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The Millionaire Barista: Origin Story

Ever since I was small I’ve had a crazy dream: I’ve wanted to become a millionaire. The problem is I’ve never been interested in high-income careers. I went to Belmont University to study music. I graduated with a degree in philosophy. My first job out of college was working the deli counter at Bread & Company. Like many of my generation that entered the workforce out of college into the great recession my job prospects were slim.

I ended up making a bit of a career at a local coffee shop as a barista. I got paid above minimum wage and tips were good. After a while I was making more than most in the industry (around 30k a year after taxes including tips, working 40-50 hours a week with no benefits, no paid vacation, and no sick time). I got married young (age 21) and my wife was making about the same after taxes. In total we were bringing in a decent income of 60-70k a year after taxes. And we were happy.

We were renting an 800 square foot duplex in the 12th South area up until we were 25. Our landlord (the Nashville Scene did a write up on how she was the worst landlord in the city) raised our rent from $800/month to $1100/month, so we decided to explore the option of buying. I met a realtor at the coffee shop where I worked. I’d only seen him once or twice but remembered he mentioned he was in real estate. I asked him for his card, and we set a meeting, hit it off and two weeks later we’d put an offer on a house in East Nashville. We decided to buy because the interest rates were 3-4%. A rate so low it makes little sense not to buy as long as you are planning on living in the home for at least 5 years.

This was my first step into the larger world of finance.

It was around this time I watched the HBO documentary on Warren Buffet. One of the richest

people in the world, and he made it all on the stock market from humble beginnings. I got inspired. What if I could become a millionaire making less than $100,000 a year? I read the book Buffet refers to as the investor’s bible: Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor.

I told myself if I finished it cover to cover, than I was actually interested in finance. It took me almost a year but I did it, and it left me hungry for more.

I enrolled in a Certified Financial Planner course through Kaplan at Belmont. It was a one year, one day a week class designed to fill the educational requirements of the CFP (Certified Financial Planner) certification—the CPA for financial planners. I completed the course this January and have not yet taken the exam. I’m tentatively planning to sit for it in November.

In the past year I’ve opened a self-employed Roth and Traditional 401(k) on for my wife, a Roth IRA for each of us at Vanguard, took our money out of target retirement mutual funds and began managing them myself, and built an emergency fund of 6-9 months of expenses. I’ve learned a lot. There is nothing more empowering than taking control of your finances. To catch a glimpse of financial freedom—the point at which your investments are making enough money so you don’t need to work.

I am not a millionaire. But I created a financial plan that would make me one earning less than $100,000 a year. I am no expert on finance, and I am not a financial professional so take everything I say with a grain of salt. Do your own research. Perhaps hire a financial planner. Do not make any major financial decisions with my words as your only guide. All that said, I’ll be putting together some ideas on how to build wealth, make your money make money, and prepare for life events.

This is the first in a series of articles outlining what I feel should be common knowledge but wasn’t for me.

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