What Does It Even Mean to Build Wealth in 2022?

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This story is part of Power Money Moves, CNET’s coverage of smart money decisions for today’s changing world.

Get a degree, secure a profession and buy a house. That’s the conventional advice Jannese Torres-Rodriguez heard from her parents that led to a financial catastrophe. And by her early thirties, she had begun to question everything she’d been taught about building wealth. 

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She had racked up more than $60,000 in student loan debt. And a recent two-family property purchase, which had depleted her savings account, was not turning out to be the “investment” she’d hoped. The rental income from a downstairs tenant was less than she had expected, and in the first year, she had to shell out more than $30,000 in unexpected repairs.

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The tipping point came when a doctor diagnosed her with anxiety and depression, which she attributed to her mounting financial stress. One night, desperate to find a way out, she did what we all do — she turned to Google.  

“I just remember searching, ‘How do you restart your life? How do you start over?'” says Torres-Rodriguez, who is now 36. “My brain started really questioning … all of the narratives I’d been told about what it actually means to be financially responsible.”

For decades, the traditional script for building wealth was straightforward: Graduate from college, get a stable job, live below your means and invest the rest. And don’t forget to buy a home along the way. But millions of Americans, including Torres-Rodriguez, have grown skeptical of this narrative and see it as antiquated, naive or a complete sham. After two solid years of economic upheaval driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, an ongoing supply chain debacle, surging inflation and, now, a war in Ukraine, it’s becoming clear that the conventional financial wisdom of 50 years ago, or even five years ago, does not apply to our current economic situation. 

This is why CNET is bringing you Power Money Moves — a series that explores how current events and financial trends are both challenging and changing the ways we earn, save and spend. 

Our kickoff story takes a sober look at how to invest wisely in cryptocurrency without falling prey to the hype. With more than 30 million Americans expected to own cryptocurrency by the end of this year, we define what it is, help you decide whether it makes sense for your portfolio and suggest ways to buy in safely. Later, we’ll take a look at investing more broadly, providing new tips and tricks to help you achieve your financial goals. 

Other stories in this series address other ways of building wealth, including home ownership — a daunting enterprise given skyrocketing prices, supply shortages and bidding wars. We’ve gone behind the scenes, talking to real estate agents and experts, to gather real-time advice for buyers. We’ll get tactical as well, showing you how a side hustle can help you get an edge on inflation, and how picking the right credit card can combat rising interest rates. 

Our series will look at how billionaire CEOs Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are redefining the meaning of wealth and success, in addition to how our economic lives intersect issues of  and systemic inequality. As we work toward figuring out how to use our money more consciously and conscientiously, we’ll provide the tools to make smart and meaningful choices in today’s landscape. 

It’s clear that our financial lives are at a critical juncture, and it’s time to rethink the status quo. So what does it mean to build wealth today? While some traditional money moves will stand the test of time, we’ve identified new and better ways to approach our finances, address our values and pursue economic well-being. 

For Torres-Rodriguez, her attempt to redefine wealth led her to the FIRE movement — an acronym for “Financial Independence, Retire Early.” Conceived in the 1990s, the concept’s adherents proudly tread outside the confines of conventional fiscal wisdom — cultivating additional revenue streams, investing aggressively and thinking strategically about where and how to live. For Torres-Rodriguez, this meant redesigning her financial life, including monetizing a food blog that she’d started as a creative escape from her engineering career. 

Next, she sold her home and moved from New Jersey to Florida to reduce her taxes and instagram.com/solitaryisle overall cost of living. Renting was much cheaper than buying, and being closer to the ocean wasn’t bad, either. Around that time, she began chronicling her financial journey and recruiting money experts to interview on her podcast Yo Quiero Dinero, which is focused on helping Latinas build wealth. Last year, she quit her corporate job to focus on her financial literacy business and blog. Her net worth has climbed to over half a million dollars. 

Her next step? Helping her parents secure their retirement. “I want to make sure that I can be in a place where I can support them,” she says. “My parents are still kind of shocked by this whole venture I’m on,” she adds. “But now they realize I was always a rebel as a kid, and this is just how it manifested.”

We could all benefit from a little financial rebellion and ingenuity, now more than ever. Be open to questioning the old rules and committing to a new plan. Whichever adventure you choose, we’re here to support you on your path to a richer life.