Though lots of people hope to end up in a lucrative and personally fulfilling career, the routes people take to get there can vary drastically. Some people's paths are relatively straight: A successful physician very well might draw a line from playing doctor as a kid to AP biology to pre-med undergrad studies, to med school, to a career in medicine. Others take a more circuitous route.
Take 35-year-old financial planner Joe Bautista. His journey, which started in a mobile home in small-town Oregon, currently has him running and growing his own advisory business from Mazatlan — a beach town on Mexico's Pacific coast, where he pays less than $850 a month to live. By his 40th birthday, he hopes to return to the States, armed with a growing list of clients and fluency in Spanish, to provide financial guidance to underserved U.S. Latino communities.
Bautista is just one of millions of people who have realized the power of taking remote work on the road. Living in Latin America allows him to aggressively pursue his goal of learning Spanish. And the relatively cheap cost of living south of the border means he's able to bank excess cash that he can reinvest into a business that he can operate from just about anywhere. The warm Pacific breezes are just a bonus.
At age 25, Bautista left the Marines and enrolled at Portland State, deciding to major in public health and intending to go into health-care administration. When, at his academic advisor's urging, he took an economics course to help "with the business side" of the field, he fell in love with the ins and outs of finance. He was considering returning to school to work toward a degree in health-care economics when a light bulb lit up.
"I met so many first- and second-generation Latinos with little understanding of the language of money, what to do with your 401(k), and how to create financial goals," Bautista says. "I realized that I wanted to be a financial advisor for those kinds of people."
Video by Stephen Parkhurst
Bautista moved to Washington, D.C., and began studying for a bachelor's degree in economics at the University of the District of Columbia and earned a personal financial planning certificate from George Mason. His secret financial weapon: the GI Bill. Thanks to the help he got, he accumulated just $3,000 in student debt, which he was able to quickly pay off.
In 2015, after graduating from UDC, Bautista began working at a financial advisory firm. He earned big commissions, but also took on big expenses, paying $3,000 a month for his rented office space alone.
By 2018, Bautista realized he could earn more, and have more flexibility, by going out on his own. "I was listening to the XY Planning Network podcast and learning about how other people were starting their own financial advisory firms," he says. "I thought, I could do that and have much more control over my situation. And I could keep everything I earned."
It was also around this time that Bautista traveled to Chicago to visit his sister, an interior designer, for Thanksgiving. He and his sister — who works regularly with Spanish-speaking contractors — lamented that their father never taught them Spanish growing up.
"I realized that if I learned Spanish, I could help" Spanish-speaking Americans, he says. "Only 2% of financial advisors are Latino, so very underrepresentative when there are populations here that are over 90% Latino. I thought, 'There are huge opportunities here, and I can make it happen. I've just got to learn Spanish.'"
When Joe was growing up, the Bautistas were one of the only Latino families in the small town of Sandy, Oregon, and among the less well-off residents. Joe realized early on that he'd have to work hard to maximize his chances at upward mobility.
"I felt like I was blessed in that situation, because the school I went to was very mixed socioeconomically. Kids coming from the trailer parks and kids from mansions were going to the same school," he says. "Academically, I realized, I'm just as good as these people — they're just normal people."
Also shaping Bautista's early relationship with money: trips to his father's native Mexico. "We'd take trips to Oaxaca, Mexico, in the '90s, and to see the opportunities they had there compared to the United States, I said, 'OK, I just need to do some things to give myself more opportunities in life,'" he says. "That's why I made the decision in high school to go into the Marines, to pay for my education."
Bautista spent seven years in the Marines, with stints in Hawaii and Portland bookending a tour in Iraq. He saved money diligently while in the military and, at 20, began investing for retirement through a Roth IRA, a strategy he learned in a personal finance class in high school.
In February of 2019, Bautista quit his job and started his own online advisory business. "I looked at the numbers, like, oh, I can do this online and reduce my expenses tremendously," he says. "I told myself I was going to live with my parents for eight months and start my own financial planning firm."
By October 2019, Bautista had accrued a small roster of clients and was receiving money from the GI bill to cover the costs of MBA classes online at Syracuse University. With the wheels of his financial planning business in motion, the next step was learning Spanish, which Bautista realized he could tackle the old-fashioned way: by immersing himself in a Spanish-speaking culture.
Video by Courtney Stith
Bautista wagered that he could continue to operate his financial planning business online in Latin America while learning Spanish, pursuing his education, and keeping his living expenses low. He was right.
Since embarking for Latin America, Bautista has spent time in Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica. His current digs, a two-bedroom apartment in Mazatlan, Mexico, steps from a 13-mile bike path along the Pacific Ocean, cost $450 a month. He's walking distance to restaurants and cafes where meals cost $2.50 and beers go for $1.50. He doesn't own a car, but occasionally travels by taxi, which runs him $3 for a 35-minute ride.
Health care, which he pays for out of pocket, costs him an average of $35 a month. "I also have travel insurance," he says. "So if anything catastrophic happens, I can go to the doctor and they'll cover that."
Bautista's total monthly expenses come to about $835 — well under what he earns from working with his 13 U.S.-based clients, who pay him about $150 each per month to discuss financial planning topics such as building wealth, portfolio construction, estate planning, and saving for college. He puts the bulk of his excess funds back into his advisory business, purchasing online advertising as well as software that helps him analyze investments and tools he's using to build online courses on various financial planning topics. He hopes to grow to about 50 clients over the next five years. He plans to wrap up his MBA this September, at which point he'll study for and take the exam to become a CFP.
By his 40th birthday, Bautista wants to set up a home base stateside, likely in Florida, where he can work with the Latino community online and in person. Until then, he plans to continue his travels in Latin America once Covid restrictions lift, burnishing his Spanish, keeping costs low, and fueling growth in a business that he hopes will one day allow him to be financially independent.
"There's two ways to become wealthy — you can create it, or you can save up to it," Bautista says. "Right now, my goal is to create it, and to help my clients in the process."
More from Grow: