Part of Home at 30’s mission is to build awareness about personal finance amongst young adults. In the Personal Finance Spotlight, the successful strategies and lessons learned will serve as a resource for those looking to build wealth themselves.
Over the past several weeks I’ve gotten the chance to learn about Alex Dennery’s unique approach to college, personal finance, and wealth building.
Alex’s approach isn’t unique because he’s doing something groundbreaking or unheard of; it’s unique because he’s had the foresight to implement strategies that many people don’t appreciate until they’re much older. In many ways, Alex is financially wise far beyond his years!
I wish I could say the same for myself!
But you guys have heard enough from me. It’s Alex’s story, so I’ll let him tell it.
Here’s the interaction (his words in quotes) below:
Alex – When did you start caring about money?
“I’ve worked since I was 16 – not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I liked earning money, but I also enjoyed investing in myself and developing good work habits. I didn’t get a financial education in school, but my high school recently started requiring a financial education class which I was glad to see.
I took a few accounting and finance courses in college and they helped me develop an interest in remaining as frugal as possible without sacrificing happiness. My biggest takeaway was utilizing the time value of money to reap the rewards of early investment in the long run.”
Let’s take a step back. Where did you attend college and why?
“I attended a mid-sized university called Rowan in order to graduate without debt. I saw a degree from Rowan as good value because of the variety of degree options, clubs, and alumni.
Originally, my priority was to get out of my parent’s house and develop my independence at an out-of-state university. My parents had the financial ability to pay for me to go to a relatively inexpensive in-state college (with a commute involved) and refused to pay for a school that would put me into debt. So, I ended up going to a local, cheaper school.
This allowed me to live at home, which freed me up to do the things I enjoy most, like hanging with friends and doing music. I liked not having to worry about the burdens of living away like dealing with roommates, getting groceries, and paying utilities.
Ultimately (and thankfully), I was able to work a few jobs during school to start saving up as much as I could.”
That’s great. How do you feel now about living at home during college?
“It wasn’t until later that I realized how much of an advantage I have by simply not being in debt. Yes, I do realize that many students don’t have the kind of financial help that I had, but it’s so important for high school graduates to make informed financial decisions so they don’t ruin their chance to achieve financial independence.
Every high school graduate is different and sometimes going into debt is worth it in the end, but it’s vital for the right guidance and financial education to be instilled from the beginning, which I was lucky to get from my parents.”
What was your major in college? How did you plan to leverage that once you graduated?
“I originally majored in computer science for the wrong reasons. I researched the job market and saw the high demand and the high pay but didn’t think much about what I wanted. Big mistake.
After one and a half years of torture, I switched over to MIS (Management Information Systems) which was a mix between a computer science and business degree. I knew having a technical background and being able to apply it to business management would allow me to go far in my career.
This was an easier major, and I was able to work 2 jobs and network with people who work in technology. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in tech but I knew I was interested in the field and that I’d have many options after graduation, given the wide variety of industries and types of work.”
Do you carry any debt today? What’s your debt philosophy?
“Fortunately, I didn’t have any college debt after graduating, but I do have 2 credit cards. I pay those off every month instead of paying the minimum amount. My car is an old beater that I plan to use until it no longer works. I seek to avoid debt at all costs and pay my bills on time until it’s time to buy a house.
My philosophy is that most debt is bad, but not all. Some debt is practical and allows you to get an education, go to work, or genuinely increase your overall happiness. Debt should be seen as an investment in the grand scope of things and should never be taken lightly.
I had heard the stories of people paying enormous amounts of debt for a college education. After touring some beautiful colleges, I was very tempted! College was always referred to as “the greatest 4 years of your life” but I decided that it doesn’t have to be – especially if it costs a fortune.”
Unfortunately I’m one of those people! What strategies are you using to build wealth?
“To help secure my financial independence, I’m building wealth by:
- Investing with my father’s financial advisor. He recommended a growth fund which was heavy in stocks.
- Maxing out my 401k. I get matching up to 4% every month and I’ve automated my contribution to increase by 1% every year.
- Managing my finances through Mint. This allows me to see exactly where my money is going and I’ve set notifications to make sure I stay on track with my budget.
- Trying to build multiple income streams. I enjoy playing keyboard so I started a YouTube channel for that and have also been thinking of starting a gaming and streaming channel on YouTube and Twitch.
- Selling my things on eBay and Craigslist as another source of income. I’m also looking into reselling Amazon items on eBay as a side gig.”
That’s awesome. What lesson do you think is most important for people to improve their finances?
“The biggest (and often most overlooked) aspect of building wealth is incremental improvement. You need to periodically evaluate your finances and come up with ways to improve your financial outlook. This could mean spending less, starting new income streams, contributing more to debt consolidation, or starting a frugal habit such as making lunch to bring to work rather than buying every day.
Focusing on incremental improvement is so simple yet so widely forgotten and is the key to a secure a secure financial future. Never get too comfortable!”
I love it. Do you have plans to retire early? How?
“Yes. I’m hoping to achieve this by:
- Living below my means
- Tracking my wealth
- Developing multiple income streams
- Maxing out my 401k contribution
- Investing intelligently
- Investing in my future through professional development
- Pouring my side-hustle money into investments
- Spending money on experiences rather than things”
Wow. For someone so young, it’s incredible to see that Alex Dennery already has the right mindset for building a strong financial future.
I have to be honest here – I’m jealous!
Alex made a choice to attend a more affordable school and he’s happy with his decision thus far. I’ve always been a proponent of attending more elite colleges depending on the desired career, but everyone’s aspirations and paths to financial freedom are different.
While many of us were spending money on room/board and books at pricey schools, Alex was saving money by living at home.
Alex is one of the rare examples of a young adult who’s had a beat on their financial situation from an early age. I wish I could say the same for myself.
How do you stack up? Where are you on your journey to financial independence?
If you have a story to tell, I want to hear it! Email me at Josh@Homeat30.com to learn more.
All opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of Home at 30 and are in no way affiliated with any other organization or institution. The purpose of this blog is to give general education and information about investing, wealth, careers, and college; It is not intended to be professional advice.
After earning an undergraduate degree in Economics and a Master of Arts in Management at Wake Forest University, Josh has paid off over $80k in student loan debt in 3 years. Josh wants to help people make smarter decisions by sharing the lessons he’s learned about brand/career building, making the most of college, and pursuing financial independence.