“More people look richer than they really are, and the really rich often don’t look anything like what we think they should look like.” -Thomas J. Stanley
~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #66
Perception versus reality. The primary goal of someone working in public relations is to present an exterior that will prompt a desired result: sales, confidence, change, movement, acceptance, etc. But as those who have been behind the scenes know, just because an image is given to us of what “rich” looks like doesn’t mean it is so.
The multi-million dollar contracts signed by Adonis-esque athletes, the many homes owned by starlets as well as the celebrity endorsed products seen ad-nauseum don’t guarantee or demonstrate the truth behind what being financially rich actually is.
Thomas J. Stanley in his 2009 book Stop Acting Rich: And Start Living Like a Real Millionaire, enumerates the many ways those of us who might desire to be rich are misled to believe what rich actually is.
- An expensive, well-located, spacious home
- Owning a Rolex
- Driving a BMW
- A stocked wine cellar
- Top designer clothing
- Owning a vacation home
- Have hired help
In reality, those who are actually rich generally defy the entire list mentioned above. Stanley points out that the image of “rich” presented by the media, advertisers and celebrities themselves (perhaps that are endorsed by the brands they don unbeknownst to the onlooker) misrepresent the truth of what it takes to truly become rich.
So what is the definition of rich? In Stanley’s first book The Millionaire Next Door, the numerical goal of net assets is approximately $350,000. Regardless of where those assets are coming from, if one has not attained this dollar amount, they are not a true millionaire.
Upon reading this equation, it was in many ways a relief. Why? Because for many, the idea of owning a house is described as the only way to become financially security, but as we saw in the Great Recession, many took a financial face-plant because of their real estate choices. This is not to say real estate is a bad financial decision. In fact, it is usually a very good idea in the long run, but the key is to understand there are many routes to attaining the label of rich, or a secure financial life. However you are able to attain the $350,000 will be dependent on your career, talents, goals, locale, etc. And most importantly, it will take time.
With that said, let’s take a look at the many ways you can actually become rich:
1. Become Well Educated
Ninety percent of millionaires who were happy in their lives had graduated from college, 62% had graduated from graduate or professional school and only 19% were in the top 5% of their class. The key to making sound life decisions not only
in finance, but in general, is to become savvy about what you will be doing for your career as that will be your foundation. Being at the top is not necessary, but it is clear that wisdom when applied makes a tremendous difference.
2. Have Patience
It takes time to accrue wealth. Stanley interviewed Baby Boomers in their mid-fifties who were millionaires and as many of them began investing in their mid-twenties, it was evident that the $350K mark did not happen overnight, but rather over decades of smart decision-making.
3. Make More Than You Spend
Another commonality was millionaires lived in a smaller or less expensive house than they could afford and refrained from buying status symbol items such as vehicles, watches, and clothing. Did it mean they were Scrooges? No, they had nice clothing, but they were smart, thoughtful purchases as I will talk about in #8.
4. Don’t Depend on an Inheritance
Only 12% of the millionaires in Stanley’s study inherited any money from relatives as their means to achieving wealth. In fact, those who received inheritance were less likely to grow their money or maintain a millionaire status.
5. Invest in Real Estate, but Purchase Less Than You Can Afford
As mentioned in #2, most millionaires bought their first house at the age of 26, but they don’t still live in this home and they tend to purchase less than what their income allows. Not only does this aid in one’s health and therefore overall happiness due to the stress alleviated, it also frees up money to be invested elsewhere or invest in experiences to grow as an individual.
6. Don’t Live in the Most Expensive Neighborhood
While location is key in real estate, investing in a neighborhood purely to maintain appearances regardless of how much it will cost will do you no favors in the long-run as you save and invest for your financial security. In fact, Stanley found that most millionaires were better off than their neighbors based on where they chose to live.
7. Be Generous
Sixty percent of happy millionaires were found to give to charitable causes while only 38% of unsatisfied millionaires did the same. While the reasons may be wide and vast, helping and giving when we can is easier when we make more than we spend on necessary expenditures and overall leaves us feeling more connected to our community and those we love.
8. Make Smart Purchases
Are wearing Manolo Blahniks off the table if we want to become rich? It depends. A frugal shopper who appreciates quality over quantity can purchase a pair of Manolo’s and wear them for years, or perhaps find them in a consignment shop. It is the person who believes they must have designer everything and pay full price as well. Part of the mission of living simply luxuriously is not to feel deprived, but instead to live intelligently. You know what you need, you know how much you can afford and you are the savvy shopper who knows how to get what they want at the best price.
9. Reconsider the Second Home or Extra Recreational Anything
Stanley shares a long list of experiences and activities that deca-millionaires spend their money on versus buying a second home, a boat, or expensive labels in watches, wines, cars and the like. Here is just a taste: gardening, vacationing in Paris (I kid you not), visiting museums, attending Broadway plays, jogging, attending lectures, socializing with loved ones, raising money for charities, participating in civic activities, studying art, golfing and this is just a start. In other words, as Stanley states, “You cannot be in two places at one time” so why spend your money unnecessarily on two mortgages or paying down debt you don’t need to thrive?
10. Refuse to Fall Prey to the Newest Model
In 1927, Stanley shares General Motors began to realize a winning sales strategy: produce new models of the same car each season as “people will pay big bucks for cars that symbolize wealth and status”. Whether it’s the latest Apple iPhone model or the new 2016 model of the car you are currently driving, new doesn’t necessarily mean better. So long as you purchase a quality vehicle, care for it properly, there is no need to invest every time a new edition is revealed.
One of the careers that predominantly acquires millionaires in its field of expertise is engineers. In particular, Stanley observes one such engineer (Tom) and what he reveals is significant. Rather than seeking out expensive automobiles or items that project the image of wealth, he drives a Honda Civic. Why? Tom is focused on value and quality rather than showmanship. The career achievements he has attained have played a significant role in his high self-esteem, and he need not seek out external validation.
12. Invest in Quality
Bottom line: purchase the best quality product necessarily to complete the task effectively. Whether it is a pair of jeans that cost $200, but will last for 10 years or a Honda Civic that will run smoothly and efficiently for 10 years or more, if it gets the job done, let go of worrying about the audience. If they applaud, okay. But if they do not, you will be financially secure and still be stylish and arriving safe at work each and every day.
While the goal of our lives is not to become rich, it is what becoming rich allows. I have always strived to be financially secure and independently so as it affords me the ability to dictate my future. As much as I wish I could have been über financially secure when I was in my twenties, I have realized that it is a gradual process and the key is to make savvy decisions, take educated risks and consult those who know better than us along the way.
“But the values and work habits of millionaires, like the roots of the oak, are what support their lifestyles (the leaves), not the other way around. ” -Thomas J. Stanley
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