Making a Million Before You're 30

Author Alan Corey tells how he achieved his goal of being young and rich.

Real estate was key for Corey.

Real estate was key for Corey.

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In A Million Bucks by 30, Alan Corey follows some unconventional saving techniques. Among the standouts: reusing the same popcorn bag for months to get free refills, "borrowing" umbrellas from lost and founds, and claiming dropped cellphone calls to get free minutes. (Asked about the ethics of such behavior, he says that he was just being creative.) But the real secret to his wealth lies in clever real estate purchases, which enabled him to become a millionaire in his 20s. He was driven, in part, by his post-college frustration at not liking his job and not making much money. U.S. News asked Corey about his strategy, dating on the cheap, and what it's like to be rich. Excerpts:

How did you get the idea to try to become a millionaire by 30, and did you really believe it was possible?
Yes, of course! I think everyone has the idea of being a millionaire someday. I bought, rented, and checked out everything I could on personal finance. I read biographies, autobiographies, and even obituaries of millionaires. I was looking for a common characteristic, a secret, some golden nugget of information that would make me a millionaire, too. What I found was they all had incredible self-belief that they would be financially successful. I took that and ran with it.

You went to extremes to save money, by finding used furniture on sidewalks, for example. Now that you're a millionaire, which cheapskate strategies do you still employ?
Pretty much all of them. I will never lose the thrill of finding a good bargain. I still don't buy bottled water, still carry a coin purse, and still get my umbrellas out of lost and founds. I suppose old profitable habits die hard. Of course, I'm still interested in making another million. But more importantly, I don't want to blow through my first.

You describe the feeling of suddenly having a steady job, regular paychecks, and no idea what to do with the extra cash. How did you decide what to invest in?
My research told me that, being young, I should invest in Roth IRAs, 401(k)'s, mutual funds, and real estate. I didn't know which was the best option for me, so I invested as much as I possibly could in all four.

Did you luck out in seeking your fortune at a time when housing prices were skyrocketing, which let you make a lot in real estate?
I did get lucky, but I put myself in a position to be lucky. How many 25-year-olds own three multifamily properties? For every dollar I had in real estate, I had [as much] in stocks. Even if prices weren't skyrocketing and flipping properties weren't as lucrative, I could have had wonderful passive income with [rental income], which, of course, would have all been reinvested into something else.

Dating can be a money pit. What's the most fun, inexpensive date you had?
Probably the first date I had with my dream girl. I took her to a bar and restaurant that I owned, which means we ate and drank for free. Followed by a steamy game of Scrabble and then a walk down the block to a nearby pier at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. There I was able to secure a second date. We are moving in together next month.

You went to extreme money-saving measures, such as living off ramen noodles for three months. Was it worth it?
Hello? It led to me retiring at age 28. Ask anyone with a day job if they think it was worth it. I think they will all say they hate me.