Everyone, meet my new friend Jerry. He’s a true millionaire next door.

Jerry is a long-time Financial Uproar lurker who I recently met on a trip to Calgary. Like me, he’s accomplished a lot without actually going to university. Jerry started out working as a grunt on construction sites before being offered a job as a plumber’s apprentice. Four years later he had his journeyman status and was making a good wage.

He worked for the same company for a decade before the old owner decided to retire. Unable to find a buyer, he simply shut down the company. Seizing the opportunity, Jerry immediately hired three of his most useful co-workers and started his own plumbing company, knowing he already had a bunch of potential customers. That was in 1998, which was pretty much the best time to start a plumbing company in Calgary.

Nearly 20 years later, Jerry’s plumbing outfit has a half dozen employees and regularly earns Jerry between $100,000 and $150,000 a year. He has a net worth of $2.5 million despite his wife not working for the last 25 years and two kids who “eat too damn much.”

Jerry truly is a millionaire next door, so naturally I had questions. Lots of questions. Fortunately, Jerry was comfortable answering, as long as I didn’t reveal anything too sensitive.

Here are some of Jerry’s best financial tips.

Buy a house


Jerry is a huge fan of owning your own home. Even in today’s overpriced real estate market.

“I understand it’s cheaper to rent today, especially in my neck of the woods” he says, “but when I sign up for a mortgage I know the cost of ownership is going to stay relatively close to the same. Just be smart when buying and you can handle a rate hike.”

Besides, Jerry loves his home for another reason. It gave him an asset to borrow against when he started his plumbing business. He reckons his $50,000 in startup capital is worth at least $250,000 today.

Conservatively value your net worth

Jerry has an interesting way of calculating his net worth. He excludes his house and his business, even though they’re worth about $750,000 combined. Why?

His business is an easy one. He says he basically “bought himself a job” by starting his own company, although he admittedly doesn’t work very hard. He’s the flex employee. If there’s too much work for his existing team, then he goes and helps. He says he’ll be grateful if the business sells for anything when he decides to hang up his wrenches.

As for his house, Jerry figures he needs a place to live anyway. He’ll book the value on his net worth once his high school-aged kids move out for good and he sells. The plan is to downsize to a condo or townhouse partly so “my kids don’t decide to move back in.”

Early inheritances 

Speaking of Jerry’s kids, he has no interest in them making their own way through school. Both have $50,000 waiting for them upon graduation from high school, but with one caveat. They must go to university (or trade school) in Calgary to get it.

The reasoning is simple. “We have world-class schools right here. It makes no sense to leave the city to ‘find yourself’ or other such bullshit. Find yourself on your own dime.”

Jerry also plans to give each of his kids an additional $50,000 when they buy their first home.

I asked Jerry about this parental welfare, and his explanation was simple. He agreed it could lead to a troublesome case where his kids become useless, but he would much rather help them out at the beginning of their career when they could use the money. “It makes no sense to hoard all of my money to my kids when they’re 50 and already well-established.”


Jerry’s portfolio is almost exclusively invested in dividend-paying stocks.

Jerry’s first experience investing wasn’t a good one. I’ll let him tell you the story.

I was 19 or 20 years old with a buddy with a brother who worked for some obscure mining company. I ran into the brother one night at the bar and he told me there was so much gold in this company’s mine they were practically tripping over it. So I immediately threw most of my meager life savings into the stock, which naturally started falling. After losing 80% in a few months I couldn’t take it and cashed out.

Jerry started investing in mutual funds, but decided he’d rather invest himself. He stuck to blue-chip stocks that paid a dividend. He owns between 40 and 50 stocks today, mostly in Canada. Most of his net worth is in stocks. Top holdings include National Bank, Fairfax Financial, Extendicare (partly on my recommendation), and Telus.

Gerry’s goal was always to create an income stream in retirement. He was especially delighted to know the tax bill on these dividends will be virtually nothing.

But Nelson… these tips aren’t that exciting

Perhaps the biggest thing I took away from my conversation with Jerry is there’s no magic bullet needed to become a millionaire next door. He just plugged away at life, made smart decisions, and patiently waited for his net worth to head higher.

As much fun as it is to ask guys like Jerry their secrets, ultimately we already know a lot of them. There’s no secret sauce to becoming a millionaire next door. We all already know the steps. It’s all about execution and staying motivated.

Tell everyone, yo!