For starters, he’s barely 27 years old, he doesn’t work in Silicon Valley and he isn’t heir to a family fortune. He doesn’t live in a tiny house or get his food from a compost garden in his backyard, either.
Ivanov, who shares wealth-building tips on his blog, Financessful.com, made his million the old-fashioned way: He read books. He saved early and often. And he started planning his rise to millionaire status before most kids his age had their driver’s license.
“I’m a testament that if you want something bad enough and you keep working towards it ... you will get to where you want to go,” he says. "It was my habits and my principles that made me rich."
“In high school, there was pretty much no financial education and my parents wouldn’t talk to me about money,” he says. “Everything I learned about money I had to learn myself.”
He devoured books on wealth building. An early favorite was “Think and Grow Rich,” the 1937 classic by Napoleon Hill, which details strategies that can be used to overcome psychological barriers to wealth.
“That book was extremely influential,” Ivanov says. “It wasn’t a ‘how to get rich’ book but it gave me a vision and a mental system that I could use to achieve pretty much anything I wanted.”
At age 16, he had one goal in mind: become a millionaire.
College or career?
While his friends signed up for college classes, Ivanov celebrated his 18th birthday by opening his first Roth IRA. After spending some time working (mostly administrative jobs near home), he decided to enlist in the U.S. Navy at age 20. He earned about $55,000 a year as an electronics technician and took distance learning classes to earn a Bachelor’s degree in information technology and programming. Uncle Sam picked up the tab for his tuition and fees.
“When I compared [going to college] to joining the military, the latter seemed like a smarter idea because I would be earning income right away instead of waiting until I graduated,” he says. “And I could receive an education pretty much completely free, which I did.”
The ‘lazy’ investor
After Ivanov maxed out his Roth IRA (the annual contribution limit is $5,500), he opened up a small brokerage account with TradeKing. Years of careful research convinced him stock-picking wasn’t for him. His investing strategy was simple: focus on low-cost stock mutual funds that covered a variety of major asset classes and let the market do its job.
“It’s what I would call a lazy portfolio,” he says. After doing research, Ivanov decided to invest in seven asset classes: domestic, large-, mid-, and small-cap funds, emerging market funds, commodity funds, with a small chunk in bonds. Then he let it ride. He rebalances his portfolio once a year, if at all.
A couple of years into his stint with the Navy, Ivanov faced his first true test as an amateur investor. By saving 60% of his Navy income and taking on freelance jobs on the side, he had been investing somewhere between $40,000 to $45,000 per year when the financial crisis hit in 2008.
He says he lost “a good amount,” but when the market sank he didn’t sell like many other investors did. “I powered through and when the market hit bottom, that’s when I tried to save and invest even more. To me, it was a no brainer,” he says.
Getting into the real estate game
Heavily influenced by books like “The Millionaire Real Estate Investor” and “The Millionaire Next Door,” Ivanov knew he wanted to start investing in real estate. His timing couldn’t have been better. The bust had essentially turned the housing market into the world’s biggest bargain bin.
In 2009, Ivanov put down $80,000 on a $400,000 condominium in San Diego, which he rents out for a $36,000 a year (he nets about $12,000 a year after making his mortgage payments). Today he estimates the property’s value is well over $600,000.
Since then, Ivanov has added another property to his nascent housing empire. He purchased a $430,000 duplex earlier this year. He collects $21,000 a year in rent ($12,000 net after his mortgage is covered) renting out one of the apartments, while he and his fiancee live in the other.
“I believe in taking smart risks,” he says. “If you see an opportunity and you think it’s a good opportunity, you should take it and understand that you may be wrong and understand what the repercussions may be.”
He hopes to own at least 10 properties by the time he hits his 40s, but he’s in no rush. Once his housing expenses are taken care of, he puts all of his income — from his rental properties, his job and his freelance work — first into his retirement account, emergency savings account, and then into his taxable brokerage account. Once those goals are met, he contributes to a separate high-yield savings account, which he sets aside for future real estate purchases. You can see a full breakdown of Invanov's assets here, or check out the graphic below.
Ivanov crossed the $1 million net worth mark just two months shy of his 27th birthday in June this year. He was thrilled to finally reach this milestone — but not surprised.
“If you have a really strong desire in your head, you can power through any obstacle you may face,” he says. “I truly believed that when I was 16 and I believe it now.