench says it best: “Our society falls short when the masses neglect to become aware of the fundamentals of wealth creation. This knowledge and the skills of patience and long-term thinking are learned and must be taught early. When that fails to happen, the wealthy continue to snowball into ever more powerful, almost mythical beings, while much of society doesn’t even know where to begin.”

In this pursuit to reach my peers, I have written articles such as:

Even my first BiggerPockets podcast episode was titled “Building a Real Estate Empire at a Young Age.”

A few years back, when I heard BiggerPockets was considering publishing a book targeting the young working professional to guide them off the beaten path of financial mediocrity, I offered to help any way I could and was excited for it to happen. Privately, I even hoped they would ask me to write it.

That book is now out, and the title is Set for Life, authored by BiggerPockets’ own Scott Trench. Last week, I listened to the book on Audible, and I was blown away. Mr. Trench did such a phenomenal job. I couldn’t have dreamed of producing a book of this quality. When I finished the book, I thought to myself, “If enough people read this, it will change the world.” I write this blog post to get behind every single word in Mr. Trench’s book and to promote it as much as possible because not only do I believe in it, but I have lived the advice he gives, and it took me from a kid who could barely read to financially free at the age of 27. If it can do that for me, it can do the same or greater for the masses who find themselves financially ignorant.

To encourage you to read and share Set For Life, I wanted to connect my own true story to some of Mr. Trench’s thoughts and quotes from the book.

Typically when I listen to or read a book, I pick out little nuggets of useful information. While reading Set for Life, I continuously caught myself thinking, “I agree with every single word Scott Trench has written” and kept that thought all the way through the end of the book.

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Related: Dave Ramsey is Wrong: You DON’T Need to Be Debt-Free to Hit Financial Freedom

Have you ever read a book and then watched the movie of that book? The book is always better, right? This article isn’t even the movie to Mr. Trench’s book; this is the 10-second movie trailer. I strongly encourage you to go pick up his book if you haven’t.

Now, just to be clear, I don’t work for BiggerPockets. I don’t stand to personally gain in any way from the sale of these books. I just really think the masses need this book now more than ever, and if I can help that happen by taking a day to write a blog post, I will.

4 Wealth-Building Lessons From Set for Life (& How Living by Them Took Me From Kid Who Couldn’t Read to Millionaire at 27)

1. Living frugally gives you opportunity.

Mr. Trench wrote Set for Life for the full-time wage earner with little to no wealth but aspirations of early financial freedom. That was me. While I didn’t have the typical W-2 stream of income, I started my journey to financial freedom with little money and no experience. Instead of getting a 9-5 out of college, I did constructions projects for friends and family to make money.

Trench outlines the first step to becoming financially free in his book. This step is focusing on going from $0 to $25,000 in usable net worth by living frugally and saving one’s money. Where the money comes from is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if that money comes from being an accountant, a garbage man, or a construction worker. It just has to be accumulated as quickly as possible in order to have the ability to execute on opportunities when they do arise.

“For most folks, the pursuit of early financial freedom comes from the ability to preserve earned income. The hard truth is that the first step in the process to escape the rat race is and always has been to begin preserving capital— frugality, savings, penny pinching, living on less” (Trench).

I did this by living at the bottom of my means, and in little time, I had a solid nest egg I could use to start my investing snowball.

I was so pleased to see this first step to financial freedom included in Set for life because I believe it gets ignored in typical wealth-building advice. Instead, standard practice is to focus on increasing one’s means, boosting one’s income, creating new streams of income, etc. We all agree these are great paths to creating wealth, but what no book ever mentions is that it’s really hard in the beginning, and unless you are exceptional, it does, in fact, take money to make money. I am not exceptional. I had to build a nest egg of investable wealth by living frugally and so will most others who seek early financial freedom. Set for Life is the first book I have ever read that really addresses this fact and that clearly maps out a path to quickly navigate through it.

This first step is the hardest. As someone who has made it through the first step and on through the next few, I can assure you living frugally to build your usable wealth is necessary and worth it. It is not easy and never will be, but when you can set aside the short-term desires for the long-term benefits, you will achieve massive success quickly. One of my favorite quotes from the book that directly aligns with these thoughts is, “Emotions can be our enemies in the long-term, but in the short-term, they can be powerful allies. This directly applies to disciplined spending. Ask yourself the question, ‘Is that thing or event worth delaying financial freedom?’ A deep-rooted desire to obtain early financial freedom makes decision-making on purchases more rational, and it makes a frugal lifestyle far more achievable.”

2. House hacking can eliminate your largest cost.

In Set for Life, Mr. Trench shows us that the typical American spends 30%-50% of their income on housing. If you are doing this, it is like trying to run a marathon in knee-deep quicksand.

I was able to reach financial freedom at such a young age because I never once paid for my housing until I was already very close to financial freedom. I purchased a house hack at the age of 18 and rented out 4 rooms to friends for the next 5 years. This not only allowed me to live for free, but it actually cash flowed a bit as well. After leaving that house, my wife and I then moved into, renovated, and sold 5 houses in 5 years, doing live-in flips by utilizing great deals through the Homepath program. It wasn’t until after all of that when we took on the typical mortgage and housing expense, which at that time was more than covered by the income we had generated through the previous years of avoiding housing expenses.

Trench does a fantastic job of explaining how one can use a house hack or live-in flip to accelerate their path to financial freedom. I can tell you as someone who has done it that he is spot on. His direction and advice is useful and very achievable for anyone.

3. Long commutes will eat your wealth and time.

Mr. Trench is more passionate about reducing or eliminating your commuting cost than I am, but he is 100 percent correct, and even though I am not as passionate about removing this expense, you better believe I was back when I was clawing my way to build my nest egg. In Set for Life, you can read staggering stats concerning the time and money spent by the average American. It simply doesn’t make sense for anyone, especially those striving for early financial freedom.

Back when I was getting started on my path to early financial freedom, I was buying rentals properties, renovating them, and managing them. This was my full-time job. I identified an area where I wanted to purchase rentals and moved there. For the first two years of this job, I bought houses close enough to walk to work. This allowed me to work longer, eliminate wasteful trips, and, of course, reduce the expenses associated with commuting. All I had to do was move close to where I worked. It really is that simple.

Even today, I work from a home office. I avoid frequent drives for work and do what I can to keep commuting costs low and time efficiency high. If you are commuting 30 minutes or more to work every day, you have to read Set for Life!

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4. You’ll get rich by doing it yourself.

Trench finally says what no one else will. In the beginning, you don’t make enough to hire the pros. Teach yourself how to do things, and you will reap the rewards in the long run. When you are wealthy enough to hire someone out, you will know what you hiring them to do rather than blindly throwing the problem and cash at them and crying for help.

If I had to pick one characteristic that sets myself apart from my peers and that has accelerated me to financial freedom at a young age, it’s the fact that I always did things myself back when I was building my nest egg. This included all those $25/hour jobs swinging a hammer, those $150/hour jobs running plumbing, those $200/hour jobs reviewing legal documents. I jumped in front of those income streams and soaked them all up before the “experts” could get to them. Now that I have increased my wealth, it makes much less sense to do some of those things myself. Still, while I was doing everything to accumulate wealth to begin building a foundation of early financial freedom, damn right it was worth the risk, headache, and struggle to do everything.

Related: Rethinking “Wealthy”: The 5-Step Ladder From Middle Class to Financial Freedom

Now I am a far more well-rounded businessman because I understand what I am hiring when I do hire it. When an attorney says it will take 10 hours to review a purchase agreement, I know that’s not right, and I also know when the plumber tries to sell me a new hot water heater because my shower is dripping that that’s not right. The list goes on and on. Because of my experiences doing it myself, I can now leverage that knowledge.

I write this blog not to give you the answer, but to direct you to the answer. I was a kid who could barely read. I was a bad student, and yet I have achieved early financial freedom. My peers ask me how to do it, and often I want so badly to be able to tell them, but unfortunately, they usually don’t have the time or desire to hear the real answer. From now on, I will have the answer for them. I will direct them to Mr. Trench’s book. When reading it, I felt as though it was a road map of the less traveled path that I have been walking for the past 10 years.

Finally, as Trench says in his book, “If you want different financial results, you need a different plan. This book offers that plan. Work hard, spend as little as possible. Invest the difference intelligently, set yourself up for life as early as you possibly can. No, it’s not easy. It will be up to you to decide if it’s worth it.”

[Set for Life by Scott Trench is now available in the BiggerPockets bookstore.]

What lessons do you believe we should be teaching kids so they don’t fall into a lifestyle of financial mediocrity? If you’ve read the book, what takeaways would you add to this list?

Be sure to leave your comments below!

About Author

Jered Sturm

Jered Sturm is co-founder and director of sales and marketing at SNS Capital Group. Jered began in the real estate industry in 2006, working for a successful real estate investment company as a handyman. From 2009-2012, Jered co-founded the construction company Sturm Properties. Using his background in contracting and construction, he began investing in “Value Add” real estate. Now, after co-founding SNS Capital Group, Jered has conducted over 10 million dollars in real estate transactions. He currently co-owns and operates a portfolio worth over 3.7 million dollars in investment real estate.

32 Comments

  1. KEVIN SAPP

    Jered,
    Nice article. I’ll definitely have my son read it. Maybe it will mean more coming from a 20 something than a 50 something.

    You have the drive and passion to make this happen. That is what sets the successful apart from the not so successful. I’m curious, you did handyman and plumbing work. Where did you pick up these skills?

    Thanks for providing your story.
    Kevin

    • Jered Sturm

      Kevin,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate the kind words and hope the article will spark an interest in your son to read Set for Life.

      I get asked a lot “how did I learn my skills in the trades.” The answer is twofold 1) I always have had natural skill of working with my hands understanding how things work and being a very very visual learner I can watch something function and know how it works. This is probably part of being so terrible at reading and writing growing up I just learn differently and the trades fit that difference well. 2) I just tried things out. I would watch youtube, Buy the how to books from home depot. And it would just make sense to me how it worked and how to fix it.

  2. tim boehm

    Jered
    We did it exactly the same as you but got a much later start due to the finical conditions in our area. People tell us we were lucky, but as you know luck has nothing to do with it. Right now we are doing a 5k sq.ft. house and we have every skill, right down to the granite counter tops. Investing in tools has been a great expense but well worth the investment. Successful people like ourselves are always glad to hear of the success of others, keep up the hard work and best wishes.

  3. Scott Trench

    Whoa! This was incredible. Thank you so much Jered. This praise means a ton from you – you’ve built an incredible business and have an exceptional story. I wish that I had worked with you closely on the book, to use some of your personal examples! Maybe in 2nd edition! And, maybe we can see if there’s room for some more content from a legendary entrepreneur and early success like yourself. You exemplify hard work, frugality, patience, resolve and grit, and your business results speak for themselves.

    Thanks Jered!

  4. Paul Merriwether

    Great job Jared!!!! Being a DIY person myself I know exactly what you’ve been through. I had a contractor give me a quote of a foundation cap. It came to $50,000. I knocked it for $2500 and some hard work. Congratulations on your successes!!!

  5. Danny Randazzo

    Jared,

    This is a great post with excellent information. I’ll be picking up a copy of the audio book today.

    When we had dinner at the Best Ever conference in Denver I knew we had similarities but it’s clear that we both are of like minds. Working hard to start building an equity nest egg and then investing it for financial freedom.

    I look forward to our next conversation.

    Danny

  6. Erik Whiting

    Good piece. I hope you do change the world, or at least a few parts of it.

    The book that changed my life was “The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey. He agrees with much of what you mention: live frugally, save money, invest, hard work and delayed gratification equals great rewards, etc. One of the things he warns people (read “yells at”) is student loans. Too many young folks go off to college and emerge with tens if not hundreds of thousands in “good debt” for degrees that lead to dead end or low paying jobs. That has to stop.

    Where I get frustrated is that people argue against Ramsey because of his no debt philosophy and/or they get upset when he talks about making 12% returns investing. Is Ramsey perfect? Heck no. Are you…am I? (grins). He’s a nationally known author and personality and he’s changing parts of the world, but too many people resist the good in his message because they don’t like 1 or 2 things….okay, that’s fair. Take the good, ignore the rest. I hope you don’t end up with too many naysayers nitpicking your ideas to death.

    Where I take some issue with Ramsey is he crafts his message mainly for middle class, average or higher income audience and business owners. He misses a lot of folks in the lower income simply because they aren’t going to read a self-help book on money or any other topic, nor are they going to listen to talk radio shows. I’ve led his FPU class several times. Guess who we attracted? Middle class people. The people who needed this info the most never came.

    Now here I go with my nitpick… apologies in advance. The office job you called “terrible” that is the path many follow. Let’s face it: people you and I have nitroglycerin in our veins. We are entrepreneurs. Nothing stops us. But there are NOT THAT MANY OF US around, though. I think probably 60%-80% of the population needs to be the worker, not the owner. They don’t have the knowledge, drive, skill set or risk tolerance to put everything on the line. Blame it on our education systems that is still training factory workers for jobs that existed 60 years ago or whatever…. the fact is a large percentage of us don’t belong in the captain’s chair of any ship, even if it’s just a tiny tug boat. Some of us will learn those things, but we have to start somewhere, and it might as well be with improving our lot vs. the 9-5.

    So what I would advise/recommend is showing people who are best in the role of worker bees on how to craft their finances around their jobs in such a way that they never get the “golden handcuff” syndrome where they can’t quit if they start hating their job. Your best, mostly widely applicable ideas are the talk of frugality, saving wealth to invest, and developing multiple income streams. I do believe anyone can do that with a little discipline (read “written monthly budget”) and a decent side hustle (small business). Or by purchasing 1-2 rental properties. You mentioned house hacking…love it! I think that should be the default mode for everyone coming out of college or going to work right after high school. Also, the stuff on reducing the life-lost during a lengthy commute…YES! Everyone can do better with reducing one of our major expenses (cars, fuel). More of that kind of advice, please!

    Flesh out more details on those ideas and I think you’ll have a winner that really WILL change the world for everyone, not only us, the nitro-fed business tycoons. (grins)

  7. Daniel Somers

    Great article Jered! Set for Life is definitely on my reading list. Everything that both you and Scott have written has been truly inspiring. I am 27 years old also and always struggle with the first part of frugality because it is the hardest step. Had some life changes recently and it makes it even tougher but there are always excuses for everything. I feel like I am working in the right direction though!! Keep up the great posts!!

  8. Spencer Liddic

    Jered, hats off to you and Scott. I’ve been reading both of your articles the past few years and you both have given me the strength to keep pushing forward in my own business.

    Six years ago I had friends and family asking why I would purchase a run down house, only to have to fix it up and “deal” with tenants. Six years and 22 units later, the same people ask me how they can get more involved in my business and real estate.

  9. Zac Ferguson

    Excellent read, Jered. I, too, have read Scott’s book (his BP interview shortly before his book came out was the very first BP podcast I ever listened to) and I have to say it really helped mold and reinforce aspects of achieving financial independence that I have been studying. In particular, I would say his view on house hacking has led me to take action into getting this to be my first major step in this plan.

    Before I stumbled onto BP I had been finding, reading, and listening to many advocates of financial independence, what it takes, and actionable steps to achieve it. Scott’s background in real estate along with these topics was an excellent segue for me to take my burgeoning interest in personal finance to something I can actually go out, do, and enjoy. Again this was a fun read and I’m glad I have been able to speak to both of you and look forward to hearing more about both of your financial success stories.

  10. Ian Reeves

    Jared, great blog! I have a fairly large following on Facebook and will be sharing this 🙂 I also get immense satisfaction out of teaching others this stuff. Its fun to see how peoples mindsets can shift once they understand there is a better way! Keep up the good work, I enjoy reading your blogs,

    -Ian

  11. Tony Wooldridge

    Jered,

    GR8 blog post thanks so much for sharing your story as it applies to Scott’s book. I have truly enjoyed listening to your Podcast’s as well as watching/following your wealth of knowledge which you always seem to produce here on BP. And how absolutely incredible is it that you have been able to do all of this with a learning disability! (Others without have absolutely no reason for excuses!!!) You truly are an inspiration for me and I would assume a lot of others out there. Thanks again for sharing and thanks for allowing me to share as well. Here is to wishing you the best in your 2017 REI ventures!

  12. Not-so-common sense.

    I stumbled into all of this advice by. . . being a poor kid. Huge advantage.

    The rich kids don’t seem to know how to fix their own brakes, much less anything complicated.

    Now that I have a “rich kid” salary, I’ll be retired by 45.

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