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The Only Millennial Millionaires Anyone Likes Anymore

After hustling to achieve financial independence in their twenties, Rhianna and Jon Schoeller now want to give their daughter the childhood they never had.

Nick Wolny Managing Editor
A classically trained French hornist by education, Nick Wolny is a managing editor and journalist at CNET, where he oversees coverage related to consumer spending, consumer tech and personal finance. He is also the finance columnist for Out magazine and a frequent television correspondent. Prior to journalism, Nick owned a content marketing agency, a business he converted into a fractional consultancy upon pivoting his career, and has previously written thought leadership columns for Fast Company, Insider, Entrepreneur Magazine and Fortune. A rural Illinois boy at heart, he's now based in Los Angeles.
Expertise Consumer spending | Consumer tech | Personal finance | Financial independence (FI) movement | LGBTQ+ equity Credentials
  • He was named a "40 under 40" by the Houston Business Journal in 2021.
Nick Wolny
8 min read
Sarah Tew/CNET

Who wants to be a millionaire? These days, just about everyone.

As such, the personal finance advice industry is more crowded than ever before. Aspiring influencers often lead the way with promises of get-rich-quick schemes and self-made financial independence -- the hashtag #StockTok has over 3 billion views on TikTok alone. Most are just out to make a quick buck. For self-made millionaires Rhianna and Jon Schoeller, however, sharing their lessons learned online has a much deeper meaning.

The West Virginia couple retired in their late twenties by working multiple jobs and living on a bare-bones budget for nearly a decade. Then they became foster parents, which "changed everything," according to Rhianna, now aged 33. The couple embrace their unique family dynamics and love of travel on YouTube, where their relatable, unscripted vlogs have quickly attracted over 335,000 subscribers.

Hustle culture often conjures up visions of yacht selfies and a lavish lifestyle. For many proponents of the financial independence, retire early, or FIRE, movement, however, the journey to becoming work-optional means adopting a sometimes brutal budget -- and taking a deeper look at mindsets that dictate your day-to-day money decisions. "We're too extreme for most people," said Jon, 36. 

Here's how one millennial couple became financially independent and used the time freedom to become foster parents, along with tips for how to become a frugal investor yourself.

The couple overcame low-income upbringings

When Rhianna and Jon met in 2008, one common bond they shared was growing up in a low-income family setting. "My frugality was a survival-type thing. I was in foster care as a child, and so was my sister," said Rhianna. "Me and my sister were sharing clothes, buying secondhand, and just trying to save money where we could." Rhianna went to nursing school, and Jon started a moving company.

After finding his financial footing in his early twenties, Jon made his first big-ticket purchase: a brand-new BMW, which came with a $700 monthly payment. "All my friends thought it was the coolest thing in the world, but I worked all day as a mover, so I never drove it," Jon said. Like many millennials, the Schoellers realized what they actually wanted to do was travel, and that their money would be better spent on cultivating experiences together. 

"I had an atlas as a kid, because this was before the internet. I loved it," Rhianna said.

"I had an atlas, too!" Jon said.

"Yes! I would write on it the places I wanted to go," Rhianna said. "But going to Africa might as well have been like going to outer space because that was so farfetched to me [at the time]," Rhianna said. 

Jon ultimately sold his BMW back to the dealership at a $9,000 loss. He said he tells people it was the best investment he'd ever made, because it taught him a lesson and kickstarted his desire to live more frugally. The couple used the freed-up money to begin traveling regularly, taking their first international trip together to Jamaica that same year.

"We went through a travel agency, because we didn't even know you could book trips like that yourself -- that's how little we knew," Jon said. "And there was a poster on the wall with the most beautiful place I'd ever seen, the Maldives." The agent told the Schoellers the Maldives were way out of their budget, which they accepted as a challenge for the future; the couple later eloped in the Maldives in 2013.

"I think it's that we couldn't do all these things when we were younger. Now we're like freebirds, we just want to go everywhere," Jon added.

The hustle hamster wheel

The Schoellers wanted to work, save money and travel, and that's about it. Over the next eight years, Rhianna and Jon worked multiple jobs, lived well below their means, and socked away every extra dollar they had. Oblivious to investing, the couple saved everything in cash, amassing over $350,000 in liquid savings by 2016. It took an explanation of inflation to convince them that investing their savings would help preserve their wealth, said Jon.

"If you grew up in a family that was not financially educated, they will actually scare you out of investing," Jon said. "They don't understand how [market] crashes correct themselves over time. This isn't not a knock on our parents – they weren't taught it, either."

Hustling can itself become an avoidance tactic, and avoidant coping happens often when it comes to personal finance, said Megan Ford, financial therapist and advisor for Stackin, a financial wellness app. "We tend to naturally reach for avoidant coping when something feels overwhelming, out of reach or scary," Ford said. "In our minds, we get so wrapped up in misunderstanding this complex system that we just kind of put it to the side and don't [learn about personal finance] when we should."

The anxiety that comes with avoidant coping can be crippling, but is manageable through intentional action, said Traci Williams, a board-certified psychologist and certified financial therapist. "The thing about anxiety is that it's not only in our head, it's also in our body. If you're starting to feel anxious, addressing the thoughts that are coming up can help," Williams said.

'Retirement is a scam'

Loosening their perspectives around money helped the Schoellers discover investing, real estate and the financial independence movement, which grew their wealth significantly in the years that followed. When Jon had an opportunity to sell his moving company and become work-optional, he pounced -- and discovered he hated not having anything to do.

"Here we were, visiting Hawaii, and I was so depressed," Jon said. "Retirement is a scam. That's the rat race people don't like to talk about." He said he realized he didn't want to retire; he wanted the ability to retire. Despite being financially independent, Jon now works full time in real estate and consulting, Rhianna is a nurse anesthetist and the pair share their work and lives on social media platforms like YouTube.

They decided to cultivate a life with purpose

The couple had talked about having kids, but they weren't beholden to having biological children. "There are a lot of signs around West Virginia advertising that foster families are needed," Rhianna said. Since the couple planned to stay put for at least three years for Rhianna's grad school studies, they decided it was a good time to apply to be foster parents, a process they said took about ten months before being matched with their now-daughter, Tyanna.

Now 4 years old, Tyanna has been to 10 countries and "eight or nine" Caribbean islands so far. The Schoellers have a goal to visit 50 countries and all 50 states before their daughter turns 18, prioritizing sustainable travel options where resorts pay ethical wages.

"Our daughter changed our perspective. I would say we were workaholics, we wanted to fill all our time with working. If we had extra time, we thought it should be spent making money," Rhianna said. "Now that we have our daughter, all we want to do is spend time with her since it's limited."

The Schoellers do all their video editing themselves, and opt for a messier, more relatable video format. "A lot of family vloggers, [their content] is curated, the kids are in matching outfits, nice house, nice cars. It feels scripted," Jon said.

Tips for being a frugal investor

If you haven't started investing yet, you're not alone: More than two in five Americans own no stock at all, according to a recent Gallup poll. Whether you're planning for retirement or just want to grow your savings, the following tips can help you get on track.

Embrace budget reduction

Side hustles get all the attention, but if you can also lean out your budget or choose lower-cost options when traveling, you'll set yourself up to build wealth faster. "When we travel, we don't stay in five-star places," Jon said. "We want to see the place, not live in the hotel."

That being said, if your budget gets so tight that it becomes unsustainable, reallocate willpower toward increasing your income instead to ensure you don't burn out.

Master the basics of saving and investing

Whispers of a looming recession continue to persist. While it can be tempting to keep your money safe by stowing it under the mattress, there are other options that will better protect you from inflation. High-yield savings accounts, Series I savings bonds and exchange-traded funds can help you earn interest on your money with little or no management.

Spend your money on what you want, not what others think is cool

The feeling of belonging is powerful, and we're often tempted to splurge for the sake of acceptance. The Schoellers said their current financial habits and social media presence make them feel like outsiders at times, but are also a form of frugality activism as they unlearn scarcity thought patterns.

"I used to get so anxious in high school about what I was wearing. I didn't like wearing a collared shirt, but everybody else said you needed to wear the collared shirt, so I did. Then it was two collared shirts. Then two collared shirts, with both collars popped. I was like 'I can't keep up, I'm out,'" Jon said. "A lot of what I do today stems from anxiety and discomfort I had in my school years."

"It's like societal rebellion," Rhianna said.

"We've had people be like "Jon and Rihanna, you gotta come with us on this vacation. You literally do nothing, you sit in the lounge chair, and when you're thirsty you push a button and they bring you your drink." I can't do that," Jon said.

"It's too uncomfortable," Rhianna said.

"So uncomfortable," Jon agreed.

"I can get up and get my own drink," Rhianna said.

Save for the future while living your best life in the present

Although the Schoellers are millennial millionaires, you wouldn't know it when you watch them on YouTube. "We come from very humble beginnings, and now anything outside of that feels uncomfortable, because we know what it's like to be the people that service those people," Jon said.

When it comes to retiring early, Rhianna and Jon gave it a try, and said it's just not for them.

"We live a more modest lifestyle, continue to work and then travel a lot," Rhianna said, "and people seem to like to watch that."

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