How To Get Wealthy – Slowly But Surely: 5 Secrets From Research


The grand human fantasy: making money with the least amount of sweat. It’s a dream as old as time, or at least as old as the invention of money and laziness, which I assume came about in the same brainstorming session.

We’re living in an age where people become millionaires by making videos about unboxing toys. But getting started on learning about personal finance can be both boring and confusing.

Investing? Oh boy. Bulls, bears, shorts, longs – it sounds like a weird zoo where the animals are wearing pants. “Amortization” sounds like a spell Harry Potter would cast to fix his glasses. And I swear “Blockchain” is a term borrowed from a Lego instruction manual. Budgeting feels like the adult equivalent of being told to clean your room as a kid. You just throw your hands up and look for a nice, sensible sock to hide your money in.

It doesn’t have to be this hard. There’s this myth that you need to be a genius to get wealthy. Well, if that were true, our richest people would be astrophysicists and poets, not people who invented an app that turns your face into a dog’s. What’s the average college GPA of an American millionaire? 2.9 out of 4.0.

The truth is, becoming wealthy isn’t about having a brain the size of a planet. It’s about doing the boring, sensible things, consistently, over time. So how do we do it?

We’re going to get some excellent advice from three solid books: “The Simple Path to Wealth”, “I Will Teach You to Be Rich”, and “The Psychology of Money.”

Annoying but necessary warnings: This is not gonna make you rich overnight. It’s a safe way to build wealth over time. The below is a basic overview. You’re still going to do some legwork to put it into practice. I’m not shilling investments here, so I won’t be recommending specific banks, funds, etc. This is not tailored to your specific financial situation because, seriously, how the heck could I do that? And if you end up turning your bank account into a desolate wasteland reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic movie, nope, I’m not liable. YMMV. Caveat Emptor.

Let’s get to it…


Practice Strategic Frugality

You’ve got to ask yourself one critical question: Do you want to be cool, or do you want to be free? Choosing freedom means you understand that wealth isn’t about what you show; it’s about what you grow. The safe path to wealth is unglamorous.

When you don’t care about impressing others with material things, you essentially give yourself a raise. You’re basically opting out of the world’s most expensive popularity contest.

Sound like pure suffering? It doesn’t have to be. Practice “strategic frugality”: spend lavishly on what you adore and scrimp mercilessly on everything else.

It’s about savoring the sweet taste of victory when you pay full price for something you truly love, and then balance it out by squeezing every last cent out of everything else. But you need to consciously decide, in advance, what is important and what is not.

The research shows most millionaires are cheap: 50% have never paid over $399 for a suit. More than half have never paid over $30,000 for a car.

The simple formula? Earn more than you spend. Invest the surplus. Avoid debt.

As JL Collins writes: “Stop thinking about what your money can buy. Start thinking about what your money can earn.”

Okay, people love reading about ways to save money, almost as much as they love not actually saving money. (If you could sell irony, you’d get rich quick.) Let’s talk about debt…


No Debt

Debt is the financial equivalent of a bad hangover that just gets worse with time. If at all possible, you don’t want to pay interest on anything. It’s like a subscription service for regret. And if you have debt, pay it off aggressively.

First thing is cash flow. You need enough money coming in to meet your overhead and start paying down what you owe. Don’t make enough right now?

Next, list all your debts, like a melancholic roll call. Rank them by interest rate. It’s like organizing a playlist for the world’s most depressing party. Pay the minimum on all and then devote everything remaining to the one with the highest interest rate. Attack that one with the ferocity of a scorned lover in a soap opera. Once you get that to zero, move on to the one with the next highest interest rate, etc.

Now there’s one exception: if you have anything with a very low interest rate, like less than 3%, you may actually be better off paying the minimum and investing. Anything over 5%, just pay it off ASAP.

Which brings us to the issue of credit cards. If you manage them well, they’re very useful. But paying off your credit card every month is as crucial as remembering to wear pants to a job interview. If you can’t manage that, at the very least, pay on time. The single best thing you can do to improve your credit rating is to pay the minimums for all your bills when they’re due.

Remember: almost all fees, interest rates and minimum payments are negotiable. Call and haggle with your provider. Magic phrases are “I would hate for this fee to drive me away from being a customer” and “other cards are offering me better rates.” And if they say no? Ask to speak to their manager, then their manager’s manager. Go full-on “Inception” with it.

Okay, time to dispel a few myths — and probably get myself into a lot of trouble…


What Won’t Get You Rich

Playing The Stock Market

Picking individual stocks is like Vegas for people who think they’re too smart for slot machines.

“Brad Barber of UC Davis and Terrance Odean of UC Berkeley found that only about 1% of active traders outperform the market and that the more frequently they trade, the worse they do.”

And day trading? Please. By the third week, you’ll be subsisting on instant noodles, wondering if selling a kidney is taxable income.

Buying A House

Annnnnd this is the part that’s going to get me angry emails. Declaring that renting can beat homeownership financially is like going to a Star Wars convention and shouting, “Star Trek is better!”

Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller found that “from 1890 through 1990, the return on residential real estate was just about zero after inflation.” Homeowners react to this like you’ve just told them Santa isn’t real, and also, he hates their curtains.

If you want a house, buy a house. But don’t tell yourself it’s an investment. If it were really an investment, you’d treat it like one. You’d buy the ugliest house in the best neighborhood, where the primary selling point is “not haunted.” You wouldn’t care about the view, or whether the kitchen has an island. You’d be looking at market trends, rental income potential, and zoning laws. Did you crunch the numbers on property taxes versus rent? No, you fell in love with a backyard big enough for your hypothetical future dog. When you buy a house to live in, it’s less about investing and more about nesting. Be honest.

“BUT RENTING IS THROWING AWAY MONEY!” Mortgage interest, property taxes, maintenance, improvements – a house can be like signing up for a subscription service to “What’s That Weird Sound and How Much Will It Cost to Fix It?”

“BUT I CAN DEDUCT THE MORTGAGE INTEREST FROM MY TAXES!” But that’s saving money you would not have otherwise spent. Keep spending a dollar to save thirty cents and let me know how well that works out for you.

Your house will likely appreciate, yes, but probably not enough to surpass its myriad of expenses combined with the compounding that would come with investing the money elsewhere. If you rented and invested the difference, you could be making it rain somewhere on a beach, not worrying if your basement is currently turning into an indoor swimming pool.

Now that all the homeowners reading this hate me, let me be clear: Buying a house because you want to live in it is great. But don’t tell yourself it’s an investment.

Whew. So what should you do once you’ve paid off any debt?


401(k) and Roth IRA

A 401(k) is retirement savings plan offered by your employer, where you chuck in a slice of your paycheck before taxes get their grubby hands on it. Why is using pretax money akin to a financial wizardry? Compound growth. The concept is simple: you earn interest on your interest. It’s like feeding a Gremlin after midnight, except instead of turning into a monster, it turns into a bigger pile of money. And this pile of money grows, silently and sneakily, while you’re busy living life, complaining about traffic, and forgetting your mother’s birthday.

Now let’s talk about the employer match. If your company offers this, it’s free money. Turning down free money is like saying, “No thanks, I don’t like joy.” Ask your employer about it.

At first, you only want to invest the amount your employer will match. But now you’re sitting on a pile of extra cash, feeling a bit like Scrooge McDuck but without the top hat or the problematic undertones. So beyond the match limit you want to put any additional funds in a Roth IRA. (And if your job doesn’t offer matching, you’ll likely want to skip the 401(k) and go straight to the Roth.)

Roth IRA’s are not employer sponsored. But, matching aside, they’re even better at ensuring a future where you’re not destitute and ranting on street corners.

The Roth IRA is like the financial equivalent of a reverse mullet: party in the front, business in the back. You put in money that’s already had taxes taken out and then it grows tax-free. Why is this as exciting as finding an extra fry in the bottom of the bag? When you finally start withdrawing this money, the taxman can’t touch it.

Another benefit is if you really need money, you don’t have to wait until retirement. With a Roth IRA, you can withdraw your contributions (but not your earnings) without penalty. It’s like having a swear jar where you can take back the quarters if you really need to swear in an emergency.

Okay, you’re doing everything right and you have more money left over after maxing out your 401(k) and your Roth IRA. What’s next?


Index and Lifecycle Funds

The stock market is the greatest wealth-building creation ever. But you don’t want to pick random stocks and try to time the market. You also don’t want to use mutual funds. The vast majority of mutual funds fail to beat the market — and then charge you fees in order to do that.

Index investing provides the best results. Instead of betting on an individual stock or fund, you’re purchasing a wide range of them. You’re not putting your money on a single, prancing unicorn. You’re betting on the entire enchanted forest. Index funds also have very low fees, are tax efficient, and are easy to maintain.

The only issue is that to maintain a proper mix you need to “rebalance” every 12-18 months. And that will require a bit of research and effort. Too lazy for that? No problem. Enter lifecycle funds.

Investing in lifecycle funds is the financial equivalent of autopilot. It’s for those who want to grow their wealth without growing a headache. It’s the “I’d rather not think about this right now” of investment strategies.

What are lifecycle funds? Imagine if your money had a cruise control button. You hit it once when you start your career, and it automatically adjusts your financial speed as you approach the retirement exit ramp. In your wild youth, it’s all “stocks, baby, stocks!” Then, as you age and start enjoying dinner at 4 p.m., it shifts to bonds – the financial equivalent of decaf coffee. The idea is, you’re too busy (or let’s face it, too lazy) to rebalance your portfolio, so the fund does it for you.

If you’re the adventurous type, you might find lifecycle funds yawn-inducing. The returns aren’t huge, but with time they add up. The beauty of lifecycle funds? They require the same amount of effort as remembering to breathe.

Okay, time to round it all up — and learn the simple tip that can make an enormous difference…


Sum Up

Here’s how to get wealthy — slowly…

  • Practice “Strategic Frugality”: Stop trying to impress people. Change your mindset from “what can this buy?” to “what can this earn?” Spend lavishly on what you adore and scrimp mercilessly on everything else.
  • No Debt: Paying off debt has a guaranteed return. Literally, zero risk. You don’t pay interest on what you don’t owe.
  • What Won’t Get You Rich: Picking individual stocks is a magical activity where grown-ups gamble away their hard-earned cash on companies they know nothing about, based on advice from guys who seem like they’ve had one too many energy drinks. And a house you live in can be a wonderful thing – but it’s not an investment.
  • 401(k) and Roth IRA: Investing in a 401(k) plan and a Roth IRA are the most adult things you can do next to choosing a sensible dishwasher. You want to stuff as much money into tax advantaged accounts as possible.
  • Index or Lifecycle Funds: The sweatpants of investing. Not sexy, but oh so comfortable. You invest, then go about your life. Watch TV. Grow a bonsai tree. Stare into the abyss. Your index fund doesn’t need constant attention. Some might say, “But where’s the excitement?” To which I say, if you want excitement, go skydiving or take up knitting without a pattern.

To simplify the basics and make them chronological:

  1. If your job offers a 401(k) match, deposit enough to get 100% of the match. It’s free money. Your future self will want to high-five you so hard.
  2. Pay off debts.
  3. Open up a Roth IRA and put as much money into it as they’ll let you.
  4. If you still have money (first of all, who are you, and can we be friends?), return to your 401(k) and max it out.
  5. Still have money left? Now you’re just showing off. Invest in your index or lifecycle funds.

And what’s the simple tip that can make an enormous difference? You absolutely must automate your finances. This way you don’t forget stuff and it becomes harder to do anything stupid:

  • Have your bills automatically paid by your credit card (or checking account.)
  • Have your credit card automatically paid by your checking account.
  • Have your paycheck automatically fund your 401(k).
  • Connect your checking account to your Roth IRA and Index or Lifecycle fund.

Automating is the silent guardian, the watchful protector, the Alfred to your Batman, but with fewer supervillains and more compound interest.

It’s not the wild, untamed luxury of a billionaire’s life, but it’s the calm, collected comfort of knowing your bills are paid and your savings are snug. It’s the quiet triumph of being able to buy the good toilet paper without a second thought.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have emails from angry homeowners to respond to…


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