Financial freedom may take $10 million

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Troy Millings, left, and Rashad Bilal, co-creators of Earn Your Leisure.

Source: Tyrell Davis

Rashad Bilal and Troy Millings are among a growing class of financial influencers who want to help people be smarter about money.

The duo — a former financial advisor and a teacher, respectively — launched the podcast “Earn Your Leisure” nearly five years ago with a mission to promote literacy around money and entrepreneurship.

About 1 in 7 people lost more than $10,000 in 2022 due to a lack of financial literacy, according to a study by the National Financial Educators Council.

“I realized there were certain things that weren’t taught inside schools — financial literacy and financial education being one of them,” Millings said of the idea to create Earn Your Leisure.

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Today, Earn Your Leisure has expanded to create multiple podcasts, host live events and offer an online educational platform, EYL University. It has 1.4 million Instagram followers and another 1.4 million YouTube subscribers. Its flagship podcast has an average 3 million downloads a month, said Bilal and Millings. It’s also developing a financial literacy curriculum for high schools.

CNBC interviewed the duo — who have been friends since childhood — to talk about personal finance and financial literacy in the U.S.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

‘Investing is not just for rich and wealthy people’

Greg Iacurci: You told CNBC last year that your “purpose is financial literacy and empowerment.” When it comes to financial literacy, what’s the No. 1 mistake you see people making with their finances?

Rashad Bilal: Not understanding the importance of investing, or [not] knowing how compound interest works.

For a long period of time, investing was something that people looked at more as a luxury, not a necessity, [thinking] if you’re able to invest then you’re in the top 1%, or you have to be wealthy to even consider that.

Investing is not just for rich and wealthy people. It’s for everybody. You can start with smaller balances and dollar-cost average.

Troy Millings: The relationship with money: People don’t understand what to do with it or how to save it. These are simple concepts we’re not taught. When we don’t know what to do, we do what we know, and that’s often spending outside our means. Mistakes are made because nobody is educated.

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People may have heard that investing and compound interest are important but might not know why. Can you speak to that?

Bilal: The only way to really achieve financial freedom is if your money is growing without you working for the money. How to achieve that is through investing. One dollar will only be $1 if it’s saved in the bank. But $1 can become $2 if it’s invested.

Most people understand this without even fully realizing that they understand it because they have a retirement plan. The whole point of a retirement plan is investing. You put money into a 401(k), and that money gets invested with the expectation that when you’re 65, 70 years old you’ll have a nest egg you can draw from and live off of in retirement.

The only pathway to not working forever, to having money in abundance, is to find ways to make more money with the money you currently have.

What it takes to achieve financial freedom

Troy Millings, left, and Rashad Bilal, co-creators of Earn Your Leisure.

Source: Greenleaf Multimedia

You mentioned financial freedom. How much money does someone need to be financially free?

Bilal: I think everybody is different. I think it depends on where you live. But I would say, I think you have to be in the eight-figure-net-worth range if you live in suburban or metropolitan areas. I would say around that $10 million figure would provide some level of comfort if other aspects of your life are maintained.

And what is financial freedom?

Millings: I think it’s having enough financial resources to pay for your lifestyle, your living expenses, and also allows you money to invest.

It could differ. It could be in that eight-figure range. Or it could be seven figures. It’s really about having the financial resources to do what you want and invest and create generational wealth. It needs to be something that lasts for generations.

Earn Your Leisure co-founders on the importance of financial literacy

Some people might hear that — seven or eight figures — and think, “How is that possible for me?” Do you think it’s possible for most people?

Bilal: Most people probably aren’t going to make $10 million — I’m just being honest to the question you asked. We have to be honest.

But some people will. This is why we’re big on entrepreneurship, we’re big on investing. You might not be able to accumulate $10 million in your lifetime, but you might be able to accumulate $1 million or $1.5 million. That’s still better than being 70 years old with $20,000 in your bank account.

I think the aspiration towards a certain goal, you might not be able to actually obtain that goal, but if you fall short you’ll still probably be better [off] than you would have been if you had no aspiration and didn’t follow any rules or didn’t try to invest or start a business; you live off what you have. You won’t buy a $1 million home if you only have $1,000 in your bank account. Your life will still be better financially than if you didn’t follow the pathway towards the goal.

Making it ‘cool to be educated’ about money

For the person who’s just starting out investing, how would you suggest they go about it?

Millings: When you’re young, you want to be as aggressive as possible, and when you’re older, you want to get more conservative. Risk mitigation is a huge part of that. We always tell people to start with indexes — an entire index or entire [industry] sector in an exchange-traded fund. That keeps you from having the volatility of watching a stock either appreciate — where you might get some upside — or depreciate, where the risk on the downside is far greater. 

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In a recent discussion with entrepreneur and musician Sean “Diddy” Combs, you mentioned that when he met you, he said you “make it cool to be educated.” How do you go about that?

Millings: We’re authentically ourselves, so there’s a natural relatability because people see themselves in us. When people talk about finance they try to make it a language that is upspoken to the masses. Our mission was to democratize it, to make it seem like something that can be very relatable and digestible. We show up the way we are, we wear sweatshirts, we wear hoodies. We represent everybody. It doesn’t feel like it’s only for the elite or it’s only for a select crowd.

It’s the same thing in the classroom: A student has to realize this is someone I can learn from and who I want to teach me. Our audience kind of feels that way when they look at us. We’re also very vocal that we’re learning as well. We don’t know everything, and we bring people on [the show] who can educate us.

‘Having money doesn’t alleviate the problems’

For your podcasts, you’ve interviewed several famous and wealthy people — pro athletes, musicians and entertainers, for example. Are there certain things about finance that seem just as confusing for the rich and famous as for the average person?

Bilal: Yeah, I think a lot of people don’t have a full understanding of finance. It doesn’t matter how much money you make. That’s a common misconception.

Having money doesn’t alleviate the problems, it just makes the problems even worse. Understanding money or having a good understanding of money isn’t something that’s correlated with how much money you have.

Financial literacy is something I think gets metastasized on the highest level. Those are the same issues that everybody else has, it’s just everybody else doesn’t have the opportunity to lose $30 million or invest $20 million into a bad investment and then it goes belly up. If given the opportunity they probably would, it’s just they don’t have it. It’s a bigger microscope on celebrities because they’re public figures.

Is that because wealthy people and celebrities have a capacity to overspend more than the average person?

Bilal: I think it’s not so much just a spending situation. That’s a common misconception also, that they go broke because they spend money lavishly. That’s one part of it. But another major part is they’re actually trying to do the right thing, they’re just misinformed.

You see a lot of people make bad decisions when it comes to investing. They’ll invest in things that might be Ponzi schemes, bad real estate deals, they’ll be led down a bad path when it comes to financial advisors or people they trust. They think they’re doing something productive with their money but they actually are losing money because the investments aren’t fully vetted, they don’t fully understand what they’re investing in.

So I think it’s a little more complicated than just spending habits. It all comes back to not having a basic level of understanding and education when it comes to money.

It seems there’s some relatability there for everyday people.

Bilal: For sure. Look at crypto, for example. If you look at [the cryptocurrency] dogecoin, a lot of people made misinformed decisions. They thought they were doing something productive. They didn’t go into it with the intention of losing money. In their brain it was like, ‘This is an opportunity to turn $5,000 into $20,000.’ And they potentially lost all of their money.

It’s the same thing [with celebrities]. It’s just played out on bigger levels.

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