Blogs & Comment

A millionaire next door

An Average Joe makes it big before age 40, one frugal year at a time.

(Photo: REB Images/Getty)

A Canadian teacher living in Singapore is well on his way to joining an illustrious group of personal finance and investing writers with names like Burton Malkiel, Larry Swedroe, Scott Burns and David Chilton.

Andrew Hallam’s new book, Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School, has zoomed to the top of Amazon’s list of personal-finance and investing books, thanks in large part to ringing endorsements and glowing reviews. For example, Burns (father of the Couch Potato style of investing) recommends that “if you are looking for the first, and possibly only, book to read if you want to figure out how to finance the rest of your life, you can read Andrew Hallam’s Millionaire Teacher.”

Millionaire Teacher is about living below your means and taking “60 minutes a year” to invest your savings in a diversified basket of low-cost exchange-traded funds, coupled with periodic rebalancing. Hallam achieved millionaire status before he turned 40 due to a similar regime of frugal living and intelligent investing (the latter was based on Warren Buffett’s value approach until the logic of the passive-investing school led Hallam to switch in 2010 to low-cost index funds). 

Having “been there, done that,” Hallam was able to weave his own story into the well-researched themes for colour and to reinforce the book’s message: if an Average Joe like Hallam can do it, then the Average Joe reader can do it, too. (Some may object to calling Hallam an Average Joe given the rich fringe benefits and pensions that public school teachers enjoy in Canada, but Hallam teaches at a private school in another country and does not receive such perks.)

On the technical side, many of the chapters outline investing rules, such as getting an early start—Hallam began stock investing at age 19—in order to enlist the magic of compound returns. As of the book’s publication date, he reports the average annual return on his holdings is over 10%.

But it’s the emotional side that really shines. Hallam’s account of his frugal lifestyle is fascinating. He found a way to own and drive a car for a few years, then sell it at a better price than what was paid. For a time he rode a bike 35 miles to work. He saved on accommodation costs in various ways such as by housesitting. During B.C. winters the furnace was turned off. He slashed grocery bills by feasting on potatoes, pasta and clams dug up from the beach. Of course, it’s important to note that while Hallam is married he has no children, so the decision to postpone family may have played a role, as well.

And then there’s the not inconsequential matter of his bout with cancer and subsequent operation in 2009. The already buff and cheerful Hallam pulled through and returned to his workout regime—daily 10km runs preceded by 50 push-ups and 15 chin-ups.

Coupled with a whimsical, witty foreword by Globe & Mail editor Ian McGugan, Millionaire Teacher is a an inspiring must-read.