A Millionaire at 34… Without College?!

Building Wealth

By: Amber | Against The Grain Financials

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 in 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 “gangsta” 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 campground.  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 McDonald’s.

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 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 to hire 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.

Republished with the permission of atgfinancials.com.

Steve handles the operational side of Rockstar by keeping the systems running smoothly, social media accounts active and curation buttery smooth. He also answers to the name “Do-It-All Boy”.

Steve is also the founder of ThinkSaveRetire.com – a site where he shares ideas and techniques on how to retire from your 9-5 job and start to enjoy the virtues that life has to offer outside of full-time work. Life is about more than fluorescent lights and gray cubicles!

Last modified: August 8, 2018

12 Responses to :
A Millionaire at 34… Without College?!

  1. Mr. r2e says:

    Yes parents, your kids can be successful and not go to college.

    College is not for every kid and don’t try to mold your kid into your happily ever after dream. Trades are a great way to make a living. I am totally dependent on trades like plumbing and HVAC (heating/air) and construction. I had the opportunity to learn about trade work from older siblings but all I took from that experience was some pretty choice language lessons!

    Recently our local school district finally acknowledged that they needed to get back to offering classes to students around the trades. They are building a specific school campus focused on trade school curriculum.

  2. Deveeda says:

    I enjoyed this article. However, I’m at a different age where I will have a decent pension but would like to enjoy some other options of bringing in income for women over 55 who might enjoy rehab of home or real estate PART TIME.

  3. Mr VT says:

    As someone who never went past eighth grade I have mixed feelings on this subject. On one hand I wish that I would have more formal education, but on the other hand I’m probably in a much better position financially now then I would be with more education. I think you can learn anything on your own if you are disciplined. Frankly I think I have a much better grasp on finances then 90% of people with a college degree. The story about your brother in law being a millionaire by 34 is not hard for me to believe. I expect I will join him by the time I’m 32 or so if my current trajectory continues. I guess if that happens maybe I can go to college after that and study history. A fascinating subject that usually doesn’t bring in a lot of money for most people that study it!

    1. Amber says:

      Mr VT, it’s so great to see your personal wealth success. A college degree doesn’t mean you are set for success nor does not having a degree condemn you to poverty. However, knowledge is always worth seeking after. Thank you for sharing a bit of your story. I hope you make it to the millionaire mark by 32 and that you get to study history for the pure enjoyment of it.

  4. Tom says:

    Citing Gates and Zuckerberg as apirational models for avoiding higher education seems like weak sauce. Why not name Jesus? Or Clark Kent? Sheesh. If the college funding model were different in the US, I would not be surprised if folks had entirely different opinions.

    As it is, lack of education at the individual level is not necessarily prohibitive in terms economic success but, at least in the US, they are absolutely correlated by actual data.


    PS: Some assets are worth more than others but they’re worth zero to you if you’re dead.

  5. This story reminds me of Rich Dad Poor Dad. It’s unfortunate that young man wasn’t able to continue to grow his empire. Although it’s an incredible blessing he was able to leave his young family. It seems its business is in good hands and problem areas are being addressed. Best of luck growing the business!

  6. Education is important (college, no college, or self educated). The lesson I take form this story is more about hard work. This man worked. And he worked hard! College or no college is a bit irrelevant. I have a friend who has a PhD. Very educated. A college professor. He’s broke. I’ve loaned him money several times over the years. He doesn’t work very hard. I have another friend who should not have gone to college. C student in HS. I don’t know how he graduated from college but did (I guess as long as you pay your tuition and show up, they will pass you). By age 30, he was a millionaire. By 40, he was a multi-millionaire. He has an incredible work ethic. Starts, runs, and sells businesses. To me, the moral of the story is more about work ethic than education.

    1. getagrip says:

      I wholeheartedly agree that it’s more about being willing to put in the effort and time and to make it happen. Every person who I consider truly successful works hard, regardless of their educational background. It’s also about seeing and jumping on opportunities so that you can get yourself ahead, be it taking that assignment at work, job hopping to increase income, or finding something you can do to flip for reasonable money. In the end though, most people are not high performers, and for them the college degree means a higher income and less life risk.

    2. Amber says:

      A millionaire Next Door,
      I absolutely agree! Hard work is what made his success. I found that I was hungry during college and worked every job I could to get through college debt free. My first job out of college I still had that hunger and got a night time janitorial job on top of my day job. But once I obtained a corporate job that met all my financial needs, I lost my hunger. I simply worked the 8-5 schedule. I got sucked into the rat race. My brother-in-law didn’t have that option. He had a wife and kids and had to create an income out of thin air. I think the combination of hunger (desire) and hard work leads to financial success. Thank you for your comment.

  7. Dan says:

    There are always exceptions to the rule but the numbers don’t lie. The average and median income and net worth of college graduates are larger than non-college graduates. The spread increase over time as they age.

    A college degree is a non-negotiable pre-requisite for many jobs. It is also a requisite for many social circles.

    1. Amber says:

      Dan, there are exceptions to the rule. As an aunt, I still coach my nieces and nephews to get a college education for the very same reasons you listed above. However, I tell them their father’s story so that they remember that hustling, hard work and spending less than you earn are necessary for financial success. Weather you have a college degree or not. My brother-in-laws story was eye opening to me because I found myself in the “rat race” of life. My job allowed me to be comfortable, but I lost that “hunger” for more. I never aspired for more. I thought I’d hit a million dollar net worth in my 60’s. His example let me know that my expectations were limiting my growth potential. He opened my eyes to what was possible. Education and knowledge are always valuable.

  8. Thank you for sharing this story. Your brother-in-law sounds like he was a great man, one who provided very well for his family.

    I like his work ethic. Some of the things he did sound similar to what I’m doing and planning on documenting over the years. I’m only 24 now, but hope to have a net worth of that in 10 years.

    I don’t disagree that you need a college education to become a millionaire. It’s just easier to do so. Those with a good work ethic who continue to learn outside of college will do well regardless.

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