a little-too-late advice on building wealth

Everyone on the web is full of advice, and I am no exception. Once in a while you come across advice that makes a lot of sense but it’s just a little too late to help you now. Here are a few good pieces of advice that are probably too late for 80% of the people who read them on building wealth. Remember that building wealth isn’t just about money – it’s about building an abundant, wealthy life. Health, happiness and money are components of wealth, and each supports the others.

1. At a very young age, make sure your parents or grandparents or mentors teach you everything you need to know about money while you are a teenager. Don’t go into debt. Spend less than you earn until you are able to earn more than you spend. Invest early and often. Pay yourself first. Stay away from the lattes. Pay cash. Buy and hold. Buy low, sell high. These are all great lessons, no matter what your age, but it helps to learn them when you’re 15 a lot more than learning them when you’re 55.

2. Before you get married, make sure you and your spouse are 100% open about goals from career to family to children to retirement to religion to the dream location of your home. Agreeing on these points is not required. Making sure you don’t violently disagree is. If you never mention that you’d like to have 7 kids and settle down on the family farm, and your wife is planning on becoming a jet-setting investment banker, you may be able to find a compromise – but if you can’t, it’s better to find out before you get married. Divorce is a lot more expensive than breaking up over coffee. Being (and having) a good spouse is critical to building wealth.

3. Don’t waste your time in college. If you are passionate about studying Japanese cinema theory, by all means study it. I would highly recommend considering backing it up with a practical fall-back course of study – just in case the Institute of Japanese Cinema Theorists doesn’t have an opening available when you graduate. If that happens, it’s nice to be able to take a job in finance at least until you build up the savings. And go to a public school.

4. Don’t get fat or start smoking or get into drugs or get STDs. Stay healthy. Being sick will cost you money. Being fat, or smoking, or taking drugs or getting STDs are good ways to get sick. The older you get, the harder it will be to bounce back from ill health. Stay healthy when you are younger. If you are sick, you can still achieve your goals, but if you can avoid getting sick – and you can’t, always – it is EASIER to achieve them.

5. Network from day one. Make (and keep) good friends. When I was an exchange student in high school, I made a lot of friends in my German high school. We exchanged snail mail addresses and wrote with decreasing frequency for the next few years. Putting pen to paper was difficult with the demands of school, social lives and family, so failing to keep touch was understandable. But nowadays, with a simple exchange of a Facebook id or an email you can instantaneously create a network. No stamps, no envelopes, no delays – you can flick everyone a message once every few months just to stay in touch. This practice creates a lot of “life spam” but it’s still a good way to keep your network in place and growing. I am convinced that networking is one of the cornerstones of building your career, and consequently of building your wealth.

6. Stay away from the idiot box, but particularly avoid becoming a serial watcher. I have no evidence to back this up, but I feel stupider when I watch sitcoms than when I watch movies. It doesn’t matter if we’re comparing Seinfeld vs. “Everything is Illuminated” or The Family Guy versus “Rush Hour 3”, somehow I feel my time was better spent watching a movie. The reason why is that it’s over. Seinfeld can take up 30 minutes of your life every day of the week for – apparently – the rest of human history. Rush Hour 3 is over after 90 minutes (and not a minute too soon).

7. Don’t be stupid. Get the book learnin’! Develop the street smarts! Just because you finished college doesn’t make you allergic to literature or textbooks or learning in general. Somebody who doesn’t constantly keep learning is somebody getting stupider by the minute, and it doesn’t take a genius to know that getting stupider does not increase your chances at becoming wealthy. See point 6 for more information.

8. Take risks. Fear is the mind-killer. If you train yourself to be conservative, you are training yourself to lose. When are you going to take risks? Your next life? My family and friends probably don’t think much of me as a risk-taker, but I have taken a few huge risks in my life – dropping out of PhD school to get my MBA instead, living in Russia, moving to New York on a whim. Already in my early middle age I regret more the opportunities I didn’t pursue than regret the ones I took that didn’t work out. I have done well, but who knows? One of those risks I didn’t take might have been the path to an even wealthier current me.

9. Try not to waste your time on hate. Without being too specific about it, I have spent a lot of time raging and ranting about various things – people I hated, politicians I hated, wars I hate(d), things about modern society I hated, things about the sorry state of the world I hated, the ways people acted I hated and even movies I hated. Hate is a strong word. I hate cancer. I don’t really hate sour cream. Hate is a strong emotion that will burn you up long before it burns up the target of your hatred. I hate war, for example, but more hate will not mean less war. Hate takes time away from concentrating on your goals. Hate takes time away from hopes and dreams. I hate hate. Oops.

10. Spend money on experiences, not things. I used to play Tecmo Football with my friends in college. I loved it. We had a good time. I have thought from time to time how fun it would be to play Tecmo again, but then I realize the game was actually really bad. I just liked hanging with my friends. I bought a beautiful black car right out of college and I also went on a week-long roadtrip up the East Coast with three of my fraternity brothers right before I bought the new car in my brother’s old Escort. I still tell stories about that trip. I can barely remember what the new car looked like. Things you buy fade. Memories of things you did will endure. If you took a flight in coach or in business class, you are more likely to remember the destination than the journey there. Don’t waste money on stuff.

11. Journal. I try to write down at least one or two lines in my electronic journal (OK, an Excel spreadsheet) every day. My entry may be as boring as “Cold today. Snowed a bit in the morning. Little Buddy said ‘snow!’ for the first time.” The end. Right now, it seems pointless. When I go back and read similar entries from 12 years ago (when I started keeping a journal) it can be amazing. I wish I had started 20 years before I did.

12. Learn to sleep. If you set good sleeping patterns in your youth, you will be more successful in life. You will have more energy and you will be happier, which will aid in achieving a wealthy lifestyle. I have mentioned before that I read a book and completly misused its teachings on meditation to learn how to sleep. You want to know the short list: (a) don’t do anything but sleep and, ahem, “sleep” in your bedroom (b) go to bed when you are tired (c) wake up at the same time every day, including weekends and (d) learn how to breathe. Do it and you will be rested, relaxed and ready for riches…and alliteration.

13. Make written goals for your life. They can change over time. Not having goals makes life harder – to borrow a terrific concept from a book I’ve never read, a purpose-driven life should be your aspiration. The purpose does not need to be lofty. Mine is pretty simple. But if you write it down, it will simplify decision-making (does this move me closer or further from my goals). You may take the wrong exit off the highway of life sometimes, but knowing that you are headed to Denver makes it easier to decide whether to head east or west.

That’s the lucky 13. Even if you are out of college or already married or never started a journal, don’t spend time wishing you had done these things; figure out what you can do now and get started today.

(photo credit by littledan77)

50 Replies to “a little-too-late advice on building wealth”

  1. It’s never too late! You can still glean useful skills from this, regardless of age… and you can always teach the next generation. Great post.

  2. I love this post!

    I really like #10. I need to remember that I will have a memory forever, but a new pair of shoes will wear out in a few years.

  3. Some lessons you’re never too old to learn.

    I have to admit that when I first read #3, I thought you were telling people to skip college. I figured it out, though. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. I really enjoyed this post. I’m a big believer in #12. Pregnancy is messing me up just now, but I look forward to getting my routine back in a few months, or maybe next year.

  5. It’s nigh impossible to get some of these lessons across to arrogant kids bent on doing their own thing. While I was in full on debt accumulation mode I had coworkers tell me about the dangers of credit cards and spending beyond your means.

    I think the issue is some stupid kids (like myself back in the day) aren’t told these things, but just don’t listen.

    But it’s always good to get the information out there. I especially found points 4 and 7 useful. That’s all you need, really. Some smarts and a body that isn’t made of jello pudding pops and grape soda. The rest will fall into place after that.

  6. I have journaled since I was 12 years old. I have all these journals in the closet. It truly is amazing to read about my 14 year old self and 23 year old self sometimes. I automatically transport myself back to whatever drama I had in my life when I was younger. And other times it just makes me laugh out loud about how foolish I was and how hurt I get over the stupidest thing.

  7. This is a great list and just what I needed to hear today. It’s like you were reading my mind on some of these. Taking more risks, watching less TV, and getting on a real sleeping pattern are all things I’ve been trying to do lately. And this seriously inspired me to start a spreadsheet journal. I’m always overwhelmed by journaling, but I can do a spreadsheet. So thanks and great post!!

  8. Thanks everyone – I’m glad this post has been useful! ed has a good point – it’s not always easy getting young people to listen to all of the advice from older people. The best thing is to throw as much helpful advice at them as you can and hope little bits and pieces stick. Some of the advice I got young stuck (financial discipline, for example), and some didn’t (staying healthy – I got really, really bad before I got better). But I’m glad people gave me the advice!

  9. I love the Tecmo Bowl reference – not because I liked the game, but because I have so many similar experiences, especially from my time in the USAF. I feel the same way; it’s not things that make the experience worthwhile, but who you share the experiences with. Great article.

  10. Your article was spot on! I hate my parents but I don’t want to spend my free time and energy ranting and raving about their mistakes. I have too much to conquer and I’m going to be selfish for once.

    I’m going to move out of SF in the next few years. Not quite on a whim move but getting out of my comfort zone of being in a place I’ve known my entire life is a risk I want to take.

    I like spending money on experiences. I went to Vegas for a trade show/conference, Nashville to see my friend, Portland to visit more friends and Austin for SXSW as a freelance writer. I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences for anything in the world. And one of my even crazier ideas is to see all of my friends this year before I settle down and move on to my next job.

    Money is important as is learning and advancing in one’s career. But the friends I’m going to visit have let me crash on their couches, took me out to eat when I came to visit, picked me up at the airport and so much more. I couldn’t ask for better.

  11. This is a wonderful post! These are things that are just sort of in open air all the time. It’s great how you put the spotlight on them here with some explanation. I just sent this to my 17 year old sister telling her to pass it on to her friends. I really hope she does!

  12. Great post. I finally started a journal on word that I’ve been meaning to start a long time ago (well, I’m 17 so I guess its not that long) but I finally started it.

    I’ve come to many of the same conclusions that you have but its really good that you actually wrote this out on the internet. I found it through stumble upon.

    Great work

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  14. I agree with most of these. I don’t think Sitcoms are a total waste, but you should limit your viewing. Law and Order just takes me and grabs me by the ears sometimes and I watch for hours on end. Now that’s wasting a life.

  15. @HECC: Of course sitcoms aren’t a total waste. I’d be lying if I said I never watch any. Recently I’ve noticed that Comedy Central is playing Futurama, which I didn’t see when it was actually on – I love that and have to force myself not to watch it. It’s fun, it cheers me up.

    But you’re exactly right – moderation in all things!

  16. Great article. My kids at a very young age have started to have an entreprenerial mindset. I work by own online business. I share my experiences my strategies with the family. They surprise me sometimes with there responses. Never to young to start taking information on business and wealth. Enjoyed your blog it was fun and educational. I will definately be returning


  17. Jee-eez. Preach much?

    Steve, you clearly have a handle on dispensing advice. Good advice at that; cleverly written to boot. But do you think it’s necessary to lay out behaviors most people wish they would have taken on in their lives? The most insightful, introspective and poignant moments in my life come right after I’ve realized I’ve made a mistake. Right after I quit smoking. Right after I lost a close friend via “hating.” Right after I did something stupid with my car.

    The above 13 traits of life-improving behaviors cannot be learned from reading a succinctly written article like this. They must be conditioned in by mistakes. Preface this entry with something like “Rule 1: Err. If you don’t want to err or are too afraid of the fallout thereof, then stick to the following 13 points. They should get you through life pretty safely.”

  18. @Steve (the commenter – not myself): It is a little preachy, and I certainly wouldn’t expect someone to make a huge amount of life changes based solely on my blog. It’s really intended just to get the thought process started. And I will point out it’s “too late advice” – meaning it is stuff I would expect people (including myself) – to find out too late, after they missed it the first time.

    That’s probably why the tone is a little preachy – it’s a retrospective list!

  19. Thanks so much for this post! It’s an amazing list and one that everyone should follow. I’m sure people might have more than 13 pieces of advice for their own lives, but I’m sure you covered the absolute basics here.

    I especially liked #6, although I must disagree a little. If you spend your time watching channels such as Discovery, National Geographic Channel and other such educational TV, I’m sure you’re not wasting time at all. It’s the pointless TV programs meant purely for entertainment that zombieize people and lead to meltdown of consciousness. I totally agree, however, that watching a movie is so much greater than watching anything on TV (aside from mentioned channels…). The whole story starts and is over in two hours, and you feel a sense of satisfaction knowing the whole story. Sitcoms, however, just keep you dangling there. I’m proud to say I haven’t watched a sitcom in more than ten years. Honestly!

  20. this is for you now that you’re young. Especially point 12 and 4. luv ya.

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  22. The experiences vs. stuff thing is really a personal decision and neither necessarily affects the bottom line differently than the other. Some people like stuff better than experiences because it isn’t so ephemeral. Sometimes experiences and stuff go together. I have a lot of great rowing experiences but it necessitated buying a boat. LOL

    Re young people taking advice and counsel. Some listen, others are smarter and know better. You can learn the easy way or you can learn the hard way: listen to your parents, teachers, counselors, mentors; or let life kick yer beehind and teach you the hard way.

    A lot of young folks insisted on learning the hard way. I did. I reminded my mom that she did, too, when she was trying to nag and preach and teach. Let me go make my own mistakes!

    But life being the teacher leads to lessons well learned and never forgotten!

  23. These are great ideas…it makes me want to change how I give advice on my site.

  24. Thank you for #10. I used to play Tecmo Bowl with the bros for hours and hours too, haha. As I get older, the more often I hit my ‘savings goals’ I realize that people/experiences are still much more important than the money I have in the bank. But its certainly nice to have both!!

  25. This is a list of great advice, and I agree that not all of it is too late. There are some things here for people of all ages and stages in life.

  26. Behold! I am voting!

    Brip Blap you’ll surely reign supreme with my vote… I mean, I am an egotist

  27. What good advice! I practiced on my own children, now I can get it right with my grandchildren!

  28. BripBlap … you deserve to win this whole shebang … good luck!

    I would add a couple of additional items:

    14. Start a business or three … just for the ‘experience’, but, don’t get too upset if you make a ton ๐Ÿ˜‰

    15. Buy a rental property or two … don’t live in it (yet) .. again, just for the experience of handling tenants and finances.

    16. Read these books (in this order): Richest Man in Babylon; Rich Dad Poor Dad; The E-Myth Revisited; The Art of the Start … then STOP reading and START ACTING!

  29. Steve,

    This is a great article.

    I have not opened my google reader for about 10 days now and there are probably a couple of thousand posts outstanding, and this article of yours is a refreshing start to my reading schedule.

    Thanks, and

    PS: you got my vote

  30. Great article !
    Everything i do since 1 year is related to that, including what i write on my blog.
    We live in a society where thinking about the future equals nightmare. Everyone wants to enjoy his life right now and forget all the bad things that could happen later. We do not accept disease and risk but that’s life !
    Thinking is the key.

  31. Nice things you said there,
    Its never too late to follow good practices ๐Ÿ™‚

    The right time is when you start following,
    very useful ones,


  32. โ€œPeople are always looking for the newest way to earn cash for the least amount of work. โ€

    I donโ€™t see anything wrong with this. Weโ€™re naturally energy-conserving creatures. I think we could all learn from Ben if we realize that working smarter, instead of harder, is the true meaning of being industrious. By conserving our energies and attention, we are being frugal.

    Itโ€™s one of the foundations of the GTD philosophy: conserve.

    Economically, its a natural behavior to strive to get more out than we put in; that was what the productivity boom of the โ€™90s was all about, and why a lot of white collar information workers kept their jobs. Everything we do, from technology, to education, to hard skills training, helps us get more accomplished with the same energy, thereby increasing our wealth.

    Even the ancient stone masons had strict processes and methodologies, before one could even say there existed hard sciences, to improve the quality and speed of their work.

  33. Hi, Interesting advices, will u expalin more on (11)journal please..


  34. Thank you kindly for this post. I would like to press you further on the question of personal finance and education. I am taking a debt of about $12,000, spread over four years. With that debt, I am studying Economics, Mathematics and becoming fluent in Chinese. I am at a nationally known private college.

    My goal in life is to build a great deal of wealth so that I can improve math and science education in this country, as well as the hardly edible food that is served (seriously–http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/161/11/2005). I never was taught Algebra, Chemistry, how to write an essay or take notes. However, I was taught how to avoid having to talk to the police if you saw someone getting stabbed at school. Although you may have Rousseau inclined views about education, in my view, education (especially higher education) gives a person a set of logical tools with which to invent new things or innovate old ones.

    Given these, would my education still be worthless given the amount of debt I’m taking? It’s about as much as a car, and I don’t drive.

    My e-mail’s joshua.moton@oberlin.edu if you would like to answer there.

  35. What an arrogant post! Thanks for sharing your privileged perspective with the humble masses. You act as if these things CAUSED your success, but your logic is completely reliant on the assumption that because your success was chronologically followed by these things that you did, that these are what caused it.

    1. Yes, rhinokitty, I made the assumption that the actions I took led to the results that followed. I'm not sure why that would be interpreted as arrogant, exactly – it's just my take on things that helped me out to get where I am. It was a backward-looking post and hindsight's 20/20, of course.

  36. Nice Post. . I really enjoy reading your articles and I love your writing style

  37. Nice Post. . I really enjoy reading your articles and I love your writing style

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