Our Path to Freedom

Guest author, Juan Rodriguez has a unique story. He came to the United States when he was in high school and picked up on things pretty quickly! At only 31, he and his wife have accumulated assets generating passive income streams that they hope to retire on before the age of 40!

I must admit, I’m (very!) jealous of those of you who have had their lives figured out since you were little kids. One of my best friends growing up knew he wanted to be a doctor since he was 10 years old, and he’s now a successful family physician. My brother-in-law has always been fascinated by cars, and he’s now a successful mechanical engineer. Other friends were interested in important social matters, and are now successful teachers putting their positive mark in the world. Me, on the other hand, I’ve always been pretty good at what I do, but, until recently, had absolutely no idea what do with my life.

I’m 31 years old and my wife is 30. In some aspects, we’re your typical millennial couple: we’re driven, educated, and always connected. In other aspects, however, we are different. I’m a finance manager in a Fortune 100 healthcare company, and my wife is a successful accountant, together making an income that allows us to live a great life. We’ve been to many places in Europe, South America, and the US. We’re also landlords; we own our primary home and several rental properties. By taking calculated risks through real estate, leveraging our incomes and credit, aggressively tracking our financials, and tapping into our support system, we are now on track to retire within the next 5-7 years. For all I criticize our millennial generation, I believe we are redefining the American dream. No longer do we want to work 50 years for a company to get a gold pen and a retirement party. We want to travel the world, eat different kinds of food, explore new cultures, learn new languages, give back, and like our dear friends at The Frugal RVer, live a truly free life.

Life’s good now, but it wasn’t always like this…

 

An Endless Cycle of Bad Decisions

My family moved to the US about 16 years ago from Colombia. None of us knew the language or its customs, but we knew we wanted to be part of the American Dream. My dad took a job working maintenance, and my mom started working in a cigar warehouse, while my little brother and I attended school. This is what the typical family looks like in the immigrant community I grew up in! However, my parents knew from the beginning that this wasn’t the life they wanted for themselves or their kids. They both made enormous sacrifices and instilled in us a ‘can-do’ attitude, and the feeling that anything and everything can be achieved.

 

School

I graduated high school in 2003, 16th in a class of 200 seniors. How? Even though I was more interested in girls, fast cars, and hanging out with friends, I figured out pretty soon that succeeding in the public school system meant studying to pass exams, rather than learning. For all the fun and excitement that high school was for me, it left me completely unprepared to figure out the rest of my life. At the insistence of my parents, I started college right away, but it was nothing like I expected.

Without much clue as to what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I declared computer engineering as my major. My interest in computer engineering was simply because I was the ‘go-to’ guy to fix computers. As it turned out, core curriculum for COMPUTER engineering meant I’d have to study classes such as humanities, history, sociology, or English. I thought I’d be learning about computers! So, back to square one - I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I did, however, know that I had no interest in humanities, history, sociology, or English!

Work

I started working the day after I turned 16. I worked as a waiter and a cashier, and very soon (about a month later) realized the service industry wasn’t a good fit for my personality. Thanks to my business teacher at school, I was able to land a job working for a small banking technology company making $6.50/hour stuffing bank statements in envelopes. I started working full time after high school, and was soon promoted to run the company’s North Florida location, along with a nice pay increase. About 3 years later I was fired from this job. Looking back, I was not ready for that kind of responsibility.

It took me months to find a similar job, but unfortunately, my attitude had not changed. I was still very entitled and felt that I was owed promotions and raises just because I showed up to work every day. I struggled with missing promotions I felt I was qualified to receive, pay increases that never came due to the poor state of the economy at the time (and my crappy attitude), friends who were already successful and making more than me.

 

Personal Life/Instant Gratification

Soon after moving to North Florida, I married my girlfriend. I was 21 years old and she was 18. Our immaturity, dire financial situation, and lack of communication doomed our relationship. We were both living a life well beyond what we could afford: living in an expensive apartment, driving nice cars, racking up debt, and not having a vision for the future. We were together for almost 5 years, but it ended in divorce.

Speaking of girlfriends, I often joke that I’ve had more cars that girlfriends. I’ve probably owned 10 cars in my life, many of which I couldn’t afford. For most of my adult life, I’ve lived a life beyond my means. My dad bought me my first car if I promised I would pay for gas and insurance. Soon after I started working full time, I decided that this 10-year-old car was not what I deserved, so I financed a newer car. Once I was promoted, this newer car also did not meet my expectations and I got a brand new car. Another ridiculous cycle!

Who doesn’t like nice things? I love the newest gadgets, the nice living room furniture, the nice shoes and clothes. In other words, I love the good life! VISA, MasterCard, and AMEX sure knew about my love for nice things. I used to spend like there was no tomorrow, but as you now know, the financials didn’t add up. I started racking up debt, and was barely able to pay minimum payments. My already low credit score took a nosedive into the low-500s.

 

Life finds a way to balance itself out

It took me 7 years after graduating high school to realize that I wasted 7 years of my life starting classes I didn’t care for, dropping them mid-semester, and starting the endless ridiculous cycle over and over again. I finally graduated in 2013 with a corporate finance major. It took 4 or 5 schools, 10 years, 3 or 4 different majors, and thousands upon thousands of dollars in student loans racked up.

Working full time since my high school graduation didn’t allow me to put all my efforts into graduating from college in 4 years. It did, however, allow me to have first-hand knowledge of what it takes to succeed in Corporate America. It also allowed me to bypass the frustration that many of my fellow millennials are expecting to have a high paying job right out of school. By the time I was done with college, I already had almost 10 years of experience in a corporate setting and was able to land a well-paying job that in turn allowed me to get to where I am now.

Being married and divorced at such a young age allowed me to understand what NOT to do in future relationships. My wife and I have been together now for almost 7 years and married for 3 ½. Meeting her was truly the turning point in my life. She inspired me to change my life and become the person I am today.

I share this with you today to help you realize that no matter the circumstances, you can achieve any goal you set your mind to. I am an immigrant with an accent, I’ve been divorced, broke, and unemployed. Now, my wife and I are on track to retire before we're 40. 

Freedom comes in many forms. In the coming months, I'll share more about our path to financial freedom. If I can do it, you can too!

What's your path to freedom?

Juan Rodriguez

  • Great article and glad to hear that you figured it all out! My big turning point was finding out I had financed my dishes at 25% interest! That was crazy enough for me! Personal finance is so awesome that everyone can do many things wrong, but getting their act together, they can really turn things around! Thanks for sharing your story!