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How to Build Wealth When You Don’t Come from a Wealthy Family

If you’re like us, you didn’t come from a wealthy family who fed you with silver spoons. I mean, my wife and I were not wealthy from the beginning. We did not grow up in families where everything was handed to us.

Even though Tatiana’s mother and my parents did everything they could to support us, we still had to work hard and make sacrifices to get to where we are today.

My first jobs

I recall that some of my first jobs were in factories, particularly jewelry factories, which were still plentiful in Rhode Island in the 1990s.

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Factory work is no laughing matter. When you work in a factory, you’re usually doing robotic tasks and working around the clock. You get one mid-morning break, lunch, and then another break in the afternoon until your shift is over and you can punch out. I have a lot of admiration for people who have to put up with this kind of work. Back then, some manufacturing companies still used punch-out cards.

Working while hitting the books

I worked at some of these places during the summers preceding and following my college freshman year. My first job paid $5 an hour assembling boxes for store jewelry displays. In our case, the operations included unfolding the box, taping it at the bottom, inserting a styrofoam cushion for the jewelry stand, inserting the stand, and sealing it. The tasks were performed by two to three workers in our area.

Making $5 an hour wasn’t much to write home about, but it was better than making $4.35 at McDonald’s, and I didn’t have to go home smelling like fries. And I had weekends off, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Since I had no prior work experience, I took whatever job was available. It is difficult to find work when you have no experience because many entry-level positions require some experience.

So how am I going to gain experience if I am not given the opportunity?

That irritated me.

There were a bunch of jobs that I took to pay the bills before graduation. I worked as a factory worker, a tutor counselor, a Christmas Tree Shop floor cleaner, a resident manager of a summer program, a telemarketer for a newspaper, a graphic designer for the Auto Trader magazine, a car salesman, and a promotions coordinator for a prestigious jewelry manufacturing company while in college.

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I held several jobs while also trying to graduate from college, but I kept moving up with each job, making more money. The last job that I landed before graduation was a salaried job as a promotions coordinator, designing brochures for trade shows and ads for B2B magazines. I worked there until I moved to New York City to try my hand at publishing a magazine.

You must have a strong desire for it

To build wealth, you must first ask yourself, “How badly do you really want it?” One thing I’ve noticed is that most wealthy people eventually say, “Enough!” I’m going to take charge and make an effin’ difference.

I know I did, and I remember those days vividly. I was living in New York City at the time, trying out a magazine in the media publishing industry. Magazines were beginning to disappear from newsstands as more people turned to the internet for news and entertainment. It was a business that needed to go online in order to thrive.

We’ve been getting corporate ads for our publication since day one, but not at the rate required to pay good salaries and hire more people. I mostly worked with freelancers, and the majority of them were rewarded with magazine publishing credits. As a result, some were able to advance to better positions in the industry.

I was a struggling entrepreneur who was tired of being broke, despite the glamour that comes with being in the entertainment industry and knowing celebrities. I finally said, “f**k it. I’m sick and tired of being broke. I’m going to make some good money out there. I have a college degree, a brain, and magazine management experience.”

It’s okay to change course

With those thoughts in mind, and seeing that I couldn’t move the company in the direction that I saw as a better fit for it to succeed, I left. I was a partner and editor-in-chief before leaving to work for other companies. The first thing I did was relocate to Pennsylvania with family members in my rented property and purchase a four-year-old car.

Then I’d spend most of my days searching the internet for a full-time job. I took a holiday part-time job at Sam’s Club to pay for my car loan and essentials until I found the right job. This was in November of 2005.

I was well aware that I was overqualified for the position. What is a magazine editor-in-chief with a college degree and other good roles on his resume doing looking for a part-time job at Sam’s Club?

So I had to concoct an interesting story to explain why I was applying for that job. During the interview, I expressed my admiration for Sam Walton and stated that I wanted to work for such a company and learn from the ground up. Okay, that was nonsense, but they believed it.

Isn’t it ironic that I couldn’t get some jobs early on because I had no prior work experience, and that I had to get creative to get hired because I was now over-qualified?

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The available position was in the produce department, putting out vegetables. They were considering offering me a better position at the front desk selling memberships by the time they screened me over the phone to come in for an in-person interview. By the end of the in-person interview, they wanted to train me to become a supervisor!

I didn’t want to work in retail management because that wasn’t the path I wanted to take. So I took the job at the front desk.

This part-time job was ideal for the time being because it allowed me to work some nights and weekends while also leaving me with enough time to look for other jobs and attend interviews during the day.

Necessity will bring out your creativity

After about two months of working for Sam’s Club, I was offered a salaried day job at a small family-owned architectural firm. They created custom wood furniture for homes and businesses, ranging from a custom bookshelf to restaurant furnishings. They did elaborate, beautiful custom woodwork.

I needed TurboCAD experience to design the furniture drawings that the woodshop would use as plans. TurboCAD is a drafting software application for 2D and 3D designs. I had no prior experience with TurboCAD but assumed it would be similar to AutoCAD.

In college, I took AutoCAD classes. Before the interview, I purchased a TurboCAD book and downloaded a trial version to familiarize myself with it. I had a week to go through 400 pages of a tutorial to get up to speed on the application.

After a successful interview with the company’s owner, I was hired for the position. I began to dislike my job and dreaded getting up in the morning to go to work. Most days, I was left alone, and there was no training or setting of expectations. As it was a small family business, there wasn’t even a single sheet outlining my roles and responsibilities.

Vanguard to the rescue

I also realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do, but I needed the money, and it was my highest-paying job to that point. A month into the job, I receive a call from a job placement agency. I had applied for so many jobs that I had no idea who would call me.

They left me a message about a job opportunity.  I stepped outside the building to contact the agency. That floor was extremely quiet, and any conversation could be heard by anyone.

According to the job agency, a company called Vanguard was looking for a full-time production coordinator in their Participant Education department. The job was as a contractor, with the possibility of a full-time permanent position if they liked how I worked.

My first question was, “What is Vanguard?” I’d never heard of this company.

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The job entailed managing up to 50 projects at once, including print and electronic projects. I’d also get to work with writers and designers again, and, to my surprise, I’d even get to translate into Spanish later on the job.

This job was right up my alley!

It was very similar to my previous job as an editor in chief, where I managed a staff of 25 freelancers, assigned articles, wrote, and translated from English to Spanish and vice versa. I felt it aligned well with my interests and was a continuation of what I had left behind and enjoyed about working in a magazine environment.

As a result, I said yes! I made the decision to leave my permanent position for a more promising contract position. Let’s not forget to mention, this was an immediate $185 weekly raise! 🙂

While this transition was taking place, I kept the Sam’s Club job as a backup plan in case I was let go from my day job.

Treat your job as if you own the company

I loved working at Vanguard! I felt as if I belonged. So, rather than limiting myself to thinking like a contractor, I began to see myself as a permanent employee and began to act accordingly. I believe that helped them hire me five months into the job.

By the time I was hired, the new salary was enough to cover what I was making as a contractor and part-time at Sam’s Club. So with a permanent position at a stable company, I felt safe enough with the company at that point to let go of my part-time job.

I added a lot of value to Vanguard, which translated into raises and decent bonuses under the previous CEOs. The way I approached my job was if I were working for my own company, which made my job easier. I did whatever it took to complete the assignment at hand. That was my mantra.

Whenever an issue came up for a client, I handled it competently and without burdening my boss with every decision-making step. My thoughts were constantly focused on what I could do best for the client. As long as I did that in my job, every other question or issue would resolve itself, and leadership would be satisfied. Always do what is right for the client.

I worked at Vanguard for 13 years before retiring in 2019. One important lesson learned while working there was that money was the reward for providing value. You must provide value if you want to make money.

Don’t become complacent

What propelled me from a factory job to a position with one of the world’s largest investment management firms?

That I did not become complacent and continued to work at lower-paying jobs. I was desperate to make more money, so I kept moving up. I didn’t want to go around looking like a broke college student, so I took action.

While working for Vanguard, I learned about 401(k)s and began to accumulate wealth.

Allow yourself to let go of limiting beliefs

I let go of my limiting beliefs in order to build wealth. If you want to be wealthy, you must give this some serious thought. Let go of what you learned about money from people who have financial troubles.

Instead of saying, “No, that’s not for me. I simply cannot afford it.” Think about how I can make it happen for myself and my family.

“Could that successful millionaire I read about one day be me? Why not?”

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Let go of the notion that money is a bad thing and that wealthy people are evil. Instead, learn how to use money to better your life and the lives of others.

Money is not a bad thing. When evil people have money, they do evil things. However, good people also do great things with theirs. Also, money does not change people; it simply enhances who they are. If you’re a poor, greedy bastard who becomes wealthy, you’ll become a wealthy, greedy bastard.

Also, learn from the wealthy! Discover how they save money on taxes. Learn how they invest their money. In my opinion, the most successful millionaires are those who value family and relationships the most. Learn from them.

Spending wisely is just as important as earning a lot of money

You will remain in the same financial situation regardless of how much money you make if you do not watch how you spend your money.

All of the money I earned prior to my last job at Vanguard was spent on frivolous and living expenses. I did not invest a single penny of it. I attempted to save at one point, but lacked the knowledge and discipline to invest.

That is why it is critical to keep track of your spending and leave as much room as possible for saving and investing.

How simple is it to start investing nowadays?

It’s as simple as opening a Vanguard brokerage account and investing $216 in VTI. Anyone reading this in the United States is wealthy enough to embark on this journey.

We’ve been tracking our spending for over a decade and would not have reached financial independence as quickly if we didn’t know where our money was going.

Be willing to forge your own path

If I reflect on the path I took to get here, I can only say that not every path to wealth looks the same. My wife took a different route, but we reached the same destination. Your path will most likely differ greatly from ours. It’s as if each of us has a different recipe for the same meal.

So take what you’ve learned and forge your own path. Don’t be afraid to be the only one going one way. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

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Money is not always the most advantageous reward

Money is not always the most beneficial reward. The experience you gain from one job may lead you to the position with the highest monetary rewards.

In my case, one job experience led to another. I struggled financially while producing a magazine, but that experience, along with my resume detailing my graphic design experience and college degree, led me to my last job, at Vanguard.

Uniqueness doesn’t imply loneliness at the top

As your experiences change from one job to the next, the people you meet along the way will be different and, at times, look different from you, which is perfectly fine.

When I first started my educational and employment journey, there were at least two other Joses in every classroom or work area. At some point in a high school English class, we were nicknamed José 1, José 2 and José 3!

As I progressed, there were fewer Joses along the way. I went from being one of many Joses to being the only Jose in the classroom, dorm, or department.

It wasn’t because other Joses couldn’t come along, but because their motivation to advance was lacking. Only we are to blame for our own mistakes. Along the way, there were fewer Joses and more Josephs. It didn’t matter if their names had a ph or not; what mattered was that we were all the same, fighting for the same goals, and we were assisting each other along the way. 

Pay attention to the character of the people around you, regardless of skin color or how similar they are to you.

Final thoughts

Building wealth is not only for the wealthy. Most had to start somewhere and were not from wealthy families. It is the decisions you make along the way that will determine whether or not you build wealth. One thing is certain: you will need to hustle to make it happen. It will not happen unless you are willing to put in the effort.

Money is not a bad thing, so drop the excuses that make you feel justified in continuing to struggle for money.

Your path will be unique to you, so don’t be concerned if you’re the only one blazing it. You are not alone.

To build wealth, you must be determined and willing to provide a lot of value in order for monetary rewards to come your way. Once you have that money, you must invest it in order for it to grow. Setting money aside to build wealth might require you to keep track of your spending. Spend less than you make and invest the surplus. That’s the simple formula for building wealth.

You can do it! You’ve got this! Until next time, take care.

What methods do you use to accumulate wealth? What characteristics do you believe are necessary to build wealth when you don’t come from a wealthy family?


After dedicating 13 years of his career to Vanguard, José retired from the corporate world at the young age of 44. During his tenure at Vanguard, he expertly coordinated the production of both electronic and print educational materials for 401(k) participants. Now, he relishes in his early retirement, cherishing time spent with his family, indulging in his favorite hobbies, seeking out new experiences, and savoring meals in the comfort of his own backyard.

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Louis Bautista
Louis Bautista
1 year ago

This post took me back on my employment journey. I love keeping track of my finances to see where my numbers are, I believe that’s critical to building financial wealth. Also, aside from the points, you made in this post, keeping investments simple and only investing in what you really know will help build wealth and reduce risk.

Thank you for this post. Keep them coming!

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