Most people don’t enjoy their money. Enslaved by debt and hounded by creditors, money often brings more frustration than fun. Author J. Steve Miller studies successful people—from billionaire Warren Buffett to clothes-washer Oseola McCarty—discovering what they do differently from normal people with their money. Here are a few hints from his new, award-winning book: Enjoy Your Money! How to Make It, Save It, Invest It and Give It (The Adventures of the Counter-Culture Club).
Money Tip #1 – Catch a Vision
Take a plastic ball and roll it against a wall. Do it again. Boring, right? Want to make it more fun? Set up some plastic bowling pins and invite a couple of competitive friends. You’re still rolling a ball, but now you’re having fun! What made the difference? You introduced a goal—something to aim for.
Most people have no financial goals. No wonder they can’t get excited about accumulating wealth. They work, spend their paychecks, then start all over next week. Not very exciting. Warren Buffett was different. In elementary school he read a financial book that inspired him to set a goal—to be rich before his 35th birthday. So he worked all kinds of jobs: lemonade stands, paper routes, finding and selling golf-balls. By working hard, living frugally and investing wisely, he accumulated $47,000 (in today’s money, adjusted for inflation) by high school graduation. By age 31, he was worth over $1 million, beating his goal by four years.
Here are some easily attainable goals. You may want to shoot higher. Set goals that work for you.
• Pay off a debt by year’s end.
• Accumulate $1000 this school year. It’s easier than you think. Save $3 a day or $20 a week and before that fifty-second week you’ll have over $1,000.
• Retire with a million dollars. Take that $1,000 a year and invest it in a low cost, total stock market index fund (I like The Vanguard Group.) If the stock market achieves in the next 50 years the same return as the past 50 years, you’ll retire with over $1 ¼ million. (To hedge your bet, start as early as you can, invest much more, and diversify between stocks, bonds, cash equivalents and real estate.)
As a middle school student, Buffett was asked about his drive to make money. “It’s not that I want money,” he explained. “It’s the fun of making money and watching it grow.”
Money Tip #2 – Find Joy in Your Work
By Doing What You Love
When the Gallup organization studied over 2,000,000 people in the workplace, they found that we differ wildly in our strengths and interests. This challenges the widely held notion that “there are very few exciting jobs out there, and they are already taken by the A students.” (Interesting fact: When Professor Thomas Stanley studied self-made millionaires, he found that they were typically C students!)
Some people love to work around people; others love to work alone. Some like to work with their hands; others like to direct long-term projects.
Yet, according to management guru Peter Drucker, “Most Americans do not know what their strengths are. When you ask them, they look at you with a blank stare….”
So as you work, play, and go to school, reflect on what you love and what you loathe, so that you can cast yourself in the roles you’d most likely enjoy. Ask your friends and family what they could see you doing. Take a vocational assessment through your guidance office. (Note: None of these tests are perfect. Had I taken one in high school, it would have never suggested that I become a writer. I hated writing!)
It’s easier to excel at something you love. Professors Stanley and Danko found self-made millionaires working in many different types of jobs. But one thing they all had in common—they loved their work. No wonder Warren Buffett speaks of tap-dancing into the office each day, even into his late 70’s, when he could have easily retired thirty-five years earlier.
By Loving What You Do
Being realistic, few jobs will have you doing precisely what you want for eight hours a day. But there are things you can do to make otherwise intolerable tasks more rewarding. First, remember that each crappy job can be a stepping stone to that dream job. Show up on time. Demonstrate initiative by learning new skills. Take a personal interest in your managers and co-workers. Your future employers may contact them to see what kind of person you are.
Sometimes, getting the larger picture can help. I heard the story of a kid watching a construction project during the middle ages. As workers walked by, he’d ask them what they were doing. One responded, “Just laying bricks.” Another said, “Not much, just supervising this lousy crew.” But a third worker whistled excitedly as he transported building materials in a wheelbarrow. “What are you doing?” the boy asked. With a gleam in his eye, he responded, “I’m building a cathedral!”
At your present job, do you see yourself transporting rocks, or building a cathedral? Example: most authors seem to love writing, but hate marketing their books. Mega-successful author Jack Canfield solved this problem by changing his attitude from “I’m just selling my books” to “I’m giving people hope.” Scores of people say they gave up thoughts of suicide because of reading one of Canfield’s Chicken Soup books. Envision how your work is helping people, and start having more fun at work!
Money Tip #3 – Relish Going Counter-Culture
We’ve all seen the insanely wealthy on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” But then there are those rather odd, flaky ones like Sam Walton, the billionaire founder of Wal-Mart. He drove an old pick-up truck and lived in a normal house. Study first-generation millionaires and you’ll find that Walton’s not a weird counter-example; he’s more the norm. They tend to drive average cars and live in regular neighborhoods. And it makes sense when you think about it. It’s hard to amass millions while you’re spending millions. Self-made millionaires enjoy accumulating wealth more than the appearance of wealth. They’d rather have security and independence than flashy stuff. The typical self-made millionaire is frugal, and enjoys being frugal.
When billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates were travelling together in China, they stopped at a McDonalds for lunch. Buffett pulled out his discount coupons! That’s classic Buffett behavior. He buys his Cherry Cokes in bulk when they’re on sale.
Frugality doesn’t sound like much fun, unless you hate wasting money. Millionaires love saving money. To them, it’s a game. They’re beating the system. Many of them would feel miserable and embarrassed driving a luxury car. They love being different and relish going against the crowd.
As one of Buffett’s high school classmates said, “Most of us were trying to be like everyone else… I think he liked being different.”
Money Tip #4 – Help Others with your Money
At a technology conference, I met a young entrepreneur who started a tech company and sold it for millions. Then, he devoted his time to help other high tech entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground. From years of evaluating proposals for start-ups, he discovered a major predictor of success. Those who said, “I’ve got an idea that will make a lot of money” would typically fail. The ones who said, “I’ve got an idea that will help a lot of people” typically succeeded.
Not only do benevolent people tend to succeed; they also tend to be happier. Study after study has found other-centered people happier than self-centered people. I’ll bet that’s a part of Buffett’s joy in his work. He’s not accumulating money for his own selfish ends. He’s not saving for a yacht or to purchase his very own country. He’s giving his billions to a foundation that will improve medical care and education for millions of people. No wonder he tap dances into the office!
J. Steve Miller is founder and president of Legacy Educational Resources and wrote Enjoy Your Money! How to Make It, Save It, Invest It and Give It. Although well-researched and full of practical information, it’s written in an enjoyable story form, so that a film producer called it “the money book for people who hate money books.” Find it on Amazon.com or through your local bookstore. Perhaps giving a copy as a graduation gift or birthday present would “help someone along the way.”