How Can I Get Rich?

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.

 Contact him at or





The Taxman Pays People to Live in America

Hey Paul: As a single Mom of two kids and a modest income I don’t have any taxes withheld from my paycheck. I won’t receive a refund as I didn’t pay any taxes.

My total income for the year was about $22,000. Do I need to file a tax return by April 15th? If I do how much will it cost?

 Living Free in America

I’ve got good news and better news for you. The good news is that you do need to file a tax return as only those with very low incomes are exempted. Why is this good news? As former Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, callously noted four years ago – 47% of Americans pay no Federal Income taxes. The even better news for you is that many households with modest incomes like yourself actually get paid to live in the greatest nation in the world!

What does it cost to file? More good news – FREE! That is, it won’t cost you any money to file using any of the major tax preparers’ online forms. This includes TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxAct (the one I personally use). These three companies also offer free KY state income tax returns! For a complete list of free providers and the income limits see

As the recent commercials by TurboTax remind us – you don’t have to be a genius to file your taxes. However you do have to take some self-initiative to become part of the DIY crowd. The first step is collecting your information – you’ll have to do this regardless of whether you DIY or have a paid tax preparer. H&R Block has a comprehensive list of forms – see The long list can look imposing but most people have only a handful of items to collect – for workers like yourself a W2 from your employer or 1099-MISC for contract work are the most important items. You could have other items like alimony received, IRA contributions, “Obamacare” forms and perhaps a few others.

Retirees may have social security (SSA-1099), pension and retirement withdrawals (1099-R). Business owners are required to document revenues and expenses. Investors with dividends or gains or losses from sales will have various 1099 forms. If you have relatively significant mortgage interest expense and charitable gifts then you may deduct these through itemization. Sounds messy but just answer the questions the tax prep program asks!

I realize that you like many people may be apprehensive about trying to do your own taxes. I can picture my Mom working skillfully through the paper forms with pencil and calculator at the kitchen table when I was growing up. If you had to navigate today’s tax code by reading the IRS instruction booklets then I’d say pay someone to save you several hours of work and the strong likelihood you’d make an error.

However today’s online software makes it easy – if you’ve ordered a pizza from Papa John’s you can do your own taxes. Once you’ve got your information organized it will likely take less than an hour to complete the online tax forms. That may save your over $200 in having someone else do your taxes – not a bad deal for an hour’s effort.

If you truly have math or technology anxiety then there are several terrific local services that provide free tax preparation services. Check out the United Way site or call 1-855-MY-TX-HELP to see when and where free tax services are provided.

To give you an idea of how things will turn out I ran what I know about you through TaxAct and have the following positive news to report. You are entitled to Federal “refund” of a whopping $6648 and a KY tax owed of $276. The key to your federal refund is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) of $4724 – the government subsidizes work rather than taxing it over a range of modest incomes. Secondly, for each child a tax credit of up to $1000 applies that is refundable as your income is high enough. These tax credits are not big secrets yet a lot of people in your situation do not file or file incorrectly and miss out on a lot of money. If you have missed out in past years it is possible to file amended returns and recoup the full tax refund due to you.

I’ll be holding tax preparation workshops at the Jessamine Public Library Saturday mornings in March at 10:40am. Bring your laptop or tablet and we’ll work through the details together.

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.

 Contact him at or