At 29 years old, I bought a 10,000 square foot mansion for $3.1 million dollars.
6 months later, I wanted to sell it. (Two and half years later, we finally sold it.)
We had this amazing house with two pools, a gym, and a movie theater only 15 minutes from downtown Austin.
But, I wasn’t any happier. Yet, it cost about $20,000 per month including the mortgage, interest, pool maintenance, “landscaping” (you can’t just get the lawn mowed on a 10,000 square foot house apparently), and never-ending repairs of our seven air conditioning units.
(We did have incredible pool parties though.)
What we think will make us happier often doesn’t (like buying a huge house). But, the financial consequences can be massive.
Why I Don’t Buy Bitcoin or GameStop Stock
Most of the time when broke people say they’re “investing” they’re actually gambling.
Recently, GameStop’s stock shot up from around $10-$20 per share to $325.
Millions of people received stimulus checks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, had access to easy trading platforms like Robinhood, and jumped the bandwagon with other gamblers reading online trading forums.
I read about one low-paid service industry worker who took out a $20,000 loan to buy GameStop at $234 only to see 80% of the value wiped out within a few weeks. Now he’s stuck paying the $300 per month payments on that loan out of his low-paying day job’s wages.
To me, Bitcoin speculation is no different. People with zero knowledge of financial management or investing buy Bitcoin and lose their small life savings during inevitable price swings.
What’s going to happen with GameStop or Bitcoin prices in the future? I have no clue.
I do know that 99.9% of people shouldn’t touch either unless you know, for sure, based on past investing history, you have the right temperament to ride out the volatility.
This likely means you’re already worth at least a few million dollars and your speculation in those assets are less than 10% of your total net worth.
You’re still gambling, but at least you’re gambling with less risk.
Why Real Estate is a Bad Investment for Most People
Real estate is a bad idea for most people, but for a different reason.
Proponents of real estate investing love to talk about the cash flow benefits.
“It’s mailbox money! You get real cash coming your way every month!”
This is sometimes true.
If you buy a property in which the cost to pay for the mortgage principle, mortgage interest, property taxes, and maintenance costs are less than what you receive in rent, you can receive positive cash flow.
There are also special tax advantages to real estate such as the depreciation deduction which can further improve your financial returns.
You also own a property with the potential for price appreciation.
Lastly, the most irrational argument in my opinion is it’s a “real” asset you can “see, touch, and feel”. This implies that owning a share of a company such as Amazon is less real, even though you can (and do) touch, feel, and see the Amazon packages arriving at your doorstep every day…
After you factor in the costs, time, and hassle of maintaining investment properties, the returns of real estate don’t seem so great. Maybe you earn a few hundred dollars a month on a highly leveraged property (see the section on zero debt below). Or, if you pay cash to avoid debt, you’re lucky to earn 10% on a highly concentrated investment (not worth it to me).
You also have to deal with renters, homeowner’s associations, and a physical structure that breaks down over time.
This is why almost every personal finance real estate proponent eventually sells their investment properties to “simplify” their lives.
You also have no diversification. If your total net worth is $1,000,000 and you buy three investment properties in your hometown, which is exactly what I did early on, your entire net worth is tied up in one asset type, one city, one state, and one market.
If the city experiences a downswing, schools are rezoned making your property less valuable (like what happened to our multi-million dollar home), or something else, you can experience a significant, permanent reduction in the value of those investments.
We made money selling our investment properties. But, we lost much more on the sale of our large home. $600,000 gone. In the long-term, moving was the right decision, but I’d prefer to still have the $600,000…
The biggest reason I don’t like real estate investing is the lack of liquidity. If I want out of the investment, I have to get rid of the renters (hard to do), hire a real estate agent to sell the house (expensive), list the house for sale (time-consuming), and sell the house, paying all the associated costs (also expensive).
Unless you want to build a real estate investing business and spend a significant amount of your time managing it like a real business, then I recommend you avoid investing in real estate.
The 4% Rule: Never Have to Work Again
There’s a concept in personal finance popularized years ago called the 4% rule. If you can live off 4% of your investments in a 50/50 stock/bond portfolio, you can live off that fixed pool of money for a long time (30+ years, if not indefinitely).
For example, if you have a million dollars saved, half in stocks, half in Treasury bonds, as long as you don’t spend more than $40,000 per year (4%) you never have to make another dime for likely the rest of your life.
While the details are debated, the message is clear: If you save enough money and live off a conservative amount relative to your savings, you can be financially free for life.
Warren Buffet advocates a 90% stock, 10% short-term government bonds portfolio for people who aren’t full-time investors (nearly all of us).
Almost anyone trying to convince you of something wildly different is likely trying to sell you something.
My personal belief is to make my investments as boring as possible because my income (small business ownership) is already “exciting” (aka, risky).
So I invest almost all of my savings into S&P 500 index funds such as Vanguard’s VOO and VFIAX.
I make extra money, a large portion goes into more index funds. That’s the entire strategy.
However, there is one caveat to this simple investment plan…
Don’t Try to Time the Stock Market (You’ll Lose)
No matter what, don’t try to time the stock market unless you’re a full-time investor (meaning you spend 8-10 hours a day, 5 days a week investing and don’t have another job).
Even then, you’ll likely lose.
Instead, leave the money invested.
Stock market tanks by 30%? Doesn’t matter. Don’t touch it.
A new stock your friend tells about flies up 200%? Doesn’t matter. Don’t touch it.
In the long-term, everything will work out OK. In the short-term, you can permanently wipe out a significant portion of your life savings with the click of a button.
“But, I Don’t Want to Wait 40 Years to Be Wealthy!” Neither Did I.
If you don’t make a lot of money now (at least multiple 6-figures), it will take decades to build significant wealth to increase your lifestyle freedom.
Some people live off 20-40% of their income, build a nest egg of $1-2 million dollars, and retire.
That wasn’t my path.
No way was I going to wait decades to become a millionaire, travel first class, go on nice vacations, and buy the stuff I thought would make me happier.
How to Make More Money (4 Opportunities)
First, start a business.
You can start a business with $0 creating content (such as a blog on a topic you’re interested in or writing for other businesses).
You can also spend a few thousand dollars and launch an ecommerce business. If you’re interested, you can check out our Amazing Selling Machine program which shows you our model for ecommerce success.
There are a ton of resources online for business ideas to start. The most important thing is to jump in and give whatever you find a try.
Equally as important, however, is reducing your risk.
There’s a good chance whatever you try first won’t work. So don’t risk all your money on your first business.
I’d recommend not risking more than 10-20% of your total savings on any new business.
If you only have a few thousand dollars in savings, start a business that requires time, but little to no money (such as content writing).
If you have $100,000 or more in savings, I think you can comfortably risk $10K-$20K to launch a business as long as you’re committed to making it successful and learning from the process.
Do this a few times and your likelihood of creating a profitable business is quite high in my opinion.
A second way to make more money is to ask for a raise. More specifically, ask to get paid for what you produce.
If you make $70,000 a year at a job and can find a way to make your company $300,000 (on top of your normal responsibilities), they’d be crazy not to pay you at least $50,000 more than what you’re making now.
You may have to prove your ability to produce over time, but if you can consistently make (or save) the company you work for lots of money, one of two things will happen: (1) they will pay you more or (2) one of their competitors will.
What is less likely to work is asking for a raise for no reason.
Every employee wants to make more for doing less, every business owner wants to pay employees less for doing more.
So you have to make it a win-win.
Third, become more valuable.
Ask a few business owners, especially in hot, fast-growing markets (like ecommerce) what job is hardest for them to find great people to do, then learn it.
For example, finding really good conversion rate specialists who can increase the performance of landing pages and sales funnels is hard for most ecommerce businesses.
You either get overpriced agencies or marketers who don’t know what they’re doing.
Fortunately, there are thousands of blogs, tons of books, lots of courses, and thousands of videos you can go through to learn this exact skill.
Fourth, sell stuff (yes, your stuff).
If you own a boat, a motorcycle, a second home, or more than one gun (I’m talking to you, Texans), and you don’t have at least a million dollars in savings, start selling.
First, you get the cash from the sale of those items.
Second, you now need less space to store all your stuff. If you pay for a storage unit, you can cancel it and save that money. If you store the stuff in your house or apartment, you can downsize.
At one point, I thought I wanted to be Jason Bourne.
I took shooting classes, learned evasive driving, took knife fighting classes, did years of Krav Maga, and even learned to fly a helicopter.
I also learned to shoot a target the size of a grapefruit at 1,000 yards with a sniper rifle.
Later, when I realized I was in-fact not going to become Jason Bourne, I still had a $7,000 sniper rifle sitting in my closet collecting dust.
My Texan friends and family thought I was crazy when I sold it online and pocketed the $4,000 in cash.
But when the heck was I going to use it? I had to drive an hour to the range to shoot it and for what? It took time, money in ammo, and pulled me away from more important, more meaningful pursuits.
But the expensive rifle was sitting there unused, so I felt the need to use it. So I sold it. Zero regrets.
As said in the movie Fight Club, “The things you own end up owning you.”
Your stuff takes up space, both physical and mental, and causes you to spend more money and time on storage, maintenance, and shuffling those things around than you might realize.
So get rid of it.
You could immediately end up with an extra $5,000 to $10,000 to invest in a business that might make you a millionaire in a few years.
The Other Side of the Equation: Spending Less
I don’t advocate being a miser, living in a single bedroom apartment with a spouse and two kids, eating ramen noodles, if your financial situation doesn’t require it.
By all means, live well. Live in a house you love. Drive a car you love to drive. Go on nice vacations. Buy great gifts for people you care about.
But make sure you (1) spend less than you make (at least 30% less) and (2) stop spending money on stuff that doesn’t make you happier.
The cost of your house, car, and other things should be in direct proportion to the amount of your wealth. You’re not entitled to the most expensive things in life if you haven’t earned the money to pay for them.
Wait. Delayed gratification is essential in wealth building. (See my comments on zero debt below.)
The book Happy Money goes into quite a bit of detail on how to spend money in a way that improves happiness based on research experiments and studies.
One of the major lessons is that buying stuff doesn’t make you happier. Happiness does not usually increase after buying a new house, for example. You get used to the new place fast.
You’re much better off setting that money aside and buying an experience, such as a vacation to a new place with friends or family. The memories provide long-lasting happiness dividends.
Also, the biggest material purchases such as homes, cars, expensive jewelry, and even new iPhones (50%+ are financed) usually result in debt because they aren’t paid for with cash. So you not only get something that doesn’t make you happier, you end up with higher expenses (debt + maintenance costs of the home/car/etc.) requiring you to keep working harder and longer to bring in more money.
Here are a few ways to spend less so you can free up more cash, reduce debt, and become financially free sooner:
- Downsize your house/apartment (less space = less stuff = more money)
- Sell your car if you don’t absolutely need it
- Cut subscriptions (you don’t need 6 movie streaming options)
- Always ask for a discount on anything over $1,000 (for every Airbnb we rent, we always ask for a discount – we save at least 10% about 75% of the time)
The Justification for Zero Debt
If it wasn’t for my wife, I wouldn’t have a personal credit card.
“But what about the POINTS?!”
In 2001, MIT published the results of a study that showed people will spend up to 100% more when using their credit cards to pay instead of cash.
You may get 1-2% back in points, but you’re spending far more because you’re using a credit card.
If you use a debit card and you have $5,000 in your checking account, you will spend less than if you use a credit card because of the delayed pain of the purchase (paying off the credit card in the future).
I used a debit card for about 10 years, well past when my net worth grew beyond one million dollars.
I finally caved in and started using a low balance limit credit card because my wife agreed to manage it for me. I believe she is one of the 3% or so of the population who is disciplined enough financially to check the credit card every day, carefully manage it, and possibly not overspend. (But this is rare – assume it’s not you.)
If at all possible, I recommend a policy of zero debt. Zero credit card debt. Zero mortgage debt. Zero car debt. Zero debt of any kind.
Yes, I know if you have a mortgage with a 3% interest rate, you can earn more in the stock market over the long-term (around 7.5% adjusted for inflation).
But you’re not a rational, number-crunching robot.
If you knew you had to pay cash for a house because you too believe in zero debt, you will get a smaller house.
A $750,000 house sounds great if you can get a 30-year mortgage for 80% of the price and only pay $3,000 a month.
It doesn’t sound so great if you literally have to come up with $750,000 in cash.
What does sound nice? That $300,000 condo that’s also pretty cool.
The 4.5% spread between what you could earn in the stock market and your 3% mortgage on a $750,000 house means nothing when you compare it to buying a house that’s HALF the cost because you pay cash.
(Note: This isn’t just theory, it’s literally what we did. We went from owning a $3.1 million home with a $2.4 million mortgage to paying cash for a $950,000 house. Life is so much less stressful now because our monthly expenses are almost nothing.)
Plus, your property taxes are lower, your maintenance costs are cheaper, and you have less room for more stuff, saving you even more money!
You’re making more money, spending less, living with zero debt.
How can you speed up your wealth creation, guaranteed?
The Get Rich Quickly-ish Guarantee
The problem with “get rich quick schemes” is the scheme part.
We like the get rich part.
It’s the scheming (usually selling a low quality product or putting a lot of money into an investment with zero chance of success).
First, make more money (see above), spend less money (also see above), and aim to save at least 30% of everything you make.
With that 30%, I recommend putting around 50% in a low-cost index fund (like Vanguard’s VOO or VFIAX).
Even if the savings amount is small at first, this is your fall-back plan. It’s better to have SOME savings so you don’t get desperate with your financial decisions.
If your timeline to become wealthy is 10+ years, then put all of that 30% away in low-cost index funds and never touch it. You’ll be good.
If your timeline is much shorter, take 50% of your savings and put it aside to invest in building a business.
Treat your businesses as bets with a low probability of success, but high potential reward.
If, for example, a business has the potential to make you a million dollars with a 20% likelihood of success, the expected value of your investment is $200,000.
You want a large margin for error (so you wouldn’t invest the whole $200,000 in this case).
If you can try 5 businesses like this with $10,000 per investment ($50,000 total) and learn from each experience, you are highly likely to become significantly wealthier.
The key is to reduce your risk.
Where people go really wrong in small business is they risk their entire savings on a business with a low potential payoff and a low probability of success.
It’s not uncommon for someone to invest their entire life savings, $200,000 for example, along with debt, into a terrible business such as a restaurant.
This is too much risk for too low of a chance of success.
Keep your risk fixed and low. Learn from your mistakes. Keep trying. Talk with others who have done what you want to do. Eventually you will figure it out.
As obvious as it sounds, the key to financial freedom is to spend less than you make.
The problem with this common advice is we don’t like to wait.
Most of us don’t want to wait 30+ years to be wealthy. We want it now.
Great, you can do it.
But, be smart. Save a significant portion of your income (at least 30%).
If you ask someone who makes $20,000 a year how much is enough money, they might say $80,000.
If you ask someone who makes $80,000 a year how much is enough money, they might say $250,000.
And on and on.
No matter how much you make, more sounds like the right amount.
You must learn to desire less than you make.
Only then can you become financially free.
Make more money. Start a business, ask for a raise, become more valuable, or get rid of the stuff cluttering up your life.
Spend less. Downsize. Stop buying stuff that doesn’t make you happy. Live simply. Cut the waste.
Then invest the difference in relatively low-risk investments (over the long-term) like index funds and higher risk, higher return investments like starting a business of your own.
Soon, the amazing effects of compounding pay off and you’ll be free.
Don’t gamble. Don’t buy Bitcoin. Don’t trade stocks. Don’t follow the herd.
Spend less than you make. Invest the difference.
Then use your financial freedom to change the world.
I’m excited to be on the journey with you.
Own a business? Read this to learn how to make more money in less time >>