No Shortcuts For Bricklayers

There's a common analogy in investing that each investment we make represents one brick in the wall of a giant fortress. The fortress is financial freedom. For bricklayers and investors, there are no shortcuts.

A New York-based company called Construction Robotics has designed and built a bricklaying robot called SAM (Semi-Automated Mason) that can place up to 3,000 bricks during an 8-hour day. That’s about three times the number of bricks that the fastest human bricklayers can set.

The machine requires at least two humans to load materials and finish the mortar. It’s a collaborative robot instead of a fully autonomous one.

Though the machine can improve efficiency on long straight stretches of wall, it doesn’t mix mortar, cut bricks, align itself, or lay intricately designed brick patterns.

Since the cost of a machine is $500,000, the economics would seem to only make sense for very large-scale projects.

The mason interviewed in the video below (at minute 3:04) isn’t impressed saying SAM isn’t that fast when factoring in setup time and human help.

Even when the latest robotics technologies are applied to an age-old craft, constructing a typical house, retaining wall, or chimney rebuild still requires the highly-skilled labor of a mason.

Perhaps the robot will continue to gain speed and ability while becoming less expensive over the coming years. But for now, there are no shortcuts for bricklayers.

Brick by Brick

There’s a common analogy in investing that each investment we make represents one brick in the wall of a giant fortress.

The fortress is financial freedom.

Once the walls are fully erected, the fortress is impenetrable. But it takes a whole lot of bricks, mortar, and labor to build it.

In some recent interactions on social media, some readers felt misled by a post title I wrote about how I still earned money when I lost my job.

The post title, 7 Income Streams I Earn While Unemployed, suggests the article can help you earn extra money too.

It does. You can.

Readers are quick to point out that my portfolio is large enough to generate a decent income. When they realize I earn money from long-term investments I made back when I had a salary, they are discouraged.

Since they don’t have any money saved, they believe the article isn’t relevant to them.

That, of course, is untrue. Anybody can invest money and earn interest or dividends, especially in today’s world of no-fee stock brokers and $100 minimums.

When you buy your very first dividend stock, dividend-paying index ETF, or even put your money into a high-yield savings account, you’ve created a passive income stream.

The income may be very small, but you’ve laid your first brick.

If you are starting from zero or very little, you must accept that your initial income streams will be small. Pennies even. Don’t let that discourage you from getting started.

Those small earnings can be reinvested to compound into more earnings. And more monthly savings can be added to build more income. And more on top of that and so on.

Beyond dividends, you can expand your income streams to other passive income ideas such as peer lending, small business lending, solar investments, or a rental property.

New platforms further empower you to build a diversified real estate portfolio starting with just $500.

Each investment made is one brick toward completing your financial fortress. Over time as you build your walls, the fortress strengthens.

Brick by brick. There are no shortcuts.

A Culture of Shortcuts

Go to any kitchen and bath store and check out all the nifty gadgets that can save a home chef a few nanoseconds.

Or browse the various tools at your local hardware store to find a slightly better way to fix or craft something.

Google Maps is programmed to find us the shortest route wherever we go.

We love shortcuts.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a reliable shortcut to wealth?

There isn’t.

Barring family wealth or a winning lottery ticket, the only surefire path to wealth is hard work, persistence, and making more good decisions than bad.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that people on social media, whose attention span is rarely longer than 10 seconds, are looking for a quick fix to their financial situation too.

It’s not sexy to earn dividend income or interest from real estate or a high-yield savings account, especially compared to investing in sports car company or the latest technology disruptor.

This boring but reliable method takes years to build significant income or wealth.

People want to get rich quickly. Anyone who has tried that knows the outcome.

That’s not the path for most of us.

There are smart money moves, powerful financial maneuvers, tax-efficient vehicles, and money hacks to help us build wealth.

But there are no shortcuts.

No Shortcuts for Me

Looking back at my savings journey, I’ve made incredible strides. But it’s taken time and I still don’t feel wealthy.

I’ve made some costly mistakes too.

Had I:

  • maxed out my 401(k) earlier, or
  • bought more Chevron back in the mid-1990’s, or
  • never sold my original 40 shares of Apple in 2006, or
  • had more patience before buying a condo after the real estate bubble popped

…I’d be much wealthier today.

But mistakes are how we learn. Crooked bricks, soggy mortar, sloppy joints.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from investing over the past 20+ years, it’s to always be investing.

Invest before you spend. Spend less so there more money left over to invest.

Always invest in the company 401(k) (or 403(b)). Create a budget surplus. Build a new income stream or supplement an existing one with the surplus.

Be relentless. Over time, your nest egg will grow.

There are no shortcuts following this route. But the path is clear and the destination is real.

Ever quarter I share my forward 12-month investment income (F12MII) which I’ve been tracking for many years. This number represents the annual amount of income I would earn from investments if I stopped working today.

Lately, I’ve only been sharing my progress since the start of my blog. But my data goes back to 2003 when I set the goal to retire before my Dad, fresh off my trip around the world and before moving out of my parent’s house.

Here’s my progress since then:

There's a common analogy in investing that each investment we make represents one brick in the wall of a giant fortress. The fortress is financial freedom. For bricklayers and investors, there are no shortcuts.

The Ultimate Market Advantage

It’s been said that the investor with a truly long-term mindset has the greatest advantage over all other investors. Decisions are made based on decades, not days, business models and management, not quarterly reports.

At some point, investors are faced with a choice. Do you accept that building wealth takes time and get started on the bottom row of bricks? Or do you tirelessly chase the latest get-rich-quick seminar in hopes that you’ll strike it rich like the guy selling the tickets?

For the vast majority of us who choose to become wealthy, it happens slowly, brick by brick. The sooner you accept this truth, the longer that time and interest can work their magic.

In researching this post, I came across a few t-shirts that share the pride of generations of skilled craftsman who, brick by brick, built the walls around us.

Replace the word ‘Bricklayer’ with ‘Investor’ on the t-shirts below and they almost hold true. But with investing, the craft is never mastered. There is always more to learn.

There's a common analogy in investing that each investment we make represents one brick in the wall of a giant fortress. The fortress is financial freedom. For bricklayers and investors, there are no shortcuts.

There's a common analogy in investing that each investment we make represents one brick in the wall of a giant fortress. The fortress is financial freedom. For bricklayers and investors, there are no shortcuts.


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9 Responses to No Shortcuts For Bricklayers

  1. in10jaarfinancieelvrij May 17, 2018 at 8:29 am #

    A very true article. IT takes hard work and dedication to get where you are at the moment. Bar pure luick there is no magic wand to get wealthy.

    So get cracking!

    • Retire Before Dad May 17, 2018 at 8:30 am #

      Thanks. I hope a lot of people can relate to this. We all have aspirations of getting rich more quickly especially when we’re young. It is possible, but so very unlikely.

  2. Oldster May 17, 2018 at 8:39 am #

    Very true, RBD. I got a late start on the investing road. I was a late bloomer and did not finish law school until my mid-thirties, had a combined student loan debt of over $100k (including my wife) and a credit card debt to match. It was a significant hole to fill. I remember at my orientation meeting at my first law firm job, I asked if there was a retirement plan. The attorney there to guide me laughed and said “yes, it’s called ‘save your money!'” So I did.

    We save about 40% of our income with about 3/4 of that amount being automatic every month and the other 1/4 being discretionary depending on what I’m looking at or working on at any given time. I can tell you it took several years to get to a positive net worth. When that day came, there was a bottle of (inexpensive) champagne. Now we celebrate each financial milestone (measured in 7 figure increments) with a bottle of Dom. When I look back at how that happened (and, as an Oldster just completing his sixth decade – the road is long and winding), it was by staying the course. By making decisions ahead of time and just moving forward despite what might be going on around me in the market.

    Mrs. Oldster and I are living examples of your post, RBD. Automation and elbow grease. There’s not a lot you can’t overcome with the appropriate use of each.

    • Retire Before Dad May 17, 2018 at 8:45 am #


      Thanks… lots of interesting facts about you in your comment. I love the idea of celebrating the big milestones with Champagne (I get mine at Costco for $20 but it’s the real thing). $100k must have been a whole lot of student debt back then. But sounds like it paid off in the end. Kudos to you and your wife for staying the course and building your fortress!

  3. Fritz @ The Retirement Manifesto May 17, 2018 at 9:35 am #

    Great analogy! There are, indeed, no shortcuts to building your financial fortress. Like my Dad said, “Getting wealthy is simple. Just spend less than you make, and do it for a long time”. Simple yes, but not easy for most folks.

  4. Joe May 18, 2018 at 9:35 am #

    Your investment income chart is awesome. Nice job.
    I think there are short cuts, but it’s a lot more risky. The problem is that you get used to the high risk and expose your investment to wild collapse. The slow and steady route works a lot better for most people.

    The brick layer robot is neat. I’m sure they will improve.

    • Retire Before Dad May 18, 2018 at 11:42 am #

      Hey Joe… yeah I do believe so too. But the shortcuts don’t work most people, and far more people damage themselves by pursuing the shortcuts than succeed. So I wanted to make this a more absolute stance. Risk takers will always do their thing.

  5. Bill June 8, 2018 at 2:20 pm #

    Great post RBD. At 56 I have a good sized wall, but I am still laying bricks.

    I call this buying income.

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