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Escaping The Rat Race Before Your First Job w/ Dan Sheeks

If you’ve been in the FI community for years, you know the ins and outs of retirement planning, index fund investing, house hacking, and every other money-making opportunity around. But, it’s safe to say that this took you years to figure out, sometimes well into adulthood. What if you were given the same knowledge you have now, but when you were a teenager?

So many teenagers have seen their parents run off to work only to come home exhausted, constantly checking emails, and rarely present with the family. Dan wants to make this all-too-real future a thing of the past for teens who are willing to work hard, be frugal, and practice financial discipline.

Mindy:
Welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast Show number 255, where we interview Dan Sheeks, author of First to a Million: A Teenager’s Guide to Achieving Early Financial Independence and talk about helping your kids learn about finance to give them the most opportunity for success.

Dan:
If you are young and you are extremely motivated and interested in your financial future, you are different. That is exceptional. It’s not the norm. So, you’re unique and you’re freakish in a good way. That’s the theme of the book is to become a FI freak by using the different strategies and tools that we cover.

Mindy:
Hello, hello, hello. My name is Mindy Jensen, and with me as always is my sunshine in his pocket co-host, Scott Trench.

Scott:
Oh, well, with me as always is my beaming co-host, Mindy Jensen. Thank you, Mindy.

Mindy:
Scott and I are here to make financial independence less scary, less just for somebody else, to introduce you to every money story, because we truly believe financial freedom is attainable for everyone, no matter when or where or how young you’re starting.

Scott:
That’s right. Whether you want to retire early and travel the world, go on to make big time investments in assets like real estate, start your own business, or just get going right in high school, we’ll help you reach your financial goals and get money out of the way. So, you can launch yourself towards those dreams.

Mindy:
Scott, I’m so excited to talk to Dan Sheeks today. He has written a brand new book called First to a Million, which is like a prequel to your book, Set For Life. It’s aimed at teens and talks to them in a language that they can understand. It doesn’t bring in all of that financial mumbo jumbo that they might not really understand quite yet because they haven’t learned it yet. This is starting at ground zero, introduction to finances and financial independence.

Scott:
Yeah, I mean, Dan, a high school teacher of 19, 20 years, has put together two essentially books. One is called First to a Million and it’s 30 chapters of detailed instruction. It’s like an honors or AP level personal finance curriculum or overview with all this stuff, the textbook, if you will. He’s also built a companion workbook that’s 250 pages and details step-by-step checklists that students can perform starting junior year in high school to set themselves up, to learn all of the ins and outs of personal finance, all of the ins and outs of financial independence and that as an option available to them in their lives and begin taking steps towards building wealth in college, in high school, or immediately out of high school if students opt to make a decision not to go to college.
I don’t know how you could get asked for a more comprehensive, detailed, and step by step approach for this stuff. It’s advanced. That’s why Dan calls this a book for freaks in a good way. That small percentage of high schoolers who want to grab their financial position by the horns and drive it forward with that. So, really, really fantastic stuff. [inaudible 00:03:22] eloquent for just one more moment here on this, I get excited about the work we do at BiggerPockets, because we are helping, I believe, folks achieve financial freedom early in life. That unlocks human potential with that.
So, so many people I think are out there who have either enough wealth to retire or at least to bring a wealth of choice, a number of options into their lives because of the strides they’ve made in their personal financial positions. Well, imagine how that compounds if you could help young people begin attacking their financial positions in high school, in college, and graduate with several hundred thousand dollars in net worth or a year or two of financial runway and maybe a few cash flowing assets. What a huge boost on their journey and multiplication of their life options.
So, I think it’s fantastic work and couldn’t be more proud that BiggerPockets is able to publish this book for Dan here. The book is called First to a Million, and you can find it at biggerpockets.com/teen. You can find both the book and the workbook at biggerpockets.com/teenpack. All those links, of course, will be in the show notes on biggerpockets.com/moneyshow255.

Mindy:
Scott, we hear from so many people that we talked to on this show, “I wish they would’ve taught this in high school.” This is the textbook/workbook that you need to teach your teen all the stuff that they’re not going to learn in high school if they aren’t being taught this in high school.
My daughter is a freshman in high school. Starting this year, all teens in Colorado are required to take a personal finance course. It’s a half a credit, and I’m excited that she’s going to get a personal finance course. But if your kid doesn’t go to high school in Colorado, they might not get this. This is the course that they would be taking. Actually, I shouldn’t say that. I shouldn’t say this is the course they would be taking. This is the course they should be taking. When people talk about, “Oh, I wish they would teach this in high school,” this is the information they should be getting.
Dan Sheeks, welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. I am so excited to talk to you today. I love your new book, First to a Million, and I can’t wait to hear all about everything. Let’s jump right in. Tell me your whole life story. Okay, I don’t want your whole life story. Let’s start off with your background. You’re a high school teacher. You’ve been a high school teacher for 20 years. God loved you, because I could not be a high school teacher for 20 minutes and I have a kid in high school. So, I’m super, super thankful for you. What subjects do you teach?

Dan:
Well, first, thank you, Scott and Mindy, for having me on the show. Very, very happy to be here. Excited to talk about the book and all the other stuff. Yes, I am a high school teacher. I’ve been doing it for 19 years, not 20, Mindy.

Mindy:
I’m sorry.

Dan:
So, don’t make me older than I am. Nineteen years and I do teach business classes. I know that your kiddo is going to be taking personal finance, I think next year, right? Which is awesome.

Scott:
I’m not sure when that happens. I’m super excited for her to take personal finance. I want to teach it, but they haven’t responded yet.

Dan:
Yeah. So, I teach at a public high school, just South of Denver, Colorado. I’ve been doing it for 19 years. I’ve taught mostly marketing classes, but also, entrepreneurship, personal finance, financial literacy stuff. I love my job. I teach elective classes, so none of them are required, but it’s an awesome job. I love what I do. That’s for sure.

Scott:
Can you give us a little bit of background on your personal finance journey as well?

Dan:
Yeah, I mean, like most people in my generation and probably younger, I’ve made my share of mistakes, big mistakes. I did the typical American dream pathway, which I talk about in the book. I went to high school. I got very good grades. I went to a good college and used student loans to pay for almost all of it, along with some scholarships and grants. I built up a lot of student loan debt to get that four-year degree. I talked about this in the book. I mean, if a teenager’s reading my book, hopefully, they get some lessons from this, but when I graduated high school, I really had no idea what I wanted to do. I think most teenagers are that way. I say that with a lot of confidence, because I work with hundreds of teenagers every year.
When they go off to college, most of them don’t really know what they want to do for a career. I only teach juniors and seniors, I should say that. So, I’m dealing with those young people who are making that leap from high school to the next stage of their life. It’s so hard to know what you want to do when you’re 18, what you want to do for the next 20, 30, 40 years, maybe more than that. I didn’t. Some do and that’s awesome. Some people know from the get-go, “I want to be a nurse. I’ve always wanted to be a nurse. That’s what I’m going to do.” My wife knew she wanted to be a teacher at a very early age. So, great for them, but most young people don’t.
So, I just decided to be a business major in college, because at that point, I just knew I wanted to make a lot of money. I wanted to be rich. Business seemed like a good way to do that. I ended up liking marketing. So, I’m glad I got that degree, but I think I got lucky. I didn’t change my major two, three, four times, but a lot of people do. But then when I did graduate from college, I also knew that I didn’t want to work a corporate job for the next even 5, 10 years. So, what do I do now? I had that degree in my back pocket and I just ended up traveling honestly, which was an amazing experience for about five or six years.
I just seasonally went here or there working jobs for five or six months and learned a lot and grew up a lot and then in that process decided that I wanted to be a teacher, which was not going to make me rich. That job has not built my net worth really. I mean, it’s helped me do other things like invest in real estate that has built up my net worth. Yeah, so I went back to school in my late twenties to get my teaching license. In the process, incurred more student loan debt.
Once I started teaching, went back to get my master’s degree, which is a good decision because it increases your pay, but incurred even more student loan debt. I had three rounds of student loan debt. Once it’s all said and done, I had a massive student loan bill to the government. I was buying new cars every three or four years. I made my share of mistakes, but then five or six years ago, my wife and I found BiggerPockets and ChooseFI and the FIRE movements and everything changed.

Mindy:
So, I find your early experiences really, really fascinating, because they’re not that unique. The go to college right after you graduate high school is the mantra. I think you and I are about the same age. That’s what you did. You graduated from high school, you went to college, then you got a job. You worked until you were 65 and then you could retire. That was what was preached to us. That was pushed down our throats. You didn’t go to trade school. You didn’t take a year off, because if you took a year off, you’d never go back and you didn’t take a year off after college to go find yourself. If you did, you were a hippie freak and you pushed through.
And then a few years ago, we discovered Mr. Money Mustache. You’re like, “Wait, grass is green. This guy is blue. You work until you’re 65. That’s how you do it.” He’s like, “Nope, you can retire early. I retired when I was…” What was he, 20 or 32 or something ridiculous? You’re like, “You’re selling something.” And then you read more and you’re like, “It really isn’t a lie. You’re not selling something. You can actually do this.” I like what you said in the book, specifically on page 218, and I’m going to read this verbatim. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life when I graduated from high school and it’s okay if you don’t either.”
I think this is really important to hear from a teacher, because normally, teachers are like, “Oh, you should go to college.” I mean, all the teachers that I went to high school for taught me. I guess that’s how you say that. There wasn’t an option to not go to college. You went to college. That was the end of that discussion. So, I love hearing that it’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do. It’s really unfair to make kids decide when they’re 17, 18 years old what they want to do for the rest of their lives. It’s kind this all or nothing thing. You have to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life. You don’t. I’ve had three careers. I’ve had three separate careers in my life.
Here’s a little hint. I didn’t study any of this in college. You don’t study podcasting in college. I guess you can now. But when I was in college, they didn’t even have podcasts and that’s my job now. I didn’t study graphic design in college. I didn’t study buying in college. Actually, I’ve had four careers. Wow. Yeah, and I didn’t study any of it in college. It’s okay to change your mind. You said, “Committing to four years of school and tens of thousands of dollars of debt when I had no idea what I wanted to do was a mistake. Student loans handicapped my financial life for decades.” That’s really powerful to hear, because like I said, you are told that you go to college and you get a job and you work until you’re 65. So, what’s the alternative, Dan?

Dan:
The alternative is just to encourage young people and help them be more intentional and to explore the options, right? So, first of all, I’m not anti-college. I am a public high school teacher. I think college is a great option for most people, but not all.

Mindy:
I should say that. Yes, you’re not anti-college. You’re anti everybody has to go to college and that’s the end.

Dan:
Yeah. You mentioned that, it’s not fair to expect a young person to know what they want to do, which is true, but I think what’s even more unfair or really what is more of a disservice is when we force them college and then they end up with student loan debt and they didn’t really understand what that means and the consequences of having that debt, for me, for decades and for most people as well.

Mindy:
I was going to say, not just you. It’s not just you that has decades of student loans. I mean, who doesn’t have decades of student loans? Anybody who consciously works and tries to pay off their student loans.

Dan:
Yeah. So, the alternative, I think, is to read First to a Million as a teenager, read the book, because I walk them through all the pros and cons of college. At least, if that young person has decided that they want to aspire to reach early financial independence, then the book walks them through the pros and cons of college. There’s a couple chapters that are exactly about those topics, which were very difficult to write by the way, because I wanted to make sure that I was fair for everyone. I can’t tell and I won’t tell anyone what to do, but I think those chapters really lay out all the advantages and disadvantages of college. And then if you do decide to go, how to do college with the idea or with the goal of early financial independence.

Scott:
Can you tell us a little bit about that next piece of your financial journey after you’ve accumulated all of this debt? You’re a teacher. You said in the last five to six years, things changed. What’s happened with your personal financial position?

Dan:
Yeah. So, going back again, like I mentioned, my wife and I… At the time, wasn’t my wife, girlfriend/fiancée. We found BiggerPockets. We found the ChooseFI community as well. We started reading books and really exploring the FIRE movement, reading blogs and listening to all kinds of podcasts. I think one of the things that brought us to together is we had very similar views on finance and money. So, we just joined forces and went all in on the FIRE movement. We had started investing in real estate at that point. I’ll give credit to my wife. She deserves more credit than I do. She had a couple properties that she had owned in California, and then when she moved to Colorado, had 1031 those into some properties here. I had one property when we met.
So, then we just decided, “All right, real estate is what we’re going to do.” So, over the last five or six years, we’ve been investing in real estate intentionally to achieve early financial independence. Also, started doing some other things which may or may not be for everybody, but we stopped contributing to 401ks and Roth IRAs, and instead funneled that money into more real estate investing and just index funds in general and switched the money that we had in our retirement accounts into index funds as opposed to where we had that money invested before. So, over the last five years or so, have watched our net worth just climb and climb and climb to the point, where stage one was my wife who taught also for 19 years didn’t want to continue teaching.
She had lived that career and was ready for a change. So, stage one, she went part-time teaching, halftime, which we were able to do with our passive income from real estate. And then stage two, about two years ago, she retired from teaching altogether and now instead is at home managing our real estate properties, growing our portfolio. She has a couple side hustles that she engages with too. And then about six months ago, we had our first child, a son, Callum. So, now, we’re very grateful. She’s at home with him all day every day, while I’m at school teaching. So, yeah, we love the FIRE community and we’re all in. It’s changed our lives.

Scott:
So how many properties have you guys been able to acquire over this time?

Dan:
Today, we own 15 units. Most of them are in Colorado. Three are in Michigan. Those three we did in Michigan, we bird them all. Yeah, they’re all single family homes out there. In Colorado, we have one short term rental, some small multifamily and then a couple single families.

Scott:
Awesome. So, 19 years’ experience as a teacher, past the way, very solid portfolio and pursuit of early financial independence personally with that, and a passion for teaching young folks this sounds like some good qualifications to write a book for high schoolers who are aspiring to early financial freedom. So, let’s walk through how many students are there that might be interested in this. How would you describe these kids that might be the right folks to read your book?

Dan:
Yeah, there’s more out there than you think, right? I think most young people… I don’t think, I know most young people aren’t interested enough in their financial future to really take action. That’s based on the kids I’ve had in classes, especially in personal finance classes, and the students I talk to on a day-to-day basis. They’re just not there and that’s okay. Especially with technology now and podcasts and social media and YouTube channels, there are enough young people… When I say young, my niche, I like to say, is 15 to 25 years old. There’s enough out there that are super interested in their financial future and real estate investing and early financial independence and other types of investing that I think this book will be well-received.
It’s for any teenager, even one who’s not currently pursuing this knowledge. As a gift, it would be something great to give to a teenager, but it’s also for those young people who are already exploring the different options. So, since they are different, I like to call them freaks. I have a community online called Sheeks Freaks that follows that. The book, First to a Million, definitely defines the reader as a FI freak or a financial independence freak. Because if you are young and you are extremely motivated and interested in your financial future, you are different. That is exceptional. It’s not the norm. So, you’re unique and you’re freakish in a good way. That’s the theme of the book is to become a FI freak by using the different strategies and tools that we cover.

Scott:
First of all, when we say book, what we’re really talking about here is two books, right? We’ve got the First to a Million book, and then we’ve got the extensive workbook with play-by-play, step-by-step instructions on how to amass a strong financial position from high school through college and set yourself up for early life. I walked away having, read it, looked through the workbook, feeling like this is a comprehensive set of financial advice and instructions on how students can really put themselves in a position to hit the ground running when they enter the full-time workforce. Or if that’s right after high school, there’s options for that as well in there.
I think the word freak is a good one for that, because if you follow these instructions, I can’t help but imagine you’re going to be hundreds of that. You have a very good shot at being hundreds of thousands of dollars into the black, in a good way, black being wealthy by the time you enter full-time work for most college bound students or at least have a good shot at that with this. Why did you approach it that way and with that particular bent? Let me know if I’m going too far or too extreme with how I viewed the book.

Dan:
Yeah, so there are two books. I’m glad you brought that up, because in my opinion, honestly, I wrote the workbook. I think the workbook is a much more meaningful and useful tool for the young person to achieve early financial independence, because the workbook, which is the original idea was to write the workbook or an action plan. So, the workbook tells the young person what to do, when to do it, how to do it. The book, First to a Million, which I think lays the foundation, is also very important. I would say, read the book first and then go to the workbook.
A little bit of history here and I want to give a shout out to Scott and Craig Curelop about how the book and workbook came to fruition. The original seed was planted because Scott and Craig have been coming into my classrooms for the last three or four years, minus a year for COVID when nobody could go, even some of the students and teachers couldn’t go to school for a while, but when they come into my classes and talk to my students about what they’re doing and their strategies and how they’re building their wealth, which by the way, my students love. Thank you, Scott, again for taking time to talk to my students.

Scott:
I’ll comment on that for a second, because when I first went into a couple of these classes, it was crickets because I didn’t know how to present the material. That’s the thing I wanted to ask you. There’s nothing like a high school audience to humble you if you’re trying to convey a subject matter, but anyways. That is a question I had is, I feel like one, I’ve been able to get a little bit more interactive and ask a lot more questions or force them to answer, which keeps the room engaged a little bit with that. But two, I wonder also if there’s just a growing interest in this subject in general, because you’re seeing a couple more faces who seem really engaged and enthusiastic with each passing year in each class with that. There’s probably four or five this year. Are you noticing that trend?

Dan:
Yeah, I think that’s the result of a few things. One, more young people are paying attention in their own investigation of these types of topics. But two, I think, Scott, you and I both had a learning curve. I had never had a recurring guest speaker. So, for me to set the stage with my students in my classroom was a learning curve for me. And then you nailed it. If anybody wants to be humble, go speak to a group of high schoolers or teenagers. You may think and you may be a great guest speaker.

Scott:
First thing in the morning.

Dan:
Yeah. When they’re still half the sleep, but teenagers will let you know really quickly if you are engaging based just on their physical, non-verbal feedback. Yeah, so we all have learned, including Craig, about how to maximize the potential of those guests when you guys come in. Scott, you may not even remember this, but one time you were in the classroom, I think, with Craig. As you were finishing up, you asked a question and I talk about this in the book. I think you asked something like, “When we come back, what would you like us to talk about to the class?” One of the students said, “I get this. I love what you guys are talking about. I’m onboard. I just want someone to tell me how to do it, what to do, and when to do it.”
As a teacher, I was like, “Of course, they want to know that.” So, that’s when I had the idea of creating a checklist, which then grew into a workbook, which then became so big, it had to become two different animals, the book to lay the foundation, which is First to a Million, and then the workbook to follow that. So, it became more of, “I don’t want to just do this for the students in my classroom. I want to do this for young people anywhere and everywhere that are interested in early financial independence.”

Mindy:
I was going to say, I like having something physical to write in, to check off, to mark down.

Dan:
So, do I.

Mindy:
Yeah. Well, we’re old, but I like this for teens too, to have that there, to go through, “Oh, here’s the things that I need to be reminded of. Here’s me writing down notes on things that I need to do. Here’s me crossing something off a list that I have accomplished. Here’s me checking off a box.” That’s really satisfying to be able to mark things off on a list that you have provided them. Ask your parents if they will allow you to become an authorized user on their credit card. Oh, what’s that?
Well, right next to it is a note that says what this means and here’s how this can be such a powerful tool for you. Here’s all these different things. It just builds and builds and builds. All of these random things collected in one spot, they actually aren’t random. They’re so helpful. So, I don’t know how to say this without sounding rude, but this is so easy to digest, all of this information. It’s almost like you’re a teacher and you can convey concepts that are complex in easy to understand ways, Dan, so good.

Scott:
Let me drone for 90 seconds here. Here’s what Dan calls freak phase one, May through August, the summer before junior year of high school, read First to a Million, which is the book we’re talking about today. Read Personal Finance for Teens by Carol H. Cox. Set three financial goals. Implement a new freak tweak. Sell a personal item you no longer need or want. Find and do a new fun, free activity. Go over the household bills with a parent every month. Register for beneficial classes during your junior year. Have a parent add you as an authorized user on their credit card. Have a parent help you open a checking account. Start tracking your income and expenses. Get a job. Create a goal-oriented social media accounts. That’s just phase one.
You repeat this essentially for every phase that continues through college with this. They get more and more advanced. I’m trying to find another one here with this. So, here’s freak phase three, January through April, 2nd semester of junior year. Read The Richest Man in Babylon, continue networking, evaluate your income streams, evaluate your transportation costs. Speak to a school counselor about next year’s classes. Review your happiness list. Learn more about real estate investing. Set three financial goals. Implement a new freak tweak. Sell a personal item. Find and do a new fun free activity. Interview someone who’s where you want to be. Calculate and track your net worth.
I mean, if you’re doing these things in junior year of high school, entering college, I mean, you can imagine what the rest of the list is like. I mean, you have them investing in real estate by the time they graduate college, I believe, in these checklists with that or at least being right on the border of that. I think that this is so comprehensive, so detailed, and so early that I can’t see how, if you’re in high school and doing this, you’re not going to be again, tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars ahead by the time you graduate college.

Mindy:
I’m going to add to your list, it’s so easy. These are small things.

Scott:
Get a job is a big one or a bigger one, but the rest of them are not very large ones like that. Yeah.

Mindy:
I keep thinking of these like, “These are baby steps.” I can’t say that, because that’s Dave Ramsey. You start this and you will be set for life. I can’t say that, because that’s Scott’s book. These are the steps that you can take to start creating habits that will become so second nature to you, it won’t be this burdensome thing that you have to do with your life every day. Think about money. Think about finances. Oh, I have to pay my bills. Oh, I have to be this responsible adult. You’ll just be good with money.
You won’t have to get good with money because you will always be good with money if you start out good with money. Your primary audience, Dan, is people who currently don’t have any money, because they don’t have a job or they’re just starting out. They haven’t made all of these massive financial mistakes that they now have to dig themselves out from underneath, right?

Dan:
Yeah. I’m glad we’re talking about the workbook by the way, because to me, like I said, that’s my favorite of the two books. Scott, yeah. So, to get a job thing, just to clarify, that was going into the summer. So, I needed them to get a job. I want them to get a job during the summer to make some extra money. Yeah, the freak phases, I think there’s about 20 in the workbook over about a five-year period. They are four month increments of time. So, three freak phases every year. Basically, it’s semester one, semester two, and summer. It’s how that breaks out. There’s a list of tasks, and you read a couple lists, Scott.
So, 10 to 15 different things to do in that four-month period, but then the workbook doesn’t just stop there. It goes into, “Okay, here’s the first task. You need to get a job this summer.” That would be a really a good idea. Then I have a page or two about extra information, how to do that, some strategies, and things to look for. So, it is the playbook for early financial independence for young people. They don’t have to be exactly a junior in high school to start the workbook. It’s very flexible. They can be younger or older and start the workbook in that freak phase one and adjust as needed.
The workbook walks them through how to adjust if they need to. So, I’m more proud of the workbook honestly than the book, because the workbook is what’s… As students and even adults, we need action steps and that’s what the purpose of the workbook is. Tell them what to do, how to do it, when to do it, make it as easy as I can for them to find success on their journey to early financial independence.

Scott:
Yeah. When I was talking earlier, I was saying, “This is one of those things that is…” You used the word freak. “… only a small percentage of students might willingly embrace or whatever,” but anyone can do what’s in this book. Why do we have kids going through and learning advanced calculus or these other types of things? This is an advanced course, an advanced 10-semester course that will get you into a position where you know how to invest in real estate, how to invest in stocks, how to track your expenses and budget, how to network, how to make a rational decision about a key life decision like college with at least ROI as a factor in that decision. It doesn’t have to be the determining factor.
I think you do a great job caveating major life decisions like that, where not everything in the world is about financial independence, but this is a massive part of the life decision toolkit that I think you get a really good overview of with all of this stuff. So, again, we have two books that we’re talking about here. We have the First to a Million book, which can be found at biggerpocket.com/teen. We have the First to a Million Workbook book, which can be found at biggerpodcast.com/teenworkbook.
I’m glad we just spent some time talking about the workbook, because I think it’s actually, perhaps for me, even more valuable than the book, even though I love the book because it has that step-by-step checklist that the students can follow over a several year period with that. But let’s bring our attention back to the book itself. I’d love to get a high level overview of what you think some of the key points that you’d want readers to walk away with and why you constructed the book the way you did.

Dan:
Yeah. Great. So, it was a chore, right? There’s some good things and bad things about writing for young people who want to maybe pursue financial independence. The good thing is they haven’t made any mistakes. They haven’t built up bad habits. The tough part when writing the book was I had to assume that they are starting at point zero. They have no background knowledge about money or finances. So, some of the book is definitely dedicated to just basic personal finance education, things like real assets versus false assets, credit card, building a good credit score, and income versus wealth.
So, just educating the young person on some of those more basic concepts and then also introducing them to the early financial independence movements, what most people call the FIRE movements. What are the pros and con of that? Why would they even want to pursue financial independence? What are the benefits of that? What does it take to get there? I talk about an entrepreneurial mindset and what’s involved with that. I talk about the happiness list as I call it and the YFI. I talk about the concept of enough plus a little bit, which I stole from Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. So, we cover all of the intro stuff to early financial independence in that pathway. And then we get into what I call the four mechanisms of early financial independence.

Scott:
Well, you can’t leave us hanging in there. You have to tell us what the four mechanisms are.

Dan:
Absolutely, yeah. So, the majority of the book, especially towards the end, are dedicated to those. So, mechanism number one would be to earn more. So, I go into different ways that young people can do that, whether it be a side hustle, starting a little business, part-time job, full-time in the summer perhaps. Mechanism number two is spend less. So, I introduce the idea of frugality, tracking income and expenses, so you can monitor your spending. I also talk about what I think is the most important topic in the book. In there, I talk about the idea of paying yourself first, which I stole from The Richest Man in Babylon.
By the way, teachers are really good at stealing. We shouldn’t say stealing, borrowing information from other people to make our lives easier. That’s how we survive, honestly, as a teacher. So, mechanism number three is to save the difference. So, if you’re earning more and spending less, hopefully, you can save the difference. Most people think savings, “Oh, you just don’t spend money.” Well, there’s strategy around, “Where should that money go? How do you tag that money or earmark that money that you are saving? Where’s the best place to put it?”
Before you go into mechanism number four, which is invest your savings wisely, where is the best place to put the money I’ve saved for long term investments to build my net worth to reach financial independence? In the book, I happen to focus on real estate investing and index funds, but I also go into some other options as well.

Scott:
I’m a parent. I’m listening to this. I want to get my kid interested in this. Where’s the place to start to pique the interest of the student?

Dan:
So, in the book, there’s also what I call featured freaks. There are case studies on a few different young people who are either already financially independent at a very early age or are on their way to do that. So, I think if you’re a parent and you buy First to a Million… By the way, timing is perfect. This is a great holiday gift/stocking stuffer thing. Parents, get this for your kid for the holidays and change their life. But if you give them the book, have them start by reading those featured freak case studies. I think that’s really the best way, because they’ve been told, as all of us have, that the only way to go is that typical American dream pathway of 9:00 to 5:00 until you’re 65, that grind. So, reading those featured free case studies will open their eyes to, “Oh, there are other options.”
The whole reason I wanted to write the book and the workbook was not to tell young people that they should pursue financial independence, early financial independence, but to say, “Hey, there are other options,” and then laying out the options that most of us never find out or know about, the early financial independence strategies.
And then once the book is done, I say, “Now, the ball’s in your court, you get to decide what’s best for your future dreams, aspirations, and intentions. What do you want to do with your life?” You can definitely go that typical pathway. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s proven to work and many people have done it and have lived very happy lives. But now there’s another option you know about. So, now you can make an informed decision about how you want to live your life.

Mindy:
Next week, we have one of those featured freaks on our show. Jabbar Adesada is coming on and you can’t keep this kid down. You can’t contain his excitement and his enthusiasm. He is the walking, talking success story for your patented method for early financial independence. Is he 19 or 20? He’s 20 now.

Dan:
He just turned 20 a month ago, I think.

Mindy:
He just turned 20, spoiler alert. He just turned 20. He owns $850,000 worth of real estate. He just started investing in real estate through partnerships and through some of his own investing. He’s house hacking. He explains all of these terms in his episode and it is a fantastic real life true story description of all of the things that you tell in your book. He’s an embodiment of everything that you share in your book. I earn more. I spend less. I pay myself first. I save the difference. I’m investing wisely in real estate and I’m doing it. I have these big aspirations. Bankers told him, “No, we can’t lend you money because you’re too young.” He’s like, “That’s okay. I’ll find somebody else.” He did. How many people did he talk to, 19 lenders or 14 lenders or something?

Dan:
Yeah, I think 16 lenders.

Mindy:
Sixteen. I mean, it wasn’t just somebody told him no and then he went to the next guy and they told him yes. He kept going and going and going and it’s not always this piece of cake. Oh, I want to buy a house. Well, here you go. Here’s a loan. There is some work involved in it, but when you put your mind to something, you can accomplish just about anything. Here’s a 20-year-old kid. I say kid, because I’m not 20. Here’s a 20-year-old kid who owns $850,000 in real estate. That’s not small potatoes and he’s 20 years old. You can’t start buying real estate until you’re 18. It’s some legal thing where you can’t sign legal contracts until you turn 18, unless you partner. That’s a long story. So, in two years, $850,000 in real estate.

Scott:
So, I love it. Jabbar is obviously an incredibly motivated individual and Dan actually co-hosted that episode with Mindy. So, I look forward to listening to that episode when it comes out. I actually haven’t heard it quite yet, but I have heard through you guys just how incredible this individual is and look forward to it. I think that’s a great answer. My question was, “How do you begin peaking the interest of a high schooler in this?”
A success story is a much better place to start than with one of those four levers, it sounds like, but then how do you translate that to… Your book does this with the checklists and the items in the workbook. But what are some of the things that students maybe feel is most relevant or most exciting about getting started with as they’re beginning to take the first steps and taking action and applying what they’ve learned from a personal finance perspective?

Dan:
Yeah, coming out of the box, I think what young people want to know is that… Well, young people don’t like to be forced to do anything and parents out there know that that is very true. If you’re telling your kid, “Clean your room, clean your room, clean your room,” that’s probably the last thing they’re going to do. So, today’s teens are no different. I think the best way to get them interested or involved is to say, “Hey, there are other options. Maybe you don’t want to work until you’re 65. Maybe you do, but here are some other options. This book and the FIRE community and everyone involved will explain to you that there are other options.”
But in the same breath, acknowledging that the pathway to early financial independence is not for everybody. Real estate investing is not for everybody. Entrepreneurship isn’t for everybody. It takes the right mindset, which I think is somewhat learned, but also somewhat you just have some of the pieces of that mindset, but there are no wrong decisions here. By the way, parents, please allow your young people to make mistakes in their journey, because that’s how we all learn best.
By that, I mean, maybe they do overdraft their checking account. Maybe they do overspend on their credit card. Maybe they make some other mistakes, but I think we need to allow them to do that when they’re young, especially when they’re living at home, because they’re in a much safer environment than when they’re off on their own after high school, perhaps in college, or beyond. So, just letting them know there are options and then also letting them know, this is your choice, because it’s your life.
There is no right or wrong way or answers to these questions, but now that you have a good understanding if they’ve read the book, a good understanding of the early financial independence pathway, you decide, “Do you want to hammer it?” There are some young people who have reached early financial independence in their mid-20s. Their passive income is paying for all their living expenses. There are other people who reach that goal maybe in their 40s or 50s and there are some people who still work until they’re 65. So, you can go anywhere in between there. When I say you, I mean the reader, the young person, the teenager. You can go anywhere in between 25 and 65. The choice is yours, but now, you have the information to make the right choice for you.

Mindy:
As a parent, it’s so hard to let my kids make a mistake, because you can see the mistake coming a mile away and you’re like, “No, don’t do that.” Allowing them to overdraw their checking account, that’s an expensive mistake. I mean they only had 20 bucks in there in the first place. They wrote the check for $25. That bounced and now they owe another $20 or $25 or whatever. Every day that they don’t put money in is more money that… You’re like, “Oh, I don’t want you to do that.” But when you learn that lesson firsthand, you really learn not to make that again. It’s so hard to sit there and let them make that. That’s a really good advice. Parents, if you’re listening, let your kids make those mistakes. That’s really hard though. I really want to just jump in and it’s that control freak thing.

Dan:
Another piece of advice I’ll give parents out there or maybe two is we touched on this earlier, I think. The idea of taking a year off after high school, what’s referred to as a gap year, I think, is an amazing idea for most young people to engage, taking that year off to either travel, do service work, work a job, explore a career, maybe an apprenticeship or an internship. There’s so many things you could do in that year. They’re not really losing much, because if they decide to go to college or maybe community college or technical school, they can still start that a year after graduating from high school.
The other thing I would say to parents listening is please don’t get caught up. I see this all the time at my school. Please don’t get caught up in your identity is somehow tied up or your worth as a parent is somehow tied into what your student does after high school or what type of college they get into. It is not always the best decision for your kid to go to the most expensive prestigious college that they get accepted into. Do them a favor.
Even though it may not be what’s best for your image, do them a favor and sit down and look at the cost of the different schools that they are accepted into or that they could apply to and do what’s actually best for them and their future and not what’s going to sound best when you’re talking to your friends about what little Jimmy or Sally’s doing after high school. I’ll refer readers back. Mindy, you’re so great at knowing different episode numbers, but the recent podcast you guys had with the gentleman who did the ROI study on colleges and majors. Parents, if you haven’t listened to that, you got to listen to that as well.

Mindy:
That’s episode 251 with Preston Cooper. It’s titled, “Is college worth it?” He did an exhaustive study on the ROI of college degrees, different degrees at different colleges. In some cases like engineering, the college you attend really doesn’t make a difference. Other degrees, the college you attend does make a difference in the return on investment in your lifelong earning potential. Some degrees, which I found very surprising, he said, it’s actually detrimental to your potential lifelong earnings to even attend and get the degree psychology was on that list, which I found quite surprising, because it’s a default degree.
Lots of people go, “Well, I’m not really sure what I wanted to study. I’ll study psychology.” And then it turns out that not going to college is better than going to college and studying psychology, which is not what we were told when we were in high school. Oh, go to college and study something. That was a really powerful episode. Not only was he very interesting, but he had data point after data point after data point to back up his information. Oh, well, we looked at this and we looked at this too. He’s so good. He’s so smart. Scott, what was one of the things that he shared? They started looking at your earnings potential when you start earning right out of high school versus waiting for four years and then start earning.

Scott:
Yeah. Look, I think that it was an exhaustive study with this. Preston talked about how they had accounted for opportunity cost for the time value of money at a 5% discount rate adjusted for lifetime earnings. They analyzed it, not just with kids who go to college and then go on to get jobs, but with kids who are in the same socioeconomic status with similar grades and types of backgrounds, how they fared versus going to college versus not going to college. So, it’s been something that has impacted, that skewed the incomes of college graduates compared to maybe a better control group with that.
So, I think it was a really well done study with that. I think where that ties back in with what Dan’s done here is Dan, I think, has done a really good job in First to a Million talking about how the college decision is a decision. It’s not a, “Give me, I’m going to go to college. We’re going to go to the best school and assume all of this debt.” It’s a decision with real world repercussions and that needs to all be factored into this decision with this. I think that that’s a healthy way to view it. At the end of the day, this doesn’t change the fact that for most majors and for perhaps many, if not most high school grads, college is still going to be a good decision at the end of the day with that, right?
The ROI was positive in that study for most majors, but it’s also scary to note that as much as 40%, depending on which variation of the tweaks you want to go with in his model study, but around 39, 40% of those majors are ROI negative. You need to understand that if you’re going to go and get a negative ROI on your college degree, you better really love what you’re doing. That better be an intentional choice because you’re destroying the economic value by attending that school.

Dan:
Yeah. I have one question about that episode that I was thinking when I listened to it. By the way, we can always edit this out if we don’t want to go down this road too much. But the ROI that Preston calculated, was it based on how many years working in that industry? Was it a work until you’re 65 years old career and that was the ROI return? Because for most listening to this podcast, that’s probably not the lifelong ambition. Do you know how many years he was factoring in?

Scott:
I think it was to traditional retirement age, but then we can really begin nerding out here and say that once you get past 20 years in a discounted cashflow model, it doesn’t really matter. The last 10, 15 years really matter a whole lot less, because yes, they still stack up value, but the discount rate begins to really wean off at that point. So, yeah, I would be down to go ahead and explore the model, but I think that probably over the course of a 10-, 15-, 20-year career, anything that has a meaningful ROI, maybe a couple 100K is probably going to pay off from a college perspective. But I think you’re right. It would skew it just a few more basis points. Maybe 45, 50% of degrees might then be neutral or negative ROI. Who knows?

Mindy:
Dan, we’ve talked about Jabbar and he was such a delight to talk to. How did you meet Jabbar?

Dan:
Yeah, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing him for a year and a half, maybe two years now. I met him in the Sheeks Freaks community, which is an online community that I’ve created for young people who are freakish, who are FI freaks or Sheeks Freaks. They are interested in things like early financial independence, entrepreneurship, real estate investing, frugality mindset, side hustles, and all these different topics that fall under that umbrella of early financial independence. So, I met him in there quite a while ago. He’s definitely one of the stars in our Sheeks Freaks community, but there are many, many other like him. And then there are others who are just joining every day who are at the very beginning of their journey.
Jabbar has invested in real estate, but when I first met him, he had not. He was just a beginner and stuff, learning about all this. So, yeah, the Sheeks Freaks community, I enjoy obviously working with students in my classroom. Having people like Scott and Craig come in and me telling them about early financial independence, I think, is what’s best for them, but it dawned on me pretty early that I have a limited capacity or limited reach in my classroom.
So, a building an online community where I could reach theoretically thousands of young people with the same information and the message and these ideas was something I wanted to do. So, I built a website, some social media, a blog, and a community, a membership community where young people can join and meet others just like them who are freakish, who are pursuing these types of goals.

Mindy:
Yeah. Having a community of like-minded people where you can talk about things that you are experiencing is so helpful, because it’s really easy to find somebody who’s not in your community to naysay or talk you out of whatever it is you’re thinking about, but having somebody who’s going through the same thing, especially with real estate investing, it’s so easy to bounce ideas off and get somebody who’s been there to help you on your journey too. That’s really helpful.

Scott:
So, Dan, where are all the places that folks can find your book, this community, you? Where are those locations?

Dan:
Yeah, thanks for asking. So, the book, First to a Million, is available right now at biggerpockets.com/teen. The workbook is biggerpockets.com/teenworkbook. I believe there’s a link where you can go to buy them together and get a little discount. Mindy, wasn’t that true?

Scott:
It’s at biggerpockets.com/teenpack.

Dan:
There you go. If folks want to get ahold of me, they can simply find me on BiggerPockets. I’m on there every day, Instagram, LinkedIn. They can also send me an email, [email protected] I should clarify, Sheeks Freaks is S-H-E-E-K-S, that’s my last name, and then F-R-E-A-K-S. Yeah.

Scott:
Awesome. If you can’t remember all of those links, you can just remember one, which is biggerpockets.com/moneyshow255. We will link to everything we just described there in the show notes for you to go and find there.

Dan:
I’ll also give you guys a link for the show notes. If a listener out there or if there is a young person listening or somebody knows a young person who might be interested in joining that Sheeks Freaks community, there’s a free membership level, which honestly has a ton of value and you’re surrounded by like-minded people.
There’s also a paid membership level in that community. The paid membership level has a seven-day free trial. I’m not trying to make tons of money off young people. I’m just trying to pay for the expenses of having the community. But if they wanted a discount on the paid membership, they can use the discount code, money, as in BiggerPockets Money Podcast at checkout. They’ll save some money on that premium membership into the Sheeks Freaks community. So, I’ll send you guys a link to put in the show notes for that as well.

Scott:
Sounds great. Thank you so much.

Mindy:
Yeah. Awesome. Dan, thanks.

Scott:
Before we get out of here, Dan, do you have any jokes for us today?

Dan:
I have 19 years’ worth of teacher jokes. We could do a whole hour segment on that.

Mindy:
No.

Dan:
I do dream of the day when Scott and I can just do a podcast where we have a joke off or a joke-athon.

Scott:
Episode 255 and a half.

Dan:
Go back and forth. So, let’s see. Do you all know why the math book was so sad? Because it had so many problems. Do you know why the bicycle fell over? It was too tired.

Scott:
I have a T-shirt with that one.

Dan:
And then my favorite-

Scott:
You got that shirt for me.

Mindy:
I can still groan.

Scott:
Okay.

Dan:
Mindy is contributing to the problem here by buying Scott’s shirts. Yeah.

Mindy:
Contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Dan:
My favorite is though that you heard the news that the Energizer Bunny was arrested in Downtown New York. He was causing trouble last night. He was arrested by the cops. I’m not exactly sure what he did. I know he was charged with batteries, so it’s pretty serious, whatever it is.

Scott:
Oh, that one. That’s a great one.

Mindy:
No, it wasn’t.

Dan:
You guys are just like my students. They look at me and then they laugh at me that I think my jokes are funny.

Mindy:
I can email Dan and Scott-

Scott:
I’m laughing with you.

Mindy:
… with all of your bad jokes. Don’t email them to me. I don’t want them.

Scott:
Awesome. Well, Dan, thank you so much for your phenomenal jokes, this incredible contribution to, I think, the world of making personal finance accessible to young people. I mean, it’s just a comprehensive book from start to end and more companion workbook. There’s 300, 400, maybe 500, 600 total pages of content here that will help people build a financial position from junior year of high school all the way through college. I think it’s going to make a tremendous difference for a number of young people out there and set them for a life of abundance and not having to worry about whether they’re going to succeed financially. So, thank you for all you’ve done here. I hope a lot of people are able to get that benefit from these books.

Dan:
Yeah. Thanks so much for having me guys and I do want to give a shout to just BiggerPockets in general for taking a risk with this book. I mean, I think we’re going to end up changing a lot of lives, but it’s not the typical book for BiggerPockets to put out, but I’m glad that they got on board and are helping me help other young people live their best lives. So, thank you to BiggerPockets and everybody involved.

Scott:
I don’t think we could be more delighted to publish this book. I think it’s going to make a big impact on a lot of people. So, thank you, Dan.

Mindy:
Thank you, Dan. We’ll talk to you soon. All right. That was Dan Sheeks. Scott, I don’t even have to ask you what you thought of the show, because I know what you thought of the show. You thought it was fantastic because it’s a fantastic book. Dan is a fantastic feature and I’m so excited for this book and this workbook, especially the workbook.
We talked about the workbook. I’m so excited for the workbook because it is a step by step. Do this, do this, do this. Here’s a plan to help you become really amazing with money in very easy, actionable ways that aren’t going to just consume your life. It doesn’t have to be this daunting task. It’s actually very, very easy. Dan has taken these steps and broken them out into easy to do, even when you’re 15, very actionable steps to take, to make yourself the first to a million, the first of your friends to a million dollars.

Scott:
Yeah. I don’t know how you could have asked for a better work that can support teens with this kind of stuff. I mean, he’s got, again, 19 years of experience teaching students with this. He has given these step-by-step instructions. I and Craig Curelop have been in his classroom, watching him learn over the last four or five years what works, what doesn’t when it comes to instructing seniors in high school, mostly seniors, some juniors in personal finance and the concepts of financial independence.
I think there’s no one more qualified or no one better situated to write this book and to, I think, make this accessible to, again, that percentage, that select few percentage of high school students that are looking to actually jumpstart their financial positions in high school and in college. So, they can hit the ground running when they graduate.

Mindy:
I could not agree more, Scott. I’m so excited for this book. I’m so excited for all the kids who are 15, 16, 17 years old, who are going to get this book. Take action, because just having the book in your hands isn’t going to do anything. Taking the action and then in 10 years, being so good with money that their future, not their financial future, their entire future is wide open to look literally anything they want to do.

Scott:
100%.

Mindy:
Okay. If you have a teen in your life, your niece or nephew, your child, sit down with them, listen to this episode, hand them the book, hand them the workbook, ask them to do you a favor and read through the book, ask them to go through the workbook and start taking action. They will thank you for it in five years.

Scott:
Absolutely.

Mindy:
Okay. Scott, should we get out of here?

Scott:
Before we get out of here, I want to address something real quick here. I know many of you have heard the news if you listen to the BiggerPockets Real Estate Podcast, that Brandon is going to step down at least for a few months as the full-time host of that podcast. You’ve probably been seeing that there have been other podcasts on the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. I want to assure you that I am not stepping down from the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. I love doing this. It’s a huge part of my week and one of my favorite things.
I am probably over the next year going to move to once a week or one and a half times per week on average with that as we bring on some new faces with that. I plan to be a part of this show and a regular host for many years to come as long as nothing changes and there’s no surprises around the corner with that stuff. But I love this. This is one of my favorite things to do here at BiggerPockets. I would not give it up for the world. So, again, I’m just moving probably into a once a week role in 2022 and going forward with that, but I will be here for a very long time and love doing this show with Mindy and all of you. So, thank you so much.

Mindy:
Well, thank you for adjusting that, Scott. I, of course, am going nowhere ever. I will be continuing to come to you at least twice a week and sometimes three times a week if I just can’t, if I find something that I just can’t hold off on. Also, we are starting to make videos on our YouTube channel on a very more regular basis. So, please check that out as well. Okay. Now, should we get out of here, Scott?

Scott:
Let’s do it.

Mindy:
From episode 255 of the BiggerPockets Money Podcast, he is Scott Trench and I am Mindy Jensen saying bye-bye, butterfly.

 

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Escaping The Rat Race Before Your First Job w/ Dan Sheeks is written by The BiggerPockets Money Podcast for www.biggerpockets.com

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