Zero to a Million

Written on June 22, 2008. Written by .

Border Crossing

Border Crossing
America: Land of Opportunity
Photo courtesy of kptice

This is the true story of my friend who went from being a Mexican immigrant with a high school education to being a millionaire in about 7 years. He was born in Mexico to a family of farmers, wealthy by Mexican standards. His parents left for America when he was young, leaving him to be raised by his grandparents who taught him that he could do anything he wanted to do. He visited his parents in America as much as he could, but it wasn’t always easy. Once he decided to visit illegally by floating across the border on an inner tube.

At age 19 he graduated from Mexican high school and moved to America. With almost no money, he was happy to find a job in a bakery where he worked long hours in high heat for $8 an hour. During this time, he met a friend who worked at a technical company. The friend helped him get a job as a programmer at the company since he had learned some programming in high school.  His pay was now $17 an hour, with time and a half for overtime. He worked for at least 12 hours a day and 8 hours on Saturday, with no social life, for two and a half years.

His dream was to go to college to become a doctor, and for that he would need to save up a lot of money. In the first two and a half years at his programming job, he had stashed away $50,000 by living well below his means. Initially, the plan was to buy a laundromat or a liquor store to start making enough money for school. But becoming a landlord seemed a lot more appealing because it didn’t require constant attention. So he started taking long bathroom breaks on the job, bringing the classifieds and his cell phone. His job now involved operating equipment that ran on its own for an hour at a time, so he wasn’t missing out on any work. He found a four unit apartment complex that he could afford with his savings. He told some of his friends about his intention to purchase the building, but everyone gave him disinterested looks that said “I am 10 years older than you and I don’t own a house, so what makes you think you can?”. So he stopped telling them about his plans. He bought the building at age 21.

Based on the terms of his purchase, he had to move into one of the units and live there for a year. He continued working at his job, and soon started attending community college. He still knew almost no English, and he wanted to take some ESL classes before anything else. But the counselor told him to jump straight into math and other courses. Even though he understood less than half of what the professor was saying, he managed to do well in the courses and learn English at the same time.

For the first year or two, part of his mortgage payments were coming straight out of his pockets. But eventually, the real estate market took off and rent payments skyrocketed. Within the span of a few years, rents nearly doubled. With the increased cash flow he was able to quit his job and purchase another larger building, and then another. His growing real estate empire kept him busy and provided a lot of excitement. Finally it was time to pursue his dream, so he enrolled in a university, paying full tuition with no scholarship. This is where the story reaches the present moment. He still lives frugally, for the most part, but though he’s not worried about money anymore, he realizes that there are many more challenges ahead on the road to fulfillment.

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