Meet the Dollar Build Team
Hi, I’m Cato. And yes, I’m a lawyer. But most anyone who knows me would tell you I’m not your typical attorney. I don’t make big-shot lawyer money, drive a luxury sports car, or buy shiny new toys that contribute nothing to my long-term well-being.
Simply put, I don’t live the stereotypical lawyer lifestyle.
Truthfully, I’m probably not much different than most other millennials out there. And since you’re reading this, I’m going to guess you and I probably have a few things in common.
Let me tell you a little more about myself.
Where It All Started
My interest in money started at a young age. When I was just seven or eight, I thought I had discovered a foolproof way to quintuple what was in my piggy bank. With just a few nickels, a hammer, and a little bit of patience I was on my way to becoming the richest second-grader in the neighborhood.
With hammer in hand, I went to work in my driveway, pounding away at nickels, flattening each coin until it was the same size as a quarter. When I was finished, I hopped on my bicycle and pedaled to the nearest grocery store where I could put my plan to the test. I approached the coin-operated machine with the Arizona Cardinals sticker I’d been coveting for months, inserted my phony quarter, and turned the knob.
The sticker was mine.
Being a good older brother, I hurried home to share my newfound wealth-building secret with my younger siblings. Before long, there was a small army of nickel smashers manufacturing “quarters” in the driveway.
(Don’t worry – the operation didn’t last long. I don’t remember exactly how my dad caught on to our scheme. Maybe it was the incessant sound of hammers colliding with coins and concrete that gave us away).
Obviously, it wasn’t the most elegant (or lawful) approach to building wealth. Buy hey, I was onto something, wasn’t I? Maybe I had recognized the importance of saving and growing my financial portfolio at a very young age. Probably not – it’s more likely that I’d simply stumbled upon a sneaky way to get another handful of M&Ms.
Discovering the Personal Finance Community
Fast forward twenty years or so and I’m a recent law school grad with mountains of student loan debt – $86K to be exact!
Growing up, I had always been careful with the little bit of money I had, and was keen on saving whatever I could. My approach to finances was extremely simple:
- Spend less than I made.
- Never carry a credit card balance.
- Save as much as possible.
It was that simple approach (along with a few scholarships) that helped me escape undergrad completely debt-free. But after I graduated law school, things were completely different. I not only had heaps of student loan debt, but it was the first time I was also bringing home a real paycheck. For the first time in my life, I had money to manage and serious debt to repay. I had so many questions:
- What’s the smartest way to pay off my student loans?
- Should I pay off my student loans before investing?
- How much should I contribute to my 401K?
- How much should I be saving each month?
I quickly realized I had a lot to learn about what it would take to become debt-free and achieve financial freedom.
That’s when I discovered the personal finance community. After all, there’s nothing quite like $86K in student loan debt to motivate a person to really take control of their finances.
My Student Loan Repayment Story
I’ve always taken a unique and somewhat creative approach to managing my finances. From side hustles, to credit card churning, to frugal living – it’s become like a game to me and something that I truly enjoy.
I’m sure there are plenty of people who think I’m a bit kooky and say to themselves this guy doesn’t live like any attorney I know.
They’re probably right. And why don’t I? Two reasons.
- I don’t need fancy things to be happy (and neither do you).
- I can’t wait to be financially independent.
Seriously, who wants to work for thirty-plus years hoping all along that they’ll have enough stashed away to retire comfortably? Not me. No way!
Why Am I Qualified to Talk About Personal Finance
I don’t have a fancy certification or an MBA. What I’ve learned about building wealth has come through trial and error – through good old fashioned first-hand experience. As a consumer finance attorney and personal finance fanatic, I feel compelled to share my unique experiences and perspectives with you so you can learn from my successes, avoid repeating my mistakes, and continue learning right along with me.
I’m an ex-professional baseball player, who set aside dreams of playing in the big leagues to pursue my professional career in the conventional working world. Being a former ballplayer, every fiber of my being is competitive. Stepping away from the highly competitive sports environment created a void and left me searching for an outlet to channel my competitive energies. I redirected a lot of my desire to compete and succeed toward mastering my personal finances.
The way I see it, every transaction can go one of two ways: You can either prepare, act purposely, and set yourself up for success, or you can behave unintentionally and accept whatever results come your way.
As I write this I am nearly five years removed from my baseball days and working in insurance settlements. I handle a wide variety of settlements, ranging from businesses that have had millions of dollars embezzled from their corporate accounts, to a man choking to death on a corn dog at a buffet. Every year, I personally write checks for 10 to 20 million dollars for first- and third-party claimants. With so much money on the line, I get the privilege of working with attorneys, forensic accounts, and engineers on a daily basis. These unique experiences and the unique perspectives I’ve encountered have fostered my fascination with macroeconomics, along with my lifelong interest in take a closer look at the smallest, seemingly insignificant transactions we make each day.
Where It Started
My brother and I come from a family of five children, largely supported by our father’s meager teaching salary. Growing up in this environment, we learned the value of thrift at a young age. Our mother played a key role in instilling the values that we have today, teaching us ways to stretch each dollar, the importance of giving, and how to live and be happy with less. The most important lesson I learned from her was that there is always a way to get the job done.
My Crash Course in Personal Finance
It was my junior year and first semester at Lamar University when I faced the most difficult financial challenges of my life. Unable to hold a traditional job while playing baseball and going to school full-time, I had to get creative when it came to generating income.
When I first arrived on campus, I had $97 in my checking account and a rusty car that had a 50/50 shot of starting when I turned the key. I paid $450 a month to share a roach-infested apartment with three roommates. $450 a month may not sound like much, but for a guy with no job and no cash, paying rent each month was a daunting task.
I began brainstorming ways to make extra money, and little by little I survived. My first gig was wiping the sweat marks off the basketball court between plays for $20 a night. During football season, I signed up for another motley task that paid $20 a game. Using large ropes, I manually hoisted a 30-foot net up each time a team would kick a field goal or extra point. When the baseball field needed mowing, I’d volunteer for an extra $15. After baseball practices each day, I tutored fellow athletes for $20 to $40 an hour. I eventually built enough rapport with teammates and other student-athletes that I had created a semi-dependable small business.
By the middle of my senior year I was finally comfortable financially. I not only survived my college days, but I was able to enter the professional phase of my life without having a massive amount of debt waiting for me.
My upbringing and college experience taught me that there is more to life than earning a paycheck and then covering subsequent expenses. By recognizing the massive potential I had to improve my situation, I’ve begun working toward financial freedom.