Updated on 05.13.09

Review: Rich Like Them

Trent Hamm

Every other Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance book.

rich like themRich Like Them by Ryan D’Agostino follows in the tradition of The Millionaire Next Door and The Difference: it interviews a large group of millionaires in order to figure out what traits they have in common.

Rich Like Them takes this tactic and runs in a slightly different direction with it. The author, Ryan D’Agostino, identified the fifty richest zip codes in the United States and went to forty nine of them. He quite literally went door to door, knocking on the doors of people in these communities, and asking them if they’d be willing to discuss how they “made it.” Surprisingly, he got a roughly 10% success rate, even including the droves of people that weren’t home or avoided the interview.

The result of these interviews is Rich Like Them – a collection of the advice that D’Agostino collected on this journey. In fact, he codifies all of this advice into five general areas.

One: Open Your Eyes
We’re all almost drowning in opportunities. The problem is that many of us simply don’t see them. We’re either too focused on the specific little thing at hand or simply aren’t keeping our mind open when we’re “off the clock.” Every person you meet and every situation you’re in is an opportunity not only to improve yourself, but to connect to others and open the door to money-making possibilities.

What steps can you take? Build relationships with people – and, even better, try to connect those relationships to each other, because bringing people together in a useful way is one of the best things you can do. Listen to what people are actually saying and doing – and try as hard as you can to keep your own conclusions out of the mix.

Two: Luck Doesn’t Exist
Luck is mostly about preparation. If you have the ability to record great ideas and to take immediate advantage of opportunities that come your way, you’ll seem much more lucky than the guy who never writes anything down and doesn’t have a hefty savings account.

What steps can you take? Write down ideas as soon as they come to you. Have an “opportunity fund” in the bank in cash form that you can use when something great comes along. Surround yourself with people who are doing useful and interesting things.

Three: The Economics of Obsession
Find something you’re passionate about and throw yourself in head first. Become obsessed with what you’re doing. Read everything you can get your hands on. Meet everyone even remotely related to your passion. Try it all. Practice, practice, practice.

What steps can you take? Figure out what you’re truly passionate about, then when you find it, make it central to your life. Surround yourself with people and activities that reinforce that passion. Become so obsessed, in fact, that others sometimes find it almost scary.

Four: The Myth of Risk
Risk is real, but most people use risk as an excuse not to try things. Instead, you should build a safety net for yourself and take that leap sometimes. A risk that others aren’t willing to take is often the source of an incredible opportunity for someone who is passionate and is prepared.

What steps can you take? Make your own life as financially secure as you can. Dig into opportunities and figure out their real risks. Realize that if something is truly in your wheelhouse, you’re likely to face less risk than someone less impassioned.

Five: Humility
Above all, no matter what happens, be humble. Humility takes you far in life – you can mess up and you will. The way you treat others often winds up matching the way they treat you, especially at that key moment when you really need their help.

What steps can you take? Treat everyone well. Don’t complain about the behavior of others – instead, set your own example. Be humble about your accomplishments instead of bragging about them.

The Best Part: Little Points of Wisdom
The part of this book that really stuck with me was the short principles and quotes inserted throughout the book every few pages. I collected these pieces together, simply because I thought they were so incredibly worthwhile:

Don’t forget your goal – even when you’re on vacation
Where others see death, imagine life
When you hear someone say “If only I could…,” you’re hearing an opportunity
Connect the people you meet
Even when you find the sure thing, save some money for a rainy day
Once you connect the dots, follow through
Choose your purpose, and don’t let anyone tell you you’re wrong
Remember: with time comes free money
Watch your pennies, no matter how many you have
Keep your cool – it’s a big part of persevering
Don’t deviate from your planned path to get a quick gain
Perseverance doesn’t take forever
Once you find your calling, persevering is easy
Remember that you can’t do a business transaction with yourself
Prepare to get lucky
Find a driver other than money – it’s usually more lucrative than money alone
Do one thing and do it well
Obsess over whatever job you have
Take your mind off the money – you’ll earn more
Don’t plan a career – plan a life
Obsession makes you work harder
If you look forward to going to work, that’s a good sign
Discover love through immersion
Turn fear into passion
Never stop being a student
Calculate every risk – even the one you live in
Look for your window to go solo
You want autonomy? Let it motivate you
Be cocky when it counts
Don’t worry about what other people think
Reduce risk by believing in yourself
When you fail miserably, rejoice
If you hate your career, um, change it
Sometimes the biggest risk is doing nothing
Never let pride get in the way of profit
Be humble even if you’re as rich as Brooke Astor
Understand your limitations
Don’t be a slave to Plan A – it’ll prevent you from seeing plan B
Don’t be afraid to make less than your spouse
Never feel as if you’re too successful to sweat
Remember that you are not, nor will you ever be, a god or goddess

Good stuff, all around. Somewhere in there is a piece of advice that is probably a life changer for you.

Is Rich Like Them Worth Reading?
Rich Like Them is a spectacular handbook for someone who is a self-starter with an entrepreneurial bent. If you’ve got a strong desire to build your own success, the advice in this book can provide a great foundation.

If that doesn’t sound like you, Rich Like Them doesn’t have as much to offer. Unlike The Millionaire Next Door and The Difference, the focus here is strongly on entrepreneurial behaviors – taking advantage of the opportunities around you.

So, here’s the deal: if you have an entrepreneurial nature, Rich Like Them is an excellent read; if not, I highly recommend giving The Millionaire Next Door and The Difference a read.

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  1. tentaculistic says:

    Yes! First!

    Trent, I sometimes have the uncanny feeling like you’re lurking under my window and listening to what my husband and I are talking about… and then you write articles that give great ideas and inspiration in the route we’re going to take (whatever that is). Of course, since we live on the 10th floor, lurking under my window would be both odd and really impressive :)

    Thanks for the great article, yet another one I’ve forwarded to my husband.

  2. MoneyEnergy says:

    Amazing idea – to go to those fifty top postal codes. Thanks for these highlighted bits of takeaway points! I might still get the book, though!:)

  3. Kyle says:

    “Luck doesn’t exist” is one of those things that isn’t true, but it can be beneficial to go through life believing the lie.

  4. DB Cooper says:

    I’m curious – I’m thinking about that section in every book which states something along the lines of “no part of this book may be duplicated, photocopied, reprinted…etc…without the permission of the publisher…” Do you get permission to “reprint” sections or parts of these books when you review them? Or does that clause not apply to reviews? Again, just wondering.

  5. Kyle says:

    @DB Cooper

    There’s a concept called “fair use” in copyright laws that allows for certain uses, such as reviews.

  6. Jim says:

    I wonder how many of those folks they interviewed are in debt up to thier eyeballs.

    I run a carpet cleaning company and I can’t tell you how many homes in upscale areas I go into and see books lying around about getting out of debt.For starters you could sell the beamer in the driveway! I even saw Dave Ramseys financial peace university in one house.

  7. Sounds like another great read. The one point you made about having an opportunity fund is something that I subscribe to. One of the best things I’ve ever read was to keep two years’ worth of cash set aside for opportunities or when it’s raining cats and dogs. The funny thing about opportunity and rain is they’re usually happening at the same time. Thanks for the quick look, it’ll be on the shelf shortly.

  8. Kris says:

    Luck = Preparation + Opportunity. The reason a lot of people think that a statement like “Luck doesn’t exist” is a lie is because they fail to do the preparation part of the equation and so are not able to make the best of an opportunity.

    Since I am becoming more and more interested in entrepreneurship, I will definitely give this a read.

    Thanks for the review Trent.

  9. Kyle says:

    Kris – That’s another example of a cute saying that illustrates an important point (people are more likely to succeed if they are prepared for the opportunities that may present themselves), but on a strictly logical level it’s just a semantic redefinition of an existing term.

  10. So who did the author use for a control group?

  11. Ray says:

    The little points of wisdom sparked a thought. Whenever someone describes entrepreneurs as risk takers I always want to make the comment that good entrepreneurs are not risk takers but rather risk calculators. I know several successful entrepreneurs and they are all very good at calculating risk and not jumping into something until they feel they have a solid understanding of the risks involved, and that there is plausible chance of success. It doesn’t mean that they don’t take risk, they do, they just don’t blindly take risks.

  12. This is the first book review of yours that I haven’t read the book, but feel a strong desire to get my hands on it. Thanks for sharing!

  13. CathyG says:

    Am I the only one dying to know which ZIP code the author did not go to, and why not????

  14. Andy says:

    LOL, I agree with CathyG… what was the 50th ZIP code?! Why stop at 49 of 50?

  15. Nancy says:

    Trent thanks for reviewing this book. I’m starting a vocational change. It’s my choice, I still have my job which I enjoy but I’m not passionate about. What I’m getting started on I’m passionate about. This looks like a book I will definitely want to read. I would not have known it existed if you had not reviewed it. Thanks again.

  16. Dana Booth says:

    Thanks for another great post! Discovered your website about a month ago I guess (I get the e-mail feed). I plan on printing these out and using them as a gentle daily reminder.


  17. McKenna says:

    I can’t wait to read this book. Thanks for the review, Trent!

    But I have to know: Do you connect with the ideas in this book? Does it change any of your plans or how you are planning to achieve your goals?

  18. Rajeev SIngh says:

    Looks like an interesting read. Its always fascinating to read about the success formula of getting rich and you almost come out of the book with no such magic formula for getting rich. Its amazing how rich people do simple things smartly than most of us and use this to get their welath. They are quick to spot opportunitites and have tons of perseverance to sick to their passion. All this gets them their desired result.

  19. Foxie says:

    I think I would enjoy reading this book. More and more often I’ve found myself interested in starting my own business, I’m just not sure how to go about it, or what to even do.

    I can totally relate to the obsession part, I already live that! And yeah, people will look at you REALLY weird. I go to a lot of car events, focus on building up my car, keep up with friends who are into cars and now recently revamped my blog to follow cars. Fingers crossed I find my break sometime and get to follow my obsession without just spending money!

  20. Lorax says:

    Oh no!

    Not another book in the Millionaire Next Door vein of sampling bias? It’s not statistically valid to seek out the richest people, ask them questions, and assume others could use technique to get rich as well. It just doesn’t hold up to any scrutiny. It is just bogus.

    Example: Suppose we visited farmers that had the best yield on their crops and asked them how they did it. We then distilled the answers and produced a set of recommendations based on that information. The recommendations could be completely wrong. After all, it is quite possible that farmers with poor yields had followed our recommendations, but we never talked to them, so we have no idea what helps and what doesn’t!

    Overall, these books have interesting narratives about what might work to get rich, but don’t bank on them.

  21. George says:

    Starting with what has worked for some is not a bad choice. A fuller picture can be obtained by checking with those who nearly made it, but how do you know who they are?

    In the Portland, Oregon, area, we have a few examples of those who made and lost and then made fortunes again (or not). Two that immediately pop into mind are the family that owned Hanna Rub-a-Dub car washes and Tom Peterson. They worked hard and made their fortunes. Then, in both cases, what brought down their fortunes was overextending when they were already wealthy. To regain their fortunes, they were smart enough to go back to doing what worked for them the first time and forsook future “opportunities” of overextending their finances.

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