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Money and Life Lessons From My 20 years As An Immigrant
It’s 7 am on a Saturday in July 2019 and I’m in my little office at home with a cup of tea to my side and headphones on.
Music of choice today is Hans Zimmer’s ‘Time’ and Zack Hemsey’s ‘The Way’.
Perfect for a morning of reflection.
It’s 19 degrees in my patch of Kent and with a glorious forecast of 23 degrees.
Life feels peaceful at the moment.
In 2 hours, it will get busy with Me and Mary driving our boys to football, music activities, etc.
This post started as a diary entry as I mark a major event in my life.
I figured I’d post it because you might take something away from it.
It has been 20 years since I immigrated to the UK with my family.
Gush, I really cannot believe it has been 20 years.
If you haven’t already read elsewhere, I didn’t start life in this country in an easy way.
A neat way to describe the circumstances was that I started life way below a poor Brit.
As a family of 5, we began life in one bedroom in Walthamstow, East London.
We had nothing but our life experiences and each other.
Now let me contrast that life to today.
I like to believe that we have all done fairly well, at least by our standards.
I’m not one to blow my own trumpet, so I’ll do it for others:
My brother has become a remarkable athlete.
Within the last 4 years, he has gone from knowing nothing about Rowing to now rowing for Country.
In August 2020, we’ll be in Tokyo to see him fly our family flag.
My youngest sister has become a brilliant entrepreneur and designed a life that works for her.
In 6 months (aged 32), she will become Mortgage free. A rare accomplishment for a Millennial.
My other sister, although she chose not to go to University, has excelled at raising 3 kids and owns a couple of nail and hair bars.
My parents, now retired, have a net worth to be envied.
Mortgage free properties and businesses count among their assets.
They also now have 7 well behaved and beautiful grandkids (and counting apparently).
We are all healthy, although we’ve had a couple of scares on the way.
And my situation?
Well, let’s just say that I live a very good life relative to where I’ve come from.
Choosing Financial Independence was the right thing to do.
We are all very thankful, and kinda see where we are as a foundation.
You might be thinking, how on earth did they do this in 20 years?
What have they learned?
Well, I WhatsApp’d my family members individually to gather their thoughts for today’s post.
Table of Contents
15 Lessons About Money & Life
After 20 years of life as immigrants, below is what we have learned about Money and Life:
1. Seek Multiple Sources Of Income
Making an income from one source is not a bad thing.
The only issue is, you give up your power to someone else and they effectively hold you hostage.
There is something special that happens when you take the leap to seek out and earn an alternative income.
I started earning a decent wage when I got my first proper job as a trainee accountant, but my mum had other ideas.
She kept insisting that I did something else on the side to make money.
It was hard to understand why, but it dawned on me when I got made redundant in 2008.
I learned about the need for options the hard way.
Ever since then, I’ve worked hard to expose myself to a wide range of income streams.
Some recurring and some one-offs.
Having a decent job is not enough no matter how senior you are.
Instead, creating a life of filled with options is most important.
It removes day to day fear and worry, and empowers you to make moves others can’t.
Related post: 21 Passive Income Ideas For A Freedom Lifestyle
2. Your Time Is Your Asset
When you’re young, it feels like you have all the time in the world.
Things can wait till tomorrow… After all, you’re only 21 and everyone is having fun.
I made this mistake too and wasted so much of my time and money on stuff.
It was only around the age of 25 that a switch turned on in my mind.
What I should have been doing is grafting and riding the wave of time.
Time is the one thing that passes by no matter what we do or not.
It’s also the one thing no one tells you will become extremely scarce in adulthood.
And to buy back your freedom in a busy world, you have to buy back your time.
The beauty of learning how to manage money is that you can learn to send today’s money into the future to multiply.
If you do that early enough, you'll create a financially abundant life.
Compound interest is your ally for creating that life, but to do that, you must first understand The Money Triangle.
3. Understand The Money Triangle
The Money Triangle is made up of:
- Making Money
- Saving Money
- Spending Money
Note that I did not mention investing above.
That’s because, in order to make your money grow, you must first be capable of keeping your money.
Most of us spend first and then hope to save later when it should be the other way around.
The necessary skill required to take control of spending money is Self-control.
As someone who used to like branded shiny things, self-control was a big struggle.
I bought things because I wanted to look good and keep up with everyone else around me.
Immigrants who started with nothing typically want to show that they’re becoming a success.
One of the first things spent on is a shiny car, usually of the German variety.
I wasn't any different.
Aged 21, I bought an entry-level Mercedes on Finance and it was fun for some time.
Then it became a pain with expensive repair bills.
What I learned over time was that the more I show success with things, the more I became like everyone else: Broke!
It has taken years for me to understand that most things in life actually work in the opposite.
If you want to become rich, you must first stop trying to look rich.
If you want to become a winner, you must first stop being a loser by comparing yourself to others.
If you want to be loved, you must first stop being selfish and show love to others.
The list continues. See the trend?
Once you’ve got to grips with The Money Triangle, then the subject of making your money grow comes onto the agenda.
4. Start Taking Risks
The one thing I’ve grown to like about taking risks is that you never have perfect information at the time.
If you did, it would not be a risk.
The fact that there is an unknown element is what stops most people from taking a leap.
As such, the minority who decide to jump have everything to gain or not.
I’ve taken many risks over the last 20 years.
For the sake of illustration only, here are some highlights:
i) I took the leap to go to University without knowing whether I would get the right to work.
Not only did I complete the degree at the top of my class, but I also did it without a student loan.
ii) In 2008, I bought my first flat when the world was collapsing financially.
That flat would later help me make further leaps in property investing.
iii) I decided to pursue getting into Cambridge for my masters (and related benefits), without an initial plan for funding £70k tuition and living expenses.
Taking that step pushed me to find the first £30k, then the next £10k and so on without a penny of loan.
That leap elevated my confidence more than I could have ever imagined.
iv) I’ve always punched above my weight for jobs, and then learned and excelled during my probation and beyond.
Case in point, becoming a CFO in my early 30s.
This way, I have challenged myself more and earned more than most of my peers too.
v) I decided that paying off our mortgage in 7 – 10 years was the best thing to do contrary to popular opinion.
It was one of the best moves we ever made.
One that has given us more freedom than I can put into words.
vi) In December 2017, I started this blog with no writing or internet skills at all.
It has proved to be one of the best things I’ve ever done and given me a platform for much more possibility.
Bear in mind though, this comes after many other business ideas explored offline. Some succeeded and some failed.
vii) In 2009, I decided to propose to a young lady I’d only known for a year. 10 years on, It remains my best ever decision.
The list goes on.
The theme across them is the same.
The more calculated risks you take, the better off you’ll become over time.
Without these risks, we would not be where we are on our money and life journey today.
5. Invest In Personal Development
The beauty of having little to no money is that it forces you to be more resourceful than most.
I remember a time in my life when I had no qualification to my name.
To be more exact, I had no document to my name. As a 14-year-old, I had my name on my mother’s passport.
The first meaningful thing I ever tried to achieve in this country was to pass my driving test.
I focused on this task relentlessly and over a period of 6 to 12 months, I gathered the money whilst reading the theory.
There was no YouTube back then!
I went on to pass the theory and practical exams in one attempt, and for the first time ever, I had something valuable to my name.
This achievement in my personal development gave me a huge boost and belief that I could achieve more.
More importantly, I made a critical connection – The link between effort and reward.
Next, my sight was set on getting accepted into a university. Any university!
That driving license gave me an identity. A gift from the heavens.
Somehow, through the “Clearing” process, I found myself at a University.
Next challenge – How do we pay for it?
Especially given I had no eligibility for Student Loans.
This was my introduction to the world of getting any job for any pay.
I wanted my own car and I wanted to be the person who could say that they got into University.
The only thing that stood in the way was money and I had to find it…
15 to 20 years later, my relentless focus on Personal Development has been my secret sauce to success.
6. Financial Independence Is A Super Power
The decision to pursue financial independence is a choice that changes lives.
I recently attended an FI meetup in London and I got speaking to a woman who showed up with her 6-year-old daughter.
I'd never seen a 6-year-old at a money meetup, so I got intrigued about her and her mum.
As we got chatting, it transpired that mummy was a single mum.
I'd personally never met a single mum of Asian descent before.
Then she said something powerful when I asked why she was at the FI meetup:
“I left all the finances to my husband and knew nothing.
The divorce hit me hard and I had to start learning about Money from the start.
Pursuing Financial Independence has given me survival skills.
I have gradually built up 3 months of savings and counting.”
What she said resonated strongly with me because the first 10 years of my life in the UK were all above survival.
And the 10 years after was all about optimising my life for Financial Independence.
If you are new to this idea and still to make it real in your life, I’d start by answering this question – How much money is enough for you?
7. Side Hustles Liberate
My attraction to side hustles initially was purely monetary.
The idea that I could start something and generate £10k here or £20k there was very attractive.
I saw it as a path towards hitting that first 100k of net worth in a few years.
Side hustles require a lot of hard work but work on the same principles as money:
Consistency is absolutely key if your side business or project is to be a success.
It is a differentiator as most people are not consistent at anything.
Compounding works in your favour because 1 – 2 hours a day adds up over many weeks and months.
I know this well because it is exactly what I’ve done to start and run The Humble Penny.
In the 18 months that I’ve run this site, I worked out that I’ve put in some 1,100 hours!
That’s equivalent to 45 full days at 24 hours a day.
This might sound like a lot, but it hasn’t felt like it because I’ve done it gradually every day.
The thing is though, the output from putting in all this time has become worth a ton more in terms of opportunity.
When I think about the last 20 years, this has been a consistent theme in my life. Something I learned from my parents.
As a family, we’ve used this idea to start numerous businesses, some of which then became fully fledged businesses run by managers.
The same idea is also what I applied for 2 years to complete my Executive MBA, working full time with 2 children under the age of 2.
8. Career Choice Matters
If making money to achieve your life goals is your priority, then there are careers that will get you there faster.
I previously wrote about the best paying jobs for over 6 figures a year.
My decision to pursue a career with the potential for 6 figures and above is a key part of how we achieved FI in a decade.
But I had no idea what financial goals I would have in the future when I set off.
I just knew I wanted a well-paid job.
The fact that your career today is not where you want to be or has no potential for high income, should not stop you moving.
My dad trained as a Veterinary Doctor before he arrived in the UK but a lot of those qualifications were no good here.
He had no choice but to gradually skill-up in his 40s and pivot into another area of medicine.
If he did it out of necessity, you can do it out of choice.
9. Become An Owner
In order to create any wealth over time, you have to become an owner of assets.
Ideally income generating assets.
These could be physical assets such as property and land.
Or intangibles such as a portfolio of equities, shares in a business or digital assets such as online businesses.
Seeking ownership came later in life for me and once I understood its power, I started applying it to everything, even my jobs.
For example, I’d seek and negotiate for share options as part of a package.
Becoming an owner is a mindset thing and requires growth in confidence over time to ask for what you want.
Better still, take the leap and create what you want with ownership from the outset.
10. There Is No Income Ceiling
For someone who could barely make £5 an hour at some point, believing that there is no income ceiling took years.
So I’m not saying this lightly.
Most people I meet today believe that they are doomed to making less than £50k per annum.
After all, the average income in the UK is something like £29k per annum.
This is where the mindset point comes in.
Do you believe you’re average?
If so, then your belief is what’s keeping you at your income level.
However, if you can convince yourself that you’re above average (and you should!), then the sky's the limit.
I pretty much tell myself through affirmations that I have what it takes.
That I can create opportunity and my own destiny.
I convince myself that I have value to offer and by doing so, I walk the walk.
The action follows and so does the experimenting.
One important point to note is that income from your employer is only one possible source of many.
I’m speaking the obvious, yes, but sometimes it just has to be said.
Your employer is just one customer among many others possibly.
When you combine this idea with the idea of assets doing the heavy lifting in your life, you’ll soon start setting income goals.
Setting goals increases your bank balance if you take the steps daily towards achieving your goals.
11. Do The Work
Have you ever heard anyone say this…
“It’s not about working hard, it’s about working smart”
Whilst this sounds very cool, there is no substitute for doing the work.
The people who say this usually don’t do either of hard work or smart work.
Think about it, do you know anyone who works hard but struggles in life?
When I was at University, my number one strategy for getting to the top of my class was to start my day at 4.30am daily.
I figured I might not be as smart of some of my friends, but I could outwork them. And I did.
It’s also for this reason that immigrants tend to succeed within just a few years.
They start behind, but they grind and do the work!
When one has done this for years, they build an unrivalled internal culture.
Related post: The Importance of a Deliberate Morning Routine
12. Stand By Your Values
Doing the right thing is in short supply in society today.
When I think back over the last 20 years, I see the mistakes I made whilst on the path to understanding who I am.
Although there are many values that I live by daily, there are three that I openly share:
Honesty, Integrity, and Transparency.
They are the values that underpin everything that we do at The Humble Penny, and they’re bourne out of our personal values.
These values have grown in importance the more I have advanced in the world and become more visible.
They continue to challenge me daily and have helped me grow into who I am today.
Basically, the goal is to use my life to tell H.I.T stories.
What values do you hold dearly in your life today?
13. Fear Is Fuel
Below is a lyric from one of my recent favourite composers – Zack Hemsey:
“When you find a fear, it will either create you or destroy you. I love fear. The reason why?
Because behind every fear is the person you want to be. Fear is self-imposed –
Meaning that it doesn’t exist.
You create it, and you can destroy it too”.
I couldn’t have written it better than Zack!
Fear has been a major force in my life over the last 20 years.
Most of that fear was borne out of a scarcity mindset due to lack of resources and belief.
Today though, fear is fuel in my life and I see it as a wave I need to surf to get to the right side of life.
I face up to it daily in order to live my best life ever!
14. Good Advice Is Gold
One memorable event over the last 20 years was the bad advice we took that set us back 5 years on our journey to become Brits.
Those of you who have had to deal with the powers that be, know that it is costly and emotionally draining.
What I have learned is to never go cheap when it comes to advice.
Always seek good advice and where possible, seek counsel from various people.
15. Prioritise Relationships
It’s fitting that I end on the point of relationships because when all is said and done, it’s all that matters.
It’s easy for me to tell you about the various challenges and successes I’ve experienced in life…
But truth be told, I’m not responsible for a lot of it.
I’ve been extremely fortunate to have the right people around me.
From my entrepreneurial parents and siblings to good friends I have known for 10 – 20 years.
Then there is the life gift of marrying my amazing wife, with skills that complement mine.
I have also been extremely lucky, although I prefer to say that I’ve had special grace.
The one thing that life guarantees are many challenges and occasional disappointments.
Having the right people around has proved to be a gift for my physical, emotional and mental health.
Money plays an important role in our lives, but relationships should be ranked above it in order to live a good life.
Related post: 6 Key To A Good Relationship
The last 20 years has felt like a roller-coaster ride of fighting fear, having fun, and taking risks to make dreams come true.
Life remains challenging in many ways, but I feel I’m at a place in life where I have more peace and joy.
Understanding and managing money better have played a role in getting there, although not without work on other aspects of life.
I have no idea where you are on your life journey.
You might be at the very beginning like I was and struggling right now.
Or you might be living an OK life and working towards a better quality of life.
Wherever you are, remember that the true gift of life is time and the people around you.
Enjoy what you have left of your life and do things that make you fear less each day in order to embrace life fully.
Did my journey resonate with you? I'd like to hear from you. Please share in the comments.
Do please share this post if you found it useful, and remember, in all things be thankful and Seek Joy.