Self-made millionaire Steve Adcock was able to retire at 35 and start traveling across the country in an RV with his wife, and he believes that spending wisely was a key part of being able to become financially independent. "When I think about building wealth," he recently wrote for Grow, "it helps me to see it as an equation: "Wealth = Income + Investments – Lifestyle."
It might take a while before you can increase your income or learn how to invest, but changes to your lifestyle can be easier to implement.
According to Adcock, "financial independence is simple." Following these spending habits can help.
"One of the best ways to determine what's important is to take stock of what you have," Adcock tells Grow. "All those clothes, or trinkets, or computing equipment, or car parts, etc. It becomes one of our 'junk piles.'"
The goal of this exercise isn't just a Marie Kondo-style declutter. It's meant to make you witness the consequences of past spending habits with your own eyes. "When we take the time to look at everything that we own, we instantly begin to understand what things truly matter and what things don't," says Adcock.
Of course, there's a vast gray area between "need" and "want." For example, most people would agree that you need sets of nice-looking clothes for the office or for a job interview. What's hard is deciding how much to spend on that kind of "need."
"Unfortunately, a lot of our society judges books by their cover," Adcock says. So spending extra on clothes "is legitimate if you believe that wearing nicer clothing can influence your success. For example, a lawyer will probably impress more potential clients with a $150 dress shirt than he or she would with a $15 polo or top."
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Curbing your spending doesn't mean you can't treat yourself. It's good to spend on things that bring you joy, as long as you make sure you can afford them. Here are some expenditures Adcock and his wife think are worth paying for.
- Happy hour. "This is a time when my wife and I escape our computers and cellphones and have a drink together. It's important for both of us, so the spending we do on beer, wine, and other alcohol is money well-spent."
- Takeout meals. "We enjoy supporting local restaurants, even during Covid. Getting takeout once or twice a week makes us happy."
- Education. "We are OK spending money on ebooks, courses, and training material (ie: MasterClass, etc.) because my wife and I both enjoy the learning process."
- Fitness. "We have a home gym and a membership to a nationwide gym that we use to stay healthy and fit."
It's important not to feel too guilty about indulging in what's important to you. If regular workouts help boost your mood or think better for your job, a treadmill might not be an unnecessary indulgence. Just make sure to stay within budget.
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"There is a lot of common 'wisdom' out there that I believe to be inaccurate at best, and downright wrong at worst," Adcock says. A key example: the idea that credit cards are bad. "If properly managed, credit cards offer a wealth of benefits, including travel perks, cash back, warranties, fraud protection, etc."
Another myth, he says, is you can't get wealthy with a 9-to-5 job. "This is nonsense," he says, pointing out that this is precisely what he did. "It's true that you probably won't build an eight-figure portfolio working 9 to 5, but that doesn't mean one can't build enough wealth to retire happy with their 9-to-5."
Adcock also recommends ignoring the idea that you should "follow your passion," also sometimes expressed as, "love what you do and the rest will follow."
"I believe in following your strength, not your passion," he says. "It can be a mistake to rely on your passion to earn a living, because it may no longer be your passion at that point."
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The practice of spending money so as not to feel lesser than our peers is nothing new. According to American lore, there was a real Jones family, a wealthy clan that lived in Rhinebeck, New York, during the 19th century, that inspired the expression "keeping up with the Joneses."
Just don't do it, says Adcock. "Your neighbor won't be paying your monthly car bill. You will. Your neighbor's credit score won't be hurt if you miss a payment. Yours will."
Curtailing spending can mean cultivating discipline, self-knowledge, and decent organizational and planning skills. What may be the most important of all, though, is the ability to be honest with yourself and keep reassessing whether your habits are getting you closer to, or further from your money goals.
"Keep doing those things that are truly working," says Adcock. "Ditch things that are not."
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