How to Retire at 35 (and not give up Netflix)

How to Retire at 35 (and not give up Netflix)

Building wealth and achieving financial independence is fairly straight forward.

You need to make more than you spend and invest the difference. It’s the simple advice most people don’t want to hear. They want the latest “money hack” that is guaranteed to make them a millionaire over night.

Steve Adcock understands this. And if you read over his Twitter feed you quickly get a sense for his no BS advice to help others achieve financial independence.

As far as what makes Steve the expert on this? How about retiring from his job at 35 and now he gets do what the heck he wants whenever he wants to. That’s what.

I recently got a chance to hang out with Steve on the Good Financial Cents podcast and it was a great conversation. You can listen to the entire interview here:

Or you can read the edited transcript below.

Tell us a little bit about what you’re excited about, what your mission is right now, and why you have a squat rack over your right shoulder.

Well, let’s see, I live out in the middle of the Arizona desert. Which means I don’t exactly have a gym right next door that I can go to. But fitness has always been a huge part of my life because I want to do things while I can, and fitness is my way of being proactive with my health.

As much as I can to make sure that I can continue doing things as long as possible, doing physical things, getting out and hiking or whatever.

The squat rack behind me is how I maintain my health to a large degree. I also have a cable machine. I have all kinds of dumbbells. My home gym is where I spend a lot of my time. That also happens to be where my office is. I can just say that we’ve converted our garage into my office and my gym. You could be sure I spend a whole heck of a lot of time out here.

Obviously personal finance, investing, and financial independence are very important to you. What makes you so passionate about these today?

For me, personal finance is primarily a means to an end. And that end is being able to control 100% of my time and not have to work for eight to 10 hours a day, five days a week. The minute I graduated from college and set foot into an office, I was like, this is it? This is what I have to look forward to for the next 50 years? There’s no way I’m going to do this.

I’d luckily chose a high paying career field, information technology. And at the time I didn’t necessarily know about financial independence. I didn’t know that early retirement was really all that possible. I just kind of figured that you had to be super rich in order to quit your job early. And yes, you do have to have some money, but you don’t have to be super rich.

A few years down the road, I was like, well this kind of sucks, but I mean, this is what you got to do. This is what people do. They work, they earn, they spend, they work, they earn, they spend, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. So that’s kind of what I did for the first 10 years of my life.

Until I finally started to put those pieces into place regarding my future and what I thought that was going to look like, especially after I met my wife. And then we started to collectively talk about what we wanted to do in our future. And those talks never seem to revolve around going to work.

It was always travel and experiencing the world and doing fun things, not just spending eight to 10 hours a day in an office. That’s really where all this started, my distaste, or just the fact that working doesn’t really work for me. At least any very structured way where I have a boss looking down my shoulder for all those hours. Wasn’t going to work for me and it didn’t work for me.

I have a job, like this can’t be the end solution, but yet, so many people stay stuck.

You’re having these conversations with your wife. At what point did that conclusion come? No, I’m not going to settle for this. I want to do something different.

Before we got married, we had a choice to make. I was going to move in with her and sell my house. We only have one house to maintain and one house to pay for. But she also worked in information technology. She’s actually a rocket scientist, an actual rocket scientist. I definitely married up, believe me.

We had all this money now. Probably combined, I want to say $220,000 to $230,000 a year combined. That’s a good amount of money. So what do we do with that? We can either live the high life, we can get the vacation home or go on expensive vacations, get new cars, new cell phones, just basically live like we are “rich”, or the other side of that is we could also live as frugally as we possibly can for the next three, four, five, six years, whatever that happens to look like.

For us, it was about four years I think. Save as much as we possibly can, as quickly as we can, then quit and pursue a life of travel and adventure. Before we got married, what we wanted to do was sell everything, buy an Airstream and go travel the country for a living.

I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself here, but that is what we did. That’s what our passion was at the time. It was that fork in the road where we have all this money coming in. We can either live like we’re rich or live like we’re not rich and retire as soon as possible so we can live a lifestyle of adventure. That’s obviously what we did.

Tracking our expenses was so paramount. We already had the income part down, $230,000 a year. We got that pretty good. But then that next step is how do we not spend the majority of that living like we make $230,000 a year. We ended up saving her entire salary. 100% of it is in savings and investments. And then we lived on about half of my salary.

That meant we saved, slash invested, about 70% of a $200,000+ yearly salary. Let me tell you that adds up so quickly.

Here you are saving 70%. Most people hear that and are like, nah, nah, you’re lying. There’s no way I can do that!

What were some of the biggest lifestyle changes that you had to make?

The changes really come down to controlling our expenses. That means it’s like never going out to eat or very rarely. I think we gave ourselves like 50 bucks a month or something to go out to eat. I love going out to eat. For me, that was like the biggest, I guess, drawback or negative or sacrifice, or however you want to call it, to this whole business of retiring early.

But we tracked our expenses so closely, that for a couple of years, we could have told you how much we spent on sweet potatoes, every single year. Just that specifically, along with everything else that we bought. You don’t necessarily have to be that detailed. Though, I met a rocket scientist who loves Excel spreadsheets. We went to that level. But I would say that’s probably not required for everybody.

What is required is knowing where you’re spending money, because it is impossible to cut your expenses if you have no idea where your money’s going anyway.

That first step is so tough. Because you have to go through your credit card statements and bank statements and just understand where the heck your money is going. You might be spending 150 bucks a month on a cable TV package, with movie channels that you never watch.

But if you don’t check that bill and understand where that money is, you have no idea that you’re spending it because it’s all automated. It just comes out of your bank account. You never really have to think about it. So those things are tough, it’s a tough habit, a tough pattern to get into.

Once you do start making that progress, that snowball begins to build and becomes bigger, bigger and bigger. And it becomes easier for you to realize what’s an expense that’s legitimate or what might be an expense that you can certainly cut out.

For us, the majority of what we spent on, were expenses that we can cut out. We kept our gym membership, because that was healthy. We spent about 50 bucks a month on restaurants. And the majority of our spending was on food from the grocery store and also our mortgage, of course at the time.

Other than that, we spent so little, like no magazines, no cable TV. We kept the internet for obvious reasons, but we really streamlined for those few years. And that really enabled us to save money really, really quickly.

How did your family and friends react about your crazy savings goals?

And I would say in regards to the second part of your question. My friends didn’t necessarily understand it, but to their credit, they also didn’t really criticize. They were like, okay, if that’s your thing, that’s your thing. And really, I wish everybody was like that.

It was kind of refreshing. Actually. They certainly were not going to do what my wife and I did. They have no interest in that whatsoever, but live your life. You do you, I do me, that kind of thing. It worked out well and my family was largely the same way.

In fact, my dad retired at 49. So I came from that background where you don’t necessarily have to follow conventional wisdom in the status quo and things like that. So he was definitely on board because he did something similar.

That’s so awesome. You don’t hear coming from your dad’s generation where pensions we’re a big thing, social security is also a big thing. The fact that he even retired at 49, that’s amazing. I feel like you had some good personal finance lessons passed down to you.

Yes. In fact, he opened my first Roth IRA when I was like 16 or something like that. I mean, I didn’t have a huge amount of money there by any means, but at least I had something and I was at least somewhat aware of how this wealth building machine works. Didn’t really put that into place until later in life. But I at least had exposure to it.

I like to think of credit cards as a convenience. You have the money, but you’re spending it on a card to get points or whatever. It’s not a way for you to spend money that you don’t have. It’s a way to spend money that you do have, without having to carry around a bunch of cash.

And it provides fraud protection and it actually warrantees a lot of stuff you buy. There’s so many good things about credit cards, as long as you are responsible with them.

I have respected Dave for a number of years. Total Money Makeover was one of the first personal finance books I ever read, and that was at the beginning of my financial planning career.

Recently, I’ve read his posts where he talks about how a millionaire doesn’t fall for the credit card tricks for reward points or something. And I mean, I get it. You have to be somewhat polarizing. You have to get attention in this day and age. I have like four or five different credit cards. We use them. A couple for business, a couple for personal and family. We pay them off each and every month.

We just recently went to the Dominican, took our entire family of six. Paid for airfare, paid for the stay at this resort, all through our reward points. And it’s like, I’m not falling for a trick. It was just like, no, it’s just a resource that we’re taking advantage of that’s super easy.

It’s actually super easy to track all of our expenses and through our QuickBooks and everything. And why not take advantage of that? A little bit of credit card reward point arbitrage to take our family and have a good time.

Anyway, I wanted to mention that. So I’m glad that you said that because it is a tool. Yes. People mismanage this tool. But it also has a lot of other benefits as well.

Exactly. We just flew to Panama first class to visit a friend of ours completely with points. So yeah, it’s wonderful. And I guess what Dave Ramsey might mean by it’s a trick is some people might spend more just to get the points, even if it’s on crap, like things you shouldn’t be spending money on.

In that case, yeah, I suppose he is correct. But if you just spend money that you would normally spend, but you also collect points on that money, then you’re getting the best of both worlds.

You started the blog in 2014, ThinkSaveRetire.com, at what point in this journey of you saving your 70%. You’re talking about financial independence with your wife, the rocket scientist. At what point did you feel, did you start thinksaveretire and start sharing this journey?

Actually, It was almost simultaneous to our start. And for me, I know the way I learn. I know the way I stay motivated is to write. It is to write about a subject that I’m passionate about, that I care about, and then I want to learn more about that subject.

Starting the blog originally was like my way of forcing myself to stay on track. Forcing myself to continue thinking about this and continue learning and continue getting smarter with money. To be perfectly honest, the blog was a completely selfish thing, to begin with, because it was my way of learning more. I had no real goals for it, like page views or money. Absolutely, none of that when I first started. Then people started actually reading this. Wow, people care about what I’m doing when I’m writing.

People are commenting with encouragement and like, this is pretty cool. I then just started to slowly ramp up over time to where it became a really, really big influential site. I sort of got burned out with it in 2019 and that’s when I sold it.

But for the longest time, the blog was really my way of staying focused and motivated towards this whole financial independence thing. Because I felt an obligation to make this blog the best that it possibly could be, because I knew that people were reading it and getting value out of it. And it was kind of like my way of giving something back, I guess, or teaching other people what I’ve learned throughout this whole process.

In the Fire Movement, there are things that I do like, but I think what people need to understand is personal finance is personal. You find what works for you. You don’t have to go in the full 70%.

But I think the important thing I want people to know is if you think that saving 10%, 5% and getting that free match is enough. I have been in this long enough to see people approaching retirement and having the biggest regret of wishing they would have saved more or they would have started earlier.

I’ve heard it time and time again. So I mean, maybe it’s not 70%, but it better be more than five or 10%, unless you just really enjoy working and want to work till you’re 65 or longer.

And maybe you have a pension, probably not. If you’re banking on social security, don’t do that. You got to take control and do it for yourself.

Yeah, exactly. And I think there’s so much wisdom and saving more than 10%. Even if you like your job, because you might like your job now, things have a way of changing. You might have a new boss that you just cannot stand, or you might have health issues that prevent you from working. You have no idea what’s going to happen in the future.

The more financially secure you are now, or begin taking steps to achieve this, the more freedom and options you have in the future to control your life more fully.

Even if you do love your job, you can’t imagine doing anything else. You just want to work til your 80. That’s fine. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can afford to only save 10%. Because like I said, you have no idea what’s going to happen next year or the year after, or the year after. Just preparing yourself the best you can, is going to give yourself way more options, way more freedom in the future.

You’ve mentioned, you had the blog, you were reaching people, and I think you put something on Twitter about wanting to reach like a million people plus, with your message.

I’m kind of just curious what led to that burnout of selling a blog? Because, well, I go to Steveadcock.us, this is your personal blog. And it seems like you’re still writing. I don’t know how often you’re publishing. But it seems like this, and obviously you’re on Twitter. 

I mean, if you don’t follow him on Twitter, which I don’t know if you update your handle, I love the SteveOnSpeed. I’ll want to know the storey behind that before we get off here. But what led to the burnout of deciding to sell, but then also continuing to want to share the message that you’re so passionate about.

Yeah, the Thinksaveretire.com became this, I don’t know, this business entity almost where I felt compelled to keep churning out the content. I was writing, I think twice a week, I had a fairly large email newsletter, not as large as yours, but it was respectably like 10 or 15 K or something.

It became almost like a chore, to be perfectly honest. And this company, this brand approached me and wanted to sell. I came to another fork in the road, do I see myself doing this for the next five years or not? And ultimately I decided not. I couldn’t do this. I didn’t see myself doing that.

But I still, like you noticed, I still want to be involved in this whole process, but not in a realm where I feel compelled to write.

I churn out this content all the time. So on Steveadcock.us. I write more or less whenever I want. In fact, I just published an article today. But the one previous to that was, I don’t know, maybe a few weeks ago. But where I really spend a lot of my time is Twitter. I wanted to build the Twitter account that I wanted to follow.

When I was going through this whole process. There’s a lot of financial bloggers out there, but they don’t really tweet about blogging. They tweet about their meals or what their kids are doing, or they complain about this and that, that stuff just isn’t helpful. I wanted to create the account that I always wanted to follow. And I think I did that and helped a million people or got my message to a million people. That’s tough to track.

But as I look back on thinksaveretire, and my followers on Twitter, and the emails I get, and the DMs I get, it’s kind of just an estimate. I think I’m about a quarter of the way there. I really reached 250,000 people to make positive changes in their life. And I have about three times that to go before I reach my goal.

But I mean, really, if I’m a positive influence in this community, I write about money and kind of from a different perspective that you might hear about encouraging people to try new things, just doing what they can. I think, I mean, that’s really all that I can possibly ask for.

That’s awesome and for the people that don’t understand, like when you’re publishing content, whether it’s blog, blog content, video, podcasts. It’s relentless.

It’s super hard to stay motivated because for everybody that reaches out and says, man, thank you for doing that. I don’t know what the percentage is. You probably have like 10 times about people that want to reach out and say that you’re a loser.

The hate, yes.

They hate or people don’t say anything. I know that for me, to help me stay motivated, I like to know that I am helping people. Coming into the online space where every so often I’ll get an email, a message, a DM, whatever.

But I think it was just a few weeks ago, somebody commented on one of my YouTube videos and said that they had watched this video, opened a Roth IRA, and have been investing in it for 10 years and has over six figures in their Roth.

That’s so cool because something that I did inspired this person. They still had to do the work. They still had to go out and figure out where they wanted to open the account and actually have that discipline to invest and do it on their own. 

If you’re a creator, understand this, that for every person who reaches out to you to thank you for something that you’ve done, you’ve probably impacted 10 times that, a hundred times that, a thousand times, that the fact is most people won’t thank you. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not reaching them. You absolutely are reaching them.

As long as you stay at it and you stay motivated. I’ve had people reach out to me saying that they’ve started their first 401k or they built their first emergency fund. And that stuff almost makes me cry. It’s like, yeah, that’s so great. This is exactly why I’m here. This is exactly why I do what I do. And there’s a lot more people out there that you’re reaching. But most people just don’t reach out to actually tell you about that.

Before I learn about this whole Steveonspeed, the one thing I wanted to point out, because when somebody says they are saving 70% on retirement, that means there definitely are things that you need to cut back on.

And most people just hear all of that means you can’t do anything. You posted on Twitter, If you’re using Netflix as a way to unwind from a stressful day it’s time well spent, I love that.

You should treat yourself or reward yourself. I think the slippery slope is that justification of ‘I work hard, therefore I deserve this’. Which is true of some things, yes. But I think there are other things like ‘ I deserve a new car, I deserve a new wardrobe.’

Can you touch on, how does one find that balance of knowing, when to reward themselves and when to say no.  How do people protect themselves from that?

You can’t live your life in a way where it feels like a sacrifice, because that’s just not going to work. Nobody likes to live that way. And what I like to do, is I like to encourage people to think of money as a representation of time. And this is especially true, if you have a goal of early retirement.

Let’s say you want to retire by 40 or 50 or whatever. How much time is that new car worth to you? If you want a $50,000 car, depending on how much you make in salary, is that worth working another year, working in another two years, so you can afford to buy that car? If you think that it’s worth it, if you do, if you’re okay with working longer in order to fund your lifestyle, that’s fine. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. That’s just a choice that you have to make.

But for me, what really helped was not thinking about expenses in terms of the sheer money value. But in the time that I would have to spend, the extra time that I would have to spend doing something that I don’t like to do. And in my case, it was working full time, in order to, to spend money on those things.

And that’s effectively how we got up to 70%. Because for me, I wanted to retire early, so bad that nothing, nothing was worth the extra time, for the most part. Yes, the gym and the occasional restaurants. And I think we had Netflix that we were paying for at the time. So those things were okay. But in terms of these big expenses, it wasn’t worth it for me. It wasn’t worth working longer.

Something that my dad used to tell me when I was younger. He said, you could have anything you want, but not everything you want. And by that, he means you pick and choose what the most important things are for you, but really be realistic about what you want versus what you need. And that whole process is very very difficult for a lot of people. It was very difficult for me as well.

But I think the very first step in this entire equation regarding cutting back and what to cut back, and how much to cut back, and how much to spend, is to know what you want in the future. Have that end goal. If you have a spouse, talk about it with your spouse, get on the same page. Understand what you’re working for. Because once you have that light at the end of the tunnel, that’s going to make everything else so much easier.

If you want to retire at 50 with this amount of money, and you’re here with this amount of money, you have to figure out that delta between how are you going to get from here to there and then the pieces start coming into place. But if you don’t have that light at the end of the tunnel, you just continue spending because you think, well, I guess I’m just going to work for the rest of my life anyway.

I’ll just spend money here, spend money there, whatever I think makes me happy. There’s nothing really I’m working for. If you don’t have that light, if you don’t have that future goal that you’re working towards, I think it’s going to make this entire process way more difficult.

I couldn’t think of a better way to end this interview, Now tell us about your Twitter handle: Steveonspeed.

I started this Twitter account back in 2009. So this is way before the blog, way before early retirement, all that stuff. Because I just want it to be on Twitter and just kind of test it out. And at the time I drove a 1999 supercharged Corvette, with a racing camshaft and long tube headers. And it was the loudest, fastest car around.

So that is where Steveonspeed came around. That’s how I got the idea for this name. Because I drove a supercharged Corvette and a Yamaha R1 sport bike. And I just liked to go fast. I was an adrenaline junkie. So that’s how that name came around. I probably should have changed it after selling thinksaveretire, and transferring back to my personal account that I started years ago. But quite frankly, I wasn’t that smart. I guess I could change it now, but it’s linked to, in so many different places and it’s just a mess. So I am living ‘Steveonspeed’ for the rest of my life.

I mean, as much as you produce and just the way you do it, it is like, you’re on speed, man. You continue to put out such good content. I just, I truly enjoy.

When you follow people on social media, it’s usually for the pictures,  the articles, or for the means or gifs that they retweet. You’re one of the first ones I can remember that I started following, because I truly enjoyed what you were putting out. 

Well, I appreciate that. Like I said before, I wanted to start the Twitter account that I always wanted to follow. There’s a lot of money people out there, but very few of them actually tweet about money. So yeah, if you are interested in money and personal finance and leveling up your life, that is what I talk about. I don’t link to articles. I don’t plug my blog. I occasionally plug my email list, but that’s generally in comments to my higher level tweets. That is what you get on Twitter if you follow the right people.

Steveonspeed on Twitter is one place where people can find you. Where else can people connect with you if they want to learn more about you and what you’re working on?

Steveadcock.us. This is my main website slash blog. So that’s kind of where I talk about my projects and I write my blog posts and things like that. So those two areas Steveadcock.us and @Steveonspeed on Twitter are the two main areas.

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