Our journey to Financial Independence

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My Financial Origin Story: Cent by Cent

First I’ve got to clear the air this article was inspired by the Monevator’s article “What’s your financial origin story?” The challenge has been taken up by Sovereign Quest and was an amazing opportunity for some self-reflection.

This introspection is definitely welcome as a thought experiment. Why have I fallen head over heels for personal finance? What motivates me to stick with it and more importantly what was the deciding factor?

Who am I?

My financial Origin Story starts here
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At the time of writing this, I’m a 24-year-old Swiss expat based in London. I won’t divulge my exact net worth but I’m 2 years into my personal finance journey and loving it! By day, I strategize and grow revenue for hotels across Europe as a Cluster Revenue Manager and by night I work on Cent by Cent.

 Now that we know where I am, how about we discover how I got here?

My financial origin story starts in Lausanne Switzerland. Where I grew up in a blue-collar family. My paternal grandfather had started his butchery from scratch in his 30s. My father took over the shop early in my childhood and has been running it ever since.

Lightning struck twice as entrepreneurship ran on both sides of the family. With my maternal grandfather traveling to East Africa and setting up a company there.

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Being raised in not only a multicultural but business-minded environment meant I was exposed to “shop talk” from an early age. As a curious-minded kid, I would butt it and give my very “thoughtful” advice. At least I used to think it was… 

Money was never taboo at our table. My family would discuss investments, financial upswing, and downfalls alike. This candor and openness gave me the bug for good deals. To such an extent that some could see it as cheap. I see it as thrifty.

Every cent has a purpose

From my 11th birthday, the Christmas holidays were spent helping around the shop. The frenzy would go crescendo until the 24th of December. It was complete pandemonium and hard work. 

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Although, some parents would have expected the help and given nothing in return. Mine saw it differently. In their eyes, any job deserves a reward. They taught my sister and me, that every franc had to be earned. Whether it was through chores, work at the shop, or in general.

Your work won’t always pay off but you need to learn the value of each cent.

My father

Growing up I would, of course, spend my money on silly impulses from video games to sodas. Yet all these “blows” to my net worth were a learning step.

I might have spent a little too much money on Steam… But the hours of joy follow me to this day. Say what you will but managing an in-game economy in MMORPGs had a lot to do with my origin story as well.

As I got the university… I was able to find side jobs as a waiter, bar manager, or simply event staff. It was relatively well paid and allowed me to fund my backpacking trips.

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Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

My aim was to discover the world on a budget and on my dime. It led me to 3 continents and unforgettable experiences. When I say budget I mean it… I spent a month in Indonesia for a total cost of $1200 flights included.

Of course, I could have started investing earlier or saving aggressively. But the worthwhile investment in my eyes was to expand my mind and grow my knowledge of the world.

Money isn’t happiness

As I was graduating in 2018, I decided I wanted to leave Switzerland. Although, the cushy salaries were attractive – I could always come back. No departure is definitive but the risk of being locked in a golden prison was too high. I discuss this more in my article “Should I live Abroad? To Leave or Not To Leave”.

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My dream was to work in a strategic role of some capacity. The opportunity to join a brand new graduate program in Revenue Management was perfect. So I packed my bags and flew out to London. On the way there I waved goodbye to Swiss Salaries. 

It was the financial kick in the butt… I was breaking even monthly sometimes saving as much as 10%. But always looking over my shoulder raised a red flag. It was time for a change in my financial philosophy. Down the rabbit hole of Personal Finance, I went. 

It started with Graham Stephan on YouTube, which led a couple of years later to starting Cent by Cent. 

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Throughout the first 18 months of my contract, I managed to settle my savings at 10% monthly. My Net Worth wasn’t going leaps and bounds but at least, I built my Emergency Fund. A safety net of 4.5 months of expenses saved up in case hard times hit! 

2020 the game changer

And oh boy did they… As 2020 came around I was promoted and saw a salary increase of 50%. A game-changer I would be able to save and invest almost 50% of my salary! 

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The only problem? My flatmate left leaving with a full rent to pay. I could have found a replacement right? Well… COVID-19 hit and no one was going anywhere. I quickly found myself on furlough and having my income match my expenses. 

For almost 6 months, my current account would show £100 before needing to reach into my emergency fund. I can’t tell you how happy I was to have my emergency fund. On the other hand, it was an amazing opportunity to review my expenses and learn to live a more frugal lifestyle. 

I realized that I miss very little. The opportunity to fly home once in a while, pay rent now that I moved in with my lovely girlfriend, and put food on the table. Those are the true essentials! Thankfully since October, I’ve returned to full-time employment. Since then I can proudly say that I’ve consistently been saving 40+% of my income. 

Where am I now?

I’ll be turning 25 in June… and although Financial Independence is a long way. The journey has been thrilling so far. Most of my investments sit with Vanguard in different ETFs and grow monthly. As I look to the future, I draw inspiration from practical guides and build my plans accordingly

It might take me more than 10 years to achieve Financial Independence but articles like “How To Become Financially Independent in 10 Years” are a source of practical inspiration.

Cent by Cent is yet to generate revenue but allows me to share what I’ve learnt so far. My net worth grows more every month and keeps me focused on my goal! Personal Finance might be personal but it’s a team effort. By working together and sharing our tips and tricks we all move forward. 

What is your Personal Finance Story? How far along of the journey are you?


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  1. Dear Lionel,
    Thanks for sharing your financial origin story here on your blog! A very nice article and it got me thinking about my origins as well once again. I’ve had a highly interesting family constellation as well so to say… had much to learn from my ancestors who were engaged in many entrepreneurial stuff themselves. I might want to write an article on this topic as well! Cheers and 2021 will get even better than 2020!!! Onwards you grow!!!

    • Thank you for your comment Matt!

      The article almost wrote itself as I got to thinking. I would love to hear how the stars aligned and how you feel about your financial origin!

  2. Hey – loving reading all the different financial origin stories. Thanks for taking the time to share yours, great read.

    I did smile at the love of a good bargain/deal – even though I’m happily FIRE’d now I’m still the same. Especially when it comes to travel – it always surprises people like your trip to Indonesia how travel doesn’t have to be expensive.

    Good luck for your journey – sound like you are in great shape!

    • Hi Michelle! Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

      I have a feeling that even once I reach FI I will keep looking for the best bargains.
      Feel free to check back in regularly as I continue on my journey would love to have you along for the ride!

  3. Sorry it’s taken me so long to sign up. Looking forward to further content Lionel 🙌

  4. BR

    I love reading this, thanks for sharing

  5. Lionel,

    This is a great origin story., This is a great place to start off at a young age. Knowing that your family always talked about money was a great way to grow up. Each cent does matter. Oftentimes, we learn from our family on how to deal with money, and it seems that your family has done a great job in teaching you the value of work and money.

    You are right, personal finance may be personal, but with help in a team effort we can all guide each other, help each other, and motivate each other to do better and achieve our dreams. I can’t wait to see what is next.

    • Hi Steve, strong families definitely give you a head start. Yet it isn’t the end of it all! It is up to us to build and grow further.

      Let’s work together to ensure we achieve our goals!

  6. Kat

    Great origin story! It’s so funny that we grew up within 30 minutes’ driving distance of each other and both ended up living and working in London. Yet, our stories are still very different.
    I love how early on in life you started to work on FI. With your high savings rate, you’ll be in an amazing place by the time you’re in your 30s. Congrats!

  7. Malcolm

    Keep it frugal and have your children while you are young and fit
    They are expensive but worth it -two probably enough
    Not something money can buy
    When you and your girl resurface as the kids get to school especially as the possibility of two salaries reappears -saving cash becomes possible again
    From a 74 retiree-3 kids-8 grand kids -best thing we ever did

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