Hey Paul: I am 15 years old and I have one question for you – How can I get rich?
Your question is probably the first one on many people’s minds. I have two teenagers and a tweener who have not exactly gobbled up my previous columns’ advice on taxes, social security and Obamacare. But your question is one that perhaps everyone short of the Pope have pondered – Wouldn’t it be nice to have enough money to never have to wonder if you have enough money?
I came across a blog by J.D. Roth that reviewed three national best-sellers on the topic of what makes the rich different from the rest of us – other than they have more money. Roth gives summary lists of Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals by Tom Corley, The Secrets of the Millionaire Mind (Think Rich to Get Rich) by T. Harv Eker and The Top Ten Distinctions between Millionaires and the Middle Class by Keith Smith.
Let me share a few of their “get rich” insights. Corley’s survey found that the rich live within their means, don’t gamble, read daily, limit screen time, network, volunteer, work hard, set goals, don’t procrastinate, listen, avoid toxic relationships, have a mentor, and make their own luck. As a young person you likely have heard many of these principles from your parents, teachers, or preacher. What I like about Corley’s findings is that they apply broadly regardless of your wealth status or goals.
Eker believes in financial blueprints that largely dictate our approach to life, which in turn drives our financial success or lack thereof. His rich versus poor contrasts sound like Donald Trump lines – Rich people think big, poor people think small; Rich people are bigger than their problems, poor people are smaller than their problems; Rich people admire other rich and successful people, poor people resent rich and successful people. I have to stop here as my blood pressure is rising. Eker evidently equates a person’s worth directly proportional to their net worth – the millionaire is a hundred times more worthy than the poor person. Young man, let me advise you to never fall into the mindset that your money measures your worth in absolute or relative terms.
Smith continues with a similar list of ten distinctions between Millionaires and the middle-class (I guess the poor have taken enough of a beating). In order of importance he states that millionaires think long-term, talk about ideas, embrace change, take calculated risks, continually learn and grow, work for profits, believe they must be generous, have multiple sources of income, focus on increasing their wealth, and ask themselves empowering questions. These ideas sound reasonable until you read the flip side – for example, the middle class thinks learning ended with school.
I don’t think these authors have it all wrong. People do sometimes get rich because they work diligently towards lofty goals and took risks that paid off financially. In his blog Roth also counters some of the authors’ suggestions mentioning that he has friends who embrace change and love learning but are not millionaires. He notes that it’s possible to be successful and poor and it’s possible to be rich and a fool.
On that note, I will play psychologist and ask what do you really want? Gobs of money and the power and toys that go with it? Financial peace? To find the balance between working to make money and the time to enjoy spending it (or giving it away)? Okay, you are 15, you want to be a multi-millionaire, live in a big house, drive a fancy car and have a beautiful wife. You want me to take a break from giving out “life-lessons” and just tell you how to become rich.
Fine. You will need to work very hard at one thing (everything else becomes a distant second). You need to dream big and wake up and work towards those dreams every day. You need to prepare to make deep sacrifices of time with family and friends. If you are “book smart” there are well-established paths to becoming a physician or big-shot lawyer. If you are an “idea guy” then you can do everything in your power to succeed financially and you have a really low chance you’ll hit the big time. If you go into business you’ll need to be tough on suppliers and employees and ruthless with the competition.
Alright that was my over-the-top war speech of what it takes to be the best. I have been fortunate to know many wealthy people who did it “the right way”. One thing that I’ve discovered is that to a person their high net worth was not the source of their happiness. Numerous surveys have found that beyond a relatively modest level – what I would consider the low-end of middle-class – that more money had NO impact on a person’s well-being! Things like quality relationships, positive self-esteem, and spirituality factor much more powerfully into quality of life then money.
Confession time – I was probably a lot like you at your age. I too dreamed of being a self-made millionaire (I still think I have million dollar ideas). But I like many others have grown up and found terrific blessings in doing what I love doing, being around people that I love, and living for a higher purpose. Of course if you can do all that and make big money too, go for it!
Dr. Paul Hamilton is an Associate Professor of Economics at Asbury University and a CFP providing financial coaching to middle-class Americans. He is available to provide free workshops to churches, local businesses and other groups.