Talking Money with Tom, the Frugal Gay

We’re convinced that when people share their money stories and dive into the emotional side of personal finance that’s a good thing. And that’s why we started our Talking Money series, to make room for others to share their stories. We’re all unique but we can always learn something new about money and life from others!

Everyone, meet Tom! He’s the 39 year old guy known as the Frugal Gay, who reached financial independence through a reselling side hustle and lots of real estate investing. Tom has already purchased 21 doors and retired from his 9-5 job, and now he’s sharing what he’s learned with others through his website and social media. We’re inspired by Tom and we know you’ll find something encouraging in his money story…

1. What were your childhood money experiences? Did you learn useful money lessons from your family?

My family was secure but frugal and I definitely knew what a budget was as a kid. I remember grocery shopping with my Mom once when we had only $23 to spend on food. I learned very early on if I wanted something I’d have to work for it. I also remember my siblings and I each having an allowance of around $3-5 each week and usually a few of those dollars went into my savings. With the rest I could go up to the pharmacy and buy 25 cent garbage pail kids cards.

I had both sets of grandparents growing up. Both were also secure but frugal. On my Dad’s side my grandma would occasionally take me out to get a Jr. Frosty, which was a huge thing for me. A frosty was a treat that I truly loved but it wouldn’t happen often. On my Mom’s side my grandma bought me savings bonds anytime she could, which started as early as I can remember. And she could sew so she would always fix my clothing so we could get every ounce of life out of our things.

2. What have you learned about financial obstacles faced by Queer people? What kinds of money experiences have you had as a gay man?

I’ve witnessed in the community that lots of queer people work in tipped positions and just simply don’t know how or what to do with money. As gay men 👬 my husband and I have had a few bad one-off experiences, like one seller of a home seemed to get upset at key turnover that we weren’t roommates but were actually married, but the papers were signed already so there was nothing he could do. We also had a mobile notary once who clearly did not want to sign our paperwork when he found out I had a husband instead of a wife, so we got another notary to work with that same evening.

When I get applications on properties I own from other queer people who are having financial troubles I’ll point them in the direction I’d go if I had credit issues, though I’ve always done that with all applicants regardless of whether they are gay or straight. Recently I had one applicant with money and work credit issues who couldn’t get a rental application approved because their credit was in the 500’s and they had 3 student loans in default, and I ended up approving them anyway with an extra month of rent paid early. Then I pointed them in the direction I’d go myself so they could start improving their credit.

3. How do you feel about money at this point in your life? Have your feelings about money changed since you quit your 9-5 job?

Money is a love-hate thing for me. Last month was the first time I was in the red since I left my job. I was negative $400 because I’m remodeling a house in Ohio and needed to send a few thousand of my cash cushion to that house.

At this point I’m frugal, but comfortable. We are also currently working on building my husband’s wealth. Technically he has 2 doors and will work towards a goal of getting 10 of his own doors. When he bought his first door a few years ago it clicked for him and now he sees that building wealth with real estate is possible and beneficial.

4. What kinds of experiences have you had with debt?

I didn’t understand that student loans were a thing when I was in school so I worked and saved and paid for college as I went. And I worked at the Gap and got some tuition reimbursement from my job so it was a win-win, I looked good and went to school debt free. 😃

We didn’t have any wedding debt. We saved for our wedding, which cost $11k, and paid for it with cash. But I was $17k in debt back in 2008, so I worked at Ross for 1 full year and paid off all that debt so I could focus on buying more real estate. I make sure to keep my real estate debts really low, and I only have 2 mortgages on the 21 doors I own. I know lots of people think what I’m doing is crazy but I stick to my comfort level.

5. What’s your market investing style, and what kinds of accounts do you have?

I have a brokerage account with individual stocks. My original GPS stock from when I worked for the Gap was cashed in when I was 21, and I used that money as the down payment on my 1st duplex. But I still hold GPS and several other individual stocks. I own a few ETF’s and crypto also. I have a Roth IRA and I use Masterworks to buy shares of fine art in my Roth. I also have a 401k and a traditional IRA.

6. What do the FIRE movement and financial independence concepts mean to you? Do any of these concepts inspire you, or frustrate you?

Some people in the FIRE movement love to say I’m not retired but I disagree. I own my time. I fill my calendar with things that matter to me. I don’t work nights or weekends. I do work on the Frugal Gay blog and do some coaching, which are my own personal projects. I also do reselling in Ebay and I help work on my rentals, especially when I buy a new one. At this point I am Barista FIRE, and my husband’s job supplies us with health insurance and other benefits.

7. What kinds of jobs did you have before quitting your 9-5?

I worked at a deli and also for the Gap when I was in high school. Then I worked for a tiny blip at Target. And then I worked at a Leather Bar. I also had the job at Ross for 1 year just to pay off debts. After that I got a general manager position at a movie theater and stayed there for almost 16 years. I made $32k per year when I started at the theater and $78k the year I quit.

8. What kinds of projects and big ideas are you focused on now through the Frugal Gay?

After attending FinCon this year I’m ready to scale back on how I’m doing some things so I can pivot to what makes more sense and cents for me personally. I led 7 coaching sessions today, and it was draining. It’s hard to help everyone. Building a course is a next step I want to take, and I’m also considering getting into podcasting.

I have another big goal I’m working towards since I bought a large old west end property in Toledo, which is currently a short term rental. I hope to transition that property over to an LGBTQ hospice at some point. That’s a long term goal I’ll be working on as much as I can. 

9. How did you get into reselling, and how did that side hustle help you reach financial independence?

I got into reselling out of necessity when I was in college because I didn’t have money for books. My first reselling project happened when I bought a shopping cart full of $1.50 Diesel purses. Reselling those purses helped me buy books and pay for the rest of my college tuition. Back then I made a very average salary working at the theater. If I hadn’t started my reselling side hustle I wouldn’t have been able to purchase the real estate properties I now own.

10. Describe your real estate investing strategy and how you got started.

I bought my 1st door when I was just 21 years old by selling stocks for the downpayment. And this has been a big year for me since I bought another 5 properties this year in 2022, including 4 that were cash purchases. I now own 21 doors, mostly on my own without partners. I have 14 doors in Toledo, Ohio and 7 doors in Dallas, Texas. My two locations are a great balance since I’ve learned that Dallas has little cash flow but tons of appreciation, and that Toledo has great cash flow but very little appreciation. So I have a mix of the best of both worlds.

11. How do you treat money in your marriage? What have you combined or kept separate?

We have some joint and some separate accounts and we just kind of assign bills as they come in, which means we combine bills and money as necessary. We both feel strongly about avoiding debt, driving cars that are paid off, and so on. And we keep our business accounts separate. 

12. How often do you and your husband talk about money? Do you also talk to friends and family about money?

Money talks happen almost daily with my husband, and I’m more frugal than him. I talk to anyone I can about money, whenever I can. For example I attended a family funeral in July and I connected with a cousin there and the subject of money came up. Those conversations about money have continued and now we are working together to dig my cousin out of debt.

13. What are your personal money goals at this point in your life? 

My main personal finance goal is just to let my money continue to grow, meaning stocks and also real estate. And most importantly I want to make sure the green months outweigh the red ones. Right now I’m generating income from reselling on Ebay, rent from my properties, dividends from my market investments, and also earning coaching income from The Frugal Gay. My other personal long term goal is to create the LGBTQ hospice in Toledo.

14. What kinds of activities or hobbies do you love? How do your favorite activities impact your spending?

We have season tickets at the theater to see musicals and my husband and I enjoy that as a regular outing together. Most nights we just hang out at home with our pups Woodie and Aldi. But we also save for 2-3 budget friendly trips each year, usually to places like Mexico or Oklahoma, nothing too crazy or expensive.

15. Last question – what are you most excited about right now? 

Having just come back from FinCon I’m excited about reworking my business. I’m also just excited with the growth the Frugal Gay has experienced this year. And I’m excited about my plan for getting 3 of my new properties in Ohio rented. I bought 4 doors this year in Ohio, though only one is rented so far and another one will be rent ready by end of this month so I still have 2 more new properties to tackle by end of year. 

I’m also really excited about a trip we have coming up early next year when we’re traveling to Spain 🇪🇸.  We’ll spend 2 weeks there and meetup with my husband’s family as well. We’ve both been to Spain before but this is our first trip to Spain together.

That’s it for now! We’re excited to include Tom in our Talking Money series because his personal finance strategy and all of his accomplishments impress us. We also want to share Tom’s tips for success through reselling and real estate investing so be sure to check out his website, the Frugal Gay. Thank you for reading Tom’s story, we’re all looking forward to your comments!

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