Today, I’m thrilled to share Joy’s story. She worked an entire career as a paraeducator, never making more than $30,000 in a year from her job. Yet, through shared family investment and a no-nonsense approach to life, she’s a multi-millionaire.
I was fortunate enough to meet Joy at a non-profit event. I spent over an hour talking to her, and loved every minute of it. When I decided to launch this series, I knew I had to tell her story. I reached out to her, and she gave me permission after detailing all the ways I was insane for wasting my time writing online
Her path and experience are unique, as is her voice. This is the only time I’ve ever wished I was podcasting instead of writing – text fails to adequately capture how Joy approaches life and brushes off anything she considers “nonsense.” Still – I hope you enjoy the read.
If you haven’t checked out our first interview in the series – read CJ’s story, too!
Tell us about you.
I go by Joy. Not my given name, but you’d just say it wrong anyway – Joy works just fine. I worked for 30 years as an educational assistant supporting students with disabilities. Most of it was working in a program for very high-needs students with intellectual disabilities and limited communication. That was my job, but only about half of my work.
My family is originally from Indonesia and we moved here when I was six. I’m the second eldest of six kids, I have four kids of my own and currently 6 grandkids. More will be coming – if my youngest ever just
When you come to a new country and don’t know anyone,
What did you like most about working in education?
I loved working with kids that so many other people avoid or can’t see as people. The kids I worked with were all brilliant in their own way and made so much progress over the years. They didn’t fit the normal so people didn’t see the amazing. So much pure joy and kindness.
As for the job aspects, I liked the benefits. I never worried about health insurance for my kids. I also loved the hours and fixed schedule. It left me time to do other things and not be consumed by my day job. One of my nephews is a doctor and I’d take my old schedule over his any day and think I might come out ahead financially too.
What did you like least?
Many of the kids I worked with couldn’t communicate frustration other than through acting out physically. Some days I’d get hit pretty good. I was never frustrated with them, but it did make the job hard. Especially as I got older.
I also hated that back when I started most of the kids were in isolated programs. Schools just wanted to stick them out of sight out of mind. It made me mad. That’s gotten better though.
Probably the biggest frustration for me was how some people looked down on us assistants. Especially newer teachers who thought their degrees made them experts on a kid I’d known for years. I never understood that.
What is your Why of Financial Independence? (Why are you learning about or seeking FI?)
This question makes no sense to me. Are there people who want to be financially DEPENDENT? Why wouldn’t you want to control your own choices?
- FI Curious – Just learning and becoming interested in financial independence
- Future FI – On the path, but still learning. Destined for financial independence!
- FI Success – Financially independent!
Financially independent. I’ve been retired for more than ten years. I live off my pension and social security, except for what I spend on extravagant travel. Still, my money grows each year more than I can spend it.
Share any financial numbers you are comfortable sharing.
I never made more than $30,000 in any year from my “job.” Decades of saving and combining with family members let me become rich. A lot of it is tied up in real estate now, but I bring in more than $100,000 a year from all sources. I won’t get exact because at some point you have enough that the numbers don’t matter, but I’ve got millions.
Tell us about your path to FI.
- What are your successes/wins?
- What are your challenges?
I worked hard for a lot of years and now don’t have to work at all. That’s
We got to America and had nothing. My parents both worked while we went to school. They swapped shifts so someone was always home to take care of us. But that meant most days they didn’t see each other. They bought a house and land and paid it off as fast as possible so we weren’t under anyone’s control. My youngest sister lives in that house now.
I’ve had people try to explain to me how renting is better than buying a house. Maybe the math makes sense, but why would you want someone to have control over where you live? You can be smart and stupid at the same time.
Anyway. I went to school almost as soon as we got here. It was hard at first not speaking the language and back then so much racism. Kids were cruel. But teachers always looked out for me. I graduated from high school with good grades.
Back then, college didn’t really seem like a possibility. I see all these Asian girls crushing everything and I’m proud. That could have been me, but I’m glad it’s them.
There was a kid at my high school. She was so happy all the time, but people struggled with her needs. She disappeared one day, and I asked a teacher. He told me what school she was going to. I volunteered there as part of a work experience credit my senior year. It led to a job right after high school.
I worked for thirty years for a regional service agency. They do a lot of service to what people now call “high needs” special education kids. They used to use awful names instead.
Three of my brothers and sisters got a job
Just getting by wasn’t what we came to America for though. My brothers and sisters and I pooled money. We didn’t have a lot
We never lost money. It cash flowed immediately but wasn’t making us rich. Still, we were kids all making money and scraping by. We rolled it right into another one. After about 10 years we had 5 of them and owned every bit, including the land and the buildings.
Two things happened. Land values in our area were climbing fast and we started getting a lot more vandalism. We cashed out. It was surprising how much it was.
I’d made a bad marriage early on. Fortunately, we divorced and I kicked him out of our life before the sale. My kids deserved better than a dad like that and he didn’t deserve our money since he never helped with it.
My sister and I stuck together and put the sale money into rentals. Every year, we took everything and poured it into paying off debt or buying new rentals. I hate debt, so we never borrowed more than 50% of value. Then every cent we made went into paying off loans. After ten years, we had no debt and would buy a new one when we had enough saved.
I didn’t invest in stocks. I figured my pension was enough of that. It worked out well. I get the same from my pension as I was making from my job. And I own houses, not paper. We rent mostly to immigrants because they value hard work and take care of our places. And, I want them to have a good landlord until they buy.
Now, I make more money every year than I ever made while working. Since we never spent as much as I was earning, we only spend a fraction of it and it feels luxurious.
I spend it on traveling. A little immigrant girl gets to see the world. That’s success.
How About a Challenge?
Honestly, I enjoyed all the years of work and buying things. Now I enjoy the travel.
I worry about our grandkids. I’ve been around long enough to see the normal pattern. How after awhile kids with money forget about family and struggle. At least here in America.
Because of that, no one knows how much money I actually have. They have no idea how much they might get if I die. I haven’t talked to them about it and just have a simple will that divides it among my kids. I should probably do better.
I refuse to pay for college. I know education helps, but think it’s better if kids understand the costs and work hard to pay for it in other ways or make a non-college choice. Two of my kids went to college, two didn’t. They’re all doing fine. It’s their kids I worry about.
For my grandkids, they get a graduation gift. When they graduate high-school, they pick one country and one friend. Sometimes it’s a best friend or boyfriend/girlfriend. Then, my husband and I take them there. Yes, I got married again. He’s 20 years younger and really handy for carrying the luggage.
We go and spend two weeks there. It’s so good for them to see another country. Even if they pick a resort place, I make sure we spend a couple days out in the real community. Understanding the privilege they have in America is as valuable as a college education I think.
What is your long-term goal? Do you have a FI target?
No target. I’m there. I just need to figure out what to do with what’s left when I die.
Tell us about a short-term goal you’re working towards.
My short term goal is to visit a new country every year. I typically make it to 3 a year. I’m at 36 countries so far. Maybe I’ll live long enough to get that to 150. I guess that’s a long term goal.
Who/what inspires you?
The world. I love going to countries that Americans consider primitive and see the simplicity and beauty other people live with every day. I love the land of opportunity and wish more of us would remember it.
Oh, and all those brilliant Asian girls taking over the world soon.
What’s something you want to say to other educators about financial independence?
Pay attention to those educational assistants you work with. Don’t you dare look down on them! Even if you have a degree, they’ve probably got a lot more life figured out. They might be able to help you work with that hard kid, or maybe even offer you some financial advice! I helped a few teachers figure out how to turn their houses into a rental. We’re still in touch.
Is there anything you’d like to get feedback on from the community?
I don’t feel like I need any. Maybe anything they can share about how they talk with their family about inheritance?
Thanks, Joy! Leave any comments for her below. I’ll pass them to her, because she made it clear she won’t read this – haha. But, I’m glad she shared her story with us. Please share it with others you think may find it interesting.
If you are an educator pursuing, or considering, financial independence I would love to feature your story. Check out the launch post for more information, and/or contact me.
Don’t forget to read CJ’s story in our first Educator on FIOR interview. Next week we’ll hear from an economics teacher on the path!
Frogdancer Jones says
Joy is fabulous!
I take my hat off to anyone who works with the kids she did. They must be the most patient and caring people on Earth. I couldn’t do it.
How smart and long-sighted she and her family were with their finances! She deserves all the travel she can get. Good on her.
My kids, (I have 4), know that when I pop my clogs they’ll be getting an equal share of everything.
Diana E Sung says
What a cool lady! Thanks for sharing your story, Joy.
Principal F.I. says
Thanks for commenting, Diana. I’ll make sure to pass that along to Joy.