What AC/DC can teach us about personal finance

AC/DC released their first album in 8 years on October 20th, 2008 and within a week, Black Ice hit number one on the Billboard Hard Rock chart. They have sold over 200 million albums worldwide. They were ranked number 4 in the “100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock” list from VH1 and 7th on MTV’s “Greatest Heavy Metal Band Of All Time.” Since 1991, when Nielsen SoundScan began to track music sales, Only The Beatles have sold more albums than AC/DC – despite the fact that AC/DC have not released any new material since 2000.

That is remarkable, and it didn’t happen overnight or without effort. What can we learn from the band’s successful career that is now in its fourth decade?

Be persistent and focus on the long view

AC/DC was founded in 1973 by Australian brothers, Malcolm and Angus Young. They took their name from the abbreviation of “alternating current/direct current”, as they thought it portrayed the raw energy of the band. Though they have enjoyed the kind of success most bands can only dream of, they have also had their share of setbacks. One such setback was their loss of popularity after their drummer, Phil Rudd, left in 1983. Record sales slumped, but AC/DC didn’t stop working and in 1990 they hit #2 on the Billboard 200 with The Razor’s Edge.

In our financial and professional lives, we too will face hardships and low points. The important thing is to learn from them and seek the opportunity that is often presented to us when things look their bleakest. Having a plan is an essential part of this. It’s why IRAs and 401(k)s are so powerful. Every pay period, you add money to your account and buy stocks and bonds, whether the market is up or down, in good times and bad. Over time, this persistence pays off.

Don’t be reckless

The band’s first lead singer, Bon Scott, died in 1980 after a night of severe alcohol consumption, listed as “acute alcohol poisoning” and “death by misadventure” in the official death records. You’ve got to love euphemisms. This is an extreme result of reckless behavior, but there are many financial analogs. One might be becoming careless after receiving a large raise and spending that raise many times over, depleting your savings or forcing you to carry a credit card balance is pretty reckless. If you lost your source of income after that, you could find yourself in pretty dire straights. Don’t be reckless. Make sure you have an emergency fund, and keep your job skills current and marketable.

Be adaptable and ready for change

After discussing the possibility of quitting the music business, the band decided that Scott would want them to go on, so they began a search for a new lead singer. Within a year after selecting Brian Johnson as Bon Scott’s replacement, AC/DC released their best selling record ever: Back in Black.

Life throws all kinds of curve balls that you could never anticipate. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a victim of changing conditions. Learn to adapt. Plan for contingencies. What would you do if you lost your job today? How long would you be able to pay your mortgage or rent and other bills?

Be unique and find what works for you

When AC/DC got their start, glam rock was the rage. No successful band of the time seemed immune, and after experimenting with various super-hero costumes, Angus Young settled on his now characteristic school boy uniform.

Do what you are passionate about and you’ll never have to work a day in your life. Instead, you’ll get paid to do what you love.

Plan big, but start small

AC/DC never planned to stay a local band, but they built their rock star status in baby steps. In 1975, they release High Voltage – but only in Australia. In 1976, they went international in a deal with Atlantic Records. They toured Europe, and then the United states and ultimately were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.

If you wait until you have a “large enough” income to start saving and investing, you will never get there. Lifestyle creep will constantly cause your expenses to adjust to your income. Start small, and work up from there. If your goal is to have $5,000 in your emergency fund, start by depositing $25 or $50 every pay period and gradually increase that amount until you can’t afford any more from your monthly budget. After that, increase the amount with every raise you receive. You’ll be amazed at how fast your savings will snowball.

You don’t have to be a genius to be successful

I like AC/DC’s music, but they are not a band of virtuoso musicians with textbook technique. Angus Young is no Joe Satriani or Steve Vai. The lead singer has a voice that sounds as if he gargles with sulfuric acid on a daily basis. But while Brian Johnson is no Freddie Mercury, his voice is simply perfect for the style of music and certainly befitting a band named AC/DC. They love what they do, and what they do is rock. Nothing more, nothing less.

The lesson here is that you don’t have to be perfect to be successful. You only need to be focused, persistent and ready for any opportunity that comes your way. A little hard work doesn’t hurt either.

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3 Responses to What AC/DC can teach us about personal finance

  1. Dave says:

    You forgot the most important piece of financial advice AC/DC ever gave us: It ain’t no fun waiting round to be a millionaire!

  2. Joe Morgan says:


    Yes Dave, please forgive my oversight.

  3. baselle says:

    And to willing to do “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” to stay “Back in Black”.

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