Book Review

A Million Bucks by 30

After spending another afternoon at Indigo, I read “A Million Bucks by 30” by Alan Corey. This book has been previous reviewed by Million Dollar Journey and Thicken My Wallet (who were sent review copies – humph!).

The format of the book is “slices of life” from when Alan graduates and starts job hunting (he soon reaches New York) to when he reaches his goal of becoming a millionaire at 29. In a typical Hollywood ending, the book advance for this book supposedly puts him over the threshold of being officially a millionaire.

Spoiling the ending doesn’t matter (I’ve already spoiled it for you now – bwahahaha). His journey is more of a framework which lets him talk about where he was at each stage, highlight things he did that saved or made money for him, and throws in a bit of humour to keep you reading. Each chapter takes a snapshot of his life at that point, what he was doing with his finances, and what his networth was (broken down by cash, retirement savings, stocks and real estate).

When I was reading it, I got to some of his “frugal suggestions” and agreed with what others have said that they were somewhat unethical (things like taking umbrellas from lost and founds and keeping a “refillable popcorn tub” between movie visits – he used the same container for 7 movies). Afterwards I was talking to Quietrose about the book, and she asked what he’d done that was so unethical, and when I articulated it, I reversed my position. The things he does aren’t illegal (the police wouldn’t pursue him even if they were) and it seems to be more grey area stuff than anything.

Keep in mind, I’m the guy who read the book at Indigo so I wouldn’t have to pay for it, so maybe I’m not the best ethics judge. The Ethicist from the Wall Street Journal seems to agree about the umbrella though (I can’t find the link, but he wrote a column that basically gave the ok to taking abandoned umbrellas).

Each chapter seems to have a “save money” and a “make money” component. In the first chapter after arriving in New York, he lives in the projects to save money and opens a retirement account (Roth IRA) to make money. This continues through to the end where he buys a bar to make money, then always drinks there (to save money). En route he buys a one bedroom condo (and rents out the living room), buys a duplex and converts it into a rooming house (living in the smallest room himself). He compares this to being on “The Real World” which I can believe.

Halfway through our conversation Quietrose was laughing at me claiming I actually wrote the book (cheap guy buying real estate). I didn’t write it, but I can definitely relate to it. He does acknowledge some of the downsides of being frugal (such as getting dumped, and having friends refuse to visit him in the projects).

My other big feeling at the end of the book was that Alan didn’t really need to do what he did. He *REALLY* hustled, doing 4 significant real estate transactions though this period. He lucked out (which he acknowledges) that real estate took off while he was doing this. In the end I felt that he could have been successful as an entrepreneur WITHOUT being as cheap as he was (he might have had $950K instead of a million at the end – who cares?). Alternatively, he probably could have lived a happy, frugal life without doing all the entrepreneurial stuff he did. I kind of get the feeling that he’s going to be a Warren Buffet type – living off of a small fraction of his wealth while he keeps increasing it. At a certain point you wonder why people would want to keep making money they aren’t going to spend. Good for him, but even better for whoever inherits it all when he dies.

If he’s looking to adopt, I’m available.

Its a fun book. But its not the greatest for practical strategies: you wouldn’t learn enough from it to implements any of the things he did, other than living a frugal existence – and he doesn’t even give a complete framework for that, just a scattering of “money saving tips” that shows where his mind was at. Its would be a great gift for any cheapskates you know – I saw myself in some of his adventures and had a good laugh.

A podcast interview with Alan Corey is available here.

19 replies on “A Million Bucks by 30”

Mr. C– thanks for allowing me to be your accomplice in this review! On the one hand, how many of us have not done something unethical at some point (hopped at the movies, brought food into the movies, tried to outrun the cops after robbing that bank, etc). I found it funny that the book’s author, as you described it to me, did these things while out on dates! Too funny!

Are you sure you didn’t write this book, Mr. C? (j/k)! 🙂

PS: I never laugh at you, just near or with! 🙂

Great review.

Yah, to deliberately “shop” for umbrellas like that seems a bit slimy, but really – most of those lost umbrellas will never be found so at least they won’t go to waste.

I must say that I am not making money to spend it. I am making it to pay off my mortgage, which I do not consider to be spending it (which of course it is!) I think once I have done this I will be very used to not spending money. At the moment I hate buying anything that isn’t essential and I cannot imagine not having this attitude even once I have paid off my debt.

Are umbrellas an popcorn really that expensive that they would affect your networth so significantly as to be worth the moral dilemma?

I actually read this entire book on a rainy saturday afternoon at Borders not too long ago (frugal tip!) and I tend to agree. It’s an interesting and amusing read, but I don’t think most people could duplicate his success based on what’s in the book. Inspring though.

Rachel: With your mortgage you’re paying off money you’ve ALREADY spent (when you didn’t have it). I’d recommend waiting until you’re debt free before bragging about not spending money ;-).

Ultimately money has to be spent, otherwise its useless (I include charitable donations and inheritances as “spending” – you’re buying good feelings and an advantage for your offspring respectively).

Nobleea: Yeah, that was my feeling – it wouldn’t have affected him THAT much if he had bought umbrellas and popcorn and done his entrepreneurial things as well – he still would have made a lot of money. In the book he says the umbrellas cost $5 (and break quickly) and popcorn cost $7 (this is in NY, NY)

Sounds like an ok read. I guess if the real estate score hadn’t turned out so well he wouldn’t have a book to publish. After all, who would want to read about a guy living in a tiny room, stealing umbrellas and popcorn, all for a net worth of say $200k?

Btw, sounds like this book review discussion may have been on PF date. Awww… 😉

It’s not unusual to abandon umbrellas in NY, in my experience. Being a walking city, whenever it rains, these guys materialize on all the corners selling four buck black brollies. (It’s pretty magical actually). There are too many people on the streets to break out that fancy golf umbrella, but some eejits will insist on it occasionally. They generally last a few blocks before breaking, although sometimes you get lucky and one will go for a week. I shudder to think of the amount I spent on the damn things over the years, and hope our hero picked up one of mine somewhere. Thus endeth guinness416’s discourse on umbrellas. Lets go Bruins.

I’m sure that the ethics on this one are across the board, but quickly:
– Umbrellas from lost & founds are typically fine. Lost & founds are typically defended for a brief period and then purged. This is normal.
– Re-using the popcorn container isn’t frugal it’s simply disrespectful. Yeah, I’ve brought food into the movie but I buy the popcorn or some other food as well. The ticket goes to the movie company, the overpriced popcorn goes to the facility. Yes, the popcorn is overpriced, we know it is, but if nobody buys the popcorn, then tickets will just cost twice as much. Seems pretty short-sighted to me.
– FT mentions that he started a fake magazine company to get free concert tickets. This is total mis-representation and just more bad karma.

I think the essence is here:
At a certain point you wonder why people would want to keep making money they aren?t going to spend.

I think there’s a certain mental imbalance here that’s not quite recognized as such. (at least they’re addicted to making money instead of snorting coke, right?)

People who are willing to put money above common respect don’t deserve very much of the latter in my books.

[…] his journey from his mom’s basement to a seven-figure net worth by the time he turned thirty. Mr. Cheap wrote a review of the book yesterday and Thicken My Wallet featured an interview with Alan on his […]

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