Whenever I go into a bookstore, I usually make a point of stopping by the personal finance section. I browse through the titles and usually take a moment or two to look through any books that I’m not familiar with that might be relevant to The Simple Dollar.
One thing I can’t help but notice when I do this kind of browsing is how many of the books talk about “getting rich” (or something very similar). Over the years, I’ve seen hundreds of variations on that phrase.
What does it actually mean, though? Why is the idea of “getting rich” so appealing?
I think it’s because “getting rich” means something different to everyone and that whatever it means to you, it means the realization of some dream.
For some, it might mean affluence and possessions. For others, it might just mean freedom – from work or from difficult responsibilities. For yet others, it might mean opportunity – a chance to do things that would otherwise be impossible.
When we see that phrase “getting rich,” one of two things happen. Either we instinctively tie it to that dream that we hold dear or we see it as an impossible (or nearly impossible) goal.
So, how is this idea useful?
First, “getting rich” is often an easy attractor for questionable ideas. We all know people who are attracted to “get rich quick” schemes and questionable businesses and plans for acquiring wealth. I’ve had quite a few friends try to sell me things or invite me to “become a part of an amazing business opportunity.” These people are all dreaming of getting rich and, sometimes, the glow of that dream and what it means to that person gets in the way of clearheaded analysis. When someone tells you that they can show you a clear path to “getting rich,” they’re trying to hook you with your own dreams.
At the same time, legitimate advice also uses the idea of “getting rich” to get your attention. Many of the personal finance books I’ve seen that mention “getting rich” are full of genuinely good advice and ideas.
Why do they both use that idea of “getting rich”? It’s a powerful attracting idea because it taps into our dreams.
So, how do you determine the difference between the legitimate ideas and the illegitimate ones? There are several things you can do. Here are three of the key ones.
First, read. A lot. The more information you know about getting your finances straight and building your net worth, the easier it becomes to assess whether an idea makes sense or whether it doesn’t.
Second, adopt some core principles. Everyone has their own. Here are a few of mine. If you don’t know what you’re investing in, don’t invest. Don’t get involved in any plan that requires you to sell or “partner” with your friends or family, because personal and business relationships rarely mix well. You are never going to consistently beat the market and if you try, you’re going to often lag behind the market, so just try to match it with as little effort as possible. The less money you spend on unimportant stuff, the more you have to get out of debt and invest in your future.
Finally, watch out for anyone who tries to squeeze your emotional responses. When someone tries to appeal to your patriotism or the love you have for your family and friends or to your faith or to your sense of right and wrong and ties that directly to spending or investing money, you need to stop right away and step back from that decision. Responding to emotions with money is almost always a mistake.
Whatever you choose to do with your money, be smart about it. Don’t let the emotional impact of your dreams (and how “getting rich” can make them happen) get in the way of making smart decisions. Never stop educating yourself, stick to core principles, and avoid emotional responses.