Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you that we have been conned. Since the first time someone asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” we have been bamboozled, led astray, run amuck. We did not land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us!
For as long as I can remember I was told that the way to prosperity and financial freedom was through a good job. If you have Black middle class parents like mine then you’ve heard the prevailing wisdom that people who have a lot of money earn a lot of money so find a job that pays a lot of money. For Africans that means becoming a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. I’m half American so I decided to forego those options and go corporate.
Since I landed my first good job I have consistently held one for the last 15 years, with the exception of a two year hiatus where I lived my best life with help from my benefactor Stafford. Yet after more than a decade of increasing wages I still don’t feel all that prosperous. Yes, I have decent savings and positive net worth. However, I am nowhere near the promised land of FI/RE. For those of you unfamiliar with this acronym it’s a popular abbreviation for Financial Independence/Retire Early. Sure, I can go a few months without income, but eventually my black ass will once again need a job to keep these bills paid.
I have an interview in two weeks for a new role at my current “employer.” If I got it I would once again have a good job that pays me enough to bring home more than $100K in post tax income. While the MBA in me is ready to do two weeks of prep work, knock the interviews out of the park, and land an offer, the wealth builder in me is having other thoughts.
Actually, it does. Hear me out. Last year I read two books that totally changed my outlook on wealth. The first was The Millionaire Next Door and the other was Rich Dad Poor Dad. Wading through miserly proselytizing in the former and the rich man worship of the latter, I gathered that wealth or financial freedom really isn’t about how much money you earn. It’s really about how much money you get to keep. And here’s the important caveat: earning money is the worst way to keep it. Why?
For most people housing is their largest expense, usually taking between 20-33% of their income. However, once you reach the storied land of $100K+ paychecks then taxes tend to take the biggest chunk of your salary; and the more you earn the more you pay. Look, I am not about to go on some taxation is theft, big government is evil tirade. I am no fan of seeing Uncle Sam take his cut, but roads and shit so it’s whatever. My point is math. You’re liable to die trying to get rich (or at least financially free) when you don’t see the first .28-.39 cents of every dollar you earn. True, you can invest pre-tax dollars in a tax deferred account (401K, 403B, etc), start early, and let compound interest make you into a millionaire by the time you’re 65. But that’s not exactly retiring early, is it? Oh, and you get to pay all of the income tax you didn’t pay when you earned the money when you withdraw it in retirement.
At its heart, financial freedom is less about hoarding Scrooge McDuck money, and more so not having to work in order to earn income. It’s the regular degular equivalent of living off your royalties or syndication checks. For those of us who autotune and acting classes cannot save that means acquiring assets that spit out enough income to keep us in the lifestyles to which we’ve become accustomed. And getting those assets in a quantity that matters requires money. So the key to stacking the kind of paper that buys enough assets to produce financial freedom is avoiding taxes. Now you should only take your tax paying cues from if you want to be your roommate. However, if we have learned anything from the current White House occupant it is that there are legal ways to not pay taxes.
The first step is understanding the different types of income and that they are not taxed the same. The three types are defined as active, passive, and portfolio incomes. According to Investopedia active income is income for which services have been performed. This includes wages, salaries, tips, commissions, and income from businesses which there is material participation. This is your day job. And for all of your efforts the gubment is kind enough to let you sock away a few thousand dollars for necessities like healthcare, retirement savings, and transportation before snatching tens of thousands for itself and leaving you the rest to live on.
Passive and portfolio incomes are a bit different from each other, but the one thing that they have in common is that they do not require material participation to be generated. Another thing they have in common is that they are taxed at a lower rate than active income. Last month I made $161 for doing nothing except for owning stock. While my salary is taxed at 28% marginal rate, the $161 in dividend income is only taxed at 15%. One reason why people can be financially free on less passive income than they made as a wage earner is because less of that money is taxed. So you can bring home the same money from a $100K salary (considering 28% tax) as you do from $84,705 in dividend income. Not to mention your original investment remains untouched so it can continue to produce income.
I wish I had known this earlier in life. I would have done so much so different. I would never have sold my first house and kept it as a rental property. I would have bought stock in my 20s. I would have tried to work for a startup so I could get equity. Maybe if I had done those things I would be collecting checks while I type this and wouldn’t have the nagging feeling that I need to get a good job.
The “get a good job” mantra fed to us by parents, teachers, university career services and the Hunger Games promotion tracks we willingly fill are a scam. We work longer and harder to produce ever increasing value for someone else who only gives us back an infinitesimal portion of what we created, and then that portion is cut by the government (because roads and shit), leaving us needing a bigger portion and thus forcing us to work even more. If you’re employed and earning six figures you’re likely generating eight figures worth of revenue for your employer. Oh and that employer gets to cover all of their expenses before paying one cent in taxes. But I digress. I am beginning to ask myself if I can make millions for someone else, why can’t I figure out how to at least make a hundred thousand for myself so one day my money can make itself.
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