My wife and I retired early at the ages of 35 and 34, respectively, after following a few basic money principles. But, here’s the thing: this isn’t a “get rich quick” scheme. Nor am I promising that anyone can retire at 35.
But, I do believe that almost anyone can retire early. It takes drive and dedication. Earning big salaries help, but that’s also not strictly required. You can do it…if you want it bad enough, and it all starts with knowing how to build wealth.
5 Secrets to Money Only The Rich Know
Secret #1: There are no “secrets”
I have good news and bad news. First, the good news – I’m totally serious when I say that there are no secrets to getting rich and building massive wealth. No tricks. No hidden manuscript somewhere that only rich people have access to. There isn’t a handshake or secret passphrase, either. This isn’t some super-exclusive cigar club. Thankfully, all this stuff is out there and ready to be consumed.
The bad news? Our education system does a horrible job at teaching even the basics of personal finance and building wealth. Or the stock market, compound interest, budgeting and investments. A great many of us have a ton of potential to build serious wealth, but we just aren’t exposed to how it all works.
It’s not a secret, but it’s not well-taught, either.
I learned the basics of investments from my dad at a very early age. In my teens, he bought me a book by The Motley Fool about how investments work. You know, things like 401ks, Roth IRAs, money market accounts, brokerage accounts and how money builds (read: compounds) over time into huge collections of benjamins. I may not have completely absorbed every word at the time, but the lessons were invaluable.
Sadly, I learned none of that in school. The advanced placement calculus classes were great (I guess), but they do little to prepare us for the world and how things actually work.
Secret #2: Building wealth requires risk
Your money won’t grow [fast] unless it’s put at risk. Stock-piling your hard earned money in a bank is a one-way street to being poor. Why? The power of inflation, over time, meticulously eats away at the spending power of your money. Most banks don’t offer interest that matches the rate of inflation. Ultimately, this means that you’re losing money each and every year.
According to Statista, inflation is projected to eat between 2% and 3% of your money each and every year through 2022. This means $1,000,000 in a traditional bank loses $20,000 to $30,000 in spending power every year. Not good!
Stashing your money in a bank account might provide very little risk, but your money also won’t build like it would if invested.
In general, building wealth requires risk. These risks include starting businesses, investing in real estate or in the stock market. While there is a potential to lose money, there is also a potential to gain a considerable amount of wealth. Short of winning the lottery or getting a large inheritance, smart investments get people rich.
I am a huge fan of maxing out your retirement contributions at work. Your 401k will lower your taxable income, and Roth IRAs will enable tax-free withdrawals when you’re no longer working. Paying yourself first and making this automatic sweetens the deal, big time.
Secret #3: Being rich and acting rich are very different
If you read Thomas Stanley’s “The Millionaire Next Door“, you learned that the large majority of rich people (those with considerable wealth, not just big incomes) don’t tend to live in rich neighborhoods, drive nice cars and go out for expensive dinners. Instead, they live like regular people. They hold normal jobs. Drive Jeep Cherokees and Toyota Camrys. Live in [often paid-off] normal homes.
In fact, the majority of millionaires we probably wouldn’t be able to pick out of a line-up! That’s because they aren’t living a flashy lifestyle to make people believe they are rich. Instead, they truly are rich – and more times than not, don’t care what other people think.
What can we learn from this knowledge? Don’t envy people who act rich because, in many cases, they aren’t. They might earn high incomes (and that’s great!), but without a substantial savings mechanism in place, the large majority of their wealth simply disappears. Don’t be fooled by looks, and like we’re taught from a very young age, don’t judge a book by its cover. Spending money like they spend money won’t get you rich.
Secret #4: Getting rich is pretty boring
Think of building wealth like a well-oiled machine. It does its thing while you do yours. Really, it’s that simple. Getting rich takes time – sometimes, a LOT of time. But during that time, our good habits make this whole “getting rich” thing something we begin to do naturally. Even the lowest incomes add up into big retirements over time.
There is nothing particularly exciting about the process of building wealth and saving money. In fact, it’s downright boring. We aren’t driving around in $100,000 cars and buying expensive stuff to make ourselves feel rich. Instead, we’re driving our 2007 Toyota Corolla because it still gets us from Point A to Point B just as effectively as that $100,000 ride. We take calls on our two or three year old phones rather than the very latest in expensive cellular technology. We begin thinking in terms of value rather than price.
This isn’t about being “cheap”. This is being frugal.
I don’t think anyone would label “frugality” as exciting! But, that’s okay. Well-oiled machines aren’t exciting. But, they are effective. Meticulous. Close to perfect (though, you don’t have to be anywhere near perfect to get rich!).
Secret #5: Riches might not make you happy
Happiness is one of those feelings that materializes from so much more in our lives than just the money. Money is a component, yes, but it’s just one component of a much wider net that covers things like our relationships, jobs, purpose and meaning in our life. In other words, being rich is great, but it won’t automatically make us happy.
Rich people aren’t always happy, writes Time Magazine. Money tends to complicate our lives. It also makes us more isolated and less likely to socialize with those around us. “Wealth engenders isolation because acquiring more money predisposes people toward keeping their distance—or more simply, they might not need their peers in the same way.”
Depending on the person, isolation could have a devastating effect.
The larger point isn’t to dismiss wealth or argue that it’s “bad”. Rather, my point is to dispel the belief that riches will somehow cover up the portions of our lives that bother us. Money won’t. It may temporarily distract us, but it does not fix human problems.