Here's How One Self-Made Millionaire Says You Can Achieve Financial Freedom

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  • Steve Adcock says investing is the biggest secret when it comes to building wealth.
  • Investing is about building a portfolio of assets that will increase in value and generate income.
  • Adcock didn't need to win the lottery to retire at 35.

A former IT worker who retired at age 35 says now is the best time to get started.

Building wealth can feel like an impossible hill to climb, particularly if you don't know where to start. But the biggest takeaway from our interview with self-made millionaire Steve Adcock is that it's never too late to take your first step.

Adcock and his wife gained financial independence in their thirties, and are now free to spend their days following their passions and living off their investments. What's remarkable about their story is that they achieved financial freedom while working 9-to-5 jobs. They didn't inherit money or win the lottery. While the path wasn't easy, it is one that many of us could follow.

The early retiree started his wealth-building journey early, but he says there's no point in beating yourself up if you haven't done the same. "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now," he said. "Don't judge your prior decisions. The goal is to start adopting better habits now so you can take full control over your life before you turn 65."

Financial independence is achievable

Everybody has different reasons for wanting to become financially free. A lot of Adcock's motivation came from a desire to escape the 9 to 5 -- he couldn't see himself working in IT for the rest of his life. "Information technology pays very well, but it also drains the life out of you," he explained. "When you're in IT, nobody calls you just to say that everything's working! They talk to you only when things are broken and need to be fixed (at all hours of the day and night)."

When I asked him about the secret to wealth building, I expected him to tell me there is no secret sauce. He didn't. Adcock says the secret to financial independence is: "Invest, invest, invest." This matches the experiences of many other millionaires. A Ramsey Solutions survey showed that three quarters of millionaires got there by consistently investing over time.

As Adcock explains, "Nobody got rich just by saving money. Investing in assets (stocks, ETFs, index funds, real estate, businesses, etc) is what builds wealth. When we find a way to make money in our sleep (that's investing!), we've just set ourselves up to earn a great deal of money over a lifetime."

There's a big difference between saving money and investing it. Every investor needs a certain amount of accessible cash in savings to cushion them against the unexpected, often called an emergency fund. But once you've built that fund, building wealth means looking for assets that will generate higher rates of return. For example, historically the S&P 500 has generated average annual returns of 10% or more. In contrast, even top savings accounts only pay APYs of around 2% or 3%,

That said, there are no guarantees when it comes to investing. There will be bear markets and years when even seasoned investors will see their portfolios shrink. But if you invest with a long-term perspective -- a 10- or 20-year horizon or more -- you'll be able to ride out any dips and hopefully build the type of portfolio that lets you retire early. Adcock has stern words for short-term traders. "Don't day trade," he says. "Over 90% of day traders lose money. Instead, stick to 'boring' investments like index funds and ETFs."

Adcock's step by step guide to building wealth

Building wealth doesn't happen overnight. It's about consistently investing money and developing a portfolio of assets that will work for you. Adcock shared these four wealth-building priorities for anyone who wants to achieve financial freedom:

  1. "A three-month emergency fund in a savings account." Your emergency savings are there to tide you over and stop you having to take on debt or sell your investments in the event of a financial crisis.
  2. "No credit card or other consumer debt (mortgage is okay)." High interest debt does the opposite of wealth building. It eats into your income and costs you money over time.
  3. "Utilize company-sponsored 401(k) and Roth IRA options." Max out your contributions to tax advantaged retirement accounts, particularly if your employer matches some of what you put in.
  4. "For additional investment opportunities, open a Vanguard brokerage account." If you're serious about retiring early, you'll need to go beyond the tax advantaged accounts mentioned above. Opening a brokerage account will allow you to build up an additional portfolio of stocks, index funds, and ETFs.

We may not all be able to achieve financial independence at 35, but with the right mindset, many of us could build wealth and retire early. Follow Adcock on twitter for more inspiration.

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