How to Develop Greater Financial Independence
House sales are down about 20% statewide this year (2023), and 2022 sales were down about 15% compared to 2021. Additionally, we hit the highest number of real estate agents the market has ever seen about a year ago. This means I’m surrounded by agents complaining about how their incomes have gone down and how they are fighting for sales. This prompted me to write about the best way to create financial stability and ultimately financial independence. This can be applicable to anybody, not just real estate agents.
In the past, I’ve written quite a bit about finance, but for some reason I haven’t written much since I left the corporate world. Blogging about money was my personal motivation for saving, investing, getting out of debt, and building businesses. Now that we’ve reached a level of financial independence where we aren’t reliant on a traditional paycheck, it’s maybe not top of mind anymore. Additionally, I think I’m hesitant because I don’t want to come off as bragging, but I do want to motivate others to better their position. There are so many financial topics to cover, and I’ll try to write more on money in the future. However, the idea of developing several different sources of income was the biggest game-changer for me.
I had read Robert Allen’s book, “Multiple Streams of Income,” back in 2000 while finishing up architecture school and taking a few courses in real estate investing and finance. The concept of having more than one income struck a chord. Many people are reliant on that one paycheck from one employer. We are trained as kids to get good grades, go to college, get a good job, and you’ll be financially secure. As I watched friends and colleagues lose their jobs in the great recession of 2007-2009, it reiterated for me that a good paycheck was not that secure after all.
My journey started with my desire for homeownership and rental properties. I bought my first duplex fresh out of college and I lived in one half of it (admittedly the banks were a bit less stringent back then). I didn’t understand real estate investing numbers back then and I just barely qualified for a mortgage while working three jobs. The one thing I knew was that after the tenant paid rent (applying that toward my mortgage), I was left paying just slightly more than my current apartment rent for a much nicer place. It wasn’t an amazing deal; I would have been lucky to break even if it were fully rented, and I probably wouldn’t buy the same property today knowing what I know now. Thankfully I learned a great deal, mortgage rates came down, rents went up, as did property values, which improved the deal over time.
Eventually, I refinanced that duplex, got enough cash out to use as a down payment on my second property, a single-family house (in today’s investing world they call this a BRRR – Buy Rent Rehab Refinance), while lowering my duplex payment at the same time. I lived in the house and got a couple of roommates who paid 2/3 of my mortgage, all the while gaining equity and living cheaply.
Since then, my interest in real estate led me to get a real estate license (shortly after I met Kinsey and discovered she had a similar interest). This was income stream number 3 (the corporate day job, rental property, and now real estate sales). Selling real estate was a fun side hustle for several years, and I never really intended it to be more than that. I was happy making a few extra bucks and having a license for my own investing purposes and to help a few friends buy their first homes. However, relatively quickly the side hustle Kinsey and I did together was outearning her day job (and it was more enjoyable). She remained at her day job at a financial services firm for a few more years until we had kids, and then said adios to the 8-5 when our first daughter was born.
As time went on, our real estate sales “side hustle” continued to grow, and we decided to open our own small brokerage. This wasn’t a grand plan to hire a bunch of agents and build an empire of brokerages. The decision was out of frustration with our previous brokerage and the desire to get away from a national franchise. However, the thought of income stream number 4 was there.
All the while, I was still enjoying my mechanical design job and held onto that for quite a few years. I reduced my hours when our second daughter was born to allow time for kids and real estate. I eventually gave it up when the girls were at home during the COVID shutdowns. This entire time we continued to invest in real estate, retirement funds, our businesses, and mutual funds. We saved a good chunk of our sales income until we had a down payment for another investment property. When a good property deal came along, we’d snatch it up for a flip or a long-term rental.
Today we have 4 businesses that each generate an income stream:
- Badger Real Estate investments: This holds and manages our portfolio of rental properties. It generates monthly cash flow as well as equity gains from market appreciation and principal paydown.
- Keith and Kinsey Real Estate: Our personal real estate sales brand and team. This generates income through sales commissions.
- Great Rock Realty: Our managing brokerage that hosts 7 agents now. This saves us commission on our sales as well as generates some commission from other agents.
- Eagle Camp Lodge: Our short-term rental vacation property between Tomahawk and Minocqua. Like the long-term rentals, this generates monthly cash flow and equity gains.
- …and stay tuned for a 5th business in the works.
Additionally, a few other income streams are:
- 401k and IRAs: I don’t really consider this a current source of income; it is preparing income for our future.
- Stocks and mutual fund investing: We don’t do a ton of stock market investing outside of our retirement funds, but we do have a couple of funds that generate some dividends and growth gains.
- Flip houses: Occasionally when we find a property that needs work and has good upside potential, we’ll rehab the property and flip it (assuming we don’t want to keep it as a rental).
- Savings Accounts: This used to be a meaningless place to stash money, but right now our online savings account is paying 4.75% interest.
- Real Estate Syndications: Since we like real estate, we’ve invested in a few syndication deals which are larger real estate investments that other investors are seeking to raise money for purchase or development. Essentially, we own some small shares of big developments. As an example, this could be a large apartment building, a hotel, an assisted living facility, industrial buildings, mixed-use development, etc. These do investor payouts based on their performance, and hopefully will build equity over time, paying out a bigger chunk of change when they ultimately sell.
There you have it; 9 streams of income keep us going. So, when our sales and brokerage businesses were down about 25% this year, it made minimal impact on our daily lives, other than a bit more free time 😉. This relieves stress from real estate and economic market cycles. It also prevents us from being desperate salespeople, who can easily turn shady and unethical. I think this is one reason our business has done so well. We’ve never been completely reliant on our sales income, so our goal really is 100% to help that buyer, seller, or investor achieve their own goal. As a buyer’s agent, I think we’ve talked more buyers out of houses than into houses. As a listing agent, I think we’ve been better negotiators because we are after the best results, not just trying to get a deal done.
Again, my point of this is not to brag about our success, but to point out that you can do so much more. You shouldn’t just be working for that paycheck you should develop other sources of income that can sustain you forever. In my opinion financial freedom isn’t about never having to work again. It’s about enjoying what you do, not stressing about money, and finding more personal and family time. I’d be bored out of my mind if I sold everything and fully retired. It took us 25+ years of working, saving, and investing to get to where we are at. Yes, our streams of income are very focused on real estate businesses, but that’s our passion and talent. Use your passion and talent to mold your own future.
Here’s some examples of other side hustles that people make a good income from:
- Freelance anything (graphic design, photography, consulting, engineering, etc.)
- Crafts or Etsy shops
- Uber driving
- Affiliate marketing
- Simple handyman stuff (lawn mowing, landscaping, painting, etc.).
- Reselling items
- Social media influencer
- Pet sitting/dog walking
- Grocery delivery
- Guide services (fishing – hunting)
- Writing a book
- Digital products
- Rent out your camper or a bedroom.
The list could go on and on forever, but you get the point. You can easily find a way to earn some extra money with whatever skills you currently have. Who knows, maybe your side hustle can develop into a business where others are earning income for you. Either way, take that extra money and invest it in something that can grow and gain value over time or produce cash flow. You’ll quickly be on the path of turning your one income into four or five incomes. Instead of watching hours of Netflix every week or endlessly scrolling social media, do something productive that will set you up for a better financial future.