Updated on 08.26.14

Working Smarter, No Matter Your Income

Trent Hamm

Yesterday, I made the apparently controversial point that hard work and smart work can lead anyone to success. I heard all the usual responses to this – that some people are born with genetic gifts, that a “white man” has all the advantages, that people can work their fingers to the bone and never get ahead, and the blind accusation that I must have never been poor.

I grew up in a loving household with two wonderful parents. We were financially poor – at times, we were very poor. My parents were faced with a lot of difficult choices and they made a lot of sacrifices to give me some great opportunities in life. We weren’t the poorest around, either – I constantly witnessed people in much worse situations than ours.

What I witnessed time and time again is that most poor people do work hard – very hard. They go into their jobs and do back-breaking work, day after day. They grind their youth away in the factories and the mills, and they go home at night utterly exhausted. The next morning, they get up and do the same thing again. Most of them are intelligent, too. They see it happening – and they don’t like it.

This is the crucial point where the “work smarter” aspect comes into play. Most of the people I grew up with answered this problem by drinking it away. They’d drink beer to dull the pain, then go into work again the next day and do it all over again. They’d sit around and complain about how “the man” in his various forms was out to get them – folks of various ethnicities would complain about white folks, women would complain about men, white men would complain about rich people, liberals would blame “trickle-down Reaganomics” conservatives, conservatives would blame “socialist” liberals. Everyone had “the man” holding them down, and they looked for someone else to blame.

Work Smarter

The first step is to stop blaming “the man” and start looking for every foothold you can grab to climb out of your situation

You don’t have to be educated or anything else to start doing this. You don’t need extra money laying around. You don’t need anything except a desire to accomplish more than you’re accomplishing and the work ethic to do something.

Don’t believe me? What’s keeping any member of the working poor from trying any of the following?

Turn off the television at night

Instead of coming home and relaxing in front of the television, how about turning it off and then spending that time looking for some way – any way – to improve yourself? Turn the average television off for two hours a night and cancel that cable package and suddenly you’ll have an extra $60 a month.

Do everything you can do at work as well as you possibly can

It’s much easier to just do the minimal job, but don’t just stop there. If you’re standing idle for a few minutes, help someone else out. People will start to notice this and you will be looked upon well by others – the ones who count. If you stand around doing nothing, you look like a waste of an organization’s resources. If you work hard, you look like something valuable.

Give up expensive and self-damaging habits

Many people are not impressed by a compulsive drinker or a chainsmoker – it puts off socially negative signals. Work hard to break these habits and you’ll find yourself feeling better, appearing better to others, and saving money.

Ask your supervisor what you would have to do to get promoted

Even if you’re a janitor or a person on the factory floor, go to your supervisor and ask what you need to do to get ahead. Several things will happen, all of them positive. You’ll create a positive impression on your supervisor, likely some advice on how you can get ahead, a possible mentor, and if there really is no way to get ahead, you’ll figure that out, too.

Keep a clean and tidy appearance at all times

Shave every day. Take a shower every day. Brush your teeth. Wear deodorant. If you have visible body piercings and tattoos, try to get them removed or take effort to minimize their visible effect. In short, put forth an impression that you care for yourself – it will imply directly that you care for other things as well.

Take an evening class

Take that cash and that time you gained from turning off the television and enroll in an evening class down at the community college in anything that you can improve yourself with. That $60 a month can pay for a good class at the community college. If you’re scared that you’re “too dumb to learn,” use that money to take very basic classes. Show a strong desire to learn. If you’re willing to put in the work, teachers will love to help you. Ask questions, even if they seem stupid. Swallow your pride.

Build your social network as much as you can, especially with positive people

Talk to everyone. Find out more about them – where they work, what their interests are, how they spend their time. Make a special effort to talk to people who have made it out of a situation like yours – the guy who “made it.” Treat everyone as if they have something valuable to say, even if you think they’re a complete fool. You’ll build a connection there, one that will someday prove valuable to you, often in a way you completely don’t expect.

Always keep on the lookout for a better opportunity

If you’re working at a minimum wage or other low-end job, keep your eyes and ears open at all times for other opportunities. Perhaps there are openings in the postal service, or maybe a penitentiary near you is hiring and providing a strong salary. Every once in a while, tug the strings in your social network and see what’s available and what’s happening, because you might know someone who knows someone who happens to be hiring at that place. Management-oriented classes are never a bad idea for anyone.

Learn a trade

If you work as an unskilled worker in a place with skilled workers, take every single opportunity you can scrounge up to learn their trade. Absorb as many of the skills as you possibly can for free and save up for any certifications you might need. If you work as a handy man while people around you are making good money as electricians or you’re sweeping floors while carpenters are busy at work, spend every spare second absorbing what they’re doing, and look for opportunities to show the people in charge that you’re learning. Look for opportunities to be an apprentice, too.

If you have specific limitations, seek every bit of help you can

Don’t hesitate to ask for help, either. Contact social services, describe your problem, and ask for help. Western society offers help for almost every kind of social, physical, and mental need, but you have to stand up and ask for it – it won’t come to you. At the same time, don’t come to rely on the crutch. Learning to stand completely on your own will make you stronger in every way. Use help to get up off the floor, but don’t use that help to live – use that help to get back on your feet and start walking for yourself.

Be patient

Your problems won’t be solved overnight. I’ve worked hard, failed, worked hard again, failed again, and kept trying. The success that I’ve achieved with The Simple Dollar – or anything else in my life – didn’t come quickly or easily. It doesn’t for everyone. The greatest danger is giving up.

More than anything else, stop blaming other people

Blaming other people is just an excuse to not do your best. Realize that when you fail, a good chunk of the blame does fall squarely on you. You didn’t do all that you could do to succeed, or else you pinned your hopes on the wrong place. Figure out why you failed, get up, and try again.

There isn’t an able-bodied person in the Western world who couldn’t apply most of these things to their own life, they just choose not to. It’s easier that way. However, the easy road today is often the very hard road over the long run.

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  1. Brent says:

    “…and the blind accusation that I must have never been poor.”
    It is good that you are address this. I read the comments on the previous post and was suprised by some of them. You have to wonder if they people making those accuasations were ever poor themselves. I grew up in a poor family. I remember my dad walking to work at times. But we have slowly saved and improved over time. It is not easy and it does not happen over night. I know several other people who have come from rather poor backgrounds and it is a similar story.

  2. Andy says:

    Amen. Well said.

  3. SJean says:

    “I made the apparently controversial point that hard work and smart work can lead anyone to success”
    I didn’t disagree with THAT point so much as the statement the rich are no longer getting richer and the poor aren’t getting poorer. I think many others had the same issue. Your nailing down the wrong arguement here.

    Most everyone people *can* improve their situation. Yet, some can improve it more easily, some can improve it more drastically, and thats just life. It is more difficult for the poor or the genetically ungifted to improve their life, as a whole. Yet as an individual, you can still do it.

    Your advice is solid, though I’m still not 100% on board with your delivery/philosphy.

  4. Andy says:

    I might add that it pays to get involved in politcs. The simple act of voting draws political attention, and money (tax breaks or spending) your way. I think voting also gives one a sense of power and influence over the future which is important to self motivation.

  5. Johanna says:

    Trent, you seem to think that everyone who disagrees with you on this is just out to blame someone for their own lack of success. Not me. I consider myself to be very successful, but I’m honest enough to admit that I had an easier time of it than some people, due to factors beyond my control (in particular, my parents’ involvement in my early education, some degree of natural ability, and some degree of luck).

    Also, as someone else said in the other thread, “Anyone can succeed if they work hard/smart enough” and “Some people are at a disadvantage due to their race, sex, genes, background, or socioeconomic status” are not mutually exclusive. Some black people have done very well, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t affected by racism. Similarly, some poor people have done very well for themselves, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t start out at a disadvantage.

  6. margo says:

    Trent, for what its worth, I think you did a much better job of making your point clear today.

    The interesting part is that there are plenty of people for whom your advice above seems kind of like a “duh”: they were raised that way, or they have a Type-A go-gettum personality, or they learned from a negative parental example, or so forth.

    I have met many people in my life that need your particular advice in this post, but they don’t even realize it. I think there are many people that would rather bury their head in the sand than do something difficult or out of their comfort zone.

    My parents were terrible examples of “working smart,” in both their careers and their finances. I have had to learn much of that on my own in the last decade and change. What helped me immensely was identifying people in my life– mostly people in my parents’ generation– who could serve as role models, and paying close attention to their personal and financial habits.I know exactly what kind of undesirable situation I’d be in if I’d followed in my parents’ footsteps.

    I think everyone should have a mentor, in addition to their family members, even for people that have good family role models. It doesn’t need to be a formal arrangement. It can be as simple as fostering a personal relationship with a superior at work or a friend’s successful father.

  7. cybergal says:

    Great points! But I’ll add another controversial tip: don’t have kids until you can afford them – it will make getting ahead that much harder.

  8. You hit the nail on the head! The only people who won’t agree are those setting themselves up for failure.

    The formula is so simple: Work harder/smarter; get debt free; save at least 10% of your NOW income; increase your income (2nd job, write a blog; start a business; whatever) and save at least 50% of that additional income … watch your Net Worth grow FAST. Now, get to work!

  9. Ken says:

    Wow, this is one of the best articles I’ve read this year and is a good wake-up call. What should be common sense advice seems to be a foreign commodity these days.

  10. Hi Trent, this is good thought provoking writing. The most important point you made was the idea of not blaming. Blaming and complaining are crap magnets. Take responsibility for you life means you are empowered to change it. If you blame that puts you as a powerless victim which never works.

    Abraham Lincoln once said, “people are about as happy as they choose to be.” We create our own lives by how we think about it, how we view what is going on, how we choose to act or not, how we feel about ourselves, and how much we think we can make a difference. The possibilities are there if we choose to explore and express all that is within us.

    I am looking to build traffic and would be interested in exchanging links.

    Keep up the good work,


  11. FG says:

    While most of the points are good in this post, attitude is much more important in the “quest for success” than covering tattoos and piercings. As someone having rather big tattoos, I have to take great care of them so that it won’t fade or become ugly and I’m not even talking about the healing part. Please keep to your domain of expertise.

    PS: Fighting BO is common sense for everybody… even people with tattoos..

  12. Tina says:

    No, Trent.

    I don’t think “Things are set up so that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” even has anything to do with what you’re arguing now! The world is, in many, MANY ways, set up so that it’s expensive to be poor and inexpensive to be wealthy. Now you’re just trying to align those who disagree with you with a straw man argument! I really think you owe us an apology.

    I think the truth of the matter is closest to: Things are set up so that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, BUT anyone, through the combination of working hard, working smart, and luck, has the potential to be rich – just like anyone born rich can end up destitute if they are foolish, lazy, or unlucky enough.

  13. Annie says:

    I agree with you for the most part.

    Where it gets dangerous for me is when the theory is applied to entire classes and races of people. “They aren’t getting ahead because they just aren’t trying hard enough.” That attitude can affect our social policy, and I think it’s important to recognize that we don’t have a level playing field in this country.

    For me, as a white person, it means examining white privilege, which I know is a difficult term for those of us who grew up poor and never felt privileged. I suggest reading Peggy McIntosh’s essay on the topic. http://www.case.edu/president/aaction/UnpackingTheKnapsack.pdf

    And great comment Johanna!

  14. Joshua says:

    First, Amen Trent.

    Second, Trent never said it would be easy. Thats right, it is harder for some people, thats life. Some people may not be able to work their way up to the life of Bill Gates, but they can improve. That was Trent’s point. Rather than sit back and gripe because Bill Gates(whom I loathe by the way)has it easy(which he didn’t always by the way)and whine that he and his ilk are holding you back, do what you have to do to climb your way out, at least partially. I would rather die climbing out of that hole rather than dig myself deeper. Some people do have “luck”, genes, help, etc. Some people don’t. ALL people have opportunity, if they are willing to see it, and then work for it.

  15. devil says:

    One more tip for that list….Don’t have more children than you can afford. I’m SO tired of hearing parents of multiple kids moan and whine about how expensive everything is. Duh! Having children is a luxury – a very expensive one.

    I do agree with you on this. Someone who follows all the directives on this list will, at least, be too busy (in a good way) to spend much time kvetching about his/her misfortunes.

  16. tarits says:

    i beg to disagree. i live in a 3rd world country, and everyday i see people who work hard, live simple and commendable lives and dream of rising out of poverty…. but the majority are unable to. why? a tangled mix of government corruption, natural disasters, poor education, limited job opportunities, etc etc etc.

  17. tarits says:

    …. and no matter how hard people try and how much they wish to improve themselves, the system keeps on pushing them back down. yeah, i am blaming something else for poverty, but that’s the way it is where i came from. for the majority of my countrymen, if you are born poor, getting rich is next to impossible.

  18. Allison says:

    Thanks again for a great article. One point that I would like to add is that a great, free, tool that is available to EVERYONE is the public library. People of all cultures, financial situations, races, etc have access to a plethora of information that can improve their lives. There is an entire row of finacial books and another row of trade books at my local library. It doesn’t matter how you educate yourself, but the knowledge that you obtain by doing so will help you make smarter decisions in the future.

  19. Tyler says:

    I have a firm belief taht there is always a way to succeed. In today’s world, if one has access to the internet and the ability to read, there are so many resources available for education and business development that there are no additional excuses other than the fact that you just didn’t waork hard enough to create enough value for others.
    Zig Ziglar said taht you can have anything you want if you provide enough other people with what they want.

  20. Ryan says:

    Gotta agree with SJean. Nobody disagrees that working hard/working smart will surely improve your situation. It was the statement that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is a myth. The post today ignores the “myth” description in favor of supporting other arguments – kind of like a “red herring” in debate terms.

  21. Johanna says:

    Actually, Joshua, when Trent said that it is a “myth” that things are set up so that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, he WAS implicitly claiming that it’s just as easy to succeed if you start out poor as if you start out rich. Which is nonsense.

    Some of the rich really screw up. But most of the rich get richer. And some of the poor strike it big. But most of the poor stay poor.

  22. Andy says:

    Some good points here, I think some are out of one’s control espically in a family situation. I I turned off the television at night, there would be a riot. Also, turning on the television is the only time I get to spend writing my blog as my kids are watching their favourite programs.


  23. jayne says:

    I agree with SJean. Pointing at your own experience and saying “See?! I did it!” is really easy, but it’s not enough to disprove any notion of the poor getting poorer and rich getting richer. It’s one example, and using your example as evidence that EVERYONE can overcome the obstacles in their life if they just try, try, try lacks compassion and, again, lacks an understanding of what living in poverty is really like.

  24. Peter says:

    I think a lot of folks have a problem with “the rich get richer while the poor get poorer” as being considered a myth when there are some arguable facts that tend to support it (widening gap of the middle class, etc.).

    However this is a personal finance blog, and as such I read Trent’s point as being that many people use this cliche, and other similar ones, as excuses to explain their lack of effort in trying to improve their individual situations. I find this is the common thread and I’ve had people who I’ve tried to encourage to better themselves throw this exact cliche up at me as part of their “why bother” attitude.

    The real issue is looking at where you are now, and seeing if you want to be in a better place in five years. If you do, this blog and others can help you with ideas on how to get there.

  25. Heidi says:

    I think that the reason you received such a response from your article is that you called “the rich get richer…” a “myth” – when in fact it’s very real and statistically proven, as was pointed out in the comments. I do agree that it should not be a crutch or an excuse – especially for anyone educated enough to understand the economic forces at play that make it true.

    The tips above are great and should be followed – but I wonder how many of your readers lack personal hygiene or aren’t self-starters? I am guessing that there are very few people reading this piece actually need it.

  26. Leigh says:

    This reminds me of fights I have with my brother.

    I’ll start out with some statement that he immediately takes offense to. I rephrase to better state my meaning and he says, “But, that’s not what you said.”

    And I say,”Well, what I meant was..”

    And he says,”But, that’s not what you SAID.”

    And I say,”Well, what I meant was..”

    And he says,”That’s not what you SAID!”

    Sigh:) Great article Trent. And I disagree with Heidi that your readers wouldn’t need a piece like this. Even if only one person who reads it resolved to follow this advice- I’m sure you would consider it worth it. Am I right?

  27. Jeff says:

    As someone who just recently realized that success and happiness is a matter of choices made than anything else I completely agree with Trent.

    Getting out of that mindset is a difficult thing to do. And one thing I’ve noticed is “the man” is not always an external force. Sometimes internal forces like self-doubt have the same effect.

  28. LC says:

    Couldn’t have said it better. The first point reminds me of the commercial for Wrigley’s:

    “The new packaging fits nicely in cup holders. And if you don’t have a car, you can put it on your desk. And if you don’t have a job, you probably shouldn’t be watching TV.”

  29. H-Bomb says:

    Can I get an Amen!?


    Seriously though, well put!

  30. K.J. says:

    Something we’ve overlooked is the effect of undiagnosed and untreated clinical-level depression on the ability of folks to work hard to help themselves.

    If you live in a more urban area, many schools that train counselors, psychiatrists, and psychologists have sliding-scale fees (that is, your cost for therapy depends on how much you make). Local agencies for mental health might also be able to point you in the right direction.

  31. Neal says:

    Heidi – I’m sure many of people arguing over this are also not speaking from a position of personal experience.

    Can’t everyone just realize that the point was that it is a myth that it is INEVITABLE for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer. Just because there are statistics showing a widening wealth gap doesn’t change the fact that Trent is 100% right that many people blame the system to cover up their own lack of intelligent effort. Just as he mentioned, it certainly can be very hard for those starting at the bottom. Obviously someone who was handed an Ivy league education and the keys to a Mercedes will have an easier time generating wealth than someone who was encouraged to drop out of high school to work at the family’s corner store, but that doesn’t mean that the majority of the latter can’t do something to improve their situation. That’s right, the majority of them, regardless of their disadvantage, could improve their financial situation with the proper effort–even if that effort far exceeds what a more advantaged person would have to do for the same benefit.

    Where I get angry is when the wealthy act like they work so much harder than the poor, and that’s why they are more successful. Obviously that’s crap, but Trent’s point still remains valid.

  32. SJean says:

    If what you meant and what you said are different enough to get people who generally agree so riled up…

    Perhaps it would be helpful to admit that what you said may have been wrong. Even though what you meant was correct.

  33. Pam says:

    I agree with some of the other commenters that there is a widening gap between the rich and the rest of society, in particular when compared with other developed countries [such as those in Europe]. The highest paid executives in this country make an astounding multiple of what the average worker makes. Do they deserve that much of a premium? Probably not, but in a free market they are paid what the market will bear. And, they do deserve some type of premium [just maybe not as much as they get] because they either (a) had some special skill or talent [for example pro football players] or (b) they have extensive education and experience [for example brain surgeons].

    That being said, I am living proof of the upward mobility available to citizens of this country. I am second generation on my mother’s side. My grandmother came to the US in 1907, at the age of 16 not speaking a word of English and without any family around to support her. She got a job as a housekeeper for a wealthy family. It just so happened there was a child in the family who had just started school and was learning to read. My grandmother was allowed to borrow that child’s books and she taught herself how to read and speak English. Eventually she made her way across the country to Berkeley, CA, where she had my mother.

    My grandmother never had any job other than as a housekeeper her entire life, but she knew she wanted more for her daughter. My mother was always told that one day she would be able to go to UC Berkeley and make a better life for herself. My grandfather died when my mother was still a child and before that worked only intermittantly because of the depression. So, my grandmother was basically the sole breadwinner for the house. My mother began to work at 16 so that she could earn money for college. And, at 17 she enrolled in college.

    She graduated in 3 1/2 years and then began her career, although she eventually became a stay at home mom. From my earliest memories, it was instilled in me that I should go to college, which I did. However, I did not receive any financial support from my parents [who were divorced] so, I paid for not only my undergraduate degree but also a Master’s Degree without going into any debt. I did this by taking a heavy courseload, which allowed me to finish college in 3 years and grad school in two years. I worked 20-30 hours per week during undergrad, 50-60 hours per week during the summers [while attending summer session] all at minimum wage jobs. While in grad school, I worked full-time [paid hourly, not a salaried position] and I went to school full-time.

    I am now in a position where I could hire a housekeeper myself – someone like my grandmother. I don’t know of too many other places in the world where that type of opportunity exists. (By the way I am not that old – my grandmother was almost 40 when she had my mother and my mother was almost 40 when she had me.)

    On final word about hard work – my grandmother was about as hard a worker as you could find and this led her employers to appreciate her. Since my mother was raised during the Great Depression, they were very poor. However, the wealthy families for which my grandmother worked would often give her clothing and household items they no longer needed. One of them even told my grandmother that if anything ever happened to her, they would raise my mother and see that she went to college. To me this is proof that hard work will always reap benefits for you.

  34. Derek says:

    Most importantly… poor people, the ones who break their backs everyday, need to stop playing the lottery.

    It is absolutely amazing how many people I see, who make way below what their capable of, throw away between 10 and 50 dollars a week on lotto. It’s an absolute waste.

  35. Kathleen says:

    Kudos, Trent, for an excellent post.

    Complaining is easy. Working hard to improve your situation is not. Certainly some people have natural gifts that make it a little easier to get ahead. Still, every minimally-competent, able-bodied person can do what you suggest in this post, and those actions will take them a long way from poverty towards security.

  36. Rob Madrid says:

    A large part of the problem is people, particualy young people, are financially illiterate. I know we were when we were young. A lot of blame lies with CC companies and banks but also with the people themselves. The problem is by the time you wake up you so far in debt it can be hard to climb out.

    Trents advice still stands educate yourself. While it maybe not be easy it can be done, one can pull themselves up. One other problem is I see people working hard but not smart, my sister in law is working 70 hour work weeks trying to pull themselves out of debt. I keep saying she could get themselves out of debt in half the time if she’d slow down and read PF blogs and books, the key is working smarter not harder. But old habits die hard.

  37. Sandy says:

    There’s a wonderful quote by Napoleon Hill:

    “Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything.” You’ve had it, I’ve had it, many others have had that kind of desire, but please don’t get frustrated by those who don’t. Realize that there are many, many people who do not have the desire to become successful, or even better themselves. It’s easier for them to blame others, and to play the ‘poor me’ role, and they might even do it to their dying day — Let them! Surround yourself with people w/similar work-ethic passions as yourself. Please remember, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Be happy with yourself. You made something of yourself; others can do it do. You can’t make them. They have to want to; they have to have the desire to. That desire comes from within.

  38. Miles says:

    Just a thought or two. It is easier for the rich to get richer because they have their basic needs met and can invest the excess. Their investments keep growing, also known as the magic of compound interest. That the poor get poorer is also true, because they only meet their basic needs and have no excess to invest, or worse, have to borrow to meet their basic needs.

    The sad truth however is that many people don’t want to grow or fear change or failure. I work in a factory, and when we see people with the potential to move up, we encourage them and try to promote them. 7 out of 8 times they decline. They are happy to work, collect their pay, and leave. We offer to repay tuition expenses, yet only one person in the last 3 years has taken us up on the offer. We offer a 401K match up to 6%, yet almost no one takes advantage of the free money.

    We can all think of exceptions to what Trent stated, however in general the post is accurate. No one said life was easy or fair, however, if you are fortunate enough to live in the USA, ( I can’t speak for anywhere else in the world ) you can improve your situation. Obstacles can be overcome, disadvantages dealt with. You can do better. Hey, even if you try and crash and burn, you can start over again.

  39. RC says:

    You don’t need anything except a desire to accomplish more than you’re accomplishing and the work ethic to do something.

    The key word in the sentence above from Trent’s post is “desire”. The reason people accomplish goals, increase their income, etc. is that they have developed a “burning desire” to accomplish these things. You first have to believe you can do something, and then use everything in your power to accomplish those goals. Wanting to accomplish something, vs. having an all-encompassing desire by which you focus all of your energy towards accomplishing something, are two entirely different things. Is it harder for certain socio-economic classes than others? I’m sure it is, but that does not make it impossible. Just about anyone has room for improvement in some of the areas Trent mentioned above. You just have to ask yourself how badly you want to improve.

  40. Vicci says:

    If a person does even one of these suggestions,they are better off for it. No excuses for not following through. The best part is ANYONE can do this. I am pretty sure if we each interviewed someone who is more successful than we are, they are doing something we aren’t doing. Of course, there are special circumstances that may hinder us (illness,etc). Bottom line is we need to be truthfull with ourselves and that is the hard part.

  41. Gayle says:

    Another excellent post, Trent.

    I might add turning off the computer/video games along with turning off the television. I know way too many people that daily plug into their games for hours on end to blow off steam or escape.

    I’m not saying don’t play the games, just ask, “Is there something more productive I could be doing with my time to get out of this rut?” instead of habitually gaming. Maybe you’ll decide to read a book for 30 minutes or an hour before you start your game.

  42. Sarah says:

    At the risk of blowing this thread up, I’ll point out that the choices are not just “fail to work hard enough/smart enough, blame the Man, remain miserable” and “work really hard and accomplish your dreams!!!” There’s also the option of working for social change so that we have less inequitable distribution of wealth in our society and more opportunity for economic mobility. We made this world; we made this so-called ‘free market’; and we can change it.

  43. Stephen says:

    The statement “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is an absolute and easily proved wrong. I have 100^10000 dollars. I am rich. I do nothing with it. Inflation takes out about 3% a year. Now I am poorer.

    Rather, people that educate themselves and work get richer. People that do not will get poorer (do to any number of reasons).

    Yes, it is easier for rich (money, education, good parents, a great community, etc) to be able to educate themselves and work hard. It can be very difficult for the poor (money, loss of a parent, poor school system, childhood trauma, etc) to do the same. But “life ain’t fair” was not part of the myth Trent was dispelling.

    Life is not fair. Some people do have to work harder than others to get similar results. Some people never even have a chance at all due to MR, or a devastating case of Schizophrenia, etc. That is why we have a moral obligation to help each other out as best we can.

    Complaining or making excuses doesn’t do yourself or anyone else any good. Looking for smart and effective ways to overcome your individual set of problems in life with the help of friends and relatives while helping them do the same does.

  44. ClickerTrainer says:

    That is a great post.

    Here at work, we collect great stories about people who didn’t give up and overcame great odds. Not one of them has enough spare time to complain about their life, they are out busy making it better.

    I especially like the Principal Mercado’s story — he is now a Principal in the School District he dropped out of as a teenager:
    Adult Ed Students – Principal Mercado

  45. Adrian says:

    Anyone ever seen the movie “O Lucky Man”?

    “What do you need to be successful?”

    – “Well, you have to work hard. Work smart. Be dedicated! Make sacrifices! It’s all about attitude!” (says Malcolm McDowell)

    “Anything ELSE you need?” says the old man…

  46. Buffalo says:


    Great points. I think most of Trent’s points are true for people who live in the developed countries. The third world contains so many obstacles that the poor can never get over.

  47. Buffalo says:


    I’d love to hear your thought as to how we can help give those in the developing world the opportunities we in the developednations often take for granted.

  48. Jake Voytko says:

    I think that you made some good points in this article. However, I have to add one more thing: never work towards something that you want to do.

    I knew a guy who was a machinist in salt-packaging factories, and made a ton of money doing it. However, no matter where he worked, he was miserable. He eventually got fed up, decided to take a pay cut, and work at a State Park as a maintenance worker, as well as save his money intelligently. He suddenly found that he enjoyed his life, and had time for his wife and kids.

    If you’re content, there’s no need to advance. It comes down to your goals for what you would like life to be like.

  49. Ravi says:

    Hi Trent,
    That was a great post. I agree with many things but, if someone is so poor that he cannot even read this due to lack of a computer or internet or what have you..how does such a person improve oneself, when some is poor, they just have access to fewer facilities than any of us reading this post, Think from their perspective, they are working there butts off everyday, but have nothing to show for that interms of money, so for them to blame it on someone is a sense of satisfaction for their soul, I know most of you would hate me for writing this.

  50. Successful & Tattooed says:

    “If you have visible body piercings and tattoos, try to get them removed or take effort to minimize their visible effect.”

    This is the only point that you make which I disagree on. You can be financially stable, responsible, and quite successful without going through the process of having your tattoos removed. Or having to feel somehow ashamed for your self expression. Granted, the appropriateness and context of tattoos can be varied, but I think odds are, people who are trying to do the best for themselves and their families within their work environment aren’t likely to be the people you see with naked chicks permanently on their necks.

    I work in a “M-F corporate world”, and no one minds my tasteful art. If anything, it just shows my creative side, and why I am an asset to this company.

  51. > stop blaming other people.

    Yes! Yet another of my pet peeves. When i see this it is like the person is telling me “Hello, I am a loser. I am not responsible for anything I do, so you would be wise not to trust me in any way”.

    Trent, I think you are on a roll. I look forward to the next post.

    Best Wishes,

  52. eaufraiche says:


    Well thought out; well stated.

    Personal responsibility is key to success – for everyone with an excuse for not achieving, there is an example of someone w/ the same circumstances or liabilities who applied themselves and achieved their goals.

    Love reading your posts!


  53. Imelda says:

    This entry is worlds better than your last. The advice you give here is just terrific, and I think almost anyone can learn something from it (including Minimum Wage; I don’t think even he could deny all the great advice on that list!)

    As others have said, what you say in this post is true. It still does not refute the fact that it is expensive to be poor and inexpensive to be rich, as someone above put so succinctly. On an individual level, if you have the drive and the dream, you can pursue this list and, WITH LUCK, get ahead. But on the whole, you can’t say that something like this is the solution to poverty. There are too many varieties of struggle and setback and disadvantage.

    I disagree with your attitude about blame, but I respect your viewpoint. I think that sometimes it’s important–and necessary–to identify what is holding you back. And sometimes it IS something external. Often it is. But I recognize that blame itself can also hold people back, and that for you, it’s an important issue.

    In any case, you should stick to articles like this, rather than ones that try to dismiss the reality of poverty.

  54. junk mail man says:

    Miles says that the poor get poorer because their income doesn’t meet their basic needs, and many need to go into debt to cover them rather than investing excess income.

    What “poor” are we referring to? There are legitimately destitute people out there, most of whom suffer due to mental illness or other factors outside their control. But this thread seems to focus on the working class. Of all the working-class folks I’ve known, none of them has ever gone hungry for even an instant, and most of them have more gadgets and gizmos than I do by a LONG SHOT. Somewhere along the line, it became socially acceptable in this country to simultaneously be on Medicaid, have thousands in credit card debt, and own a Nintendo Wii. Such people are not “poor” (it’s a life of luxury by world standards). Trent correctly points out the sad reality, though, that they have been duped to believe there is no other way to live.

  55. Josh says:

    I agree with junk mail man.

    The truly “poor” in the U.S. are mentally ill, usually in a subtle way. Go to any flea market in rural southwest Virginia, Kentucky, or Tennessee (the area I grew up in) and you will come into contact with people who are legitimately destitute for reasons out of their control. They may blame external forces but they’re not really capable of making that call to be honest. I have also spoke with people in the bad parts of DC/Baltimore who are also the same. Learning disabilities and general mental illness abound.

    I’m speaking only for the U.S. but the typical person who “blames the man” here in my experience are people blaming the man for other people’s so called misfortune, not their own. Guilt? Need for something to fight for for their own ego? I’m not sure. People’s need to be PC and stand for something makes for real jerks like the “college know it all hippies” in South Park.

    My parents never made over 25k combined and they are some of the happiest people you’ll meet. They work hard and enjoy their work for the sake of work. They take pride in working hard and working “smart” to get more money would probably raise the question “Why do we need more money? We have food on the table and a house over our heads.”

    People in the U.S. at least, who blame our government (aka the man) for their misfortune are slapping 3rd world country people in the face. Anyone intelligent in the U.S. should have no problem succeeding and having higher yearly income than 99% of the people in the world. To use the WoW term, “QQ more noob”.


  56. Todd says:

    Great post, Trent. Nevertheless, I was glad to see K.J. and others point out that depression, emotional problems, immaturity, and poor education and upbringing can be real barriers to adopting the steps you outline. It’s like all the articles in magazines with titles like “Simple Steps to Being Thin.” Duh. There are really only two steps, but boy what steps they are! Exercise and don’t eat so much: We’ve just solved the obesity crisis.

    The problem is that eating–like blaming “the man”–is an emotional balm that really does make us feel better. I fear it will take a lot more than a set of resolutions for many people to change their lives so drastically, even though the resolutions alone would, obviously, most likely work. Having the emotional fortitude to stick to them is the big challenge.

  57. Andrew Stevens says:

    All this heat and no light. Nary a fact in sight in the debate. The fact is that I’ve often corrected Trent in the past because he’s constantly saying how much better we all used to have it back in the halcyon ’70s. In other words, Trent already agrees with all you people that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

    Well, the rich are getting richer. That’s certainly true. It is also true that the income gap is widening. However, the poor have never gotten poorer in America for more than a couple of years at a time (recessions), even during the Great Depression nevertheless the ’90s and ’00s. It may (or may not) be the case that the poor think they’re getting poorer because there’s so much more stuff to buy and they can only afford a little more than they used to be able to, but that doesn’t mean anybody’s getting any poorer.

    I would be happy to cite statistics to prove this point, but I have a better idea. Go to the Census Bureau’s website and dig through the tables yourselves to prove me wrong.

    There has been rising inequality in America, particularly in the last couple of decades, but this is not even remotely the same thing as saying “the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.” What it means is that the rich are getting richer faster than the poor are getting richer. I, too, believe that this is a problem we should do something about (e.g. stop taxing the poor so much with FICA, sales taxes, property taxes, and corporate taxes so that everyone can make the minimum needed to live before they pay a penny of tax). I have great respect for the motives of the class warriors on this thread, but I have greater respect for the facts.

    People like Minimum Wage have always existed.

  58. Amanda says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for saying what needed to be said. There is always something that a person can do to better their situation, no matter how terrible that situation is. Those who haven’t taken steps to better themselves complain in order to justify their idleness and cover up their fear.

    It’s hard to drag yourself up a mountainside by inches, folks. No one is discounting how hard it is. But it CAN be done! I should know. I’ve done it.

    So too, it seems, have a lot of people on here.

  59. money_me says:

    DON’T TALK TO EVERYONE!! That is one way to waste time. Say hello and smile to as many people as you can but not talking to everyone. Have discernment, you’ll save yourself much valued time.

  60. money_me says:

    Trent, working harder and smarter is not a sure way. When you, Trent,a white American works hard and smart, I, an immigrant African woman (although with a Masters degree from a top U.K university), have to work reeeaaaallly haaarrrdddd and reeeeallllly smarter to make progress. Many will never get there because I have seen employers promoting based on race/ethinicy regardless of experience. They will claim ‘one doesn’t have enough American experience’ when they mean, ‘you should be flipping burgers.’

    For some some people the environment will never allow them to succeed and by the time they figure it out, they will be 50. Gone.

    I constantly get amazed at how many people tell me, “You really speak very good English.” I know I do, I am from Africa, went to the best schools there because my parents could afford it; went for postgraduate studies in England because I was gifted enough to get a scholarship; and I thought I was normal until I moved to N.America and saw the prejudice. People think I am a high school dropout simply because I am black until I start to speak and they they wonder which ‘ghetto’ I was raised in where people speak different. Honestly, this is crazy. It’s only recently that I figured out why I culd never make it to job interviews! They would probably read my last name and assume I am only good for minimum wage.

    Where I now work is an excellent environment but it’s obvious my boss took a bold step to employ me but then again he is very internationally driven and is widely travelled. However, once in a while a multi-million dollar client will ask me, “So, how did you end up here (office is in a prime location)? How did you know……(boss’ name)? This means, ‘I’ve never seen your kind up here.’

    I conclude that working harder and smarter does not necessarily lead everyone to success. You might be shocked, Trent but like many people, you are limited in knowledge by your environment (Iowa and across America) just like.

    One trick I now play is when I meet a big client, I whip up my ‘British accent’ just so they know and when I introduce myself I always say which country I am from (born and raised in Africa). I leave them wondering if the people from that tiny African nation are like me or what? If they are limited in exposure, they will foolshly think so. But I have made it my mission to let all the haters know!

  61. Maura says:

    This is one of the best websites I have come across on money issues.

    I have been looking at various sites because the nonprofit I volunteer with works with people in crisis in Thurston County, Washington. Through long term mentoring we’re working to help people lift themselves out of poverty.

    In one program, we work with people without homes who live on the street or are street dependent to get them basic necessities. We help them help themselves to get off the street to rebuild their lives.

    In the second program, we work with people in the community who are working poor, in crisis, or facing homelessness for a wide variety of reasons such as catastrophic illness, job loss or family crisis.

    The determining factors in success seems to be a positive attitude and persistence in the face of adversity.

    I have had a riches to rags story myself which gives me experience with poverty and a somewhat unique perspective. I still struggle due to my disabilities and family members’ disabilities. Yet, I still have hope.

    This is a quick overview. The “Poor” are not a homogenous group. Their issues vary due to a wide variety of factors such as geographic location, family of origin issues, access to services, federal, state and local government budgets…

    There may be programs available to help, such as the Department of Developmental Disabilities, that has an eight year waiting list.

    Governmental assistance varies, according to politics, budgets and public misperceptions.
    Governmental programs rules vary for each of these groups.

    The problems of folks on TANF are somewhat different than those on Social Security Disability. Those on SSI have different riules to abide by than those on Social Security.

    The working poor, as a class, are often the “bottom” of the eroding middle class but not the bottom of society. That distinction seems to be reserved for the chronically homeless. The working poor may cycle in and out of poverty. The newly poor are very different than those who have been poor for more than one generation.

    Homelessness seems to be experienced at a disproportionately higher rate by the disabled and learning disabled. People with disabilities, regardless of their educational level, experience about an 85% unemployment rate. The poorest women I’ve worked with were single mothers with disabled children.

    The “safety net” has huge holes in which people fall through.In most programs the money alloted per individual is too little to live on and afford decent housing without a patchwork of services.

    People also become enmeshed in the safety net as they try to become independent. The safety net has become, for most, a wall. The rules, often put in place to prevent abuses, are confusing and inconsistent. There are strong disincentives to trying to break free-such as losing your housing if you even five dollars more than allowed.

    I believe many of these programs were started as a good thing but figuring out the maze of rules for each program is crazymaking and beyond the abilities of many. Completely hopeless? No.

    We have to fight for social justice and intelligible programs. I have a hard time facing men in wheelchairs unable to care for themselves who are suddenly homeless. It’s disturbing to see women with infants or small children living on the street or the woods, usually due to domestic violence situations. If we begin to accept tent cities as acceptable they will proliferate. If we accept a disintegrating social structure, the lasting effects will reverberate throughout our society.

    I invite you to take a hard look at what is happening in your country and your community. I also invite you to take a look at http://www.citygatesministries.org. We don’t have all the answers but we’re making a difference one life at a time.

    Trent, keep up the wonderful work. And, thank you!

  62. Susan says:

    This is why I’d rather be self-employed, so I’m working hard for my own benefit. Yes, it’s true that when I freelance or am a contract employee that I’m technically working for someone else. But I choose what to work on. Somehow I feel like I can take control of my own circumstances and not point the finger if I’m not getting ahead.


  63. Lurker Carl says:

    Applicable to US residents only.

    Do the rich become richer? In most cases, I hardly think so. How many current Vanderbilts, Duponts or Astors still possess the massive fortunes created in the 1800s? The inheritors of those fortunes frittered the money away or used their share to develop lesser businesses of their own, never achieving the success of the original benefactor. Cotton, coal, railroads, chemicals, automobiles – all these industries (and others) and the actual families consolidating them into financial dynasties have each risen from obscurity and fallen back again.

    Do the poor become poorer? How so? How can they, how much lower than absolute zero can anyone sink? Negative net worth is displayed by more in the middle and upper class than poverty stricken individuals. The absolutely impoverished can not qualify for loans to sink farther than zero. Middle and upper class, however, means big houses, expensive trappings and huge loans. Who is poorer, someone with nothing or someone owing more than their meager possessions are worth? When the money coming in equals the money going out, zero is still zero; regardless if there is no income or no net gain.

    The point I’m trying to make is that money cycles constantly throughout our society. Some gain, some maintain, and the rest lose. Some lose immediately while the rest lose after successive generations. Birthright, personality, sum of experience and physical/mental health ultimately determines wealth at any particular time in our lifes. How any amount wealth is maintained is ultimately up to each individual – some of the least likely become incredibly wealthy while some of the most fortunate become destitute.

  64. Jay says:

    I’m sure many have heard the phrase before, but it seems appropriate to repeat it here:

    “Broke is temporary; poor is a state of mind.”

    I have been broke many, many times in my life. I have never been poor.

    Great post, Trent.


  65. Jess says:

    Trent, I agree with what you’re saying. One of the things I love about my job is that there is room for growth and “other” stuff. I do customer service work for an online company.

    I stayed after work one day to do some “role play” questions with a new coworker, because I thought it was fun. My boss took notice which lead to me working on questionaires/exams for my coworkers/new employees to take.

    After watching new people do the exam and correcting them after their first day of work, I found that I liked being with new people so much that I approached my boss about being a trainer for the company.

    While I was reading over the manual, studying to be able to teach the material, I made the comment to my boss that I found that it was a lot of material and overwhelming. She asked me if I wanted to add pictures to it, to make it simpler for people to learn the material.

    So while my coworkers are doing the minimum work, watching movies at work, I have various projects that I LOVE doing. It seems that the more I start doing, the more work seems to follow, like a chain effect. So your whole work smarter, not harder, I’m definitely in agreement with that, I’ve seen it work.

  66. Liz says:

    For those talking about the difficulties of being poor in Developing Countries, I can give an example of hard work and conquest from mine, Peru.
    A poor kid from the Andes, one of the 15 children his parents had… Worked in native agriculture, then went to the nearest city and cleaned shoes at age 8, then went to school, then got a scholarship at 18 to go to US and went to college at Stanford, took a Master at Harvard…
    He’s now a succesful economist, have his own enterprise, a family, and got to be President of Peru. Although I believed he could be the difference in Peru’s government, as President he didn’t had the greatest time. But he’s still a succesful man.
    Even my father, from the amazonia, who as a baby eated papayas side to side with a pig, got to university and became a lawyer, and when things got difficult for us, he worked harder, studied again while my mother worked hard. He became Notary and my mother still works with him, and now they can afford the things they dreamed about. Such as giving my brother and me posgraduate studies in Euurope and travelling around. And now he helps younger and poor people to study or work. I am the luckiest girl to have parents like that, I know.
    We just got to believe in OURSELVES and what we’re CAPABLE of doing.
    Keep the good work Trent.

  67. Jenyfer says:

    It is so refreshing to hear this from a gen x-er. And what a great conversation you have sparked.
    On the flip side, you can also choose to be a mentor for someone in the financial dark. Let me tell you, when you see the ight come on in someone’s eyes when you have hit the button that makes sense to them, it is a wonderful feeling. ANd it brings many. many posiive returns.
    YOu all know someone–your favorite clerk at a store, a member of the cleaning staff at work–get to know them–on their level. Change a life!

  68. Katy says:

    yes, thank you Trent!

    But I just got fired, so I have to look for a new job; continue to upgrade my office skills and resume and be my best in every way. . .another growth opportunity….I am sad but these are the things that must be done.

  69. Money Post says:

    I know a lot of people that always overthink things. They would like to work smart, examine all the angles, but never get started. Although you shouldn’t just jump into something, at some point you just have to start and figure it out.

  70. Natural Woman says:

    I thought the article was great and on point. I have self educated myself through the library, book, the internet..enough to allow me to have a web design business and earn extra money.

    We have to think outside the box. Yes it is harder for some because of other factors, I’ll agree, but if you live in America, you have no freaking excuse at all.

  71. Debbie says:

    Excellent post!

  72. Kim Rammel says:

    Trent, This is the 1st time I have been moved to reply to a post. This advice is fantastic. I figured this out many years ago when I was in a dead end job with 3 young children at home. It took the realization that no one but me was going to pull me out of the rut I was in to get me off my butt. I went back to college, basically leaving my husband and mother-in-law to raise my kids. Between school, part-time work,an hour commute one way to school,and everything else that goes along with taking care of a family, I really don’t know how I did it. I graduated 14 years ago and the increase in income and more importantly my self esteem are invaluable. So to anyone out there stuck in the same situation, my advice is to set goals and work towards them. Break the goals down so they are not so overwhelming and keep working hard. My biggest problem during that time was the guilt from not seeing my kids much. They are grown now and I’ve asked them if they felt deprived during that time and they have all said no but they are proud of what I accomplished. The best thing to come out of this is my oldest child is an engineer the 2nd oldest is an accountant and the youngest is currently in college. I helped make all this happen with the choices I made years ago.

  73. Lisa Spinelli says:

    Look at all the comments! I don’t think I have anything new to add. I can tell you, though, that I think some of these recommendations should resonate with just about everyone. I fthey don’t they must be stagnant,dormant, lifeless, dead, inert, lazy.


  74. Amit says:

    I will like to say only one thing…

    The simple dollar is not more just about money….it teaches so much about life too…

    Trent, can you rename it as “The Simple Life” ???
    :) :) Just a thought.

    Thanks a million for such gr8 Post.

    You Rock !!
    – Amit (India)

  75. miles says:

    Junk Mail Man,

    Don’t make assumptions about the mentally handicapped. My best friends brother when I was growing up was mentally handicapped, as was his wife. They both worked for much less than minimum wage in a “special facility”. One day they announced to his father that they wished to buy a home and needed help with the finances. The father wondered how they would ever repay a loan, or how he could help them, but agreed to look at their finances. Turns out they had saved enough to buy the home outright!

    Granted, this was a number of years ago, in a rural midwestern town, but the fact remains; most anyone can make it with enough desire and dicipline. Don’t sell others short.

  76. teri says:

    My father barely graduated highshool… was the “trash” of the neighborhood. My mom was the daughter of a chicken farmer. I watched dad and mom build a small business by working 12-15 hour days so their children could go to college and “have a better life.” After we were all grown my dad’s devotion to learning (even though he was finally diagnosed as dyslexic) brought a huge contract. They sold that business for millions. Now, two daughters are living well, career oriented, doing community service to help others move up that economic ladder. The third? She’s right now in a dumpy apt past out drunk, even after family has paid for multiple rehabs, etc. We will continue to take care of her because that’s what families do, but when I look at each of my family members I see their individual choices have taken them to the “today” they live.

  77. K. Cook says:

    I don’t agree that simply being here in the US gives you some special ability to succeed. Look at the state of our school system, attacked on all sides by voucher proponents and meaningless regulations like the ‘no child left behind’ crap. Children aren’t being educated to their full potential not because of the hard efforts of teachers but because schools are underfunded [especially for special education, which includes advanced classes and classes for the handicapped] and forced to deal with stupid laws that focus on test results and not learning.

    I’m sure that according to the logic of some posters, anyone who went bankrupt due to major health care bills should have taken better care of themselves, right? Any woman who felt forced to leave an abusive situation should have had better sense than to marry that guy in the first place, right? And how about homeless veterans? Bunch of bums, right?

    People are too willing to claim that ‘if you live in America, you have no freaking excuse at all’ and disagreement with this mindset automatically makes you ‘stagnant,dormant, lifeless, dead, inert, lazy’. That’s crap.

    How about each of us lending a hand to give someone that needed boost? Tutoring in schools to help overcome reading problems, mentoring, helping a co-worker – or is that somehow un-American?

  78. Joe says:

    Improving your computer skills is a very good way to get noticed at most jobs. Many libraries offer free computer training classes on evenings or weekends. Some of the classes are for beginners and are a good way to get familiar with using email, Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, etc. These classes are also a good place to meet other people who are looking to improve their skills.

  79. john says:

    Nobody disagrees that working hard/working smart will surely improve your situation. It was the statement that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is a myth. I think this is what many people are upset about.


  80. Minimum Wage says:

    For me, as a white person, it means examining white privilege, which I know is a difficult term for those of us who grew up poor and never felt privileged. I suggest reading Peggy McIntosh’s essay on the topic. http://www.case.edu/president/aaction/UnpackingTheKnapsack.pdf

    Some of those examples of white privilege are weak or not applicable for the poor.

    And there is an unwritten implication that if you are white and male and poor, it’s all your fault.

  81. Minimum Wage says:

    Zig Ziglar said taht you can have anything you want if you provide enough other people with what they want.

    I see a huge opportunity to meet a vast unmet need, but my government stands in my way. (This is why others have not met the need.) What can I do?

  82. guinness416 says:

    Heh. Touche, John!

  83. Minimum Wage says:

    Please delete all my comments. Thank you.

  84. A major part of the philosophy of my own business and the advice I give to the IT consultants I serve is definitely “work hard, work smart,” so I am in agreement with this! When it comes to running your own business and being an entrepreneur (which is the area in which I have most expertise!) I think that people that are not succeeding by working hard and smart are probably not adhering to a strict business plan (and writing down ALL plans on paper and STICKING to them, revising them as needed). I think planning and being consistent is a major part of success. Also, you are right that finding the right people to support you – positive contacts, etc. – is critical to succeeding. Also, having the support of your family is really important, especially if you want to succeed in starting your own business and making it profitable! Thanks for the blog posts. You provide some really valuable insights that are relevant to working in just about any industry.

  85. Janice says:

    Thank you so much for writing this article. This is the best, most valuable, most sensible article that I have read in a long, long time. You are doing a great service and I very much appreciate it.

  86. Trent Hamm Trent says:


    I wrote exactly what was on my mind. “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” in the context of an individual life, is a myth and an excuse to not do your best. It’s a statement of belief that the cards are stacked against you unfairly, when the truth is that anyone can work to make their situation better. This is a personal finance site, not a global economics site – I look at what people can do to improve themselves or their own financial situation.

  87. Wendi says:

    I think you did a really good job on this article. I found myself starting to argue a couple of points, but then I realized that no – you are completely right. I’ve worked at Wal-Mart and CVS/pharmacy where it always seems like the management really does try to keep it’s employees down, and for the most point they succeed, but only because the employees don’t stand up for themselves, work hard and then demand the respect that they deserve. I know, I was one of those people.

    I’ve just recently started a new career. For years I was a secretary, and hated it. But through hard work and leaving a great impression on my supervisors, I got a promotion and now I’m not a secretary but an advisor to graduate applicants at a major university in the South US. My job is stressful and I could whine and whine all I wanted to, but I know that this job is a good one and it’s just another step upwards. And for the most part I enjoy it, which always helps.

    Last night we were robbed. Our house was broken into and our things were stolen. Someone tried to “gain” by taking advantage of us and do something illegal. I keep thinking about the effort and time that it took them to watch us (they knew when we’d be leaving, they’ve been watching us for awhile), to figure out when the perfect time would be – all this energy wasted when they could be doing something not only legal but safe and something that will push them forward in life, not wind them up in jail.

  88. Matt says:

    I agree completely. I hate when people complain about the ‘man’ and not being able to advance in life and then never do anything about it.

  89. Eric says:

    Wonderful post. Keep up the good work.

  90. Rob Madrid says:

    One thing that one should keep in mind when discussing posts such as this one is that the advice given (and this is true of most PF blogs)is geared towards the middle class, working class and the working poor. They are the ones who can benefit the most form the advice given. When you start talking hardcore homeless, mentally ill, third world poverty etc than the solutions are different and not appropriate to a blog like this.

    It is in my limited experience (white middle class) that Trents advice is spot on and applicable to anyone that I know. Including my sister who after 20 years of being a SAHM divorced and had to fend for herself. A rough few years and she’s back in the middle class.

  91. Blue says:

    Hi Trent. I’ve read my way through a lot of your blog and posted it on the Simple Savings forum.

  92. SJean says:

    “It’s a statement of belief that the cards are stacked against you unfairly, when the truth is that anyone can work to make their situation better.”

    This is quite frustrating to me. The cards very well may be stacked against you. That is NOT the myth. DESPITE THAT, you can better your life, which is a great message. The myth is that you can’t do anything to better yourself.

  93. lorax says:

    You could just say: “Fortune favors the prepared.”

    Just cross your fingers that she does come your way.

  94. daddyfinance says:

    Great post.But the issues of getting yourself up and going are a bit more complex. If you are reading this website you are probably a person that has at least the tools and mindset to try to get yourself out your bad situation. I have been poor and was raised poor that’s no excuse not to DO WELL or pull yourself up. But if you don’t have a good starting point. And when I mean starting point I mean even being able to use a browser to get to this website you are at a disadvantage in life. I’d like to know what the average household income is for readers of the simple dollar.

  95. dawnry says:

    I worked my way up the food chain.

    I was poor enough and handicaped enough to recieve job training as a nursing assistant. that was in 1994.

    I was finally able to go back to school, community college in 2002.

    it took me 2 years of night and online classes to get my pre req’s for nursing school, and 3 years of school before I became an RN last May 2007.

    That is 13 years!! But I did it.

    Do you know what changed my life? One day in 2002, I thought to myself,” I wonder if I qualify for finincial aid?” I did.

  96. k12linux says:

    When I was about 21 I was fortunate enough to get a job which got me a seat at the boardroom table daily during the “morning meeting.” This meant I got to see how choices were being made by the decision makers of the company.

    If anyone thinks that working hard and asking for work when you are idle doesn’t get you noticed then they’ve never seen what I did in those meetings. It’s surprising (to me anyhow) how many people want to come to work and do the bare minimum they can to get a paycheck at the end of the day.

    One of the guys was always asking for stuff to do and trying to learn how things were run (instead of saying, “that’s not MY job!”) His name came up repeatedly because of this. A couple years later he was promoted to a foreman type position at something like a 70% pay raise.

    Many of the other employees, who had been there 3-5 times longer than him, were passed over for the promotion because they never showed initiative. Many were there to do just enough to get a paycheck, go to the bar and go home.

    Although I wasn’t in management, I got to see it from managements point of view in those meetings. Going above and beyond in your job makes you stand out because so few people do bother to do it.

    Even if you have a decent paying professional job, it pays to actually work the whole day even if you have “free time.” Instead of playing online games an hour a day during “downtime” learn a new skill. When promotions come around you can have more to offer than your workmates.

    If layoffs come around you want to be considered a bigger asset than the other guy. Sure you may not want to see him lose his job, but if it has to be one of you then wouldn’t you rather it wasn’t you?

    If your company doesn’t reward you for the extra effort, you are still more valuable to some other employer than you would have been. Better to find out that you aren’t going to get promoted at your current job now than in ten years!

  97. k12linux says:

    Wendi, sorry to hear you were robbed. I’ve watched people I know pretty well work their ass off in an effort to not work. Stealing stuff, working to keep it hidden while also trying to sell it. When you see someone spend 20 hours (once they count all the time actually spent) making an illegal $50 you want to say, “Moron! You could have worked 20 hours at minimum wage and taken home 2x that after taxes… with no risk of jail!”

  98. Outlook says:

    “This is quite frustrating to me. The cards very well may be stacked against you. That is NOT the myth. DESPITE THAT, you can better your life, which is a great message. The myth is that you can’t do anything to better yourself.”
    SJean @ 4:35 pm February 9th, 2008

    Great point.

    Trent, when you tell others to stop placing the blame on “the system” and saying it’s their own choice they don’t succeed, you don’t ACKNOWLEDGE there are barriers people face. And when you don’t acknowledge these barriers, you are basically saying everyone is playing on the same field with the same set of rules.

    You can definitely better yourself with the choices you make but please acknowledge that there are barriers that particular people will face and that others will not.

  99. Fuji says:

    You Are What You Spend

    WITH markets swinging widely, the Federal Reserve slashing interest rates and the word “recession” on everybody’s lips, renewed attention is being given to the gap between the haves and have-nots in America. Most of this debate, however, is focused on the wrong measurement of financial well-being.

    It’s true that the share of national income going to the richest 20 percent of households rose from 43.6 percent in 1975 to 49.6 percent in 2006, the most recent year for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has complete data. Meanwhile, families in the lowest fifth saw their piece of the pie fall from 4.3 percent to 3.3 percent.

    Income statistics, however, don’t tell the whole story of Americans’ living standards. Looking at a far more direct measure of American families’ economic status — household consumption — indicates that the gap between rich and poor is far less than most assume, and that the abstract, income-based way in which we measure the so-called poverty rate no longer applies to our society.

    The top fifth of American households earned an average of $149,963 a year in 2006. As shown in the first accompanying chart, they spent $69,863 on food, clothing, shelter, utilities, transportation, health care and other categories of consumption. The rest of their income went largely to taxes and savings.

    The bottom fifth earned just $9,974, but spent nearly twice that — an average of $18,153 a year. How is that possible? A look at the far right-hand column of the consumption chart, labeled “financial flows,” shows why: those lower-income families have access to various sources of spending money that doesn’t fall under taxable income. These sources include portions of sales of property like homes and cars and securities that are not subject to capital gains taxes, insurance policies redeemed, or the drawing down of bank accounts. While some of these families are mired in poverty, many (the exact proportion is unclear) are headed by retirees and those temporarily between jobs, and thus their low income total doesn’t accurately reflect their long-term financial status.

    So, bearing this in mind, if we compare the incomes of the top and bottom fifths, we see a ratio of 15 to 1. If we turn to consumption, the gap declines to around 4 to 1. A similar narrowing takes place throughout all levels of income distribution. The middle 20 percent of families had incomes more than four times the bottom fifth. Yet their edge in consumption fell to about 2 to 1.

    Let’s take the adjustments one step further. Richer households are larger — an average of 3.1 people in the top fifth, compared with 2.5 people in the middle fifth and 1.7 in the bottom fifth. If we look at consumption per person, the difference between the richest and poorest households falls to just 2.1 to 1. The average person in the middle fifth consumes just 29 percent more than someone living in a bottom-fifth household.

    To understand why consumption is a better guideline of economic prosperity than income, it helps to consider how our lives have changed. Nearly all American families now have refrigerators, stoves, color TVs, telephones and radios. Air-conditioners, cars, VCRs or DVD players, microwave ovens, washing machines, clothes dryers and cellphones have reached more than 80 percent of households.

    As the second chart, on the spread of consumption, shows, this wasn’t always so. The conveniences we take for granted today usually began as niche products only a few wealthy families could afford. In time, ownership spread through the levels of income distribution as rising wages and falling prices made them affordable in the currency that matters most — the amount of time one had to put in at work to gain the necessary purchasing power.

    At the average wage, a VCR fell from 365 hours in 1972 to a mere two hours today. A cellphone dropped from 456 hours in 1984 to four hours. A personal computer, jazzed up with thousands of times the computing power of the 1984 I.B.M., declined from 435 hours to 25 hours. Even cars are taking a smaller toll on our bank accounts: in the past decade, the work-time price of a mid-size Ford sedan declined by 6 percent.

    There are several reasons that the costs of goods have dropped so drastically, but perhaps the biggest is increased international trade. Imports lower prices directly. Cheaper inputs cut domestic companies’ costs. International competition forces producers everywhere to become more efficient and hold down prices. Nations do what they do best and trade for the rest.

    Thus there is a certain perversity to suggestions that the proper reaction to a potential recession is to enact protectionist measures. While foreign competition may have eroded some American workers’ incomes, looking at consumption broadens our perspective. Simply put, the poor are less poor. Globalization extends and deepens a capitalist system that has for generations been lifting American living standards — for high-income households, of course, but for low-income ones as well.

    W. Michael Cox is the senior vice president and chief economist and Richard Alm is the senior economics writer at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

  100. Ray says:

    While I agree with your suggestions for individual self-improvement, systemic problems definitely should be addressed too.

    I’m agreeing with earlier comments stating that the arguments for self-improvement fail when addressed to large communities. Whole communities in New York, Chicago, L.A., Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, etc. are impoverished and still within the legacy of the Federal government’s (primarily the FHA’s financing of mortgage loans) role in the creation of the suburbs. While an individual MAY be able to pull him/herself out of this situation, “a lot of hard work” is not going to fix large-scale systemic problems.



  101. Andy Jackson says:

    >Fuji, thanks for posting that article. Now I don’t have much to say, other than:
    >Annie – I read that “Unpack the knapsack”. The author needs to get off her high-horse. I lived through the early 90’s as a single white male and had a very hard time. What the author describes as white privilege is not privilege but the underpinnings of Western Civilization. OF course school books show that “white culture” was created by white people. Look what that multi-culti thinking has done to Sweden.http://www.jihadwatch.org/dhimmiwatch/archives/012204.php
    >Andrew Stevens – very good point
    >Jay – Right on! State of mind is everything.
    >K. Cook – NCLB crap? Why do people think that it is somehow wrong for a third-grade student to be tested for third-grade performance? Lack of competition in schools and among teachers has created the educational crisis. http://meganmcardle.theatlantic.com/archives/2007/10/vouching_for_vouchers.php
    Failing big-city schools spend far more per student than high-performing schools in rural areas. Also, teachers tend to be the lowest-performing students in college, becoming teachers because they can’t be doctors or engineers.http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/090699/met_MNS-1338.000.shtml

  102. kj says:

    i am surprised how something that sounded like common sense advice to me sounds like a controversial tetx to some – apparently, things are sometimer much more complex. interesting

  103. Outlook says:

    “The bottom fifth earned just $9,974, but spent nearly twice that — an average of $18,153 a year. How is that possible?”

    Credit cards.
    When the tax rebates come out and people use it to pay off their credit card debts instead of putting it back into the economy like the politicans want, you’ll understand.

  104. Ty Brown says:

    This comment- “Yet, some can improve it more easily, some can improve it more drastically, and thats just life. It is more difficult for the poor or the genetically ungifted to improve their life, as a whole.”
    Is just a cop out.

  105. Wilson says:

    This is a very retro post–it sounds like something from the 20s with its exhortations to diligence, cleanliness, and evening classes. And while not unreasonable, people are rightly annoyed by being asked to live a life of middle-class virtue when members of the upper-class are paid obscene amounts of their money. Poor people who give up, and choose immediate gratification will probably not be much worse off than the frugal people, as long as the poor die sooner.

    And Fuji’s article is ridiculous: DVD players might be cheaper because of economy of scale and the fact that they are made in different labor economy, but fuel, health-care, housing, and education costs are making most people much poorer. The middle-class virtues are less and less worth it.

    One way blaming other people might help is to produce radical political change, because with the current concentration of wealth you have to blame ‘the man’ because you can certainly never become him.

  106. SJean says:

    “This comment- “Yet, some can improve it more easily, some can improve it more drastically, and thats just life. It is more difficult for the poor or the genetically ungifted to improve their life, as a whole.”
    Is just a cop out.”

    How so? It is true that some people have it harder. It doesn’t say that you shouldn’t improve your life and you should cry about your position and give up. Not at all. Of course you should work hard to better your life.

    But if you are successful, please acknowledge that if someone is less successful, it may not be because they didn’t work as hard as you. (it also MAY be)

  107. Johanna says:

    Fuji’s article contains the seed of its own undoing, where it says this:

    “While some of these families are mired in poverty, many (the exact proportion is unclear) are headed by retirees and those temporarily between jobs, and thus their low income total doesn’t accurately reflect their long-term financial status.”

    In other words, by classifying people as “rich” or “poor” based on earned income, people who have retired from high-paying jobs (but have zero earned income right now) are going to count as “poor.” Of course people like that are going to have a high standard of living, and of course they are going to spend more than they earn. That tells us absolutely nothing about the standard of living and spending habits of people who really are poor.

  108. Mel says:

    I could say a lot but as usual, Trent has said it better than I could. I wish everyone would take his advice to heart, and I wish someone had told me the exact same thing when I was 22.

  109. taiga says:

    What troubles me about this post is the implication that the advice you give is politics-free. Believing that anyone can get ahead if they would just do X, Y, and Z potentially frees one from the responsibility of caring for disadvantaged members of society. It is far easier to ignore and/or scorn the most needy people if one believes that they’ve brought their terrible plight upon themselves by blowing all their money on useless toys and spending hours in front of the television. There are political ramifications to believing that simply following your list of tips will lift one out of poverty.

    I personally believe that there ARE systemic pressures that keep the poor poor. Stories of people who have defied the odds and risen to the middle class or beyond are the exception rather than the rule. However, these success stories are well publicized: they both keep the poor working hard (in the hopes of realizing the elusive American Dream) and illict self-righteousness responses from the upper classes (“See? These people could escape poverty if they weren’t so lazy”, etc.)

    P.S. For an interesting take on this topic (albeit from an early 20th century perspective), you might like to check out The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

  110. taiga says:

    I mean “elicit” — Oops :)

  111. Adam Lehman says:

    this post is great, but the problem isn’t necessarily the attitude of the working poor, the problem is with the culture then find themself in. this culture perpetuates this lifestyle and the attitude. you would have to spend long hours in the inner-city to get people to believe this and see it’s relevance. Plus, you’d have to guide folks through dilligent implementation of these principles.

    great ideas, though
    just the wrong audience

  112. Jon says:

    There’s nothing as disgusting as the cries of “white privilege” or “male privilege”. It demeans huge groups of people by saying that their most important characteristic is their race or gender. The incredible irony is that these pseudo-intellectuals are genuinely trying to battle racism and sexism… by using racism and sexism.

  113. Suzy says:

    “I grew up in a loving household with two wonderful parents.”

    And that, Trent, is the crux of the issue. It doesn’t matter whether one grows up poor or not. Having “two wonderful parents” (not necessarily married to each other, as long as they are involved in your life) is critical. We learn by example. Your preachy tone fails to acknowledge the many, many people out there who grew up with no father and a mother who snorted the rent money up her nose. There are children who have never seen anyone actually work for a living. Hard work is an easy concept for you and me. It is more difficult to grasp for people who have never seen it demonstrated.

  114. riley says:

    “Credit cards.
    When the tax rebates come out and people use it to pay off their credit card debts instead of putting it back into the economy like the politicans want, you’ll understand.”

    I would have assumed the same thing, but a close friend works at Walmart, and last Saturday she said they had a huge amount of flat screen TVs sold. She and others helped the customers with hauling these monsters out to their vehicles. The customers said that they were buying them on credit and would pay for them with their rebates! My friend heard one couple arguing over how big a TV set they could buy because they were not sure if they got 300 or 600 per kid, they had 4 kids with them.

    I’ll bet this is happening all over the country. Pretty sad isn’t it.

  115. Chris says:

    The negative posts in this thread are making me nauseous. It’s pretty rare that I’m ashamed to be an American, but right about now would be one of them.

    My mom and all of her nine (yes, nine) brothers and sisters were illegal immigrants to the United States. They all came here for better lives. They all grew up in poverty. They all had the same gene pool and social conditions growing up.

    My mom gets singled out as the “rich” one because she has worked full-time plus for her entire life and is about to own her home and retire with a nice nest egg. My aunts and uncles? Not so much.

    What was the difference? Here’s one: I have 35 first cousins! My mom had only myself and my older brother. That’s 9 sibs and 35 kids; so, almost 4 kids per sib which is about right (plus or minus one here and there). My brother is the first member of our family with a college degree. I am the first member of our family in the military. We both own homes (I have two). My cousins: they all have better cell phones than I do (I have a $40 pre-paid, which I learned from my brother that they all laugh at); they all have nicer cars (my brother buys used; I’m still driving my brand new 99 Ford Escort); they all have nicer clothes (I have some clothes that are a decade old); they all have the newest, coolest gadgets and gizmos (I have an iPod shuffle that I won). This is not to say that I’m cheap and never buy anything new. I just happen to make things last and never feel the need to buy things for social status. I love walking in to Best Buy and I have the means to buy most of what I want; but, I think long term, not short term gratification and how “cool” I’ll look.

    My mom’s little segment of our family is looked upon with disdain as if we’ve done something wrong by trying to be successful. They all started at the same spot and my mom worked hard to better life for me and my brother. Yet we are the exception and not the the rule, and that’s what society as a whole is lead to believe. I don’t believe that I am smarter or more talented. I believe that I apply common sense, hard work, and personal accountability in my life.

    This is about choice. All of you who disagree make me sick. You may have personal accountability for yourself, but you are okay with people who do not. I say: “SCREW THEM.” Where is my compassion? I have none for those who can that will not. I work too hard to have compassion for able-bodied, able-minded, lazy pieces of crap. My compassion is reserved for those who can’t and children. When America stops coddling the “I won’ts”, then we’ll turn things around.

    Yes, there are exceptions. But do you expect Trent to make a laundry list of who should not be included when he makes a post. “The exceptions to this post/statement are anyone who has a severe illness or athlete’s foot, is living in a third world country, is black, white, or any color in between, is female, male, or any gender in between, is old, young, or middle-aged, is stupid, allergic to potatos (but not French fries), does not know that coffee served to you might be hot (really hot), is or has suffered from depression, has had your pants lost by the dry cleaner, has been pulled over for no reason (has happened to me more than once), grew up in the projects, has tasteful tattoos, didn’t know that cigarette smoking is bad for your health, are missing any teeth, believe a six pack a day is normal, have more than 2.2 children, or any other person/class/group not already specifically mentioned above that may or may not (depending on the weather or how much money you currently possess) be offended. I was only talking to those who have perfect lives.” (Trent, I think you should really use this disclaimer. Royalty?)

    Political correctness is stupid. Having to qualify every word, statement, or post is stupid.

    Take what you want from Trent’s posts. I, personally, come here daily because of his average guy, positive message. If you want to mince words and clash about society on a personal finance blog, maybe it’s time you move on to a political blog. But I have first hand knowledge of hard work building a better life (my mom) and lack of drive and self pity not amounting to anything (her siblings).

    I love America. If you live in the US, do something with yourself or don’t. That’s your choice. I don’t care. What I care about is my family and I would work 20 hours a day at three minimum wage jobs to provide for them if necessary. I don’t care that the rich are getting richer. Actually, I do because I plan on joining them. Do I believe that I am the exception? Absolutely not. This is America. Get off your ass and stop complaining and do something. 12 years in the military and over two years separated from my wife and children. Why? So that they never need. I don’t want or expect anything from anyone. Stop expecting that anyone but you take care of you and yours.

    P.S. I apologize to the non-US readers. This is directed at the whiny Americans who are using their opportunity from the Land of Opportunity to complain about the lack of opportunity.

  116. Dan says:

    Excellent post Chris! I have a similar past – after 8 years in the military and 3 years of going to school year-round full-time while holding a full-time job I am now happily easing my way into the top 5%.

    Outlook – “When the tax rebates come out and people use it to pay off their credit card debts instead of putting it back into the economy like the politicans want, you’ll understand.”

    The middle class will do this – the poor will buy xboxes and big-screen tv’s. The only “system” that holds any American back is the system of thought in their heads.

    We need to re-read our Declaration of Independence.

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    No one should be obligated to pull the poor up by their boot-straps. They either do it themselves or stay poor. We are not communists – we reap what we sow.

    BS about supposed “barriers” to escaping poverty is degrading to those millions of people who do escape it – generally through hard work and hard decisions.

  117. Trent,
    I definately think that the rich do get richer and the poor do get poorer.

    The only reason why anyone is in the financial position they are in, is because of the way that they are thinking.

    Yes people are born to different circumstances. Some to poor people, some to rich people. Whatever.

    The truth of the matter is that the rich understand something that the poor do not. If a poor person starts applying some of the principles that a rich person has, i guarantee you that he will start to accumulate his wealth.

    Wealth isn’t about luck. Its about mindset. I think that its good to accept this and be accountable for where you are in life. To stop blaming other people and circumstance and realize that you have the power to determine your future.

    Young Investor


  118. Ben says:

    I liked a lot of your advice – I agree that it isn’t just about working hard, you have to have a plan for your work.

    I thought though that the comment about tattoos and piercings was thoughtless. I don’t think it’s at all true that people who do those things don’t care about themselves – and to put tattoos on the same level as body odor is just demeaning.

    It’s true that in certain circles a tattoo will have some negative connotations along with it, but That’s not a stereotype that deserves to be enforced.

  119. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I have many friends and acquaintances with significant tattoos – one person even has his scalp tattoed, for example, and another person has significant symbols over his hands and forearms. I’ve watched them get discriminated against time and time again.

    Perhaps for some that’s a value exchange they’re willing to make, but if you’re looking for career success, tattoos – especially ones visible outside of clothing – aren’t worth it.

  120. Antonio says:

    I love this post.

    My girlfriend and I moved into our new place in March of this year and we decided to try and give up cable, as you suggested. Well, I actually enjoy it. I’ve been more productive and I tend to read much more material then I normally would. However, I must admit, my girlfriend is not a fan of this decision. I guess she just likes to hear background noise when she types away on the computer. Although she does say it’s multitasking…whatever!

  121. MeekWoman says:

    I love the “Today one year ago” links! It helps me systematically go through past articles. This was an excellent post, and touched based with me more now than ever. While I’m a successful young professional, I am constantly complaining of not having “made it”, and go on to make excuses about why I am not the Best, or why someone who graduated from Harvard is doing a better and more efficient job than me, who comes from a poor family and graduated from a public university. In the end, the answer is ME. I don’t spend every minute of my day trying to do something productive, in fact, during my breaks I tend to find a colleague to complain about all the work I have to do to them. This has really become a self-perpetual, negative spiral that has to stop. Thank you the wake-up call!

  122. Terry says:

    Some of us really do live on the edge, and a community college course can be out of reach for some.

  123. Squirrelers says:

    This is a very good post. Not a new post, as this comment looks like the first one here in quite a while! Nonetheless, a good read and I felt compelled to say “Bravo!”

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