One afternoon in August 2010, Grant Sabatier, then 24, was craving Mexican food. Before heading to Chipotle, he checked his bank account and was horrified at the balance: $2.26. Having recently lost his job at an analytics company and moved back in with his parents, this was his final wake-up call to turn his finances around.
“I didn’t even have enough money to get a burrito,” Sabatier says. “I vowed that I would never feel this way again.”
Sabatier, who built his first website when he was 14, saw an opportunity in the growing field of digital marketing. Over the next few weeks, he worked his way through free online tutorials on how to use Google AdWords and WordPress, a popular content management system—expertise he parlayed into a full-time marketing gig. Then he set an ambitious goal: bank $1 million in five years by taking on freelance work and saving at least 50 percent of his income.
At the time, even he thought it was unrealistic. But on November 1, 2015, he officially joined the millionaires club. We talked to Sabatier about how he went from broke to seven figures in just five years—and the wealth-building habits he credits with helping him get there.
I was earning $50,000 a year in my day job and saving about 20 percent, but I knew it wouldn’t be enough. So I launched a side hustle building websites for law firms, and invested the vast majority of what I made.
Studies show that if you save $100 a month between ages 25 and 35, the compound impact is significantly higher than for someone who starts saving at 35 and keeps saving until 65. I knew I needed to invest as much as possible in order to get my money making money.
How did you juggle multiple jobs without burning out?
I was working 90-100 hour weeks, and I had to make sacrifices, like not going to a friend’s bachelor party. But I knew the benefit of being able to save the extra money I made would have a higher ROI on my quality of life over time. I just put one foot in front of the other and got good at deferring gratification.
What prompted you to turn your side business into a career?
By the time I quit my 9-5 job, I was making almost $200,000 in my side hustle. Lawyers recommended me to colleagues, and I went from creating sites for three-person firms to 500-person firms, where I could charge a lot more.
There were uncertainties, like how would I pay for my own health insurance? What if the work dries up? But the risk calculation was clear: Earning $200,000, I could go through a two-year dry spell and still come out ahead.
How did you feel when you finally hit $1 million?
It was very humbling and emotional. Since then, I have been much happier and I have more balance in my life. [Also], my goal has shifted from trying to make as much money as possible to trying to make as much of a difference as possible. That’s the catalyst behind my blog, Millennial Money.
How did automation help you reach your goal?
I had my paychecks [from my former job] direct-deposited into six online savings accounts. My wife changed the passwords to three so I couldn’t get into them—I called them my “forever accounts.” When they reached a certain threshold, the money was automatically deposited into my investment account, which would go directly into an index fund.
What’s been your best financial decision?
When someone pays you for a job or project, they are not only paying for your time and expertise, they are essentially paying for a moment of your life. You can have the same 20-minute conversation with two different clients that could result in a $50 check or a $50,000 check. Once that clicked for me, I made the conscious choice to maximize the value of my time.
I calculate my variable cost-per-hour rate every six months to a year, so I know how much I’m earning every waking hour. That factors into my decision-making, from the projects I take on to spending time with friends.
How about your biggest financial mistake?
For a long time, I tried to do everything on my own. I didn’t hire an accountant or tax attorney early enough because I thought I could save money by teaching myself. But I learned that there are some areas where you have a significantly higher ROI if you pay someone for their expertise.
What’s the best financial advice you’ve gotten?
Like any kid, I would do chores and get a small allowance. I loved grape bubblegum, and my father told me that I could buy gum from 7-Eleven today, but if I saved my money I could get something bigger later on, like a videogame or movie tickets. I remember him saying, “Money is freedom.”
That mantra has compounded in me as I have grown up. Money opens up a lot of opportunities. Now I have the freedom to pick the projects and clients that I’m passionate about and that are personally meaningful to me.