A Millionaire at 34... Without College?!
If you are like me, I was raised to go to school each day, get good grades, and participate in extracurricular activities like Honor Society, band, student council, and sports. The goal was to get a scholarship to college, or at the minimum, get accepted to college. During my early teenage years my older sister, by two years, started dating a boy who was raised very differently. He was 15 years old and already working almost full time hours at his father’s tire shop. He still attended school and played soccer as well as football, but after about a year of making “full time” wages, school and sports became less important to him. He stopped sports first, and then soon dropped out of high school. I’m not exactly sure when, but I remember him being at high school for his junior year, but he never finished that year. So at most, he finished 10th grade.
What was my soon to be brother-in-law doing with his time after dropping out of high school? He was working at his father’s shop, but not only that, due to his family dynamics, he had moved in with our family. I would come home from school and he would have a new car in the driveway. Then about a month later, there would be another newer/better car in the driveway. What he was doing was buying junk cars, and fixing them up by adding cool “gansta” add-ons to the vehicle, like fluorescent lighting below the car, or tinted windows, or maybe even a spoiler. He would then sell the car for more than he put into it. This would happen over and over again until he moved out.
When he was 19 years old he asked my sister to marry him, and she said yes. They were married by the time he was 20 and my sister was 19. Of course, my side of the family freaked out! Here was this high school dropout who married into our family and promptly moved my sister into a fifth wheel paying $8 a day for rental space at the RV camp ground. My sister was going to community college at the time, and she promptly dropped out of college to marry her man, and to start working full time at McDonalds.
Imagine being my parents. They were heartbroken as their dream of their daughter graduating from college and marrying a college educated man faded away. They knew my now brother-in-law to be a good kid, who was trying to break away from a dysfunctional childhood. So even though he wasn’t perfect, he continued to try and love my sister, and provide for her.
Once they were on their own, my brother-in-law, started his career in the flooring field. He installed and removed carpet, but this wasn’t the only thing that he did. He had many talents and would pick up several different types of jobs, learning new skills from each one. Soon he had enough money to buy a home. He moved his young family in, fixed it up, and then promptly moved them out to the next property that he purchased. He followed this process of having his family live in the homes he was fixing up, to save on housing costs. This resulted in him becoming a very skilled contractor.
Once he had enough cash, he moved his family into a rental and continued acquiring properties and homes through the trading, selling and fixing up process. Soon he was contacted by a friend from his church who was an insurance adjuster. The adjuster told him that they needed a good restoration contractor in a rural part of Washington State. So my brother-in-law reached out to one of the top restoration franchises in the nation, ServiceMaster Restore, and became a franchise owner in Longview, WA. After just over 2 years with ServiceMaster, he had a $2,000,000 + business and 8 properties, making his net worth at the age of 34 $1,380,000. Meanwhile, I was 31 years old, and had only $20,000 in cash and around $25,000 in retirement. My net worth was around $50,000.
I had followed the path I was coached by my family and society to follow. Go to college, get a degree, and then get a safe and steady job. I also was taught not to spend more than you earned. So I never used credit cards and the only debt I incurred was a $13,000 car that I paid off in less than 3 years. I did have an addiction to national and international travel, so much of my money went to pay for that, however, I was never taught about acquiring assets. I felt comfortable with a $20,000 emergency fund, and felt that I’d catch up later on my retirement.
The sad part of this story, is that early into my brother-in-law’s 35th year of life, he passed away. I was called by my family to take over his business and get it to a point that it could be sold. My sister was not in a position to run the business.
The assets that my brother-in-law purchased, allowed for my sister to be a full time mom and raise her children at home. What a gift he gave my sister and their children. He purchased ASSETS with his money. Those assets, 10 years later are still paying dividends to this day.
When I took over his business, I soon realized that there were many things he was doing right as well as many areas where he had no knowledge on how to improve. The tracking of his money was abysmal. His office manager and several of his employees were stealing from him. He had no way of auditing the books by himself to know that this was happening. He lost over $150,000 cash due to his inability to understand his numbers in his business. That’s just the money I was able to find from the current numbers I had. I’m sure there was much more that was lost or mismanaged. Also, he struggled hiring people because he didn’t know the areas he was weak in. For example, he hired his 21 year old sister to run his business as the General Manager. He was insecure about appearing ignorant, and due to his lack of formal education, he was weak in critical areas.
From this experience, and going from being a comfortable, “in the rat race of life” employee, to being thrown into entrepreneurship; I got to see both sides of the college coin. So what is the lesson? We need to be educated so that we can be our best selves and prevent others from taking advantage of us. However; is college really necessary to become a good provider for your family? Probably not. Two of the wealthiest men in society today dropped out of college to pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. My brother-in-law had a net worth of $1,380,000 at the age of 34 without even a high school degree. Maybe it’s time we talk about and teach the power of acquiring assets. Let’s not put all of our focus on obtaining a college education and slipping into the numbing, but ever so comfortable, “rat race” of working and paying bills.