I became a fan of Robert Kiyosaki in my 20s. His book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” opened my eyes to the world of wealth. Early in life I learned there are fundamental differences between how the rich think and act toward money compared to everyone else. I began to adopt those same thoughts and strategies, and found them to be completely true.
There were four crucial lessons from “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” that changed my financial life:
1. Most people work for money — rich people have money work for them
This lesson has become such a cliché that many consider it to be a myth. But it’s absolutely true.
Talk to just about anyone about how to make money, and the conversation will inevitably gravitate toward jobs. That’s not wrong thinking either, at least not early in your life. The first step toward building wealth is generating a basic income. If you have no assets, and no skills you can sell to the general public in exchange for money, a job is certainly the most convenient way to produce a cash flow.
But the difference between rich people and everyone else is that the rich don’t stay in the job phase for very long. They realize early that to become rich, they need to become the people who hire others into jobs, and not a job holder. By contrast, the rest of us typically spend our lives in the job phase. And we’re trapped once they believe that a job is the only way to earn money. That locks you into working for money for the rest of your life.
But the rich learn the virtue of becoming business owners early. And running a business is, more than anything else, about learning how to leverage resources and people to earn more money than you ever could by exchanging your own labor for a wage.
For example, as a business owner, you can gravitate toward your talents — those skills and abilities you have that hold the greatest potential for you to earn big money. Once there, you can either hire others as employees or use subcontractors to do the work that generates the income. Essentially, you become the overseer of the business, rather than a front-line worker.
As the business becomes more profitable, you invest some of those profits into building your business and increasing your income.
2. It’s not how much money you make that matters — it’s how much money you keep
One of the behaviors that most separates the rich — especially the self-made rich — from others is the emphasis on saving money.
One of the fundamental obstacles for most people is that budgetary priority goes to spending. Saving gets only what’s left over. For example, let’s say you have a net household income of $5,000 per month. After paying necessary expenses and a few luxuries, you have $250 left to put into savings.
That means only 5% of your net monthly income is going into savings. And in many households, even that amount is swallowed up by unexpected expenses. In others, the amount seems so insignificant the savings effort is abandoned entirely.
The situation is very different among the rich, particularly among those who aspire to become wealthy. Though financial planners may recommend saving and investing 10% or 15% of your income on a regular basis, the aspiring rich may save 30%, 40%, and even 50% or more of their income.
There’s no question that saving that amount of money can only be accomplished if you can successfully live well below your means. That arrangement is usually temporary. As savings and investments grow, so does the income they generate (which is what we’re going to discuss in the next section).
Let’s work an example using the same $5,000 monthly income we used above. The only difference is this person saves and invests 50% of his income each month, or $2,500. Assuming an average annual return on a portfolio of stocks and bonds (but favoring stocks) this saver will accumulate over $1,276,000 in just 20 years.
In other words, he’ll be a millionaire within 20 years. And that doesn’t even reflect the fact that both his income and his savings and investment contributions may increase over the years. This is an illustration of how much money you keep makes a bigger difference in the long run than how much you make.
3. Rich people acquire assets — The Poor acquire liabilities they think are assets
One of the major misconceptions so many have about rich people is that they all inherited their money. But that belief set is completely self-defeating. Look at anyone who is a self-made millionaire, and there’s an outstanding chance he or she spent most of their life acquiring assets that generate income.
This is the exact opposite of many other people think. Embracing the consumer mindset of the media and advertising culture, they instead “invest” their money in personal possessions they believe to be assets. Probably the best example is the family home. Most people think of it as the biggest asset they have, and even devote a disproportionate percentage of their income both to acquiring and maintaining it.
But even while a house can build value over time, it’s not an income-generating asset. Quite the opposite: It costs you money to keep it. It’s really not an investment until and unless you sell it, take your cash, and invest it in something that will produce income.
Worse, the majority of middle-class homes are heavily financed. That may be understandable when the home was first purchased. But many people engage in equity stripping by taking home equity lines of credit and second mortgages when enough equity builds in the home. Others engage in serial refinancing, consolidating their first and second mortgages, or taking cash out every few years. The long-term result is that while the value of the home rises, so does the amount of debt.
Other non-income generating “assets” include cars, recreation equipment, furniture and entertainment equipment, and vacation homes. All may feel good to own, but none generate any income.
Typical assets acquired by the rich include stocks, bonds, investment funds, income-generating real estate, real estate investment trusts, and businesses. What all have in common is that they either have the ability to generate a steady income, increase in value, or both.
Over time, the growth in income-generating assets results in a higher income. Eventually, the income being produced by those assets may be sufficient for the owner to live comfortably without having to work anymore.
4. Working all your life for someone else can lead to financial struggle
This isn’t an attempt to demean anyone who spends their lives working for someone else. Instead, it’s to emphasize doing so holds the very real potential for a lifetime of financial struggle for most people. The fundamental limiting factor with being an employee is that you’re always trading time for money. And since you only have so much time to give to your employer, it creates an absolute limit to how much you can earn.
But that’s only the most obvious limit. At a more basic level, you will always earn less than your effort produces. For example, though your work may generate $50 an hour in revenue to your employer, you may only earn $25 for each hour spent. It must be that way because your employer cannot afford to keep you on the payroll without making a profit on your work.
There are also limits to how much an employer will pay for any position, regardless of the quality of your work. For example, let’s say you work in an occupation where the pay range is between $50,000 and $75,000. Even if you’re exceeding the best expectations of the job, you’ll probably never make more than $75,000.
By contrast, if you made a decision to begin selling your skills either on a business-to-business basis or to the general public, you may find yourself easily earning $50 an hour. And as you grow in your skills and your capacity, that may gradually rise to $75 an hour, $100 an hour, and more.
When you’re self-employed, there is no ceiling on what you can earn. The more you can earn, the more you can save and invest to gain real wealth.
And there’s something else I found out in my own business experience. When you’re self-employed, you’re free to take your business in any direction. That means taking on more challenging — and profitable — business directions, and even creating additional income streams.
With self-employment comes other benefits as well. For example, there are retirement plans, like the SEP IRA and the Solo 401(k), that can enable you to shelter a larger percentage of your income and build a much larger retirement portfolio than you can through a typical employer plan.
Taking the Solo 401(k) as an example, you can save up to $19,500 as the employee portion, even when you’re self-employed. But the plan also allows you to save an additional 25% of your net business compensation, up to $56,000. Apart from the huge tax deductions you’ll get from that kind of plan, imagine how much money you could accumulate in 15 or 20 years? A seven-figure balance is likely to be the rule than the exception.
Not only does self-employment remove any income ceilings, but it also creates the ability to build up your assets faster than you can as an employee.
Building wealth might take some big changes
These lessons from Robert Kiyosaki aren’t meant to make you feel your situation is hopeless if you’ve been handling your finances the way the majority of people do. Rather, it’s to give you an insight as to how rich people become rich. That involves major behavioral changes. But if you can embrace them as part of your financial routine, the entire monetary dynamic in your life will change for the better.
Even if you can’t save and invest 50% of your income, set a more reasonable goal. 20% or 30% will take you longer to reach your goal, but it will get you there eventually. The point is, if you want to improve your financial situation in a meaningful way, you’ll have to make more substantial changes in the way you see and handle money.
The rich have already figured that out. You can become one of them by doing what they do.
Jeff Rose is an entrepreneur disguised as a certified financial planner, author, and blogger. Jeff is an Iraqi combat veteran having served in the Army National Guard for nine years.