February 23, 2021

The trade-offs that led to $1 million net worth at age 35

A man with a $1 million net worth said getting there required some sacrifice. Moving…

  • A man with a $1 million net worth said getting there required some sacrifice.
  • Moving away from family was the first hard decision, but it changed the trajectory of his and his wife’s financial life.
  • They started degree programs, which limited their social life, and remained conscious about spending even as their income went up.
  • Visit Personal Finance Insider for more stories.

Sacrifice is almost always required when you have big financial goals.

For Drock, a lobbyist who lives in Washington, DC, and his wife, the road to a $1 million net worth by 35 was littered with trade-offs. 

In a blog post published in January, Drock, who uses a pseudonym online but has been verified by Insider, detailed his journey to becoming a millionaire. He called several of his professional accomplishments “lucky breaks” that significantly boosted his household income, but he arrived at each one by making careful and often difficult decisions. 

Drock told Insider there are three lifestyle trade-offs that have had an outsize impact on his and his wife’s ability to build wealth. 

1. Moving away from family for a higher-paying job

About 10 years ago, Drock and his wife moved to the east coast of the US so he could accept a promotion at work. 

“When I first asked her to consider moving, she literally cried,” Drock wrote in a blog post. “The idea of uprooting our life was traumatic — our whole family and all our friends were in the Midwest.”

But they weighed the benefits — professional opportunities and a near doubling of their annual income, from $70,000 to $120,000 — and decided it was worth it. It turned out to be a “key decision for our financial life,” he said.

Still, being away from family has not been easy. They lost their immediate support system and have had to be “intentional” about staying in contact, Drock told Insider.

“No one except our closest family members ever visited,” he said, and planning family get-togethers while they were back in their hometown was challenging.

2. Giving up a social life for night school

Shortly after their cross-country move, Drock’s wife started a master’s program and he enrolled law school. He worked his 9-5 job, spent most evenings at school, studied about 20 hours on the weekends, and graduated in four years.

It was a “hectic” schedule that, for the first two years, afforded him only two leisure activities a week: date night with his wife and online video games with his friends.

“Other than this, it was basically all business, all the time,” Drock said. It was stressful, he added, but his desire to reach new heights financially and professionally was motivating. Friends and family often didn’t understand why he was so busy, and he missed weddings, funerals, and his 10-year high school reunion. 

“But I knew this was a short-term issue that would be over once I finished school,” he continued. “I don’t condone going all out like this for more than a small period of time, because that’s how you burn out. But here, where the choice was so stark — go into massive debt for school or work while burning the midnight oil — I knew I could grind through it.”

With each new degree, the couple negotiated work promotions and raises. His wife, a school administrator, is now pursuing a doctorate. Their combined income stands at $300,000 a year, “which still seems surreal to me,” Drock wrote on his blog.

3. Avoiding lifestyle inflation

There’s a natural tendency to spend more money as you earn more. But with a goal to reach financial independence by age 40, Drock and his wife are hyperconscious about their spending habits. 

“Everything is tracked in Mint each month,” he said. “But we do still spend money on things we value. We are just more selective than most, and we limit this to a reasonable amount that works within our financial plan.”

They have splurged on once-in-a-lifetime experiences for themselves and their close family, he said, and vacationed in tropical locales and across Europe. But they maximize credit-card rewards, travel during low seasons, and combine work and leisure trips to curb costs.

And while their high income could afford the couple a home upgrade, Drock said they’ve decided, for now, to stay put in the three-bedroom condo they bought in 2012. It’s crowded — three people, three dogs, and a cat living under one roof — but they make it work. 

“Buying a house has crossed our minds many times, especially after spending a week on vacation at a nice house with a grill and a jacuzzi,” Drock said. “But we’ve looked at homes, their costs, and the pros and cons, and have determined that our current situation is the best choice for us.”