Russ didn’t dole out any cash, but he deemed Hallam worthy of help based on that answer. “Later, he said that if I told him I’d buy a new car or a new stereo, or I’d go on a flashy trip, that he probably wouldn’t talk to me again unless he had to,” Hallam says.
Russ took the 19-year-old on a tour of his neighborhood and showed him how he built wealth through investing. Having proven to Hallam that he was the real deal, Russ taught him that becoming financially literate makes it possible to achieve financial freedom early — a principle Hallam took to heart.
When Hallam protested that he didn’t have enough to begin investing himself, Russ pointed to the bus depot’s vending machine. He asked if Hallam had enough to buy, say, a muffin and a chocolate bar every day.
“Sure,” Hallam replied.
Well, Russ reasoned, if he could spare that $3 a day for junk food, he could stand to invest $100 a month instead. “If you start investing $100 a month right now, you could retire as a millionaire,” he said.
So Hallam started investing.
He held various jobs throughout college, and he continued to put every spare cent he could into the market. At one point, he chose to take out a loan to help with tuition so he could put the money he earned working into his investment accounts.
Hallam graduated with around $12,000 in student loans, which he became determined to pay off within a year.
Straight out of school, he worked as a middle school teacher in Comox, British Columbia. His take home pay amounted to around $28,000 a year.
In order to become debt-free and get back to investing whatever he could, Hallam resorted to being as frugal as possible — a lifestyle choice he doesn’t necessarily recommend.
“I probably went a little bit too far,” he tells Pant. “You have frugal, and then you have crazy ambitious. I was a frugal weirdo. It’s not something I would end up recommending to people, but when I look back on it, it was a fun time.”
Hallam spent his first year as a teacher house-sitting to avoid paying rent. When he did end up settling into his own place during his second year on the job, the rent was cheap for a reason. His apartment was located in Campbell River, British Columbia, about 34 miles (55 kilometers) from the school where he worked. Unwilling to waste money on gas, Hallam biked, choosing to shower and shave in the teachers’ room at the school each morning.
For food, Hallam subsisted on heaps of pasta and potatoes. He splurged on vegetables but decided to pick his own clams for protein.
“I was definitely a healthy eater, so I was getting vegetables, I did have salads most nights. But to keep that bill down, I was getting clams from the beach,” he explains. “They were free. There was an old guy named Oscar, and he and I would go out there with a bucket, and he would turn them into delicacies, and I would just toss my clams in with a bunch of pasta or baked potatoes.”
Though Hallam doesn’t recommend the crazy-frugal lifestyle — “I was a fruitcake, there’s no doubt about it,” he says — he’s living proof that it works: Despite his meager teacher’s salary, Hallam was able to pay off his student loan debt within nine months of graduation.
From there, Hallam continued to invest. He started off with actively managed funds and moved to index funds and individually managed stocks. From there, he eventually condensed his entire portfolio into index funds, which give him a better chance at earning consistent returns.
“By the time I was in my mid 30s, I’d read more than 400 books about personal finance and investing money, and there were a lot of common denominators there,” he says. “The one thing that struck me was that you do end up getting the odd person who ends up beating the market, or the odd mutual fund that ends up beating the market, but invariably, the market typically comes back to beat them.”
By 36, Hallam had become a millionaire.
And by 40, he was comfortably financially independent.
Hallam met his wife Pele, who’s also a teacher, in Singapore in 2003. The pair married in 2008 and quit their jobs in 2014.
Hallam, now 46, and his wife currently spend their days traveling the world and enjoying their financial freedom. Over the past five months, they’ve been giving free talks at international schools and businesses, in places such as Dubai, Jordan, Egypt, Kenya and Thailand.
Hallam also continues to invest and shares his advice for others aspiring to follow in his footsteps on his self-titled blog and in his books, “Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School” and “The Global Expatriate’s Guide to Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat.”
Together, Hallam and Pele have a net worth around $2.5 million.
They prefer to think that they’re taking a break from work rather than that they’re retired.
“[It] doesn’t mean we won’t go back to teaching,” Hallam told CNBC. “It just gives us a lot more choices.”
Don’t miss: 6 money decisions you could regret forever