Step 1: Be frugal

I love this brilliant SNL video (link). If I could improve upon this brilliant video at all, I’d say the path to wealth accumulation not only to “not buy stuff you can’t afford” but also to “not buy stuff you CAN afford.”

Frugality is the most important factor in accumulating wealth, not income. No matter how much you earn, you can always spend more of it. However, if you’re frugal you can save on pretty much any level of income.

When my family of 7 was making $25-$30k during graduate school, we still managed so save well over $10k per year. Now that we make substantially more, we continue to live like we’re poor college students.

Why do we do this? Because we’re happy living on nothing. This, by far, is our most valuable asset. If I could give anyone any advice it would be to learn to be happy with less. Resources like The Minimalists and this Anti-Clutter Book make a compelling point that we’ll actually be happier with less stuff.

I think that most of us underestimate what goes into generating $1 of consumption – let’s say a candy bar. In order to buy the candy bar, I need to have $1.08 in cash if the sales tax is 8% in my state. In order to have $1.08 in cash, I need to have earned well more than $1.08 due to federal, state, and payroll taxes. If my federal income tax rate is 20%, my state income tax rate is 5%, and my payroll tax rate is 7.6%, my combined tax rate is 32.6%. Thus, in order to buy a $1 candy bar, I need to generate $1.60 in pre-tax income (1*(1+8%) / (1-(20%+5%+7.6%))).

Reducing your expenditures by $1 will increase your net worth by $1, which is the same increase in net worth generated by earning an extra $1.60 in income. Likewise, if you can decrease your expenditures by $10,000, you will be just as rich as if you had earned an extra $16,000.

Frugality is multiplicative. Reducing your expenditures has substantially more effect on your net worth than changing your income the equivalent amount.

Permanently reducing recurring expenditures is the best way to generate lasting wealth. Recurring expenses include rent/mortgage, car expenses, insurance, cell phones, TV service, groceries, etc. If you can optimize these recurring expenses, you will be well on your path to wealth accumulation.

Most people unsuccessfully chase wealth by aspiring to higher paying jobs. Unfortunately, high taxes, lifestyle creep, and high stress accompany higher paying jobs leaving the individual with an ulcer and no increase in wealth.

Here’s a brief summary of what our family does to save money (and thus accumulate wealth), in a roughly decreasing order of importance:

  • Live in a low cost of living area
  • Avoid debt like the plague
  • Be tax savvy (more on that in Step 2: Minimize your tax burden)
  • Shop at Costco/Sams/Amazon almost exclusively
  • Live close to work
  • Bike to work
  • Eat at home for pretty much every meal (Very rarely do we go to restaurants)
  • Avoid cell phone plans (We do free cell phones + google voice + OBI for free VOIP home phones. More info: https://frugalprofessor.com/phones/)
  • Go without cable TV
  • Self-insure with high deductible plans for car, health, and home
  • Get 2% cash back on every credit card purchase
  • Use $15/month 2mbps internet through TWC
  • Stash unused cash in money market funds

Here’s a related post if you want more ideas on how to save money: https://frugalprofessor.com/frugal-analogs/

Most people find budgeting to be a useful tool. Since I don’t like to spend money, budgeting has never been necessary for me. Nonetheless, we’ll be sharing our monthly expenditures to show how dumb-simple this is.

Links to other steps in series:

 

Disclaimer:
This site is for entertainment purposes only, as disclosed here: https://frugalprofessor.com/disclaimers/

Start Here – The recipe for wealth accumulation

**** I wrote the below series of posts three years ago. I think all three posts are now much better summarized by this “book” that I started last year (but haven’t finished). You may download the ~60 page draft pdf here. ***

 

Given how taboo talking about money is, many of us are financially illiterate – we have no idea how to save, how to invest, etc. This illiteracy is problematic and needs to change.

My own financial illiteracy was evident when I was hired as an intern by a Fortune 25 company during my undergrad. During orientation, some HR woman was yapping about a 401k. I didn’t have any idea what she was talking about, so I opted out of the 401k. I figured, “I’m a poor college student why should I care about investing in retirement, which is 45 years away? I need the money now.”

It turns out that my company matched 75% on contributions up to 8% of my salary. In other words, I threw away 6% of my salary because I didn’t exploit the company match. In hindsight I realized that even if I had needed the money during my undergrad, I could have taken an early withdrawal on the 401k and paid the penalty and still been way better off.

It was this experience which prompted me to learn more about personal finance. Over a decade later, I’ve devoured every blog and book I could get my hands on.

Fortunately, anyone can master their finances. It does not require a PhD or a high IQ. With a bit of guidance, practically anyone in the U.S. can be a millionaire.

The recipe to generating wealth is dumb simple, as I’ll document thoroughly in this blog:

 

Following the above advice, I will regularly update our journey here:

 

Disclaimer:
This site is for entertainment purposes only, as disclosed here: https://frugalprofessor.com/disclaimers/

About me

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I’m married with 5 kids. My wife is a stay-at-home mother, though she taught elementary school for a year before putting her career on ice for a couple decades until the kids are older (maybe after they graduate high school?).

I spent 5 years getting an undergrad degree in mechanical engineering. I then spent 4 years at a Fortune 25 company doing grunt engineering work. I was surrounded by grey-haired people who had been doing the same thing for their entire careers. Convinced I would rather kill myself than rot in cubicle hell for the next 40 years, I plotted my exit. First, I tested the waters by temporarily leaving my well-paying job (I was making $90k/year when I left) to pursue an MBA while on educational leave. Emboldened by my positive experience outside of cubicle hell, I took the plunge into 5 more years of school. It was brutal, but miraculously our family survived.

Thus far, we’ve accumulated wealth the old-fashioned way with frugality. I haven’t tracked our net worth religiously to prior to starting the blog, but here’s a rough timeline of our income & net worth.

  • Mid twenties.
    • Earned $15k/year in income working as teacher’s assistant + random summer jobs before graduating.
    • Finished our undergrad degrees.
    • At graduation, our net worth was $10k ($0 debt).
    • Took first job paying $56k/year.
  • Late twenties.
    • Got several raises and earned $90k/year before leaving on educational leave.
    • Started & completed MBA.
    • Net worth $100k ($0 debt).
  • Early thirties.
    • Took 5 years earning PhD, during which I earned $25k-$30k/year.
  • Mid thirties.
    • Completed twelfth year of college with net worth of $225k ($0 debt).
    • Took job paying $200k/year.
    • Bought first home for $400k with 20% down payment funded by Roth IRAs.

Our goal is to be financially independent in our mid-forties with ~$1.5M in investments (producing $45k/year in income in perpetuity at a 3% withdrawal rate). Let’s see how this goes, huh? It’s not as impressive as some of my blogging counterparts (Mr. Money Mustache, etc) who retired at 30, but with five kids and 12 years of college under my belt, I didn’t necessarily take the fastest path towards financial independence.

I created this blog to document our journey and illustrate how dumb-simple the process is. Hopefully someone will get use out of it.

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Disclaimer:
This site is for entertainment purposes only, as disclosed here: https://frugalprofessor.com/disclaimers/