I’ve Built a $550k Net Worth by Age 28, Thanks to These Lessons My Parents Taught Me

by | BiggerPockets.com

I’m 28 years old, and my net worth is $550,000. I haven’t won the lottery or inherited a trust fund. My first job out of college had a starting salary of $50,000. How did I do it? Well, I could write a post about my money-saving hacks, but there are a lot of articles, books, and podcasts already out there that will teach you those things. (If you don’t believe me, check out my fellow BiggerPockets colleagues’ work here and here.) So instead, I want to focus on what I believe truly made a difference for me: I was raised to be financially independent.

Many of you are either currently parents or aspiring to be parents at some point. If you’re like me, you’ll do your best to instill values of hard work, empathy, and curiosity in your children as they grow up. These are important, but when I think about what I truly want for my children, it boils down to this: happy, fulfilled, and financially independent. I don’t want my kids to live paycheck to paycheck, working until they’re 75, not able to provide for their own children. My parents raised me with those very goals in mind, and I’m living proof that it can be done without sacrificing fun. (We vacationed in 16 various states growing up.)

Here’s the blueprint.

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4 Lessons to Help Your Kids Grow Into Financially Savvy Adults

1. Teach savings.

I started to receive an allowance when I was around 7 or 8 years old. It was maybe a dollar per week. Imagine those screaming kids in the grocery store checkout line, begging for a candy bar or sugary drink. Now imagine what happened when I went to the store with my mom. If I wanted a candy bar, I had to pony up the money to buy it. If I didn’t have it, I’d have to wait until the next week.

Related: Teaching Kids to Be Entrepreneurs is Key to Addressing the Wealth Gap: Here’s Why

Pending good behavior, I would receive an allowance “raise” every few months. This continued on through high school, and it was my allowance that was used to purchase movie tickets, expensive clothes that were deemed “unnecessary,” video game consoles, etc. I remember saving many months to purchase a Playstation and a fancy BMX bike. I cherished both like gold; I had felt the pain while passing up smaller items.

Bottom line: Receiving an allowance taught me that if you want something, you have to save your own money to buy it. You don’t deserve anything by default.

kids-money-lessons

2. Teach compound interest.

Have you heard the story of John and Mary who are each saving for retirement? John starts saving $5,000/year at age 25. Mary waits just 10 years longer, until age 35, to start saving the same $5,000/year. What happens when John and Mary turn 65? Well, Mary has approximately $540,000. John? John has nearly $1.2 million dollars—more than double. And let’s say John has a brother named Jim who invested the $5,000/year but only from ages 25-35. Then he stopped putting any money in and just let it sit and compound. Jim only invested $50,000 compared to Mary’s $150,000, but guess who has more at age 65? Jim does. His early 10 years of investing built up to be over $600,000. The story of John, Mary, and Jim was hammered into my head from an early age. “Who do you want to be?” my dad would ask. “Mary, Jim, or John?” John, of course. So I opened up a savings account, traditional investment account, and a Roth IRA as early as I could.

From 2006-2010, I actually lost money in my Roth IRA. But like John, I was taught the power of compound interest; even if I don’t contribute another dollar, at just a 5% rate of return, I will have over $1 million dollars in this account at age 65.

Bottom line: Tell the story of John, Mary, and Jim. Help your kids open up a savings account and let them start to see the power of interest.

3. Teach frugality.

For the longest time growing up, I thought for sure my parents were broke. Why didn’t I receive as many Christmas presents as my friends? Why couldn’t we move to a bigger house? Why didn’t we have cable television? These questions, at times, infuriated me. “When you think back on this vacation, you’re not going to care whether or not you were in a nice hotel.” I don’t want to say that my parents were right about everything, but they were right about that. I don’t remember the gifts that I received growing up as much as I do the fun my mom and I had decorating cookies. I surely have many more memories playing outside with friends than if I would’ve watched those shows I wanted to on MTV. I’m happy to have one house to call my childhood home. It’s funny how people in my generation are talking about “spending money on experiences instead of things” like it’s some new concept. I’m lucky my parents taught me this lesson, even if I didn’t always appreciate it along the way.

Bottom line: Actions speak louder than words. Be a role model when it comes to frugality, and just book a cheap hotel that has a swimming pool.

4. Teach entrepreneurship.

I told you about saving for a BMX bike with all the bells and whistles when I was a kid. What I haven’t told you yet was that bike cost around $500 all said and done. I think I was 13 or 14 years old when I bought it, and I was probably receiving $10-$15/week for an allowance. So how did I save $500? I hustled. I did the easy stuff like saving all of the “grandma money” I received for my birthday and selling my old toys at the family garage sale. But my dad also taught me that sometimes, you have to get creative. I was too old for lemonade stands at this point, so instead I did extra housework for a few additional bucks.

My brother was selling Boy Scout popcorn at the time, and he hated going door to door. So I made a deal to do it for him, as long as he paid me something like a dime per house. I made a different deal with my dad to not watch any television at all for an extra $20/month. Eventually, I had enough money to buy the coolest bike on the block. (Side note: While I enjoyed the bike for that summer, the trend started to turn to four-wheeled methods of transportation by the next one, and that bike ended up sitting in my garage until I could sell it for ~30% of what I paid. I learned the lesson of a bad investment.)

dollar-today-or-tomorrow

Related: At Age 26, I’m on the Brink of Financial Freedom: Here’s How I Did It

Bottom line: My parents fostered my creativity by allowing me to earn extra money through odd jobs. Help your kids see that there are often many different ways to skin a cat.

None of this is rocket science, and none of it is overly difficult. Like most things in life, it will just take a bit of discipline and the right motivation to make it work. The good news is that a little bit can go a long way: Providing a strong foundation to your kids when they’re young will help them immensely later on in life (and hopefully keep them out of your basement!), I can’t tell you how many of my friends have told me, “I wish my parents taught me what yours did.” It’s not that other parents were bad; it’s just that the focus for “good parenting” hasn’t included the topic of personal finance. I believe we need to change this, but that’s just me.

I’m eager to hear what you think and what your experiences have been.

Comment away!

About Author

Julie Kent

Julie is a software engineer, real estate investor, and book worm. She accidentally fell into real estate five years ago and currently owns three rental properties in the Des Moines, Iowa metro. She couldn't be happier working at BiggerPockets and looks forward to helping change more lives! In her free time, Julie enjoys live music, watching/playing sports, and spending time with her boyfriend and dog.

40 Comments

  1. Mitch Coluzzi

    Thanks for posting Julie – I had a similar upbringing and am largely financially-independent also. Money is hush-hush in some families, but in ours it was a point of education/discussion. My favorite saying is “Live today like no one will, so you can live tomorrow like no one can.”

  2. Cindy Larsen

    Julie,

    Great article. MY story is similar to yours except that I had to learn these lessons on my own, so it took me longer. My parents were always strapped for cash, because, no mater how much my Dad made, my Mom spent more that that. Since she doesn’t use logic in her thought process, there wasn’t much he could do. So,I learned early on that except for being able to count on Mom for extravagant christmas and birthday presents, if I wanted something, I had to earn it. I wish someone had told me the story of Mary, John, and Jim. I think the story needs a couple of more examples though:
    * the thoughtless emotional spender (my mom), who hampers their spouse in building wealth
    * the busy worker (me, in the software industry working 60-80 hour weeks for 20+ years) who doesn’t take the time to manage their investments (I maxed out my 401k contributions, and stoped at that: set it and forget it probably resulted in reducing my resulting net worth considerably)
    * the change adverse pesimist: my ex husband who stalled my BRRR process for 20 years by always having a reason we shouldn’t sell and move, and stubornly refusing to allow change. I learned remodeling skills because he wouldn’t deal with contractors in the house: painting, sheetrock, tile, refinishing or installing wood floors, paneling, shelves, doors, concrete, counters, stairs, woodworking: everything except plumbing and electrical, which I learned about and then hired out.

    GIven my lower middle class origins, I did odd jobs as a kid, and my first purchase was a scooter at age 7, with money I had earned. Fast forward 50 years, and despite many challenges, I have a 7 figure net worth, and am set to at least double that in the next 10 years. I’ve made over a million $ in real estate appreciation so far, but that was just finding good deals in areas that I knew (through research) were going to appreciate. I started saving via 401ks 40 years ago. Compound interest rules.

    Besides the the things you recommend for teaching kids, I highly recommend making math fun, and a part of life thay you share with the kids, and praising the kids for it. Tell them they are good at it. people tend to like things they are good at. People who are math adverse probably do not end up as successful investors.

    My biggest point for everyone is that, it’s never too late to start saving, and never to late to learn how to manage your wealth. Earlier would be better, but now is MUCH better than later. Even if you are starting small, start now, save, and invest with carefully calculated risks. And max out a ROTH IRA: best investment vehicle ever.

  3. Jackson H.

    Great post Julie. I think the problem is that we try to keep the money conversation a secret from our kids. Like if it a bad thing. Money is just a tool and we need to just learn how to use it. Thanks again your post.

  4. Michael Woodward

    Great advice Julie! Thanks for the article! You’re living proof that luck and privilege are not the keys to financial success. It’s all about working smart…. and hard. You are a key contributor to our economy and I thank you for that!

  5. Kate stephens

    Good post. You will be a top mama one day . My 4 year old is very fiscally aware for her age ….. except when it comes to Ben and jerrys ice cream but she gets that from me ? She told me she would “work hard when she is older so she has enough money to buy me ice cream!”

  6. Christopher Neeson

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I will say I was not brought up in a financially savvy home. I wasn’t introduced into entrepreneurial interests until I was 23 years old. After focusing on a small business for a couple years I then turned to real estate instead. After picking up two properties in a ballooned economy then refocusing in a leaner market I have seen the benefits of investing and staying frugal.

    Your story is very point on target and I must say I enjoyed the read

  7. Sarah Melton

    I really enjoyed this article! While my little one is just an infant I’m like a sponge right now about this topic. Mainstream media subtly makes us feel that because her dad and I can provide anything she wants, that we should. This article helps reinforce how we actually feel which is that my job as her parent is to support those skills which will help her truly succeed in life! Thanks for this support!

    • Julie Kent

      Hi Daniel! Thank for reading and the comment. A little more detail for you: I started saving young, and by the time I went to college at 18 I had saved a couple thousand dollars. I worked all through college and saved as much as I could. Luckily, I did not have to take out any student loans and so I left college with no debt. I graduated college in 3 years so I had a little extra left in what my parents (and grandparents) had saved for my education which I later used to put a down payment on my first property. I started investing in stocks when I was 18/19 years old and reaped the benefits from a few lucky trades early on. I also started putting money into my Roth IRA when I was 18, which compounded and grew. Finally, I did make $50K right out of college, but I received pretty sizable raises each year. Hope that helps. 🙂

  8. Brian R.

    You bet, Julie! My folks paid for food, shelter, the hand-me-down-clothes on my back (I was the youngest of five boys), and school. Anything else was on me. Newspaper routes. Raking lawns. Sweeping driveways. Extra house chores. Working the phones at the Church rectory. Later 40-hour work weeks at the local hardware store – in addition to full-time school (and somehow I found some spare time in there to have a girlfriend).

    One excellent thing my parents taught was interest. My money was secured safely in the Bank of Dad, which offered a 1% compounded monthly interest rate. I was happy to receive interest every month and what I didn’t realize at the time, was that technically that was, in effect, my allowance.

    The childhood lessons were excellent. Now my wife and I remain debt-free, with savings in the bank, diversified and stable retirement accounts, college savings for our kids, and our own real estate investment business offering 5-7% APY to our partners. And we sure do enjoy paying it forward!

    Thanks Mom and Dad!

  9. Brian Haley

    Julie,
    I am nearing 60 yrs old and I can tell you that 30-40 years goes by VERY quickly. I’ve sent your article to my kids who are in their 20’s and 30’s. Because you have made these principles your lifestyle you are now an inspiration to help others. Your parents did well!

  10. Andrew Allen

    Great article. Teaching financial skills is one of the most important jobs of a parent, especially since most kids aren’t learning this in “school.”

    I don’t follow the logic of your first point. An allowance and savings are totally different concepts. For example, my kids do chores but get paid on a case-by-case basis for things they do above and beyond expected chores. They can then save this money…but they don’t get an allowance.

    I know there’s a lot of debate about whether an allowance is a good idea. I don’t believe it is. After all, if we’re to teach our kids that, as you have stated, “you don’t deserve anything by default” should they get an allowance? That is pretty much the definition of an allowance…getting paid by default…getting paid for existing…

    • Julie Kent

      Thanks for reading and your comment, Andrew! You bring up a great point. I should have made it more clear that my allowance was not guaranteed; I had a long list of chores and other obedience expectations that had to be met for me to receive it. So maybe it is just a matter of semantics. 🙂

  11. Paul Moore

    Julie: Great post! My hat’s off to your parents. I have 4 kids who are mostly grown, and I wish I would have done this with them. And lived this way myself. Thanks for sharing your experience. And for honoring your parents the way you did here.

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