Ever want to know how regular people make a million dollars in the stock market? High school teacher Brian Weitzel tells us how he did it.
By age 35, high school teacher Brian Weitzel already had a net worth of a million dollars, a successful photography business, several rental properties, and a padded nest egg. Before 40, he's amassed a million-dollar investment portfolio.
Let’s take a look at the journey that lead him to that financial success. Listen above or read below.
Becoming Interested in Money
Brian first became interested in money out of necessity. He made around $30,000 at his first teaching job at a private school. He was living in Ann Arbor, Michigan where the cost of living is pretty high.
Since he wasn't making much money, his expenses were pretty tight and he realized that he did not want that to be his reality. It was then that he made the conscious decision to do what he could to get out of his tight budget as soon as possible.
He started picking up side jobs—tutoring, guitar lessons, hosting at bars—and used the added income to save and invest.
Looking Outside the Day Job
Brian’s parents grew up needing to watch their pennies. His brother consequently became interested in money and taught Brian a bit about stocks. Brian started saving and investing at fifteen years old without knowing what he was doing, only knowing that it was important. That habit stuck with him his entire life.
And then came the necessity.
It’s completely understandable that after all the hard work of going through college and double majoring, Brian didn’t want to be poor. He shared a story about a time when he treated himself to a Hungry Howie’s pizza.
The pizza had six slices, and he had decided that he was going to be responsible and make three meals out of it. But he was so hungry at the time that he ate the whole thing. The guilt almost brought him to tears.
He thought, “Man, life shouldn’t be this tight. I shouldn’t feel guilty over $6.”
Learning the side hustle and learning how to use that to better his financial life came out of necessity.
“In the beginning, it was always live within your means, and pay yourself first,” Brian recalled.
After he started to make a bit of extra money (about $2,000 a year), Brian continued to live on less than his current paycheck. When he landed a teaching job in a public school, he still lived on less than $29,000 despite his salary of $35,000. His side hustles grew, and he even set up his own photography business—which started to match his teaching job salary. He then realized that he was on to something.
“If I could live on less than one income, I could save and invest all the rest of that and really expedite my investments,” shared Brian.
Related Article: How to Increase Your Net Worth to $1,000,000 in 10 Years
Brian mentioned in the interview that investing was the easy part, which is not the case for most people. When asked why, he said he did two things.
Fire the Financial Advisor
It took Brian four years before he could fire his financial advisor, and he says it was scary when he did. But after Brian fired him, the money became 100% accountable, and he realized that if he wanted his own retirement, he’s going to have to create it himself.
“No one cares about your money as much as you do,” Brian shared.
Learn About Investing as Much as Possible
Without a financial advisor, he knew he needed to learn the works by himself. Although he hated reading, he started learning by committing to reading one Yahoo Finance article per week.
He looked up words he didn’t understand. After a while, his progress just snowballed—from one article a week to three articles a week, to one a day, to four a day until it simply became a habit. Some notable reads from Brian include The Automatic Millionaire (David Bach) and A Random Walk Down Wall Street (Burton Malkiel) which introduced him to index funds which later introduced him to Vanguard.
“The veil of investing—the veil of it being super complicated or difficult or that you need an expert for it—all of that is lifted.”
Adjusting the Right Way
Brian’s very first paycheck was $900. He’s been teaching for fifteen years now and his salary has all but tripled since then, but he’s still living on $900.
“If you can’t see it, you can’t spend it,” shared Brian.
As your income goes up, you adjust by keeping your standard of living the same. You can adjust your contribution until it’s maxed out, and when that happens, you can find another bucket to max out.
Which isn’t to say that it’s something that happens overnight—it’s a journey, a process to discover. But when the time comes that you see that you have momentum going and you start to understand and believe in the system, then things will work out from there.
Brian sticks to his core investments—index funds. He feels fortunate for having multiple streams of income while also having a pension waiting for him. Having said that, Brian does invest in individual stocks that are largely buy and hold.
Brian follows a piece of advice from Warren Buffett: Everyone should have a punch card with twenty numbers on them. Each time you invest, you punch a number off. Twenty investments are all you get, so choose your stocks wisely.
“Slow and boring is a good way to go,” shared Brian. And that's what helped him make a million dollars in the stock market.
Real Estate in the Portfolio
Brian drove 105 miles each way to work when he taught at a public school in 2006. Considering the place was in a down market, he purchased a house which he later rented out.
The public school he taught at had a pay freeze for five years which made him think, if he couldn’t make money from being a teacher, then he’ll need to make his own money. So he bought another piece of real estate specifically for renting it out.
He realized that his passive income from real estate (about $1,500) would be enough to cover his mortgage ($1,100) and living expenses. That’s when it dawned on him—I’m going to ride this money wave!
Related Interview: How to Make a Million in Real Estate
Owning Your Own Business
Brian’s business is where the bulk of his money comes from.
“If you can find more ways to make money, and then you make good decisions with that money, you’re going to hit seven figures within fifteen years or so,” said Brian.
Brian’s photography business is his most successful one by far. In fact, he has probably spent more time doing photography than anything else that when he meets new people, he introduces himself as a photographer before he says he’s a teacher.
“When you become better at what you do and you understand what the client is looking for, you can solve more of their problems. And when you do, you add more value to yourself, and the clients will pay you handsomely for it,” shared Brian.
The End Goal in Wealth-Building
If I had asked Brian in February what his end goal would be, he would have answered, ‘early retirement at age 49.’ His mortgage would be paid off, and he would have a brokerage that would gap him until he could access the true retirement funds. He thought that maybe he could start a second career of helping people understand finances and maybe finally start writing that book in his head.
But now, having sat at home for several months during the pandemic, Brian wants to work up until the day he dies.
“It’s the structure. Working provides a purpose for me,” said Brian.
Staying Grounded and Keeping Relationships
“I never want money to change who I am or the relationships I have.”
He has his mom to thank. She always said that she never wanted so much that she would never want it again, and that stuck with him ever since.
Now that Brian makes more than he needs based on his current living situation, he’s looking for ways how he can help the most amount of people and how he can spend his money according to his values.
You could use money to enhance the relationships you have in your life—take care of the people you love and help them out. But you should also realize that you don’t need money to have a great relationship. Sure, you can make a million dollars, but it doesn't mean anything if you don't have people to share it with.
Brian married his high school sweetheart, and he’s thankful that having started from zero, his wife hasn’t really changed as a person. The first time they hired a house cleaner, she felt guilty, and Brian took that as a good sign that she still highly values every dollar.
“We always stay grounded in our relationship and count our blessings,” said Brian.
Useful Tips on How to Make a Million Dollars
1. Learn the Opportunity Cost of Money
For anyone who wants to build wealth, the single, most powerful lesson you can learn is the opportunity cost of money because it will shape the way you view your purchases.
Use an investment calculator. Punch in your age, when you want to retire, your expenses in retirement and put in an 8% or 9% return and hit enter. Remember that number. You’ll start associating with every single dollar you spend because that’s how much your one dollar is worth.
“It unlocks the perspective that the most powerful dollar you have today is the dollar in your pocket. Every decision you make today is setting yourself up for vast amounts of money in the future,” shared Brian.
2. There are Windows of Opportunity Closing Soon
For a 20-something, you could go house hacking and get roommates. Live like you’re still in college even though you’re making $40,000 per year.
You’ll be surprised by how much you can save. Then invest all that difference.
3. Forgive Yourself and Move On
If you’re not in your 20’s, and you’re thinking that you could have done this a while back, don’t beat yourself up and forgive yourself for the information you didn’t know. We all come from different places with different experiences.
Wallowing in the mistakes you made is not going to change your future, it’s just going to pull you back and keep you in the past. You can start to make that million dollars today.
4. Develop a Good Relationship with Money
Check in from time to time. It’s almost like dating.
People fear accountability, but this is something you need to face honestly. Does it make you excited? Anxious? You have to recognize what emotional ties or triggers you have with money.
5. Ask Yourself What Brings You Joy.
Brian shared that the happiest moments in his life were when he was broke— like playing cards at a train stop with his wife.
Realize that’s your core. Go on a financial diet and reset yourself from all the things that are comfortable until you’re uncomfortable. Redefine what’s normal to you, challenge your way of thinking and your beliefs. But when you redefine your normal, you’re taking control of your present and your future.
Are you looking to make a million in the stock market? How would your life be different?
Please let us know in the comments below!
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CARPE DIEM QUOTE
“I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”― Helen Keller