The Secret Behind Financial and Entrepreneurial Classes and Seminars

I can’t tell you how often I see pitches for personal finance and entrepreneur and career seminars and classes of all kinds.

They all follow more or less the same pitch. They present this idea that they hold some kind of “secret” for finding success. Maybe it’s a secret “seven-point plan” or a secret “strategy” that will be able to cure all of your financial or professional ills.

Often, they try to present the idea that the person sharing this “secret” is already incredibly successful and is doing something exceptional in sharing this “secret” with you.

This is a business that a lot of financial gurus and financial bloggers eventually get into because, frankly, it’s really lucrative. I’ve seen the numbers behind some of these classes and seminars and I’m frankly stunned at the number of people who are willing to pay good money in order to learn some kind of “secret” or “plan” that will magically fix their financial state. I’ve even been approached to be involved in a system like this.

It’s all marketing. Every single bit of it is marketing.

I’m going to tell you the flat-out truth about my life.

In 2006, I was a pretty ordinary working professional. I had a job that paid me roughly the national average in terms of salaries for a single person at the time. I had what I considered a pretty secure job, but it was one that frustrated me in a few ways. I was married and had a young child at home, too.

However, I was in debt. A lot of debt. I didn’t have a mortgage, but I had a big pile of student loan debt, as did my wife. I had a car loan, as did my wife. I had a little bit of money saved for retirement, but it wasn’t an exceptional amount.

By 2011 – just five years later – my wife and I owned a four-bedroom home that we had completely paid off – no mortgage. We had paid off both of our automobiles, replaced them both, and paid them both off (in fact, we paid cash for one of the cars). Not only that, I had left my job and took on a more fulfilling but less certain career path as a freelance writer so I could work from home and be sitting on the front step when my children (yes, children – we had two more between 2006 and 2011) got off the bus.

Five years later, my wife and I are well on the path to complete financial independence, meaning we will be able to live off the income from our investments sooner rather than later.

How did we do this?

Did we come into a lot of money? No.

Did we suddenly start earning hundreds of thousands a year? No. I’m probably earning less in 2016 than I would have if I had stayed at my old job.

What was the secret, then?

That’s the thing. I could sell you a product based on that idea of a financial “secret” that I possess. I could make you believe in a myth that I have somehow mined some existential secret about how the financial world works that has made me a mint.

And some of you would buy it.

The truth is that there really isn’t any kind of “secret.” All I did was sit down, take a hard look at my spending, and cut it hard. We were spending everything that we earned, but we transformed that into spending way less than we earned.

At the same time, I started spending my spare time learning how to do the thing I’ve always wanted to do for a living – being a freelance writer. I stopped going home and watching television for several hours and instead went home and honed my craft as a freelance writer, teaching myself how to write quickly and also how to get people to read what I had written. I didn’t do anything secret or special there, either – I just went to where people were talking about personal finance, read the questions people had, and did my best to write articles to answer those questions based on what I had actually done in my own life and what I could figure out with a bit of research.

That’s literally all that I did to turn our financial ship around. We started spending way less than we earned by turning a critical eye to every dollar spent and seeking out fun in things that didn’t involve spending money. I started spending my solitaire free time learning new skills and figuring out how to make a living with them. That’s it.

cut spending
There isn’t a magic trick or secret to financial success. You have to cut your spending — hard. Photo:

What about the details? I figured out all of the details of what I needed to do by reading informative websites and also visiting the library. Books like Your Money or Your Life helped me figure out the details when it came to my money, and books like Ready, Fire, Aim convinced me to just sit down and start doing whatever I wished I was doing with my life.

There’s no big secret there. There’s literally nothing that anyone else couldn’t do.

Yet, with a bit of marketing and clever promotion, I could make it seem like some kind of secret miracle. It’s all about wrapping up that little story – which is completely true – into some sort of package that makes you think that I hold some kind of special secret… when the truth is that I don’t have any kind of special secret at all.

All I have is a willingness to spend less than I earn and save the difference while being willing to put aside my spare time when I want to achieve something.

That’s it. That’s the big “secret.”

The thing is, almost every financial or entrepreneurial class or seminar that seems to be selling some sort of secret path to success boils down to a basic point that’s almost exactly like that. They might toss in something like a ready-made business template or some sort of psychology talk or bits and pieces borrowed from things like The 48 Laws of Power.

Here’s the reality about “seminars” and “classes” and “plans” that will teach you “secrets for success.” You don’t need to spend a dime to learn how to succeed in your career or succeed financially or to succeed entrepreneurially.

If you take those classes, all you’re getting is information that’s just a repackaging of the things you can get from your local library, all bundled up with some slick marketing but with nothing new whatsoever. You’ll probably also get a pitch to buy even more expensive classes and seminars.

I’m going to suggest a different approach. Don’t buy into those classes and seminars. Skip all of them. Keep your money in your wallet.

Instead, head down to your library and check out some books. I think Your Money or Your Life is a brilliant one that everyone should read, as it establishes a link between how you live your daily life and your financial state. Grab a few other personal finance books that look interesting.

Then, turn off the television or the Internet in the evening for an hour or two and read. Get lost in the pages. Try out some of the things they suggest.

Branch out from there. Get some books about entrepreneurship and read those. Dig into the archives of a personal finance site like this one and gorge yourself on useful information. There are mountains of information sitting out there for free. Just keep reading until you find the stuff that strikes a clear chord with you. Different people are going to find that different articles and different books and different videos hit home for them.

Then, take that stuff that makes sense to you and take action on it.

Take that money you didn’t spend on some well-marketed seminar or online class and instead use that money to pay down a debt or build an emergency fund or make a contribution to a retirement account or invest in something that will reduce your bills going forward (like a bunch of LED light bulbs or the equipment to air seal your home).

Leave the television or the computer off and spend your time working on a skill or building a small side business or working on projects around your house that will trim your food bill or your energy bill.

Get some exercise and start eating a little better so that you’ll feel more energetic and ready to tackle these things.

When you feel tired, don’t veg out in front of the computer or the television – go to bed instead and get a good night of sleep.

Everything else really is just marketing and details.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.