From Completely Broke to Financial Freedom, with Grant Sabatier
Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of MapleMoney, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.
Are you unhappy with your financial situation, but are unsure what you can do about it?
This week, I talk to someone who knows how you can create your own luck with money.
My guest this week, Grant Sabatier, went from completely broke to financially independent in 5 years. In this episode, Grant shares how he was able to get a raise, start a business, and achieve financial freedom.
From being down and out, with only $2.26 in his bank account, Grant was able to save over $1MM in a relatively short period of time. He explains how he landed a digital marketing job without experience and then converted it into two successful businesses of his own.
Along the way, Grant learned everything he could about managing money, by reading books on the subject. In fact, Grant has read over 400 books on the topic of personal finance. He shares some of his top picks, including the one book that changed his life.
Our sponsor this week is Borrowell, a company on a mission. Not only do they help Canadians make great decisions about credit, they’ve taken what was once a $23/month expense and made it absolutely free. Head to Borrowell today to get a copy of your free credit score, credit report, as well as continual monitoring.
- The book that changed Grant’s life
- Most people tend to undervalue their time
- The difference between real and perceived value
- Why getting to know your boss might be your key to making more money
- The simple activity that will lead to raises at work
- Investing in your career will pay dividends
- You’re much more valuable to your company than you likely realize
- Grant shares some top picks from his personal finance book collection
A lot of people are unhappy with their financial situation but they’re not sure what they can do about it. My guest this week knows how you can create your own luck with money. Grant Sabatier went from completely broke to financially independent in five years. He’ll share with us how he is able to get a raise, start a business and achieve financial freedom.
Welcome to the Maple Money Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. Today’s show is brought to you by our sponsors at Borrowell. I personally love their mission to help Canadians make great decisions about credit. They’ve taken a product that used to be $23 a month and made it absolutely free. If you haven’t already, head over to maplemoney.com/borrowell to get your free credit score, free credit report, and continual monitoring. That’s maplemoney.com/borrowell. Now, let’s chat with Grant…
Tom: Hi Grant, welcome to the Maple Money Show.
Grant: Hey, glad to be on.
Tom: I don’t often get into people’s personal stories but your story is really interesting. I know there’ll be a lot of actionable advice within that anyway, so let’s go right back to the beginning with you. I know that while in college you were kind of hitting a financial rock bottom. Can you go into that a little bit?
Grant: Yeah. I studied philosophy in college and got a Liberal Arts degree. I went to a good school but towards the end of college I just had no idea what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a writer but just like a lot of people I didn’t really have a career track. I ended up taking a job from a company that came recruiting on campus. I took this job that put something like $40,000 in front of me and I thought, “Wow, this is incredible.” I took the job and it was a 2-hour commute each morning and each evening into the Chicago suburbs. That’s absolutely terrible. And I was like,” Oh, my gosh, is this what real life is like?” I remember calling my dad who said, “Welcome to the real world.” It was absolutely terrible. The next three years I bounced around between four different jobs until I ended up getting laid off. I was working with a newspaper then found myself living back at home with my parents at the age of 24. And this is in August 2010. They basically said, “Hey, you can crash here for 3 months but we’re not going to give you a dime.” And man, what a way to put the pressure on. So that’s really the start of my financial journey was when I found myself literally sleeping in the same bed that I slept in as a 7-year-old. I went to school, worked so hard and here I am back where I started.
Tom: Yeah, and that’s kind of a thing that people always like to say about millennials. They all lived with their parents. But obviously you didn’t want to stay there. Other than your parents telling you had three months, what made you decide you had to change something?
Grant: There were a few things. I was spending a lot of time with my parents. I’d come down and we’d have dinner every night together just like when I was a kid and they’d ask how I was doing applying for jobs. I had actually applied to over 200 jobs over the previous four months and I hadn’t got a single email or callback. I was really dejected. I started getting that “look” from my parents—you know, that look that says, “What are you doing?” There is kind of some shame there. And it felt really crappy because my parents had given me a lot of opportunities. I’m an only child. Not only did I not like the feeling of not having any money, I didn’t like the feeling of disappointing them and being stuck there. I felt pretty helpless. I started looking at my parents too. I remember going to a summer party and talking to some of their friends and one of the things that really clicked with me is that all these people were in their mid 50s and all they were talking about was retiring. They were just like, “I’m five years away and here’s what I want to do…” That’s literally all they talked about. And I started looking at parents— just how hard and how long they and their friends had worked towards the goals they envisioned for themselves. And I thought, ” Could there be a different way?” I didn’t want to go back to a cubicle job. I was looking at 40 years before retirement that way. This sounds terrible and I’ve got nothing to lose. I’m going to try to learn everything that I can about money. And that was at the moment (shortly thereafter) in August 2010 that I read, Your Money, Your Life, which is my favorite book of all time, hands down. Just the simple idea that whenever you’re working you’re trading your life energy for money. That just really blew my mind. That’s when I knew I wanted to make as much money as possible but I didn’t have any skills that would make me any money. So then I was like, “Ah, I need some skills.” A couple of days later I was doing a search on my phone and I saw Google mobile ad and thought, what’s this? I researched Google mobile ads and figured out that you could make between 10 and 20 per cent of media spent running the ads and you could actually learn how to do it for free. At the time, they had Google Adverts University. They still have some form of it today where you could go through and get certified by Google for free. Fast forward 60 days later and I had a $50,000 job at a digital marketing agency running Google advert campaigns even though I had no experience. But the demand was high and I had the certification. I walked in and I was so pumped. It was the first digital marketing job I applied to and I was so excited. I went in and a woman later told me, “You’re just so passionate about this that we just had to hire you.” So that’s really where my life started. For the next five years I was either working to make money or side-hustling to make money or reading about making money. To be honest, that’s pretty much all I did for that period. It took me five years, three months and six days to go from completely broke to financially independent. And that happened in 2015.
Tom: One thing I want to go back to was during this time at your job. I know you had a line I read somewhere about hacking your job to get a raise. Can you go into that a bit?
Grant: Oh man, this is one of my favorite topics. At the end of the day I think a lot of people undervalue their time. They think their employers are only going to pay them so much or they just read the same generic article on how to get a raise. But there’s an entire science around this. I talk about it in my book—the difference between a real and perceived value. I’ve managed a number of employees in my life. I’ve owned my own companies and one of the things that you have to learn is that it doesn’t matter how much time you spend at your desk. It doesn’t matter how busy you are or how many meetings you have. All that matters is what your boss thinks about you. Maybe they really do care that you’re early but a vast majority of the time your boss just wants to look good for their boss. Or your boss wants to make more money. So really, getting to know the person and understanding what motivates them is the key to making more money—not being busier or doing a ton of things. As long as you make them look good you’re much more likely to get a raise. One of the things I recommend that’s really simple is a lot of people say they did so much work but didn’t get a bonus or a raise. You’re getting paid to do a job. You’re getting a salary to do your job. And, maybe you get a minimum bonus but you get rewarded when you go above and beyond— when you add some extra level of value. The problem is, your boss is probably too busy to notice what you’re doing. Things move fast and a lot of people get to the end of the year and realize they’ve worked hard and want a raise. One of things I recommend that’s great is a simple Excel spreadsheet or Google sheet to track every single thing you do the entire year that goes above and beyond your job description. If you do this over multiple years you can actually even start to quantify it. That way you can say, “I answered 25 percent more calls this year,” or “I responded to X, Y and Z.” Then at the end of the year you can revisit that file and when you’re going to get your bonus you can look at the things that had the biggest impact and say, “Hey, you know, I’ve been tracking what I’ve been doing above and beyond…” A lot of it comes down in pitch too. A lot of my employees just come in and say, “I feel like I deserve a $10,000 raise.” And when I ask them why, oftentimes they don’t really have a good story. They usually say they’ve been working harder or tell me what their current market value is. But you can ultimately craft that story in a way that does a few things to reinforce how you want to stay with the company. So come in and say, “Hey, I’ve learned so much this past year. I love working here. I really want my future to be here.” Pad it up a little bit and then go into a more quantifiable aspects like, “I really want to stay here and here 10 things that I’ve done that went above and beyond. It’s contributed to the business in this way, etc.” At the end of the day if you can actually present those in a way that your boss can maybe take and package for their boss. That way there’s a much higher chance at actually getting a raise. This career management is a science. It just blows my mind that a lot of people spend more time planning their vacation than they do with their money. They spend even less time actually trying to manage their careers, something that can have a massive impact on how much money they’re going to make for the rest of their life. So don’t just read like two articles on it. Study it and become an expert in it.
Tom: Yeah, I had a similar result. Just going onto websites that list average salaries and stuff, I had a good feeling that I was being underpaid but that’s not the reason I asked for the raise. I didn’t go in and say you’re not paying me enough. I did a very similar thing where I showed the things I did and how much money it was going to save. I think one thing was when I created a report where 600 different stores no longer had to send in their own reports. I pointed out the number of hours that saved. I think it was about a $10,000 raise I got. And at the time that might have been a 20 percent raise just for asking and backing it up.
Grant: Yeah, and the same thing too is to stay knowledgeable. Go even beyond those job comparison sites. A vast majority of industries have recruiters that work in those industries so get to know those recruiters. Reach out even if you’re not interested in new opportunities. Say that you are (interested) in order to get some information and market intel. You might actually end up getting a surprise. You might even figure out the skill set you have is actually increasing in demand and that there are some companies they know of that will hire you. Thing is, it’s all about getting leverage with your company. The statistics show that overall even just one percent salary increases compound significantly over time. And so the hard thing to do is determine whether you should stay at your own company or make the jump. A lot of data shows that if you make a jump every two to three years (because oftentimes your market value is being reassessed) you’re going to be able to make more and more money. But, sometimes staying put is going to be the best decision. I think a lot of people really undervalue their time. They also undervalue just how much it would cost to replace you. It costs about 40 to 60 percent of one year’s salary for your company to replace you in lost time and man hours. You can sometimes get at $5,000 to $10,000 raise just because it’s a lot cheaper than your company hiring someone else. I see people all the time that have been with a company for five years who have some company knowledge and a great skill set yet they’re just so worried about getting fired. In reality, their company really needs them. You can use that leverage. I mean, there’s a talent shortage in a lot of different industries. A lot of people think there’s a limit— that they can only get five or 10 percent. But if you’re valuable to your company, you can go in and ask for a lot more. You can also ask for better benefits too. That’s what I recommend, asking for that worker remote opportunity. Even if you don’t take it, that’s just an incredible way to maximize the amount of money you’re getting paid for your time. I think a lot of people are just afraid. They’re afraid they’re just going to get fired. But you have to note the fact it costs a lot of money to get you hired so it would cost a lot of money to replace you. And, if you’re doing a good job the last thing your company wants is for you to leave. The problem is there are legal pyramid schemes where the people at the top are getting the most money. Your boss’s job is to keep you happy enough and pay you as little as possible so you’ve really got to fight that a little bit. But you’re much, much more valuable to your company than you likely realize.
Tom: Yeah, and you’re right too about other ways to keep you happy, like stay-at-home. Companies are also getting into the unlimited vacation time. And again, that goes back to just doing your job. This is not about the hours you work, it’s about the results you get.
Grant: I think a lot of the data is now showing that unlimited vacation time actually results in people taking less vacation time.
Tom: You know, that doesn’t surprise me.
Grant: It’s the alternate paradox.
Tom: Yeah, you don’t have this set number that you feel you have to take so that doesn’t really surprise me at all. I want to go back to one other thing you mentioned about reading personal finance books. I know you’ve read— I think you said, hundreds? Do you know what your current count is at?
Grant: Well over 400 because I just read one last week to interview someone for my podcast so I think I’ve read probably around 407 personal finance books.
Tom: Personal finance books were big for me too. I haven’t read that many but the idea was my turning point in realizing there’s better ways to deal with your money. You mentioned what your favorite book was. Are there a couple others that you wanted to give a little shout out to?
Grant: Yeah, definitely. A lot of personal finance books are the same. It’s like 99 percent of the same things so I’m always going through and looking for that piece of gold. Sometimes the book is actually pretty crappy but there’s some really key insights that you could take away. A few of the other books that I really love are, Millionaire Real Estate Investor. It’s just an incredible book. It’s written by the head of Keller Williams Realty, the guy that started the real estate company. And one of things about real estate books is that they’re pretty dry or just a way too bullish, but it’s an incredible personal finance primer in addition to a real estate book. One that’s kind of on the margins but I think is really incredible too is more of an entrepreneurship book called, Blue Ocean Strategy. Have you ever read Blue Ocean Strategy?
Tom: No, I haven’t read that.
Grant: This book would just completely blow your mind. It’s a business book but I think there are incredible implications for any entrepreneur or anyone in the personal finance space. Another one, The Best Investing Book—Bogle Heads Guide to Investing, I really love that. I really love, The Coffee House Investor too. A lot of those strategies are going to be pretty US specific. And yeah, I just read a really good one, Jack Carson’s, Retire Early with Real Estate. That’s one I’ve read in the past week and it’s pretty incredible as well.
Tom: You mentioned the Bogle Heads. The Little Book of Common Sense Investing was a big one for me just to get used to this idea of index investing ETFs and everything. It totally changed the way I invested. I thought I was doing so great with my mutual funds and those two and a half percent that I was paying. Just this idea of tracking the market… just track it. You don’t have to try to beat average because you’re already doing better than half the people. Maybe even more than half when you work the fees in. So you had a career but then you turned that into a consulting business, right?
Grant: Yeah. I turned my job in digital marketing—I left after a year at the agency that I was working at and actually started two different agencies. And there’s a particular reason why I did that. I wanted an ability to have my own company that I could use as a learning opportunity and a testing opportunity. So I had one digital agency where I specialized in working with law firms and realtors. That was kind of a niche. I had a real passion for education so I ended up launching another agency and partnered up with two other guys to scale that agency particularly focused on the higher education vertical. I wanted to be able to grow a vertically-focused agency really niched down, but also have this other one where I could take on other clients as I grew. So I played both of those options through a six-year period and now I’m no longer involved in any of that. I left my partners and completely got rid of all of my clients last October. I’ve completely walked away from both businesses.
Tom: And that leads to you starting your blog as well, Millennial Money. Now, I know with your story of going from broke to I think to a million dollars in five years?
Grant: Yeah, five years, three months and six days.
Tom: Tell us about how that’s going for you, the buildup of movement between the press you were getting and the posts you were writing and how people were following you?
Grant: Yes, I started the blog in 2015. At the time I was just spending a lot of my time traveling to different clients. I had over 50 clients at one point. And so I was on the road, going to conferences and speaking but I really started the blog as a way to… I had just reached financial independence and I thought, “Whoa, I want to start writing about this, reflecting on this.” I’ve always been really hesitant about putting my voice out there online. At first it was kind of intense, kind of scary, but I’m such an intense person that I know when I start a project I’m going to get really all-in and I was just so burnt out and said, “I can’t do this myself.” I actually went to the first FinCon in 2015. I didn’t talk to a single person and I was there kind of like sizing up space, seeing what was going on and once I went there l realized I could make this happen. So I started writing when I was traveling. I’d be sitting in an airport or I’d be in some hotel somewhere like Pittsburgh and instead of watching TV or something I’d just write blog posts. That’s really how it started. For the first year and a half I started building a little bit of a steady following. It was helpful that I picked a really good brand name because I started ranking at four. People started discovering me who were just looking for how millennials think about money. So that became an instant sort of discoverability engine. The real inflection point was in late 2016 when I started writing much more vulnerable content, much more open content, being very open about the challenges I had had. I got a CNBC feature and there was a six-month period where I was in over 200 international publications. I’ve been on CNBC over 50 times. It just became (interestingly) a rocket ship for the blog because I was kind of building out the content. And not only did I get a lot of back links that helped it rank, I got a ton of subscribers and was able to build what’s become an incredibly engaged and passionate audience.
Tom: So you built up all these readers and in early 2019 you’re going to be launching a book. How did that evolve from the blog?
Grant: One of the wild things about my site is the average time spent on page is really high because I write such long posts. They’re around six or seven minutes so people hang out there reading the posts. I get a lot of binge readers. You know, maybe they’ll be surprised by something I said and then they’ll just sit and hang out on the site for 30 minutes and read a couple posts. And the number one question I got and still get is, “How do you do all of this? I see how you started the site and I see how you started investing. How did you do all that?” They’ll ask some specific question related to a post that I wrote and I’d say, “You know, there really is no format beyond the book that I can answer that question.” I talked to over 30 agents and that was just its own process but I ended up selling the book to Penguin Random House, the largest English language publisher in the world. They loved the vision, loved the idea. It’s changed a lot since that time. That’s the challenge for me now. I feel like I’ve literally written everything that I can about money into the book. And so now I look at the book and I’m really excited. I’m excited to have a place to point people. I’m also excited to reach people. It takes a lot of time to read hundreds of blog posts and listen to hundreds of hours of podcasts. Even in four hours you can sit down and churn through this book and get most of what I’d want you to take away.
Tom: Well, thanks for being on the show. Can you tell everyone where they can find you between the blog and social media and where they can find the book?
Grant: Yeah, so millennialmoney.com. You can typically just Google millennial money and I’m the first result there. If you want to learn more about the book just go to financialfreedombook.com. You can learn all about it. It’s going to be dropping soon. You can preorder. There’s a bunch of preorder bonuses. Follow me at millennialmoney.com on Instagram. That’s the best place to find me. And yeah, I really appreciate being on the podcast Tom. It’s a real pleasure.
Thanks to Grant for sharing his story. There are some great tips there that you can take away to benefit your own career and finances. I’m looking forward to his new book Financial Freedom. You can find show notes for this episode at maplemoney.com/grantsabatier. If you know someone looking to improve their career or turn their financial life around please share this episode with them. Thanks as always for tuning in. See you next week.