Earning

Meet a 26-year-old who earns $30,000 a month in 'mostly passive' income and built a $1.3 million net worth

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Cody Berman.
Courtesy Cody Berman
Key Points
  • Cody Berman joined the financial independence, retire early at age 19.
  • "Ever since that point, all the gears in my brain got rewired to start thinking that way" about money, he says.
  • Last year, he hit his FIRE number, having earned enough money to never work again if he so desired. He estimates his current net worth at $1.3 million.

Financial advisors stress that getting into the mindset of saving and investing early maximizes your chances at building long-term wealth. But even many money pros would consider Cody Berman an extraordinary case.

At 19, after reading Tim Ferriss's "The 4-Hour Work Week," Berman says he had an epiphany about his financial goals. "I had thought you made money once you get a big fancy corporate job," he says. "[The book] shattered that whole money mindset for me. It made me realize you could spend your time building passive income streams so you no longer have to trade your time for money on a linear basis."

In short, Berman became an adherent of the "FIRE" movement — short for "financial independence, retire early." The main tenet: By saving aggressively, investing consistently, and building multiple income streams, you can ditch the 9-to-5 life well before age 65.

But because he started early, there was little ditching to be done. Berman, now 26, has barely set foot in a cubicle since he began pursuing FIRE at 19. "Ever since that point, all the gears in my brain got rewired to start thinking that way," he says. "And it's been a wild journey ever since."

These days, Berman earns about $30,000 per month in "mostly passive" income. Last year, he hit his FIRE number, having earned enough money to never work again if he so desired. He estimates his current net worth at $1.3 million. Here's how he did it.

He made the most of his advantages

One of the advantages of adhering to the FIRE mindset early on, Berman says, was avoiding some of the financial traps that many young people find themselves falling into. "When a lot of people are 22 or 23 they might get the house that they shouldn't have gotten, or buy the fancy car with money from their first job, or gone into more student loan debt with a degree they may not have needed," he says. "I was lucky enough to avoid all that."

In fact, Berman was lucky enough to avoid student debt altogether. He attended a four-year public college, and he and his parents split the $10,000-per-year bill (reduced thanks to several scholarships), with Mom and Dad paying for two-thirds of it with Berman working side hustles to pay the remainder. He completed a bachelor's in finance and economics in 3½ years.

Not taking on any student debt allowed Berman to start on firm financial footing, and he maintained that momentum by keeping his costs low. In college, he lived in a 6-bedroom house with seven other guys, a convention that kept his living expenses to about $450 a month. When he eventually moved to Boston after he graduated, he shared a room in an apartment with a friend and paid $675 a month in rent.

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He boosted his income and helped build a lucrative business

Berman graduated college in December 2017, and spent six months traveling with his girlfriend in Australia, where he first started to pick up a collection of online side hustles focused around the FIRE movement. He started a blog, "Fly to FI" and an associated podcast. He picked up freelance copywriting, email, and advertising gigs.

The following June, Berman began a job as a commercial real estate analyst. His low cost of living allowed him to bank $35,000 between side hustle and salary money in seven months. And with Berman only spending some $1,000 a month, he realized he had the wiggle room to leave his job and give full-time entrepreneurship a shot.

So he quit, and started hustling. Over the ensuing months he would go on a book tour with "Financial Freedom" author Grant Sabatier and discover what would become a mainstay of his income: selling "printables" — products such as calendars and Christmas cards that customers can buy and print on their own — on Etsy.

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"I opened my shop in 2018 and a couple months later I started creating a bunch of random digital products like calendars, planners, and invitations. I had a big week where I made $800 from a couple of these products I'd created," he says. "I was like, 'Holy crap, this is actually a viable side hustle.'"

He had gotten the idea from fellow hustler Julie Berninger, and in 2019, the two teamed up to launch Gold City Ventures, which began as a company that offered online courses on blogging, building Etsy shops, and selling printables. Last year, the company brought in $1 million in revenue.

He continued to invest aggressively

Between the courses he sells through his business as well as through other digital products such as e-books (his bestselling volume teaches seasonal product sales strategies), Berman currently earns about $24,000 per month in income.

Throughout his relatively short career, he has consistently diverted surplus cash into investments with the potential to boost his wealth. Berman and his fiancée purchased their first rental property, a three-family home in Massachusetts, in 2020. "We lived in the one-bedroom, one-bathroom basement unit and rented out the upstairs split-level duplex," he says. "So we were actually making money in that living situation."

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Later that year they bought another duplex in Connecticut, and in May 2021, they added a three-family home near their first rental property. They currently live in a 1-bedroom, 1-bathroom Massachusetts ranch house, the smaller of two homes on a property that also includes a 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom home with 600 square feet of commercial office space, which they rent out.

"And then very recently, we closed on an Airbnb property, kind of a luxury vacation home that we're going to be renting out," Berman says. "At this point, in total, we've acquired 12 doors" — real estate investing lingo for units. At present, his real estate investments bring in $6,000 a month in profits.

Despite the robust income, Cody still keeps his spending low. He pegs his annual cost of living at around $40,000. Where's the rest of his income going? Much of it is going into investments.

Last year, he contributed the maximum $20,500 as an employee into a Solo Roth 401(k) and crammed in another $40,500 of after-tax money as an employer using the so-called "mega backdoor Roth" strategy, which works by putting after-tax dollars into a traditional account and rolling the money into a Roth account.

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"So far, I've been trying to max that account out first," he says. "With the rest, I'm either saving for down payments on properties, shoveling money into brokerage accounts, and also keeping a healthy, but risk-tolerant amount in crypto." He says the latter is about 5% or 6% of his net worth.

All told, his total net worth currently stands at about $1.3 million.

Berman attributes the rapid growth of his wealth to one key factor: passive income.

"There are so many people who have the opportunity — who are young and have a lot of energy and ideas but they don't capitalize on it by creating that course or that ebook," he says. "The most powerful thing about my story is I was able to do this, and I'm not a lawyer or a consultant making that kind of money. I kind of just outsource everything."

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