I will remember December 23, 2016 for the rest of my life. It was my last day at a full-time job.
My wife and I took early retirement at ages 33 and 35, respectively, after accumulating $870,000 in information technology. With the help of the market, our net worth grew to $1 million shortly thereafter.
I wasn’t born rich. We didn’t start our own company. None of us inherited a significant amount of money. We didn’t even have side jobs back then. We’ve accumulated wealth the old-fashioned way – by working hard and making strategic financial moves.
Here are 13 silly simple things I did that helped me escape the rat race after a 14-year career:
1. I ignored the “follow your passion” advice.
Our passions, which tend to be more on the creative side, can’t always foot the bills – our strengths can.
For example, mine is photography. But my strength lies in computer science. In 2004, my starting salary as a software developer was $55,000, and by 2016 I was making well over $100,000. I’m not sure I would have made as much if I had decided to follow my passion.
Combining your hobby with a well-paying, marketable career is possible, but less common than you think. Build a career on what you’re good at.
During my career I have worked with many wealthy people. Instead of being jealous of her, I took notes.
I will never forget Brian, who I worked with after college. He was a few years older than me and drove a six year old Honda Accord. Even though he was a millionaire, he had a cheap Casio watch and didn’t wear designer clothes.
Always the first person in the office, Brian never got involved in office politics and often volunteered for more responsibility. He didn’t come from the money. Instead, he made his fortune by investing and controlling his spending.
If you only hang out with people who like to drink and spend in bars, you will most likely follow the same money-stealing habits.
I upgraded my life by upgrading my friends. I connected with the top performers in the office. I spent extra time with people who were more successful than me. My mission was to build a relationship with them. Her habits rubbed off on me. We motivated each other.
I started making better money decisions and cutting back on alcohol. At work, I routinely worked overtime and asked for raises and promotions—as did the top performers. It worked.
I invested in my employer-sponsored 401(k) and received the 4% corporate bonus, which was free money my employer contributed on my behalf.
Some companies also offer Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) to help employees save money before taxes on qualifying medical expenses like deductibles and medications. The beauty of an HSA is that it acts like a 401(k) later in life. After the age of 65, unused money can be withdrawn for any purpose.
Your full-time job may also provide educational and training opportunities to improve your marketable skills, such as computer programming, accounting, and time management. These skills can be used to earn promotions and raises throughout your career.
Getting a new job is often the easiest way to get a raise, as negotiating a higher salary is a natural part of the process.
Every time I changed companies, I got a 15-20% raise. This goes far beyond the typical 3% cost-of-living increases that many employers offer their employees.
Just be careful not to switch companies too often. Try to stay in each position for at least a year, as some employers don’t hire candidates who change jobs frequently. The hiring and onboarding process is expensive.
I used automatic payroll deductions for my 401(k) and Roth IRAs. I have also used automated bank transfers to deposit funds into my brokerage account. This helped me save money on every paycheck.
I also signed up for automatic bill payment for utilities like electricity, water, and even some credit cards. I never missed a single payment and avoided late fees, interest payments and other penalties.
An unfortunate part of doing something significant is that you get hatred. Sometimes a lot of it.
People will criticize you for spending money differently. You could lose friends if you turn down those weekly happy hours at your local bar. It’s not always easy, but ignoring hate is an essential part of building wealth.
Just because your neighbors bought a brand new car, boat, or house doesn’t mean you have to.
The best way to ignore the Joneses is to focus on your own goals. My wife and I talked about our hopes for the future every night as we walked our dogs around the neighborhood. This has helped keep our goals in mind.
We have not allowed other people’s spending habits to influence ours.
Too often, spouses have different ideas about spending habits, goals, and dreams. If left unchecked, these differences can lead to arguments and other problems in the relationship that keep you from achieving your financial goals.
Healthy relationships depend on open communication with your partner so you can align on goals and what makes you happy.
Talking about our future goals every day kept my wife and I on the same page about what our future should be like and what steps we would take now to achieve it.
Life is about more than just money. Above all, my health comes first. Good health makes you happier and more productive, and also reduces the likelihood of unexpected medical expenses.
In 2007 I was out of shape and unhealthy. I decided to change my lifestyle by eating better and exercising regularly. Over the next two years I lost 70 pounds and got into the best shape of my life.
I am 41 today and continue to weight train daily. This year my wife and I spent $10,000 to build our own home gym on our seven acre property. It was the best money we have ever spent.
Americans are saddled with more than $840 billion in credit card debt. Interest rates are extremely high, making credit card debt the worst of all debt types.
I’ve never paid a single dollar in credit card interest, and I have my father to thank for that. He taught me that credit card debt is not acceptable, even for a month. For many people, credit cards make it too easy to spend money they don’t have. It’s a habit that can quickly spiral out of control.
I use credit cards for convenience. The fraud protection and tacit guarantees that many cards offer their customers make them worthwhile for me, but that’s because I pay my balance off every month. That’s a big reason I was able to retire in my mid-30s.
12. I always said “yes”.
Even if I didn’t know how to do a job I was offered, I always accepted the challenge and figured it out over time.
I remember one Friday in the office when I was called to a meeting with the CEO of the company I worked for. I was nervous going in, but it turned out to be the best career opportunity I’ve ever had.
The organization fired an entire management team over me and they wanted me to be the director of technology information. As a low-level software developer, this giant leap seemed daunting. I had never worked as a manager before and felt totally unprepared for such a big promotion.
My mind told me to say “thank you, but no thanks,” but I accepted anyway. I asked a lot of questions, found mentors, and gained the experience I needed to improve my entire career from that point forward.
At the beginning of my career, I often went to the bar with colleagues. Every trip I spent $70 to $100 for the privilege of drinking. For over a month my cash habit emptied my wallet of $350-$400.
One day I decided to skip the trips. I invested that money instead, and it helped build the $1,000,000 nest egg I built when I was 35.
Keep your spending on alcohol and expensive lattes under control. It’s okay to go out occasionally, but if it becomes a habit, you’re diminishing the quality of your future self by spending more money than you should.
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