When Alan Corey moved out of his mother's Atlanta basement at 22 to face the real world, his goals were both clear and clearly preposterous: have fun, hustle and become a millionaire by 30 in New York City. He made it with two years to spare, thanks to some savvy real estate timing in the Brooklyn revitalization, an unlikely run of appearances on reality TV shows such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and what he calls extreme cheapskate strategies that enabled him to bank and invest nearly 40 percent of his $40,000 salary.
In A Million Bucks by 30, Corey does his own end zone dance with all due swagger. To help others who'd like to add a few zeros to their net worth, BookPage asked Corey to share his top financial tips.
BookPage: You played a lot of defense (saving) before you could afford to play offense (buying and investing). Which of your penny-pinching techniques proved the most effective?
Alan Corey: Ooh, I love sports analogies! I believed defense wins championships and still do. It's the combination of all the techniques that make it effective. Saving in one area and not in another is like the ol' yacht racing folly of having two holes in your dinghy and just plugging one.
Credit cards dig many young people into a serious financial hole. How did you manage to avoid the free money trap?
If I couldn't pay off the balance in full, I wouldn't eat. It was a pretty motivating factor. I would suggest one of two approaches: 1) Use it for everything, earn money back and pay the balance in full each month, or 2) never use it.
Instead of assuming the work-is-drudgery attitude of some post-grads, you entered the adult world with the goal of having fun. What was/is the most fun for you?
Learning something new. Post-graduate life offers new things like 401(k)s, mortgages and balding. It's like, wow, I get to learn this new stuff because I'm at a point in my life where it's finally affecting me.
Your experiences as a self-described fame whore on reality shows like Queer Eye and The Restaurant seem less than lucrative. Was that simply a way to have fun and free your inner crazy guy, or were you experimenting with building a media brand a la The Donald?
A bit of both. I was hoping to maybe spin it off into something bigger, but at the time it was a choice to either be on TV and make some pocket change or go home and watch TV and make nothing. I ended up getting hate mail from my appearances, so I don't think the media-branding part worked very well.
You were tucking away money in IRAs and a 401(k) before most of your friends knew what those were. Weren't you tempted to keep that money in play for down payments and such?
I knew starting young on both IRAs and 401(k)s was crucial to my goal of being a millionaire before 30. I considered it my no touch money. I made a decision when I put it in, and stuck to it. It was tempting at times, but I'd made a promise to myself.
You lost girlfriends and pals over money. Do you have any regrets about that?
It's funny, because while I was trying to reach my goal, some of those very girlfriends and pals I thought were closest to me said what I was doing was impossible. It was really discouraging at times to be surrounded by that kind of negative energy. Looking back though, proving them wrong was part of the fun of it all.
Some would say you had a lucky break by profiting from the Brooklyn gentrification boom. Do you think a college grad today could make a million by 30 in say, Sioux Falls, South Dakota?
In New York City, you make more money but you also spend more money. It's basically a push when compared to other cities. It's all about delaying your personal gratification of living large, tapping your local market for bargains, and putting your eggs in several different baskets. That can be done anywhere.
Now that you've achieved your goal, are you tempted to kick back and coast?
I did kick back and coast for six months and it got really expensive. I have new goals now: have a million dollars in home equity, make another million by 35 and plug that other hole in my dinghy.