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Looking at people like me, you may become envious. I’ve reached financial independence, which means that I don’t need to have a paycheck to pay my basic bills and perhaps a bit more. You probably wouldn’t know it just by looking at my lifestyle. I drive a 20-year-old car. I live in a modest 2000 square foot house, which is comfortable but not luxurious. I wear a lot of t-shirts, and even the dress clothes I wear to work are off the rack from JC Penney’s. I do a lot of the things you’ll find in the book, The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy If you want to learn what it is really like to be a millionaire, rather than just look like a millionaire, I strongly advise that you read it.
But you will notice that there is a certain calm about me. I’m not worried about when my paycheck comes in. If I don’t get reimbursed immediately for some expense, I don’t worry too much. I continue at my job as always because it is a lot of fun to be a rocket scientist, plus I need something useful to do, but I could get along without it. I’m not the kind to go fishing every day or sit around, watching NetFlix, so I continue to work. Having the additional income from a job will also help me pay for my kid’s college expenses and gives me money that allows me to do more than just survive. But my family do things like go on cruises, take several vacations each year, and give to things like our church and local causes.
How Did I Get Here?
I do worry when I see all kinds of class envy being ginned up by people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. One of the things about wealth is that it tends to be very digital. It isn’t like you have an equal distribution of wealth ranging from being in debt by $100,000 going up to people like the Gates’ and the Bezos’ who have several billion dollars. You have most people, who are in debt by several thousand dollars and therefore have a negative net worth until they are of retirement age when their home equity puts them into the plus column, then you have people like my wife and I who have paid-off homes and stock portfolios that far exceed the value of their homes and cars.
It is pretty easy to look at the delta between us and the typical family and say that it is unfair that we have so much and they have so little. You may say that a good deal of our wealth should be taken from us and given to those other families. But would that really be fair? Our income has been the same or less than that of most of those families who have a negative net worth. The difference is what we have done with the income that we have received and continue to do.
The first thing that we did was to learn to manage our income and stop doing stupid things with money. We got our financial life together, as Erin Lowry says in her book, Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together. We learned to budget and control our spending. We learned how to wait and not buy things on credit. We learned how to get better deals for things, sometimes putting in sweat equity and sometimes by just choosing less expensive options. We took the advice of Dave Ramsey that he puts in his books like The Total Money Makeover and paid off that car that is 20-years-old now and didn’t buy any more cars on payments.
So we weren’t just handed a chestful of cash and given the keys to the secret penthouse. We’ve just made different choices with the money we’ve received. We spent a lot of time having dinners at home while everyone else was going out for most meals. I packed a lot of lunches to eat at my desk instead of ordering out. We’ve done a lot of local driving trips while our co-workers were taking trips overseas. We went to cheaper colleges that were paid for with scholarships and worked our way through college rather than taking out student loans. We’ve made a lot of drip coffee rather than stopping by Starbucks on the way into work.
The money that we have is a result of choices and sacrifices that we’ve made and many others have chosen not to do. Others had at least the same amount of money flow through their hands as we have had, but they used up all of the money they received while we have saved and invested a portion. They’ve decided to eat their cake. Is it fair to then ask us to give up a portion of ours because we’ve decided to save it?
Investing Helped Too
We could have saved up enough money for financial independence, but that would take a long time and require a higher income than I had. To become financially independent in a relatively short period of time, like a couple of decades, it generally takes either starting a business or generating passive income through investments. In our case, we used the power of stock investing.
We used some of that money we were saving by not having car payments and not buying things on credit to make regular investments and build up stock positions. It was a long, slow process, but over time, those stock positions started generating income. We reinvested most of the income since that is the way that you make your net worth grow the fastest. Today we make far more from investments than we do from salaries. Most of it is still reinvested since we really have all we need for now and it is fun to see your income grow so that you can start doing some things generally beyond those with a middle-class income like buying vacation homes and donating wings to libraries, but it definitely adds security and flexibility to our lives.
If you want to do the same, the whole process is provided in detail in my first book, The SmallIvy Book of Investing, Book 1: Investing to Grow Wealthy. That book includes both information on how to invest and how to manage your finances so that you’ll have money to invest. Hopefully, someday I’ll write book two that will go into stock picking. You can also check out The Intelligent Investor: The Definitive Book on Value Investing. A Book of Practical Counsel. This was written by Warren Buffett’s mentor, Benjamin Graham, and is a must-read if you want to learn how to invest.
Don’t Hate me, Join Me
You could sit around and envy people like me, but why would you? Who would that help? Instead, why don’t you join me? I have written the instruction manual on how to become financially independent. I call it, FIREd by Fifty: How to Create the Cash Flow You Need to Retire Early because it will take you about twenty to thirty years to become financially independent. At that point you could choose to retire early, or be like me and continue to work, but do so with great amounts of financial security. This book will tell you how to manage your cash flow to set yourself up to become financially independent.
It will even show you how to determine how much free cash flow you need to create to reach financial independence by a given age. Free cash flow is money left over after you have paid for everything and that you are therefore free to invest to create passive income. Free cash flow is the key to reaching financial independence. If you know how to create it and manage it, you know the secret of becoming wealthy.
So why don’t you come along and join me? Unfortunately, while I can lay out exactly what you need to do to reach financial independence (and have done so in FIREd by Fifty), most people will come up with one excuse or another of why they could never do what was needed. This is why most people spend their lives envious rather than joining the ranks of the wealthy. If you have a can-do attitude and can put all of your excuses aside, I’ve shown you the way. Here’s your chance. Now take it!
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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice. It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.