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No home runs needed

Teeples’s fortune wasn’t fueled by brilliant strategies or a sizable inheritance. In fact, he says, he had $75,000 in debt at the age of 28, having abandoned an unsatisfying career in the trades and gone back to school for accounting.

That’s when he “got lucky” and landed a well-paying job at Boeing, which allowed him to rapidly pay the debt off.

After that, he avoided bad debt and vowed to live within his means. He also took advantage of Boeing’s 401(k) match program to start investing in dividend stocks. He says a decade of frugal living and dollar-cost averaging allowed him to hit his million-dollar target and quit the corporate world in July 2023.

“I didn’t necessarily do anything spectacular or special,” he told Gutman. “There was never one big home run in my life that got me to the point I am.”

Even his investment plan isn’t extraordinary. Teeples says he doesn’t chase dividend stocks with the highest yield but prefers to look at a stock’s ability to deliver robust total return: a combination of dividend income, dividend growth and price appreciation.

Teeples is convinced his ordinary strategy can help ordinary people attain financial freedom, just like him. That may be true — however, it would also be challenging for an average household to build a potent dividend portfolio as quickly as he has.

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Can an average worker follow suit?

First off, a high-paying white-collar job with benefits was a major tailwind for Teeples. His annual income of $170,000 would put him in the top 10% of American wage earners, according to data published by the Economic Policy Institute.

In 2022, the median male salary was $52,612, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. (For women, it’s much worse at $39,688.)

Obviously, a lower salary makes it more difficult to keep up with the essential cost of living and save a substantial amount of money. Americans are currently saving just 3.8% of their disposable income, according to January figures from the St. Louis Federal Reserve.

However, a worker with a typical salary can still use dividend stocks to accumulate wealth. The ProShares S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats ETF has delivered an annualized rate of 10.50% over the past 10 years. This fund focuses on stocks within the S&P 500 that have hiked dividends for at least 25 consecutive years.

A worker who saves 3.8% of their $52,612 salary could potentially invest $2,000 a year into this ETF. If it delivered the same performance in the future — and yes, past performance is no guarantee of future results — this worker could accumulate $1 million in assets within 40 years.

Forty years is a lot slower than Teeples’s record, but a dual-income household that manages to save more than the average rate could potentially cross this benchmark quicker. So while you might not match his family’s speed, the numbers do validate Teeples’s thesis that you don’t need an extraordinary strategy to achieve extraordinary results.

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Vishesh Raisinghani Freelance Writer

Vishesh Raisinghani is a freelance contributor at MoneyWise. He has been writing about financial markets and economics since 2014 - having covered family offices, private equity, real estate, cryptocurrencies, and tech stocks over that period. His work has appeared in Seeking Alpha, Motley Fool Canada, Motley Fool UK, Mergers & Acquisitions, National Post, Financial Post, and Yahoo Canada.

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