I’ll admit it. 

I had the superficial goal of amassing a million dollars on a school teacher’s salary before I was forty.

I had to pay for my own university education, and I didn’t inherit a penny.    When I got married two years ago, my wife’s friends put $600 in an envelope for us, and I just stared at it.  Nobody had ever given me so much money before. 

Sure,  there are far more admirable goals than becoming a 30 something millionaire—but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t proud when I stock-piled 7 figures into an investment account by the time I was 38 years old.

To do that, I think you have to be a bit of an oddball.  I’m not saying that I’m on “the spectrum” (euphemistic “teacher-speak” for a weird kid) but I’m the kind of guy you might see doing a metaphorical Lindy Hop at a Rave.

How did I become a debt-free millionaire on a teacher’s salary?

Step 1—Frugality

There’s “frugal” and there’s “frugal”.  I can’t suggest that anyone do what I did because

A.  It was dumb
B.  It was uncomfortable at times
C.  You’ll be given the “What the hell’s wrong with you?” speech by your family.  And if you don’t get that speech, they’ll still compose it and share it, but they’ll do it at closed showings when you’re not around.

Dying cats and dirty laundry

When I was a young teacher, I shared accommodation with room-mates.  Call me “frugal”, “cheap” or “parsimonious” if you like, but I preferred not paying any rent at all.  Wanting to add to an investment account I established when I was 19 (and wanting to hammer down my student loans in a single year) I looked for people escaping to the sun- belt for winter, who wanted somebody moving in for the season to look after their homes.  In some cases, the vacationing homeowners left me responsible for ancient animals on death’s door.

One couple left for Costa Rica in the winter, leaving me responsible for a geriatric white cat with burnt hair patches.  It looked like somebody had tried to kill it with a flame thrower.   With the casual warning the owner mumbled:  “The cat’s really old.  If he dies, he dies.”

I prayed that I’d never have to find his stiffened body in my bed.  But thankfully, that cat had more comebacks than Rocky Balboa so I referred to the cat (when talking about it with friends) as The Italian Stallion—partly because of his obvious longevity and the fact that the owner never did tell me the cat’s real name.

But no matter how cold the rent-free homes got in the winter, I never turned on the heat.   Wanting to keep costs down so I could invest and desperately pay down debts, I’d walk around the house wearing layers of shirts and sweaters while the winter’s snow piled up outside. If there was a fireplace, I used it.  And at night, I’d make a roaring fire and then dragged blankets in front of it to sleep.  Waking up during winter mornings, I’d see my breath.

Eventually, I craved the freedom of my own place, so I moved into a basement suite where the landlord charged $350 a month.   But low rents can come with inconveniences.  In this case, I was a long way from the school I taught at:  35 miles.

If I was smart enough to drive a car to work, it wouldn’t have been so bad.   I owned a rusting, 20 year old Volkswagen that I bought for $1,200, but I wasn’t prepared to pay fuel prices for the 70 mile roundtrip commute.  So– I rode my bike.

And it gets worse.  I’m not exactly proud of this, but at the time, I refused to buy a washer and dryer.  I also felt that coin operated Laundromats were a waste of money.  So I found a cheaper way.

I’d load my dirty laundry into a black garbage bag, put it in my bicycle trailer, and pedal down the highway at 5am to work.  I’d then get to work and skulk into the school to do my laundry in the home economics class before anyone else arrived.

I think I’m wealthier than most people in my vocational wage bracket because I wasn’t conventional with anything—not with my spending and not with my investing.

I’ll keep a running series on this blog, titled A Million Dollars on a Teacher’s Salary, with my subsequent wealth tips and wealth-related stories.  You can learn from me, laugh at me, laugh with me or just swear that money isn’t everything—and that you’ll never want to live like me.

But before you do, here’s a teaser.  Today I live well.  I get weekly massages in my own home, and I’ve travelled to more than 40 different countries so far.  I’m also debt-free, live in a club-med like condo and own a classic Mercedes Benz (and a practical Mazda)  It doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Have you gone to any extremes to save money?  How do you feel about them now?  Was it worth it?