The convergence of the internet, massive student debt, and the stagnation of real wages have arguably led to the increasing desire for financial freedom by many millennials. This is evident through the increasing number of folks moonlighting. Currently, there are a handful of instances in which employees create personal brands and develop side hustles that at times supersede their employers. We also see this reality highlighted throughout pop culture, where rap lyrics like Jay-z’s OJ bar “financial freedom my only hope, Forget living rich and dying broke” are not only being recited but also referenced in articles and media publications. But all in all, how does one achieve financial freedom?
If questioned a successful real estate investor will likely say real estate, while a hedge fund owner will reply with the stock market. Further, a top insurance producer will probably say one can achieve financial freedom with sales/life insurance versus an entrepreneur who will likely say it is via the creation of one’s own business. So who is right? If I were asked this same question which I have been a number of times. My response would be, “There's more than one way to skin a cat”.
Throughout my journey, I’ve had the great fortune of meeting successful individuals from each of the industries previously mentioned and a few others. Being ambitious and eager to quickly rise to the status of financially free, I asked the aforementioned question: “how does one achieve financial freedom?” Each time I was met with a different response. Each response often resembling the individual’s personal experience and the journey they took to achieve financial freedom.
The late Stephen Covey author of “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” said, “All things are created twice. There's a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation to all things.” Moreover, in this article, the first volume of a series of articles on financial freedom, I hope to initiate the first creation. By establishing that there are many ways to reach it as well as unpack some of the cliches that have prevented many from achieving it. Then in a later volume, the physical creation, outlining the pillars of financial freedom that have withstood the test of time for generations.
According to the financial industry, you achieve financial freedom once you have either saved 25 times your annual spending or own assets that meet your annual spending for 25 years.
Financial Freedom = 25 x Annual Spending.
The means in which one takes to reach this financial freedom number is not concrete, especially in today's digital world. The saving does not have to be the result of house flipping and the asset isn’t required to be a share of a dividend paying stock. For example, let’s take the music industry which in a way pays dividends (royalties) to artists who own their masters. A few years ago, $7.5 million, as well as 50% of future royalties was awarded to the family of Marvin Gaye in the Blurred Lines plagiarism case. And currently, they are in a battle with Ed Sheeran for $100 million claiming he copied parts of “Thinking Out Loud”.
I’m not sure if Marvin Gaye left his family any stocks, bonds or properties, but because he owned an asset, his masters, he’s still able to provide residual income for his family. I bring this example because it’s important to broaden the definition of an asset. Personally, I look forward to 30 years from now when someone's paying for there college tuition with the residual income of their grandma’s Youtube channel.
My Truth vs. The Truth
It’s also critical to acknowledge that when a person makes a statement regarding financial freedom, even though they are speaking their truth, it may not necessarily be the truth. Yes, there are stats that say most self-made millionaires are made through real estate. But this is merely a fact. Truth is consistent throughout time, while facts change with time.
One hundred years ago, it was a fact that there were no Tech billionaires. Yet, today in the US 14% of billionaires are in the Tech industry. Prior to 1954, it was deemed humanly impossible to run a 4-minute mile until Roger Bannister dismantled it. Now even high school athletes are running 4-minute miles. Again, truth is consistent throughout time while facts change with time.
In 2012, Facebook had its IPO (initial public offering) where they became a publicly traded company. Nearing the IPO date Warren Buffett was asked, “would you invest in Facebook?”. When he responded no, many of the financial commentators had a field day. Insinuating that simply because the “Oracle of Omaha”/ 2nd richest man in the world at the time, was not investing in Facebook, it could not possibly be a sound investment. Discussing only his decision rather than the bias that led to it, he said, “I don’t understand Facebook’s business model.” In other words, Facebook is outside of the expertise that led him to become the 2nd richest man in the world.
Less than a decade later, Mark Zuckerberg has risen to #5 on the Forbes list of wealthiest people in the world, only 2 places behind Warren. What I’ve come to know is that most experts readily admit when they don't know. While people “in the pursuit” of expertise freely comment on a wide range of subjects. It’s the "Jack of all trades, master of none" concept. Most people believe Warren became a successful investor by knowing everything there is to know about investing. When in reality it was the result of carving out a niche/area of expertise, and this so well demonstrated in the reaction to his Facebook comment. Many denied that Facebook could be outside the scope of a man of his stature. Ultimately, convincing themselves that Facebook was the issue rather than seeing that Warren had a bias.
Formula vs. Methodology
Recently I made the comment “you're not going to get all the game from a Youtube interview, podcast, article, blog, or Twitter thread. You need to read books. Some things can only be fully broken down in 200 pages.” Meaning there is no substitute for time. “Warren Buffet type” results are not produced by watching 3 of his interviews on Youtube or reading a blog post which states his 50 most popular quotes. The idea that one could fully grasp everything he’s learned over the past 60-years of his investment career in one day is criminal, and unfortunately a crime to which I’m guilty of.
In fact, I’ve searched high and low, but unfortunately there are no shortcuts to accomplishing whatever you deem as success. Most blogs, podcasts, Youtube videos, etc. are neither the starting point nor the ending point. Rather they direct you to your map. A map that does not perform instant transmission to your destination but shows you the most efficient way to get there. The purpose of learning from others is to avoid the delay that comes with taking the route you know rather than the route which is best. But ultimately there is no substitute for time, even the fast track has its own term.
She was astounded. “You took just five minutes to do the sketch,” she said. Isn't $10,000 a lot for five minutes work?
“The sketch may have taken me five minutes, but the learning took me 30 years,” Picasso retorted.
Many times I’ve followed my moms cooking instructions to a tee, yet the food never turns out exactly how she makes it. Why? Did my mom intentionally lead me astray? I would hope not. The issue is that only so much can be communicated through an instruction list. In fact, most cooking instructions of complex meals are suitable for individuals that have cooking experience. It’s how my mom can receive tips from one of her sisters or friends on cooking and implement it tastefully. Her decades of cooking experience allows her to read between the lines.
This year, I initiated the process of learning to cook traditional Sierra Leonean food. By watching her cook first hand and being involved in the process, I’m able to see the steps that can’t be articulated through an instruction manual no matter how detailed.
However, once I get a firm understanding of how to cook the different dishes, I also plan on studying a few of my relatives cooking styles. Although my mom's cooking is amazing, as an amateur cook, I need to study other cooking styles to ultimately develop my own. Despite how much pain it brings me to admit, my mom’s cooking truth is not the truth. However, by seeing others cooking styles I will be able to efficiently distinguish between preferences and essentials.
When you copy someone's way of cooking (formula) and don’t understand the essence of cooking it’s difficult to make it your own. And unfortunately, a replica is never as good as the original. Similar to tracing in elementary, the kids like myself that couldn’t draw, traced pictures that were of lesser quality than the original. While the kids given the gift of drawing used their skillset to create their own version of the object. When you copy someone's formula you submit to their version of life.
The value in studying the greats in your field who preceded you is learning from their methodology, or approach to investing, marketing, acting, designing, relationships, leadership, etc. to ultimately inform and help shape your own methodology. Proverbs says, “Iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”. Meaning there is value in learning from others, but it only works when you are your own person.
Don’t copy the formula, apply the methodology.
If you find yourself trying to find shortcuts and not efficiencies or create a replica instead of your own masterpiece, recognize that you have fallen into the trap of copying the formula. And despite the short-term clout/ instant gratification that you may receive from copying someone’s formula, 22 Savage, you will never last long or have the level of impact of a 21 Savage.
Often financial advice can appear to contradict itself. The most popular contradiction is around saving. In one article I’ve written that developing the habit of saving is critical to achieving financial freedom and in another I’ve written saving won’t get you to financial freedom. Confusing right? Sadly, these seemingly contradictory statements have led most people to ultimately do nothing. It is no surprise, unfortunately, that we find a large percentage of people living paycheck to paycheck.
The second most popular contradicting piece of advice is the financial concept of generating 7 streams of income. In one book I’m lectured on the importance of focus and to concentrate on one thing and in another, I’m told to diversify my income and develop 7 streams. So which one is it? In the following sections, I hope to get to the root of these two contradictions.
How is Wealth Generated? - Bet on Yourself or Others
“No one becomes rich by saving a few dollars a week. However, saving even a small amount of money places one in a position where, this small sum may enable one to take advantage of business opportunities which lead directly and quite rapidly to financial independence.” — Napoleon Hill
The two major ways people generate wealth are betting on themselves by (i.e. starting a business, becoming a Youtuber, etc.) and betting on others (i.e. investing in someone else's business, managing an artist, etc.). Alluding to Napoleon Hill’s quote above, saving is the most important action one can take to prepare for such an opportunity. In 2012 when Facebook went public, two groups of people made billions of dollars.
- Group 1: the people who bet on themselves which included Mark Zuckerberg and a few of the early employees.
- Group 2: the people who bet on Mark & his team, also known as the angel investors/venture capitalist who provided funding prior to Facebook going public.
Some may argue that they are not an entrepreneur and don’t have thousands to invest in a start-up like Facebook. However, this principle supersedes your current income level and is prevalent at all levels of life whether you make $30,000 or 30 million a year.
- “A young man went to work in a printing plant where he formed the habit of saving $6.00 a week. At the end of three years, he had saved $900.00. The printing plant for which he worked got into financial difficulty and was able to fail. He came to the rescue with $900.00 which he had saved in small amounts, and in return, he was given half interest in the business. And today he is drawing out of it a little better than $25,000 a year.” — Napoleon Hill — Law of Success The Habit of Saving
- “When Woolworth first started his 5 and 10 Cent Store plan he had no capital,, but he turned to a few friends who had saved, by the closer sort of economy and great sacrifice a few thousand dollars. These friends staked him and later they were paid back hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits.” — Napoleon Hill — Law of Success The Habit of Saving
The artist Payroll Giovanni said it best in his song “Invest”: “got to keep on hand cash to enlarge my stash, can’t go broke trying to look like the man. There are diamonds on your wrist but if your plug call with a lick, man you can’t even buy s***.” Going into the 6th month of my entrepreneurial journey, I’ve learned that Cash is King! A handful of successful real estate investors have told me personally how they’ve missed out on great deals due to a lack of on hand cash. Again, as I’ve stated a multitude of times before, there is no lack of opportunity there is only a lack of preparation. Therefore, developing the habit of saving is critical. In “The Formula: Give, Save, Live” article I’ve provided in great detail my approach.
“I would rather loan a million dollars to a man of sound character, who had formed the habit of saving money, then he would a thousand dollars to a man without character, who was spendthrift.” — JP Morgan
7 Streams of Income
Throughout my life, I’ve heard that the average millionaire has 7 streams of income. But through my studies, I’ve realized that they neglected to discuss the river in which these 7 streams feed into. Geologists define streams as a small flowing body of water which can be crossed by foot that flow into a river. And a river as a large and deep flowing body of water. And so? What is with the 5th-grade science lesson?
Well, when you consider that despite streams flowing into a river, that a river is still the source. The idea of 7 streams of income becomes more understandable. To break it down a bit further, it’s likely that the streams were created from the water from rivers, taken up into the clouds through evaporation. Then, when it rained, streams were naturally created from the surface runoff to lead the water back to rivers again.
Taking this 5th-grade science example and applying it to the concept of financial freedom, it’s important to note that first, you must create a river or a way to generate revenue. Second, allow the excess water or money to create the 7 streams. The best piece of advice I got before I left my job was from my coach, she said, “Nathan, you can do it all just not all at once”. And this is the problem I find with myself and many other overly ambitious people. The inability to focus on one thing at a time. Instead of concentrating and being patient while the river develops it’s excess, often I find myself diverting my attention to the streams prematurely. Unfortunately, 7 streams are not sufficient enough to fill the river. Therefore it’s best to fill the river up first then allow the excess to supply the streams.
To me the river represents the bread and butter, your main focus. Whether that be music, acting, real estate, photography, Youtube, etc. There has to be a source that will create excess money over your expenses which can be leveraged for other opportunities. Let’s take Jay-Z into consideration. His river was rap. He focused on that for years and was able to leverage his excess to create revenue streams from the spirits to the streaming service industry. And although, the focus may change in the long term, in the early parts of your journey it’s critical to focus on one.
Nonetheless, now that some of the common misconceptions have been debunked. In part 2 of this article, I will discuss how financial freedom is a lifestyle that requires a multitude of pillars to be sustained throughout the generations. Some of the pillars can include, but are not limited to, real estate, stock/equity in a company, life insurance, estate planning, etc. So stay tuned until the next time!