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Self-made millionaire Steve Adcock: Following these 6 financial rules 'will get you rich'

"The good strategy you can stick with is far superior to that great strategy you can't stick with."

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Self-made millionaire Steve Adcock retired from his job as a software developer in 2016, when he was just 35 years old. These days, he blogs about how to achieve financial independence.

Over the years, Adcock has curated lots of tips for building wealth. But last week he streamlined what he's learned into six financial rules that he says "will get you rich."

"I started thinking about all of the pieces that most people put into place to reach financial independence," Adcock tells Grow. "I went down from 20 rules to really just the six most important ones."

Getting rich means different things to different people, Adcock says. "I think lots of people equate a high salary, like making lots of money, to getting rich," he says. "I think there is an element of truth to that. But to me personally, the term 'rich' is synonymous with building wealth."

Other experts agree. Understanding the value of saving is crucial to building wealth, says Ben Carlson, a CFA and the director of institutional asset management at Ritholtz Wealth Management. "I think a lot of people think of being a millionaire as 'I'm going to spend 1 million dollars,'" he says. "But of course a million dollars of wealth created is what you don't spend," says Carlson.

Grow spoke with Adcock about his six rules for getting rich, and asked two wealth advisors who preach similar advice to weigh in.

1. Build a 6+ month emergency fund

If you don't have an emergency savings account, Adcock warns, "you're living at extreme risk." Not only will you be ill-prepared for unexpected expenses such as medical bills or car repairs, but you may also have to resort to a high-interest credit card to pay them, which "kills your ability to build wealth," he says.

Having an emergency savings account is more essential now than ever before, says Marguerita Cheng, a certified financial planner and CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth. "It's so important to have liquid cash, especially now that we've experienced this pandemic and there's still a lot of uncertainty," Cheng says.

Many financial experts advise saving up enough cash to cover 3 to 6 months worth of expenses. Adcock's recommendation is to aim for the top of that range. If that feels overwhelming, "Remember, six months is a goal. You're not going to get to six months overnight," he explains.

To start, Adcock says to open a separate savings account, money market account, or CD, and to avoid using your checking account as an emergency savings fund. "Your main bank account is not your emergency fund, because if you save money there, it's going to be way too easy to spend," he says.

Your main bank account is not your emergency fund, because if you save money there, it's going to be way too easy to spend.
Steve Adcock
self-made millionaire

Setting up monthly automatic transfers of $50 to $100 to an account you don't have easy access to will make this process easier, and over time, "that money is going to consistently add up," Adcock says.

Even smaller amounts can add up quickly. Put aside $38 per biweekly paycheck, and you'll have a $1,000 emergency fund in a year.

2. Invest 20% of your income for the future

Adcock's second rule is to invest 20% of your income for the future. "Alone, salaries don't build wealth. Neither does saving," Adcock tweeted.

By not investing, "you're missing out on a lot of wealth potential," he explains. "You're missing out on compound interest, and you're also letting inflation reduce the spending power of every single dollar that you earn."

When you think about investing for your future, it's not just the money you'll use decades from now for retirement, Carlson says. Instead, think about the different financial goals you want to achieve, like buying a house or saving for a wedding. "Every one of your goals is going to have a different time horizon with it and a different risk profile," Carlson explains.

VIDEO1:0601:06
Suze Orman explains emergency savings

Video by Stephen Parkhurst

Goals-based investing can help keep you motivated, Carlson says. "We always tell people: The good strategy you can stick with is far superior to that great strategy you can't stick with."

As with Adcock's six-month emergency savings rule, consider 20% per paycheck invested a target you may need to work up to achieve. To increase the amount of money you can invest, Carlson suggests closely examining how you are spending your money. Define what areas of spending you want to focus on that really make you happy, says Carlson, "and prioritize those, and then cut back ruthlessly everywhere else."

3. Avoid credit card debt

Adcock says credit card debt is: "addicting, high interest, and tough to eliminate." The stats back up his claim. While many people tackled paying down credit card debt last year, at the end of 2020, the average household credit card balance is still just above $8,000, according to personal-finance site WalletHub. And credit cards are one of the most expensive ways to borrow money, with rates averaging around 16%, according to Creditcards.com.

The good strategy you can stick with is far superior to that great strategy you can't stick with.
Ben Carlson
Director of institutional asset management at Ritholtz Wealth Management

If you can, always pay your credit card balance in full and set reminders to avoid high-interest fees, "which really add up," says Cheng.

Before you tackle building an emergency savings account or investing, pay down high-interest credit card debt first, says Carlson. "The good thing about debt repayment is that if you can build that habit of paying off debt on a periodic basis, then [once you're debt-free], you can immediately shift those debt payments into savings since you're already setting aside that money on a regular basis."

4. Drive your car for as long as possible

Adcock's fourth piece of advice is to drive your car for as long as possible, which he says is "a great way to save thousands."

He tweeted that you should buy quality, "maintain the hell out of it," then drive it until you can't.

Keeping big costs like your living expenses and transportation down is an easy way to move towards financial independence, agrees Carlson: "Wealth is the stuff that you don't see. It's not the big flashy toys or cars, it's the stuff that you know you don't buy."

When choosing your car, pick one that's going to get the best gas mileage, last the longest, and most importantly, keep you safe, Cheng suggests.

With the average monthly loan payment for a new car approaching $600, according to Experian, every month that you don't have an auto loan payment is a month you can put that money toward your other financial goals.

VIDEO4:5704:57
How to avoid common auto loan mistakes

Video by Jason Armesto

5. Ignore your neighbor's buying decisions

To build long-term wealth, stop comparing yourself to others, Adcock says. "Ignore your neighbor's buying decisions. The way I like to put it is, don't keep up with the Joneses, because the Joneses are probably broke."

As an example, Adcock says to imagine your neighbor has a BMW and you know they earn less than you so you go out and buy a BMW as well. "You're effectively letting the buying decisions of somebody else affect your buying decisions irrespective of your financial position," he says. "That comparison is a great way to lose wealth."

Ignoring other people's purchases isn't easy, but it comes with practice. "Going through the process of realizing whether the money that you're spending is actually in your best interest, and in the best interest of your family, over and over and over again, you're slowly going to make that transition from paying attention to what other people spend money on, to ignoring their decisions and really doing what's in your own best interest," Adcock says.

6. Walk often

Adcock's last rule is to walk often. You're probably wondering, "What does walking have to do with building wealth?" he says. "I think I've come up with some of my best ideas when my wife and I used to walk our dogs after work back when we were both working full time."

Walking has so many benefits, and it can really help you reflect and leave behind distractions like your TV and phone, he explains. "I think the more we think, the more we process, the more we reflect, and that is going to set us up to make way better decisions for ourselves, whether that means money or career or lifestyle or whatever," he says.

"Walking, I think, is a great foundation to just let yourself take some time and think about whether the decisions you make are truly right for you or not."

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