#350: How to be Financially Free by 35 with Tom and Ariana Sylvester

November 20, 2019

How to be Financially Free by 35 with Tom and Ariana Sylvester

Financial independence represents freedom and control, and it’s becoming the dream of a growing number of people. But early financial independence isn’t just for top earners.

Tom and Ariana Sylvester are the founders of Lifestyle Builders, helping entrepreneurs create and grow a business that supports their ideal lifestyle. After successfully running three businesses, they are financially independent at 35.

Ariana and Tom met at college. They graduated the same year and both had debts because of their student loans. “When I started looking ahead at what the future looked like, I didn’t like the path we were on. I had a computer science degree and I didn’t want to sit in a cubicle for the next 45 years,” Tom remembers. Ariana had a zoology degree and there weren’t a lot of jobs available.  But when Tom read the book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, it completely changed his perspective. He decided that he wanted to retire himself and Ariana by the time they were 35. That gave them 14 years. “I figured it was long enough to give us time to figure everything out, but short enough so that we weren’t going to be missing out on life throughout the way.”

Investing in Real Estate

But everytime Tom came up with an idea to make money, Ariana wasn’t on board. “This went on until I heard an ad on the radio about a real estate investment training. I decided to go ahead with it and ended up spending $7,500,” Tom says. He had to put the amount on two credit cards. He did it without telling Ariana. They had gotten married nine months before and were $200,000 in debt. 

“When we were in college, we had this five year plan. Graduate, get a job, buy a house, get married, have kids. That traditional path of life. And at some point, Tom had stepped off the traditional path without telling me,” Ariana says. When he told her about the money he had spent, she felt betrayed. But as much as this wasn’t the way Tom should have gone about starting a career, it forced them to get realigned and have a conversation about how they wanted their lives to look like. 

Tom figured that since he had spent the money, he might as well start investing in real estate. “I did some research and ended up buying our first house. It was run down and we renovated it and sold it at a higher price. We continued to do that over the next few years.” 

Tom and Ariana were able to buy real estate because they entered a low cost market. “I had to partner with my cousin and borrow money to be able to buy our first property. As soon as we sold it, we used the money to buy the next one.” Tom worked together with his father who was an expert in construction and renovation. They invested the profit they made from selling one house into buying the next one. “The average deal was that we would buy a property for $20,000, we would put in $20,000 for renovations. We sold it at $55’000 and had $15’000 to buy another property.” 

Every time they bought another house, Tom asked himself what system he could put in place to generate more money. He started thinking of a process and put a team in place. “It started working so well that I didn’t even walk into the last properties we bought.” 

The Freedom Number

But Tom wanted to bet on more than just one horse. His dad had once owned a liquor and wine store and he loved the idea of opening an own store. “We found an empty commercial building and purchased it through our real estate business.” At the same time, Ariana was pregnant with their first child. “We had a lot of time to set up the store properly because it took nine months to get the liquor license. We learned a lot in the process and we were lucky to be able to lean on Tom’s dad with his experience,” she remembers. 

Tom and Ariana were aware that from the outside, their lives and business decisions seem random. But their goal still stood: They wanted to retire by 35 and knew exactly how much money they needed to do it. “We would look for opportunities to increase our cashflow every month. I calculated the numbers for the store, how much it costs putting a team in place and how much the profit would be,” Tom says. They came up with the freedom number, the amount of money they needed to make per month to allow themselves to leave their jobs at 35. 

“We also looked at our lifestyle and made a few changes to lower that number. We realized that we didn’t need certain things. This is a big challenge for a lot of people: Deflating their lifestyle. But with just a few changes, you can actually gain a lot of years not working,” Tom says. 

Each of their businesses contributing a percentage to the freedom number. And still, Tom didn’t want to wait for the next ten years to be able to leave his job. “I wanted to leave sooner. So business number three came into play.” 

Building the Business that Supports Your Lifestyle

Ariana was pregnant with their second child when Tom decided to go into business consulting. He was working with fortune 500 companies, helping with leadership and planning. “I ended up meeting a lot of entrepreneurs asking how we managed to run multiple businesses and raise two kids.” That’s when Tom and Ariana realized that they could take all the experience they had made from running their businesses and help other entrepreneurs plan their own businesses. “We wanted to help entrepreneurs build the business to support their ideal lifestyle.” 

They had never planned to do this type of business, but as the demand came up and they matched their skills with what people were asking for, it became their natural thing. “We had two kids, Tom started travelling to train as a consultant, we had multiple businesses. A lot of what we developed into our Lifestyle Builders framework comes from these times. It’s about how to do all these things without going crazy,” Ariana explains. 

Becoming a consultant meant that Tom was spending time apart from his family for two years. “But it gave me a ton of experience that allowed us to excel with our third business. We started out doing one on one coaching and once we developed a framework, we created programs and did group coaching. Then, we published a book and started our podcast.” 

It’s Not About Money, It’s About Having the Option to Choose

For Tom and Ariana, it has always been about replacing their income and getting money from their businesses without needing to be there physically. “It worked with the real estate business and also with the liquor store. At first we were working there, then we built a system and a team, and now everything runs according to our process and we have to show up only when we want.” 

When people criticize them about being too focused on money, Tom says that they couldn’t be more wrong: “Even though we’re talking about money a lot, our goal has always been to quit working for a company and be able to only do the things we want to do. When I say retire, it means having the option to choose what I want to do and when.” 

Tom and Ariana achieved their goal. They’re financially free at 35. “It feels good. We actually released our book the day after my 35th birthday, so that was amazing timing too,” Tom says. Now, they work on their own terms, doing what they like to do most: helping other people to figure out what they want their lives to look like, how they want to be spending their time and how they can create a business that allows them to do just that. 

[tweetshareinline tweet=”“The goal is never about money. The goal is what can you do when you don’t have to work for a company.” – Tom Sylvester” username=”sigruncom”]

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Come to Iceland in 2020 for the Selfmade Summit 2020

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