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I'm 37 years old.

Funny, I always thought you were a crochety old man, er, distinguished elder gentleman, given your writing style. I'm amazed to find that you're a year younger than I am. Whippersnapper.

My mom would say, "Because there's enough junk on television, why do I want to pay for more junk? Besides, there are more important things to spend the money on."

My mother said "it's too expensive!", which is half of what your mother said. Which is too bad, because I could have benefited from that. All I learned from my parents was that they were cheap.

In fact, my father was a terrible negative example for saving. When I was about 16, we decided to get a printer for my home-built Super Elf computer. Now, buying an actual daisy wheel or dot matrix printer was out of the question - those things cost $400 or so, if I remember correctly. So we bought a series of junked special purpose printers from places like banks, and never managed to get any of them to work. We didn't save money this way, we threw away about $150.

The net effect of this is that I developed a distaste for being cheap. I didn't really start saving until I was 30. On the other hand, I was never seriously in debt. I did rack up $5000 in student loans while I was in college, but I paid those off a year or two after graduating. I always regarded a credit card as a plastic checkbook, simply because I realized from an early age that credit isn't income. I live at my means, neither above nor below.

To be fair, my income had its ups and downs during those years. Despite being a programmer, I made all of $15K my first year working, and I kept chasing equity positions at small companies that would fail in those years. When I hit 30, I got my first job for decent pay. I moved to Los Angeles and my salary increased more than 50% compared to what I made in Colorado. Even with the extra housing costs of LA, this made a big difference.

I also met my second wife in Los Angeles, and unlike my first wife, she was a professional with a salary comparable to mine. Two professional level salaries makes a huge difference when you're trying to save. Neither of us had any real savings, but she did have a fairly substantial pension benefit from working in academia, which put our combined net worth at 1.5x our combined annual income.

My income started climbing rapidly from that point. In three years, my income went up 30%. When I hit 32, we finally had enough money that it was clear that we needed to do something more productive than sticking it in a savings account, so I started investing with VFINX.

At 33, I joined a company with a very generous ESPP and a rising stock. It was an obvious win-win deal, so I maxed out my participation at 20% of my salary, and for the next couple of years I was getting really big chunks of money every six months, which I turned around and invested in Vanguard. I started contributing a small amount of money to my 401(k), but I was still pretty focused on keeping our money somewhere where I could access it easily before retirement.

My salary rose over the next 4 years, and by the time the company started collapsing in 2002, my salary was nearly double what it was in '95, and over triple what it was in '93. During this period, I slowly started shifting from index investing to investing in individual stocks. Our savings had kept pace with my income growth, and our net worth was now about 2.5x our annual income.

Actually, it was a bit more than that. The housing market had risen in California, and I was thinking in terms of what we paid for our house, not its market value. This last March we moved to the Boston area, and we realized a fair amount of that "phantom" equity. At this point, our net worth is 4x our annual income, including about $80K of equity between the difference in the price of our current home and the mortgage.

At this point, we're pretty much living on my wife's salary, and saving mine. I estimate we'll hit 9x annual income in net worth in about 7 more years, which given that we spend less than half of that, is more like the 20x annual income level where FIRE becomes possible.

"You could have done better, sure... but not bad... not bad at all."

That's the way I feel now, too. I feel like the years from age 22 to age 30 were wasted, financially, but our net worth is now about twice that of my father's, who retired 9 years ago at age 65, and who is definitely dependent on social security.

- Gus
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