Retire at 30? Save $1 Million on a $55,000 Salary? They Did It
Nancy Mann Jackson
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How many different roads lead to a million-dollar net worth? Quite a few, as it turns out. You could get there by earning a sky-high salary (pro athletes, anyone?) inheriting a large windfall or launching and selling a successful business — just be careful not to boost your spending to match.

But some of the most inspiring stories out there are the people who earn their way into the millionaires’ club the old-fashioned way—simply by saving a large portion of their income, investing well and living below their means. Here’s how four people did just that.

SharonThe Lifelong Saver

Sharon Marchisello, 63, Atlanta, Ga.

“I have always saved. I began when I was about 3 years old,” says Sharon Marchisello, who, along with her husband Michael, now has a net worth of more than $3 million. “My first piggy bank was an oil can my father gave me; he cut a slit in the top so you could put coins in. I saved parts of my allowance, money I earned for chores and good grades.”

Thanks to an early start, saving became second nature for Marchisello—regardless of what she earned. She started her career making $9 an hour at the Western Airlines reservations desk, and ultimately retired from Delta earning about $55,000. Michael, who still works as a Delta flight attendant, earns about $60,000.

“As soon as our companies offered a 401(k), we started contributing,” Marchisello says. “We started at 6 percent to maximize the company match, and worked our way up to 15 percent.” She also maxed out an IRA every year after 1983, and, after paying off their mortgage in 2005, the Marchisellos began maxing out their 401(k) accounts.

Since she retired in 2008, Delta’s called Marchisello back to work on four contract projects. During her last stint, she socked away 50 percent of her income into her 401(k) until it was maxed out.

Marchisello admits that never having children likely enabled her and Michael to save more. However, they also committed to a frugal lifestyle that helped them build more wealth than others in their position. For example, they love to cook at home, planning menus around what’s on sale or in season. They also prioritized paying off their mortgage in 10 years and never carried credit card balances.

These days, Marchisello enjoys sharing her wealth-building strategies with others. She recently published an e-book outlining how she reached a $3 million net worth with a middle-income salary.

Her advice for others: For Marchisello, investing wasn’t just about preparing for the future—it was also her hobby. In the early 2000s, she even joined an investment club, which she highly recommends as a way of learning the ins and outs of investing, as well as having fun in the process.

She also recommends ensuring you have the financial basics covered by opening an emergency fund in a safe place like a savings account or money market fund and focusing on paying off debt. “If you have debt, your best guaranteed return on investment is to pay it down,” she says.

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70 comments

    2 of 4 have no kids. Anyone with half a brain can save a million dollars without kids. And not living in NY helps too.

    It’s not their fault that they choose none of those money sucking choices. The whole point of it is to steer away from the regular run of the mill type of lifestyle. To retire early is not a norm and you can’t achieve that by leading a mainstream normal life.

    @sherrie But it does hamper the ability of the reader to relate to the article. They start off talking about how saving a million dollars by 30 isn’t only for sports stars, big inheritors and business tycoons, they say it can be for people making middle class money, implying that it is quite attainable to the average middle class. the article draws you in by implying one thing and then clarifying midway through that that is not the case. For most people, and most readers, the ability to save like they are is as easily attainable as being a sports star, inheriting money, building a successful business or winning the lottery. Like you said, having kids is the norm. Cheap journalism if you ask me.

    Gimme a break. I wish just one of these websites would offer realistic solutions for the rest of the population who is divorced, are separated or single parents, or just simply hit hard times and are starting things over in their adult life. The fact of the matter is most folks have kids and the divorce rate is 50% so this article doesn’t represent the real world. P.S. Not everybody has a company sponsored 401k to contribute to.

    I’m a single mom, with 2 kids, and am this month writing a check to pay off the mortgage. I have no car loans and pay my credit card off every month. All this after taking a 30% pay cut last year due to a turndown in my industry. The lessons are all the same – save, don’t spend on stuff that you don’t need, and set savings goals that you strive to achieve. I’m on my way to my $1 million because I choose to shop Goodwill vs Macy’s.

    Thank you! Gosh we lived in expensive suburbs and everything kept increasing, except our paychecks! We could NEVER get much saved. Lucky to have all the necessities covered when the kids were young.Had to leave Chicago area eventually after the kids were raised. That state is still taxing everyone to death.

    Kids are not accidental. If you are having sex then there is a distinct possibility that you will end up pregnant each and every time you engage in the act. Didn’t your parents, the school system, tv/movies, friends experiences teach you the birds and the bees?

    Kids are approx. $300k to get to age 18, and that’s if you’re lucky enough for them to get out of the house. Then they have kids, and you’re doubly screwed when they all move back in. I would be a multimillionaire at 55 also without kids.

    I bet yes – I know without kid we would have had a million, since I would have had a full time job, and I am pretty thrifty from years of necessity. There is not really ever much in these articles that help, except making a person feel guilty they went out for a pizza once or twice a month.

    I think the 30 year old couple have their heads in the sand if they think $1 million is going to last them a lifetime. Even at 3% per annum.

    Wait until they grow older and require regular medical care. I’m 63 and on Medicare. Medicare is great but it only cover 80% of medical. And does not cover dental, vision, long-term care or prescription drugs. Medical is the biggest expense in our golden years.

    These kids, and their nest egg, are going to be in for a rude awakening as they get older. I’d be willing to bet they spend their entire 3%, and then some, on medical by the time they are my age!

    Your Medicare does cover vision if you have an underlying condition such as cataracts, diabetes , hypertension, or cholesterol.

    There are some things that I don’t agree because they’re obvious… First, you can save a bunch if you don’t have kids. Second, I’m a millennial who attend a top B-School so I have a BIG student loan. Finally, they don’t even enjoy life it looks like they were very cheap.

    Look I’m happy for these people. Here are a couple things they’re not telling you. When you save like that your life is sh**. Pinching every penny and not enjoying life like going out to dinner annual trips and drive a nice car or simple comforts in life are basically extinguished. Not to mention where you live. I live on the beach in MDR cali. Now I’m not saving money but I also wake up every morning to the beach and that quality of life is more rich than me enjoying a million dollars later at 60 when I’ll probably have cancer and not want to leave the house. Like I said not hating but you need to look at the specifics.

    What you define as a “good life” can be totally different than how someone else defines it. Kudo’s to the couple for saving. Don’t criticize their way of life because it doesn’t match yours.

    I agree—alot of these people leave it all two their kids who fight over all the money when they are dead —and didn’t enjoy life at all –always worried about stuffing all the money away but yes if you could enjoy living that way–its awesome.

    We don’t need a lavish lifestyle or visit 11 countries or eat out at restaurants weekly. The simple things in life are what count. Walking with your dog, chopping firewood on the weekends, drinking beers and listening to records with friends. Gardening in your yard to eat healthy and not marrying to have kids because everyone else is doing it and then when the kids are out of the house and grown up you realize you have nothing in common with your wife so both of you split and get a divorce and both of you are broke. These couples we read about did things right and it worked for them. More power to them.

    You have a great point! You don’t know when you exit this life …..my poor mom turned 41 in June and was dead a month later! I agree I bet these people did not have too much fun, but the did work for Delta, so they got deals on flights as well.

    Well I will say this…my wife and I love to travel but we still save. I am 36 and she is 33. We would probably have at least 150 grand in our retirement accounts. But I wouldn’t trade the 11 countries we have been to together or the 31 in my lifetime for any amount of money. Unless you are making a lot of money, you can’t get to these numbers unless you never do anything. Never go out to eat, never travel, never enjoy life. We have almost 50k in our retirement accounts, which isn’t a ton but we are saving around $1000 a month into savings as well as retirement accounts while still traveling. I will gladly take my life now and retire later. Because when you go to retire you might not be able to travel like we do.

    so, if me and my wife both made 100k each a year and saved 50% of it we would be millionaires after a few years? im so glad its that easy! because so many of us have 100k jobs and marry someone that also has 100k job, and of course no pesky children getting in the way of their grandiose plans

    Rich is very subjective. Th life portrayed here isn’t my style. I can go to the supermarket get pasta/bread/tomato sauce all for under $10, but I’d feel richer being in Italy getting something freshly made by a guy whose been making it handmade for decades and learning his story. Life’s riches are in the experiences and the people we meet along the way, not how many pennies in the bank. I also think the more of life you enjoy, more opportunity will come your way, and in turn more pennies in the bank if that’s meant to be.

    One story involved a couple working in the airline industry. Are you suggesting they travel more? They’ve done it all and still managed to save money along the way. This isn’t even that difficult to do and still I see plenty of negative commentary. That’s the sad part.

    Why is every one throwing negativity? Those are just examples to integrate into your life . They are not telling you to do exactly what they did, they are just suggesting what you can do if you want to save money. They are giving you key points, if you can to take you family on a trip, save a % of your income, lived under your means and budget your expenses.

    Now that sounds a bit negative to me. There is nothing wrong with the way these two Delta employees have lived and saved together. If there is anything in their story that can help you get closer to your goals then use the information. And, by the way, as Delta employees I feel certain that they had the opportunity to travel. They are obviously well suited for each other. Whether they are frugal or frivolous was and is their choice.

    Regardless of their situation and your situation their stories are pretty inspiration and has inspired me to invest more in my future and save. While I may never be a young millionaire retiring early, I have been inspired to save more.

    Personally I love my job and do not mind going to it.

    Just responding to the headline, not the story. Saving a million is great but let’s not make retiring at 30 a part of that picture. You’d have to live under an overpass and die at 50 to really live on that.

    So what exactly are they saving for? They have no kids and have nothing to do. Sounds like a pretty boring way to go through life

    This sounds like a dream to me.I wish I could comprehend all of this but I cant.Although I appreciate their dedication to saving,I can’t make it weekly.Im 51 ,working 2 jobs,a manicurist and receptionist at a dog kennel.Im widowed,early ,and struggle daily. Currently in bankruptcy for another 2 years.Im putting this out there because if anyone is willing to accept a challenge, it’s me.Im looking for peace of mind. LISA

    Lisa, I read your comment and I just wanted to say that if you will put Dave Ramsey’s principles to work, your finances will turn around. I pray favor and increase over all that you touch and that the right people will be put into your life. blessings!

    Life is a journey not a destination. If they are happy saving and compromising their lifestyle then more power to them. However I’d rather spend money on my children and have less in retirement. You can’t take it with you as they say. I’m all for saving , but some savers turn into penny pinchers who can’t enjoy life and are no fun to be around.

    Exactly, my friend’s mother in law takes her five childrens’ spouses, grandchildren on a vacation every year and tells them,”Don’t expect much when I am gone; we are all enjoying it now!” They are some of the most genuine, decent, people to spend time with. The good laughs and loving time together is worth it to their mother and everyone loves getting together!

    These articles are realistic. I hit $1MM by 35 and $1.5MM by 39. I am married with kids. My first job out of college, I made $54K, my salary at 35 was $100K. My salary increased through hard work and promotions. I didn’t jump from one employer to another and I basically stayed at 1 company for the first 10 years. I didn’t receive an inheritance or win any lawsuit or lottery.

    Someone mentioned the high student loan debt burden and I can empathize since the costs have gone through the roof in the last 20 years. But for me, I worked full time while I was in undergrad and my parents helped cover a portion of my living expenses, so I graduated undergrad debt free (huge blessing and next to impossibly these days – my wife wasn’t as fortunate). For grad school, I also worked full time and was fortunate to have my employer help cover a significant portion of the tuition.

    I didn’t get married until 35, so most of the $1MM networth was made on a single income. I wasn’t crazy frugal liked some of the couples mentioned. I actually traveled alot in the U.S. and vacationed at least once a year abroad. I ate out and went out with friends and had several long term relationships that didn’t pan out.

    Since I was in non comissioned sales, I had an advantage as a company car was provided as well as expenses for a home office such as cell phone and interner, so that saved me a couple hundred dollars in loans, repairs, gas, and insurance. (Nowadays, I don’t have a company car, so I have an auto loan and boy do I miss those days!)

    I never consciously sat down and developed a budget. I know many who do and are empowered by courses and books by Dave Ramsey, Rich Dad Poor Dad, etc, but it never worked for me. For me, I did have credit cards, but I always tried to pay off the balances monthly and stay below and live within my means. One article mentioned how whenever he received a bonus or raise to put it towards long term investments, which I usually did, but I would also buy gadgets and toys from time to time. And as far as other discretionary spend, I do eat out once a week with my family and eat a few times out for lunch with coworkers each week.

    I’ve moved around several times due to promotions and with the exception of living in the east coast for 1 year, I’ve always lived in the mid south where the costs of living are much less than the east and west coasts. I took out a mortgage with a large down payment every time I moved and I never made more than $2-5K through appreciation, but I did lose $37K after the housing bubble. I know some folks on the east and west coast who became millionaires by buying a house, selling it during the mid-2000’s, and relocating to a cheaper place like the couple did in NC. I unfortunately did not have that benefit. I also lived in modest homes in safe middle class neighborhoods between 1200 and 1600 Sq ft. Because of the larger down payment and less expensive housing, my mortgage has always been below $700 / month with the exception of the east coast stint which cost $1900 / month, but I got a roommate to help cover part of it.

    As for the key of how I got to $1MM, the reason was repeated over and over in the articles. I contributed to the maximum in my IRA and 401k from Day 1. That annual savings combined with regular monthly deductiins to an individual brokerage account plus a 13 year time horizon since graduating college, plus good luck in the stock market (I was not an active trader, I basically bought low cost index funds and re balanced my investments every 1-3 years would define me as a very passive investor).

    By my early 30’s, right around the Great Recession, I only had $100K in my individual brokerage account and I decided to liquidate it and diversify to buy some real estate. I purchased 4 apartment buildings in foreclosure and put 20% down each plus closing. Now, each property has doubled in price as the economy and rental incomes have stabilized, so the $100K investment grew to an unrealized gain of $400K. So, I was, again, lucky there.

    A combination of factors helped me reach $1MM and by no means will I be able to retire comfortably on that amount. My financial planner mentions the same thing another commenter stated that the real obstacle to retirement nowadays is the high cost of healthcare. I was lucky, yes many times, but I also saved a big chunk of my income and invested in long term investments, I had youth and time on my side, etc. Just wanted to offer encouragement or insight that these articles are realistic and possible without having to resort to living off ramen noodles, not going on vacations, not eating out, not having kids, etc.

    Is that a joke ? nobody would write this free.. just check Europe, medical insurance free, school free and no more than 40h / week..

    I think anything is possible if you commit to it, but yes it depends on your baggage (kids, loans, medical bills, etc). Thanks John for your comment

    What the hey is with the shade thrown at this couple because they don’t have kids? Good grief. The take-away should be save save save what you can.

    Most Americans are busy trying to “keep up with the Joneses”. That means : borrowing money you haven’t got to buy things you don’t need in order to impress people you don’t know for reasons you don’t understand. Then when an article shines light on somebody who succeeds in life by rejecting all of that, they complain and cast negative comments at them.

    I can’t believe how many people are throwing salt. We can come up with every excuse in the book (i.e. “I have kids and they don’t,” “I don’t make as much as they do”). Go back and read the article. They give suggestions that anyone can use regardless of family make up or income. Read about saving, investing and budgeting. Invest in an IRA or 401(k). Look for ways to spend your money more efficiently. Turn your thermostat down or up depending on the season. Shop in bulk. Use bikes or walk when possible. Eat out less. Make a budget and stick to it. You can do any of these. Whether your goal is to become wealthy (which is why I assume you are reading the article in the first place) or whether you want to become financially responsible, these are all great ideas. Thank you Travis and Amanda! This is really motivating! P.S. – I have 8 kids and I don’t make 100K either. But I can do this and better yet, pass this on to my children so that they have better than I have.

    I don’t want to take anything away from these people because this is very good advice, but the fellow on page two mentions receiving regular pay bumps. No matter how frugal you are, it’s very difficult to save anything in an economy that, for many jobs, does not offer anything close to regular pay bumps.

    Can we make a fund me page so this woman can get her hair done? She must have saved a million on not using conditioner. EVER

    Everyone has a different concept of the ideal lifestyle, whether it’s raising a family, traveling the world, living in Manhattan, driving a nice car, or having your hair done every week. To be successful, figure out what is truly important to you, and allocate your resources toward the possessions and experiences that make you happy. Look for areas where you can compromise and find acceptable substitutes, areas where you are overpaying or wasting money on things you don’t really care about, things that add no value to your life.
    Becoming financially responsible is a bit like maintaining a healthy weight; you have to make small but permanent changes that you can tolerate for a lifetime.

    Everyone has a different concept of the ideal lifestyle, whether it’s raising a family, traveling the world, living in Manhattan, driving a nice car, or having your hair done every week. To be successful, find out what is truly important to you, and allocate your resources toward the experiences and possessions that make you happiest. Look for areas where you can compromise, find acceptable, less expensive substitutes, eliminate waste and unnecessary expenses that add no value to your life.
    Becoming financially responsible is a bit like achieving and maintaining a healthy weight; it requires making small but permanent changes you can tolerate for a lifetime.

    When you have a “normal” family life with big problems along the way, helping our aging parents, and grandchildren on the other end, it’s not so easy to save and retire early. These types of articles don’t inspire me, they give me headaches. I save when i can, buy things i “want” when i can, travel when i can — mostly live life daily while i can in a happy and healthy way because tomorrow may not come. Save, its good when you can. but when you can’t, oh well. This article is not the norm. good for them, but not reality.

    I am all for living frugally and making a nice nest egg, but these articles are ridiculous. Realistically they haven’t saved enough for retirement and the lifestyle they describe sounds painful. These families would have been better off amassing a nest egg and then investing it in something that makes more income. Buy some rentals. Franchise a Taco Bell. Something.

    We didn’t retire early, but we will retire in our 60s with a 6 figure nest egg. That’s after 4 children, a decade and a half on a single income, several job dislocations, and some student loans for a midlife career change.
    We do live in a lower cost part of the country both by accident of birth and then deliberate choice. I don’t pretend there weren’t hard times but it was not a sh*y life. We’ve had fun, travelled, helped our kids through college, donated to charity. In many ways we’ve been lucky, but we also made some good choices.
    The people in these articles have also made good choices for their situations, hopefully they can inspire others to see what might be possible.

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