- Tanya Taylor, 50, is a CPA and financial coach based in New York.
- She set a goal to save $1 million for retirement and hit her goal two years early at age 48.
- Taylor says maxing her 401(k) contributions and learning to manage her own investments were key.
I have spent more than 20 years of my career working at large banks and insurance companies. At age 48, I hit $1 million in my savings for retirement, almost three decades after I’d made it a goal. It wasn’t an easy task, but being passionate about personal finance and wealth building and following specific habits helped me make it happen.
When I was 16 and had just graduated high school, I left my entire family in Jamaica with big dreams and only $100 to my name. For a poor girl like me, moving to New York was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I intended to use to break the cycle of poverty in my family.
I wasn’t immediately able to go to college because I was undocumented, so I returned to high school to get my diploma from a US public school and also got a part-time job at a local restaurant making $75 per week.
I carefully budgeted every dollar I made and paid a weekly stipend for meals and accommodations to the family friends I lived with. I put the rest toward college savings, everyday necessities, and sending to my family in Jamaica.
When I was 24, I set a goal to have $1 million in my retirement account by age 50. To make that goal a reality, I mapped out a plan and set some guidelines for myself. Here are five things I did.
1. I lived below my means and budgeted carefully
At 32, I was making more than $100,000 and lived on just $50,000 per year after taxes while putting the rest into savings. Whenever my income increased or circumstances changed, like when I got married or had kids, I would revisit my budget, make adjustments, and continue to save toward my retirement goal.
Some of the ways we lived below our means included purchasing a two-family home to rent out half of it to a tenant to cover part of our mortgage, purchasing only used cars, shopping sales, happily accepting secondhand clothing for our children, and only giving gifts once per year.
2. I always made the maximum contribution to my employer-sponsored retirement plan
As I’ve progressed in my career and switched jobs, I’ve always contributed the maximum amount possible to my employer’s retirement plan.
For example, when I worked as a word processor in my early 20s, I put about 5% of my $40,000 salary into my 401(k). After graduating college, I got a job as an auditor at Deloitte and contributed about $7,000 a year to my 401(k) plan.
Some years it was hard to contribute the maximum, especially when I got married and had two kids in a three-year span. But even as expenses changed, I continued to contribute the maximum amount I could no matter how difficult it was.
3. I contributed to a Roth IRA every year until I reached the income threshold
Around age 27, I opened a Roth IRA with a brokerage firm and set up automatic transfers from each paycheck into this account. Each month, the funds in this account were used to purchase the same mutual fund. I contributed approximately $8,000 over five years until I hit the income threshold at 32. Later, I converted this account from mutual funds to stocks that did pretty well, and this account now has approximately $40,000.
The IRS has rules in place that once your income exceeds a certain dollar amount, you can’t contribute to a Roth IRA. For example, in 2022, if you’re single and make more than $144,000, you can’t contribute to a Roth IRA.
4. I built my stock market knowledge through books, investing events, and by being in an investing club
One of the first books I read when I began my financial journey was “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” which helped shift my mindset toward wealth building. Two other books that were instrumental in my investing journey were “One Up On Wall Street” by Peter Lynch, and “The Intelligent Investor” by Benjamin Graham.
I slowly built my stock market and investing knowledge through auditing pension plans and mutual funds while employed at Deloitte and attending investing seminars and conferences. I also followed personal finance websites like Kiplinger, CNBC, Forbes, and Money.
After college, I also cofounded a stock market investment club with a few friends. As a group, using resources like Bloomberg and Morningstar, we would research individual stocks and industries to make at least one “buy” recommendation at each monthly meeting. We also invited guest speakers to help build our knowledge of the stock market.
While the investments from this club went towards my children’s college funds rather than my retirement, the knowledge that I gained helped me in growing my retirement portfolio.
5. I transferred my retirement plan to a brokerage firm and invested it in individual stocks
As my investing knowledge grew, I decided that I wanted to have more control over how my retirement funds were being invested. I also wanted to avoid annual administration fees that my employer charged, so around age 30, I rolled over my 401(k) to a brokerage firm where I was able to invest in a wider variety of funds and individual stocks.
Since I was still young enough to take more risks, I closely followed the stock market and purchased stocks that were underperforming but that I thought would eventually increase in the long term.
While I believe my job as a CPA and auditor did aid my investing decisions, most of what I learned was self-taught and came from sheer desire to learn more about personal finance and
. It’s information that can be learned by anyone who’s ready and willing to learn.
One million dollars may seem like a daunting number, but regardless of your wealth or income it really is achievable if you have the right mindset. Map out a solid plan, adjust your budget as your income grows, and always prioritize savings.