Our Origins

Our Origins

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Our Purpose

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.

Our Origins

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.

Sikhiu Refugee Camp
Tran’s Family in Sikhiu Refugee Camp in Thailand, 1985

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.

My wife at age 10, in her first school photo.

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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Comment(11)

  1. My girlfriend and I got super excited when we came across your blog! We also have the similar goal of retiring at around age 40 but with $1mil instead. I’m 29, she’s 26 and we make about $200k total. We currently have no kids and wonder how that would affect our plan. Have you added kid/kids into your plan when coming up with the $2mil number?

    1. Hi Nin,

      Yes, we did factor in kids and our parents to come up with the $2 mil. Honestly, if it weren’t for the parents, we would be ok with $1 million. Even with having children, we will continue to live frugally. If you really think about it, many first generation immigrants came with literally nothing and were still able to raise families. We won’t keep up with the Joneses by buying the latest toys or gadgets for the kids. When they get older, we will help them buy used and not new cars.

      200K combined is a great income. If you live frugally then you’re on your way to early retirement.

      Thank you for reading, please subscribe to the blog for new updates. Let us know if you have other questions.

      1. Subscribed!
        Definitely living frugal makes big difference. We’re also concerned that kids might make it harder for us to travel. When do you guys plan on having kids? How would kids fit into your travel plan?

        1. Thanks Nin. We are planning on having our first child sometime in 2019 or 2020. We will definitely travel with our kids by using miles and points from credit cards. Have you read those posts yet? We rarely use cash as credit cards allow us to get points from everyday spending such as gas, groceries, dining, and rent.
          Here’s a good post to explain why we put almost all expenses on a credit card if you haven’t read it yet.
          https://www.smartmoneyandtravel.com/charge-everything-credit-card/

  2. Thanks for the great tips! i went through the posts and decided to go with IHG, Alaska, and UnitedExplorer card. My girlfriend will go with SPG, alaska and Saphire. We each want both UnitedExplorer and Saphire but seems like Chase wont allow us to? Were you able to apply for both within the short time-frame or how long do we have to wait?
    Also, is there a way to email you guys directly for questions? we dont seem to get notification when there is a reply here.
    Thanks again 🙂

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