I know I’ve done a few retrospective blog posts recently, but 15 years ago today I created this site and wrote my first couple blog posts. At the time I was a young kid with grand plans for the future and trying to learn everything I could about personal finance and investing. I was really inspired by 2 million, All Financial Matters, PF Blueprint and a few other of the first personal finance bloggers, many of whom no longer write or even operate their sites.
I am not sure if it was confidence or naivety, but personal finance to me really was relatively simple and in order to become wealthy it was just basic math. Spend less than you earn, invest the money, and let time keep incrementing the compounding number in the equation and you would be come rich. No crazy skill or luck was needed, just discipline to keep doing simple things for a period of time.
I realized not a lot of people understood this and if some day I was successful in accumulating a lot of wealth people would always assume I was some sort of anomaly that got lucky or was some brilliant investor. To be honest that was probably a big part in why I created this blog. I could document how incredibly simple it was.
Spend less than you earn, invest that money, and wait until you have enough. Anyone has the ability to do this. The less you spend the less time you have to wait. The longer you are willing to wait the less you have to save. The number one factor in the equation is spend less than you earn. Sure waiting 100 years to tap into your savings will have large impacts, but in the scope of life I think it makes sense to cut the time factor down to a more reasonable 10-20 years.
Ironically I view the investment return piece of it to be the least important of the 3 factors in the equation, but this is where most people try to take short cuts and ultimately set themselves up for failure and disappointment. Buy a total stock market index fund. Done end of story.
So all you have to worry about is finding ways to spend less than you earn and then having patience to do nothing other than make regular contributions to your index fund and you will be wealthy. It’s so incredibly simple and yet no one does it.
When I started this blog I posted my retirement nestegg it was $24,616.93. At the beginning of this month just shy of 15 years later my nestegg had grown to $2,477,729.77. That is a gain of over 100x in 15 years. Clearly I must have done something spectacular with loads of risk/luck to achieve that insane amount of wealth. Nope I spent less than I earned, invested it, and let compounding work its magic for 15 years.
Now don’t get me wrong I had a lot of things going for me. The stock market over the last 15 years has been some of the best times in history to be invested and I did make a investments in individual stocks that paid off big, but I also had a lot of things going against me. I had 5 kids, single income, and chose to take lower paying jobs and turn down promotions to be able to spend more time being a dad/husband. I make good money and my company has good benefits, but even then almost all working families with 2 incomes likely surpassed my earnings throughout these 15 years. There is nothing special with my circumstance.
Also 100x growth is amazing and having nearly $2.5M is absolutely mind boggling, but it’s also not necessary. Like if I had half of that amount of money because of lower investment returns I would still be in amazing shape with a big pile of money as a safety net to make a lot of decisions without money being a primary factor. I would still be taking my summers off. I would still be turning down promotions. I would still have everything I needed and more. Just like that number growing to $10M would not materially change my life. I have more than enough to be secure for the rest of my life and make decisions based on their merits and not on the financials. This is true freedom. This is happiness.
1. Spend less than you earn.
2. Invest it in index funds.
3. Wait until you have enough**
4. Enjoy life
** This might be the hardest decision in the sequence. I think we all think we need more than we do and sacrifice other things we truly want for excess over what would truly make us happy. This has been a struggle but please figure out what this is for your situation. It definitely shouldn’t be more than 25x your annual spending and even a figure probably half of that can give you a tremendous amount of freedom and flexibility to make decisions strictly based on happiness and not worrying about financial stressors.