Now that graduate schools are behind us, we are interested in managing our personal finances to achieve financial independence. Recently, we decided to set a goal to save $2 million by the time we are 40 to achieve financial independence, and we’d like to share that journey with you. Admittedly, this is a lofty goal, and we’ll need a lot of help from the stock market to achieve it. Why $2 million? Because we have obligations to take care of our parents or $1 million would suffice. Before we share our progress with you, in defense against any feedback we’d receive about being “privileged,” here is our origin story.
We are both first generation immigrants. I was born in a refugee camp while QL was born in Vietnam. I came to the United States at age one and she came at age ten.
Both of our parents labored away to make ends meet.
My parents left Vietnam on a boat in 1983, having decided the risk of dying at sea was better than the life path they were on. They ended up in a refugee camp in Thailand. After several years, they came to America with $50. Both worked two jobs – my mom was a tailor and waited tables at a diner while my dad cleaned offices and worked in a meatpacking plant – while raising two boys. Combined they made less than $25k/year in the late 1980s. Eventually, they saved enough to start a small business and their combined income grew to about $50k/year when I was in high school.
QL’s father served in the South Vietnamese Army. After the war, he spent several years doing hard labor in a reeducation prison. They came to the US with a negative net worth as they had to borrow money to pay for their flights. Both worked odd jobs making about $20k/year total when they first arrived in the US in the mid-90s. When they became more established while she was in high school, they made $40k/year combined while also raising two children.
We both grew up in poverty but didn’t lack any essentials. Our parents saved money to move us to better neighborhoods to attend better schools. Therefore, we didn’t get to go on vacations like other families. This period in our lives served as a motivation for us to work hard to improve our lives to where we could buy whatever or travel wherever our hearts desire.
In high schools, we focused on taking difficult classes and earning good grades. Eventually, I graduated in the top 7% of my high school class and paid ~90% of undergrad with scholarship money. QL graduated Valedictorian of her class (she didn’t speak a word of English until she was 10!) and won a full ride to undergrad. We both went to colleges in our respective states and worked part-time so didn’t have much undergrad loans.
After undergrad, QL pursued Medicine while I chose to work. When QL started residency, I decided to enroll at Cornell to pursue an MBA. Despite our backgrounds and academic records, we received $0 in scholarships to pursue higher education. We had to borrow ~$270,000 and worked aggressively to pay them off.
For 30+ years, our parents worked relentlessly without taking time off. Their tremendous work ethics inspired us. Today, after many years of schooling, we each make six figures. As you can see, we were not born with silver spoons in our mouths. We are first generation immigrants that achieved the American Dream by working hard and making a lot of sacrifices along the way. Nothing was handed to us easily.
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