Ten Moves That Will Skyrocket Your Net Worth

[My man ESI makes a return today to share his tips on what to REALLY focus on in order to grow our wealth exponentially. You might remember him from his previous post that went viral on the 10 things he didn’t expect in early retirement, which he’s still very much in and still very much enjoying :) Thanks for taking the time, good sir!]


We all have money tips coming out our ears. Do this. Don’t do that. Do this or that. And on and on… The advice seems endless. So much so that if you try to follow them all you’d end up with no time to actually live your life.

At the same time, all money tips are not created equal. While many are valuable, there are some that are exponentially better. These are the tips that will make you wealthy.

So let’s get to the good stuff and cast the rest aside for now. Based on the experience of managing my own money — allowing me to accumulate a few million dollars and retire at 52 — here are my recommended ten big financial moves that will propel your wealth skyward!

#1. Get an advanced education in a valuable field

College degrees can add significant wealth. There’s no debate that (on average) the more education you have, the more you’ll earn and the less likely you are to be unemployed.

And if you can keep debt low while getting the degree (and there are reliable ways of doing this), then it’s almost guaranteed that getting a college degree is a good deal.

Even better is getting a degree in the right field. It’s well-known that certain careers pay more than others. Pick one that is closer to the top than the bottom and you’re finances will thank you for it.

Consider this finding:

College graduates earn $1 million more than high school graduates over their lifetime, and the income gap between the highest-paid college majors and the lowest-paid is more than $3 million dollars.

To make even more, get an advanced degree in a high-paying field. This is where the big money can kick in.

I got an MBA by spending a grand total of $5k for six years of college (because I was willing to work during school and got good grades). My MBA was worth an extra $1 million to $2 million, even though I only worked until I was 52. If I had stayed employed into my sixties you could take on a few more million.

Of course, you have to factor in abilities and interests when picking a career. But most people have at least a handful of fields that would work for them. If they select one which pays a bit more, they will be making a solid financial decision which can help them become quite wealthy over time.

#2. Focus on growing your career

Even if you don’t pick a vocation in the highest-earning field, your career is a multi-million dollar asset. If you don’t believe me, take a starting salary of $40k, add in 3% annual raises over 45 years, and look at the result. You’ll have earned $3.7 million.

Even better, you can manage your career to get those 3% average raises even higher. Doing so will help you earn millions more throughout your career.

Take the same numbers from above and instead of 3% raises use 8.16% raises. The difference is over $10 million!

Think it can’t be done? I averaged 8.16% increases for 28 years using seven steps that grow any career. Plus, it took me years to figure out the seven steps. You don’t have to go through that trouble, so you have the potential to do much better than I did.

Of course, 8.16% could be considered on the high side. So let’s go low. Let’s say you average 4% annual raises. That extra 1% will allow you to earn an extra $1.1 million more than what 3% raises would.

Any way you look at it, managing your career for income growth will have a huge impact on your finances.

#3. Control spending

No matter how much you make, you can spend it all. We don’t have to look far to find examples. It’s almost a cliche that high-income actors and sports stars go bankrupt. People who have made millions somehow spend it all and then some. As a result, they are often left with nothing (or less).

A bit closer to home, you can see this principle play out across our country.

The median American household annual income is $51,939. U.S. households median net worth is $80,039. This means that over a 40-year period at an 8% return rate, the average American is saving a paltry $310 a year. What are they doing with all the rest? They are spending it!

On the other hand, those who control their spending do much better.

Assume a family can save $5k per year (less than 10% of their income). In 40 years at 8% they will have a net worth of $1.3 million. See what even a little bit of saving can do over a lifetime?

And this doesn’t mean you have to save on EVERYTHING, just some things. Enjoy your life by spending on what you want here and there, just keep it in line so you have excess to save and invest. Even 10% will make you wealthy over time.

Personally, I wanted to do better than average and was able to save 36% of my income. Others have saved much more. If we can do it, so can you. (See:Β Proof You Can Live off 50% of Your Income)

There are two major areas to control spending: on the big things, and on the little things.

Big things like homes, cars, extravagant vacations, and the like can bust your budget in a single move. Little things like eating out for lunch regularly, smoking a pack of cigarettes daily, and, dare I say, drinking $5 cups of coffee several times a day don’t seem like much, but they can add up to big dollars over time.

#4. Eliminate debt

Debt is a financial killer, especially consumer debt. And yes, even “good debt” like a mortgage and student loan debt can be bad in many situations. Look no further than 2008 for housing debt and the current issues with student loan debt.

The average American will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest over the course of his/her lifetime. Imagine if this expense was eliminated or even cut in half and invested? This move alone would make anyone’s net worth sky-high.

We eliminated all debt over 20 years ago when we paid off our mortgage. We had already retired our car loans and a personal loan. Then we focused everything on paying off the mortgage. It started with buying a house we could afford — one half the price the bank wanted to lend to us. We then took all extra cash — bonuses, financial gifts, etc. — and put them against the mortgage. We cut spending as well and made extra payment after extra payment.

Less than a decade later, we were completely debt free.

Not having debt for two decades allowed us to dramatically increase the amount we saved, which in turn super-charged our net worth.

#5. Invest early and often

You’ve probably heard that time is your greatest investing asset. It’s true. The more investments earn and grow on their own, the greater they become.

Investment value is also greatly impacted by the amount invested.

These two factors are why you want to put away as much as you can as soon as you can. Fortunately, both of these decisions are within your control.

Return rate is the third variable in the investment growth equation and gets most of the press. However it’s actually the least important of the three in determining your overall results. Furthermore, beating the averages in return rate is virtually impossible.

You can spend hours and hours trying to find the right investments, only to not pick a winner. Or you can just invest in low-cost index funds and let them do the work — and beat 95+% of investments over time! This is what I’ve done and what I recommend.

Finally, you have to stick with it, which may be the hardest investing choice of all.

I remember back in 2008-2010 when things were really dicey. My portfolio was down big-time. I had put money in all the way down and there was no sign it was going to come back.

But I kept at it and even found extra cash to invest.

Seven years later I’m so glad I did. That money is now worth a small fortune!

Many think the stock market is due for a drop soon. No one knows when it will happen, but if it does, keep the faith. Market drops are often the time to buy if you have at least a 10-year time horizon.

#6. Marry well

You can make all the great money moves in the world, but if you’re married to someone who makes all the wrong moves you’re in trouble.

You don’t have to marry Suze Orman or Dave Ramsey, but you do need a spouse who shares your financial goals and general outlook on money.

This was a VERY big part of our financial success.

I was good at tips #1, #2, and #5 above, but my wife was great at #3 and #4. In words from The Millionaire Next Door, I was good at offense and she was good at defense.

Together we had a winning combination. We knew what we wanted to accomplish, divided up the responsibilities, and climbed up the money mountain together.

#7. Have goals and a plan to reach them

First of all, having a goal is key to being financially successful. It sets the bar and allows you to work towards what you want to achieve.

It doesn’t need to be a 100-page treatise comparable to the federal budget, but you must have at least a general goal like “retire at 40 with $2 million in the bank.” It’s better yet to have SMART goals.

Another key is to write them down. Research has shown that “people become 42% more likely to achieve their goals and dreams, simply by writing them down on a regular basis.”

Second, simply having a goal does little good if you don’t then take action on reaching these goals.

You need to break each goal into bite-sized tasks that allow you to grow your career and control your spending if you want to accumulate wealth.

I know this can seem daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. Simply write down what you want to accomplish and what you’re going to do to get you there. Then just make a small bit of progress every day. Over time, those seemingly little advances will add up to something big.

This was the tip that I missed when I was young. I went several years without a specific money plan and I lost five years of investing. Do you know what those five years would be worth now? Thousands.

But hopefully my bad planning demonstrates that even if you’ve made a few mistakes along the way, there’s hope for you if you take action now.

#8. Track net worth and cash flow

Net worth and cash flow statements are financial success scorecards. Net worth (assets less liabilities) tells you how you are growing your wealth over time, and is of course something that J$ likes to drill into our heads.

Cash flow statements (aka “budgets” listing income less expenses) tell you how much you are making and how it’s being spent. From there, you can make decisions that allow you to do more of the former and less of the latter, freeing up more money for investing.

We have tracked our net worth monthly for over 20 years. We use Quicken, but you can also use Mint, Personal Capital, a spreadsheet, or even paper. The key is that you track it on a regular basis (probably at least quarterly) to see how you’re doing at growing your wealth. It lets you know if what you’re doing is working or not. (Editor’s Note: I’m on month #114 in a row – best thing I ever did for my money!!!)

We have had a budget for years as well. We use a spreadsheet that I update monthly. It’s very useful at showing where our money is spent which allows us to make adjustments sooner rather than later.

Many people hate budgets because they think they are too restrictive. I’ve found them to be the opposite. They allow me to know exactly what I’m earning and spending, which then frees me to make the lifestyle decisions I want to make.

My guess is that our budget alone was responsible for half of our spending control success.

#9. Develop side hustles

In addition to growing your career, a side hustle/business is a great way to #1) do something you enjoy and #2) bring in some extra income to grow your net worth much faster. Also something J$ loves to share here. (See: 71 Ways to Make Money On The Side)

I’ve had several side hustles over the years including:

  • Freelance writing for magazines — This was a major contributor to paying off our mortgage
  • Blogging — I had a blog before my current one which was quite successful
  • Refereeing — Mostly done because my son needed the money and we did it together, but a few extra thousand dollars a year never hurts
  • Real estate — My biggest side business of all (though some could call it an investment) which allowed me to retire without having to draw down any assets

The great thing about a side hustle is that it speeds up early retirement dramatically.

Assume you can retire when you are able to generate $40k in income per year. At a 4% asset withdrawal rate, this means you’d need $1 million saved. Also assume you can invest $10,000 a year towards that goal at an 8% return.

If you have no side hustle, it would take you 29 years to reach your goal.

If you have a side hustle that took four years to build up to $20k per year, and you invested that money, in 12 years you’d have $503k (which would generate just over $20k at 4% withdrawal) plus a business that generated $20k. Bam! You’re at your $40k annual goal.

So the side hustle is probably worth it to save 17 years of working, right?

#10. Learn about money and manage it yourself

No one cares more about you than you do, but there are plenty of people who care about your money. Many of them want to turn it into their money and they are quite good at it.

Others have good intentions but simply don’t understand how money works. And yes, this includes many, if not most, financial advisors. The only way to avoid being taken (one way or the other) is to know the basics of managing money yourself.

Fortunately, the money principles you need to be successful are simple to learn and few in number. With a handful of books and regular reading of some good money blogs you will develop the knowledge and skill not only to protect yourself, but to thrive financially.

We were fortunate to take a Dave Ramsey-like class at our church soon after we were married. It set up a good foundation for us. I continued by reading several personal finance books and applying the key principles that I learned. Finally, I began to write about money and became even more educated along the way.

I started from ground zero, and if I can learn how to manage my money, you certainly can too.

Everything you need to know

Yes, there are a ton of other financial guidelines you could implement — probably thousands. But if you want the biggest financial bang for the time spent, focus on these ten wins above.

If you get these right, there’s no way for you not to become financially free yourself.

This post comes to you from from ESI Money, a blog about achieving financial independence through earning, saving, and investing (ESI). It’s written by an early 50’s retiree who achieved financial independence, shares what’s worked for him, and details how others can implement those successes in their lives. He is also the author of a free ebook titled Three Steps to Financial Independence.

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  1. Wall Street Physician July 21, 2017 at 6:50 AM

    Fantastic article. This is personal finance in a single post. Anyone who can do all (or most) of these things will be very successful financially. Everything else is just about the details :)

  2. Mrs. Adventure Rich July 21, 2017 at 7:11 AM

    Woohoo, I think we’re on a pretty good path to skyrocketing our net worth! Thank you for sharing, I think this is one to bookmark and share!

  3. Mrs. Groovy July 21, 2017 at 7:50 AM

    +1 what Wall St Physician said.
    Also, finally got to listen to you with PT on the Masters of Money podcast. Folks should heed your excellent advice on growing your career by learning how to become a valuable employee
    Great work, ESI!

    1. ESI Money July 21, 2017 at 12:27 PM

      Thanks! Appreciate that!

      Hoping to meet you and Mr. Groovy at FinCon this year.

  4. Ms. Frugal Asian Finance July 21, 2017 at 7:56 AM

    I really like #1 & #2. Sometimes we are so focused on saving money and making extra in the moment we tend to forget that the best investment we can make is in ourselves and our long-term career.

    I also like that you point out the advanced degree should be in the right fields. I have heard and seen many stories about people spending years in school getting a degree that doesn’t get them very far financially.

    1. J. Money July 21, 2017 at 9:26 AM

      We also tend to forget about LIVING in the present too, as money nerds. At least I do… The other day I had a couple of extra hours and forced myself to be lazy and relax and it was SOOOOOO hard to do. I felt guilty the entire time, but there was a time when that was normal and natural! Is there a way to go back to that, but keep all the $$$? :)

      1. ESI Money July 21, 2017 at 12:30 PM

        I’m trying to get better at taking it slow. It’s happening, but as you say, it’s difficult.

        For us it means I’m planning more travel where we are forced out of our routines and MUST take it a bit slow.

    2. Jeff July 30, 2017 at 5:51 PM

      I’m not sure #1 is that accurate anymore. I think before 2008-2009 that this was true. I spent a lot of time getting education, but when the economy tanked my education became an anchor that weighed down my job prospects. Employers knew they would have to pay me more. Until I started my own business my education never helped me make more money. So I think it’s a two-edged sword. During good economic times, it helps you stand out, but during bad ones it hurts your case.

  5. Budget on a Stick July 21, 2017 at 8:26 AM

    Awesome list!

    I can definitely echo #4 and #6. Ms. Blue Ribbon is a frugal master and i am still learning all her ways. Also, debt sucks and set us back in networth. I’m so glad we got our act together and got rid of it!

  6. Paul July 21, 2017 at 8:35 AM

    I have a Masters Degree in IT with an Information Assurance/Cyber Security concentration. So as far as #1 goes I wholeheartedly agree with you and am glad you made the distinction “in a valuable field”. There are many fields such as social work that require advanced degrees and while they are important to society, it seems that a high monetary value is not placed on them. However, I do feel that a skilled trade can be just as valuable if not more so in some instances, to the right kind of person… I mean an electrician can easily out earn someone with an advanced degree. As more and more people are shying away from trades I feel like that could be a viable alternative to getting an advanced degree.

    That being said, I am still telling my children from a young age that schooling (not learning) only stops when there are no more degrees to earn.

    1. J. Money July 21, 2017 at 9:27 AM

      I want to see the look on your face when they say they want to become a blogger instead, like your pal J. Money :)

      1. Paul July 21, 2017 at 3:25 PM

        When they get to FI they can do whatever they want. Plus I’d have no problem with it as long as they pursued that goal concurrently with more traditional types of work. Until that source was enough for them to bounce on their day job. Or you know, if they haven’t started a family at that point, maybe, just do both to get to FI more quickly.

    2. ESI Money July 21, 2017 at 12:32 PM

      100% agree on the skilled trade front. Have you seen what Mike Rowe is doing to promote the trades? Good stuff!

      1. Paul July 21, 2017 at 3:54 PM

        No I haven’t. But admittedly as I finish my basement and do all the work myself, there is a lot of merit in finishing a tangible product. It is a great sense of accomplishment. Although if its what you do every day I’m sure that feeling goes away pretty quickly.

      2. Fritz @ TheRetirementManifesto July 24, 2017 at 1:31 PM

        I LOVE Mike Rowe! His work on promoting the trades is the best I’ve seen The man is on to something, for sure.

        Congrats on getting to hang with J$. Too cool. Great post.

      3. Ed July 26, 2017 at 7:35 PM

        Personally, I have an advanced degree and all that but at the end of the day, regardless of what you do, I think it is important do whatever you can to be the best in your field.

        If you are a welder, or a hairdresser of a handyman, or doc or attorney – strive to be in the top 5% of your field and you will likely rep the financial benefits!!

        1. J. Money July 27, 2017 at 10:31 AM


  7. Church July 21, 2017 at 8:53 AM

    Perfect post! I especially like #1 and #2.

    No.1 – You are your #1 asset, invest in YOU through education.
    No.2 – Don’t just be an employee (headcount is viewed as an expense to CFOs…). Be a value-add employee that grows with company growth.

    Both #1 and #2 directly lead to income generation and FYI…..you are your largest source of revenue for most of your life.

  8. Lance @ My Strategic Dollar July 21, 2017 at 9:09 AM

    These are some great tips! I like the invest early and often and marry well. I try to convince my millennial friends that investing now is extremely important and that they shouldn’t wait. Even if they have little to invest, they should do it anyway.

    And marrying well is a hot topic as well. Being in alignment is important from a long-term financial standpoint.

    1. J. Money July 21, 2017 at 9:29 AM

      You know what tricks them into listening more?

      Buying them a beer when spreading the lessons :) For some reason this stuff always sinks in more with a cold one in your hands (and no one can say no to a FREE one at that!)

  9. Dads Dollars Debts July 21, 2017 at 9:48 AM

    Great suggestions. I focused the first 10 years of my career by training to earn a high income. Then I fell into the Jones’s life and now have a big home with a hefty mortgage. Still I am trying t see what I can do over the next 5 years in savings, etc. If I am not on track by 2022 then it will be time to downsize….kind of like a 5 year challenge to myself.

    1. J. Money July 24, 2017 at 10:05 AM

      I know what you can do in the next 5 years – sell the house :)

  10. Chris @ Flipping A Dollar July 21, 2017 at 10:42 AM

    Good thing my wife married well! :-D

  11. Owen @ PlanEasy July 21, 2017 at 11:21 AM

    Love the prompt on growing your career. Those numbers are fascinating. Too many people sit back and assume their career will take care of itself but it requires constant effort and attention. One change meeting at a networking event can boost your pay by 40%+. It’s stuff like this that makes the difference over the long run.

  12. FullTimeFinance July 21, 2017 at 12:07 PM

    The whole game in one simple post. I’d add one more thing, consistency. Do these consistently and you’ll be made in the shade.

    1. ESI Money July 21, 2017 at 12:36 PM

      Yes! I like to say that if you simply make small progress every day, the results add up to something big over time.

  13. Dave July 21, 2017 at 1:06 PM

    That is a solid list. All of your suggestions are actionable for most people to follow. You have provided a comprehensive list for success and even happiness with #6.

  14. Mrs. BITA July 21, 2017 at 1:12 PM

    Having implemented numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 10, I can testify that this list works and works well!

    I didn’t get start early though (number 5) – I started at the age of 38, but thanks to #1 and #2, I will still be able to exit the game fairly early. I can’t emphasize the power of numbers 1 and 2 enough – they can make up for a variety of other financial sins.

  15. Mr. Smart Money July 21, 2017 at 7:11 PM

    Love #6!

    I’m single at the moment, but its a piece of advice you don’t hear too often from bloggers/authors.
    Your future spouse will essentially be your personal finance business partner. Would be amazing if I could find someone who compliments my weaknesses, and vice versa!

    Thanks for the advice.

    1. J. Money July 24, 2017 at 10:08 AM

      Yeah, you rarely think about all this stuff when you’re younger and falling in love. Who talks about budgeting on their dates?? haha… (I would totally now if I were back in the market, but this “adult” stuff usually doesn’t click until we’re older in life – womp womp)

  16. Chris @ Duke of Dollars July 22, 2017 at 10:38 AM

    These are so true. One I would also add would be the value of utilizing your resources.

    For example: you started in real estate, you can either buy a course on real estate investing or you can head to the library for free and pick up a few books to read. YouTube has many how to videos, or even find others interested and try to split the online course.

    By utilizing your resources you can pay off the debt faster, become better at your side hustles for free, and enjoy growing yourself in a place of self interested!

    Thanks for sharing these. Every debt free story motivates me even more to become it myself. Let the Great War of Debt continue !

  17. Dividend Diplomats July 22, 2017 at 10:59 AM

    Nice article overall. 10 of the smartest/easiest things to keep in mind. You are a business, almost, and you need to manage the flow of cash/transactions in your life. Are you sloppy at work? If you are not – why would you be sloppy with your own finances? Do you spend 8-12 hours for a company to help them earn more? Why not do the same for yourself. Keep the push on for your personal financial statements!!!


    1. Chris @ Duke of Dollars July 23, 2017 at 11:28 AM

      Thinking of PF as a business is such a great metaphor!

      1. ESI Money July 24, 2017 at 3:14 PM

        I like it too!!!!

  18. Cody @ Dollar Habits July 23, 2017 at 1:02 AM

    Mic drop! That about sums it up. This article should be required reading in college. Thanks for the blueprint, ESI.

    1. J. Money July 24, 2017 at 10:09 AM

      That would be an excellent college course :)

      “FIRE 101” haha…

      1. ESI Money July 24, 2017 at 3:15 PM

        Ha! Maybe a side hustle???

  19. ZJ Thorne July 23, 2017 at 9:52 AM

    Continually learning new things to make myself a more rounded person and better able to demand high pay has been a great focus for me. It’s helping immeasurably.

  20. Myfinancekits July 23, 2017 at 12:58 PM

    I quite agree with all the points but I will rank some above the others. For example, the need to control spending is very vital. IT doesn’t matter how fat salary one may earn, if he can’t control his spending, he may end up in debt. Also, the savings has to be invested. Starting investing early makes it to become a habit. Compound interest will work to his favour.
    Nice article!

  21. pia July 23, 2017 at 9:01 PM

    Great list! I especially like investing early and often – something I wish I had known 10 years ago!

  22. RPM July 24, 2017 at 12:29 AM

    Spot on ! This says it all.

  23. Krystal @ Simple Finance Mom July 24, 2017 at 12:45 PM

    Great post. I loved your tip about who you marry. It is true, and sadly something many people don’t think about too much before it is too late. Paying off debt frees up not only cash flow, but so much brain power and peace that for once YOU are the one in control here, not your creditors.

  24. Steven Goodwin July 27, 2017 at 3:00 PM

    Great advice! I loved the one about the side hustles! Blew my mind in a way! I need to start hustling more and I think this might have just motivated me that much more!