This story is part of CNBC Make It’s Millennial Money series, which details how people around the world earn, spend and save their money.
On her walks to school as a child, Lu Wang dreamed about one day being able to afford a car of her very own, so that she would no longer have to schlep through rain, snow and other elements to get where she needed to go.
Wang, now 31, immigrated to the United States from China at age 5, joining her parents who had moved to College Park, Maryland, a few years earlier for better economic opportunities. At that time, her father was a PhD student and her mother worked minimum wage jobs to support the family.
The trio lived in student housing and didn’t have enough money in those early years to afford more than one pair of shoes for Wang each year, nevermind a vehicle to drive her to school.
Lu Wang lives in San Diego, Calif., and earns $157,000 per year as a U.S. Navy dentist.
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She recalls repeatedly falling on a particularly slippery section of pavement near her school, as her classmates drove by her to be dropped off at the front door.
“One day I fell again and I said, ‘I don’t care what it takes, one day I’m going to be in that car somewhere warm,'” Wang tells CNBC Make It.
Now, Wang can afford a car — her Honda cost around $25,000, which she paid off in a single lump sum — and everything else she needs to live comfortably in San Diego, Calif. She earns around $157,000 per year as a dentist in the U.S. Navy, and knows her salary will continue to increase every few years, thanks to the military’s pay scale.
In fact, she’s able to invest so much — over $6,000 a month — that she currently has a net worth of over $750,000 and is on track to retire by her early 40s.
“I’m more than comfortable right now,” she says. “I have everything I want. I have everything I need.”
Building a military career
Wang decided to pursue dentistry after learning about the literal fruits it could provide. As a child, she once went grocery shopping with her landlord, a fellow Chinese-American who also worked as a dentist and was a family friend. She watched in amazement as he filled his cart with whatever foods seemed to strike his fancy, not seeming to take cost into account.
“To me, that was the height of luxury,” Wang says, explaining that she wasn’t allowed to ask her parents for anything when they went food shopping. “He was probably the first example of somebody that I knew that achieved the American dream for himself.”
Lu Wang as a child.
Courtesy of Lu Wang
Always a devoted student, Wang received a full academic scholarship to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where other scholarships and a part-time job paid for her books and living expenses, enabling her to graduate debt-free.
While there, the Navy gave a presentation to the dental association she was …….