The Five Lessons a Millionaire Taught Me About Life and Wealth by Richard Paul Evans

Let me share with you a few book titles on my bookshelf that have to do with money:

  • Think and Grow Rich
  • How Rich People Think
  • As a Man Thinketh
  • Mind Over Money
  • Wired for Wealth – Change the Money Mindsets That Keep You Trapped
  • Conscious Finance

Did you catch a theme there? It was something I hadn’t really noticed before. Clearly, according to these authors, wealth has more to do with your mindset and your thoughts than your habits.

5 lessonsToday’s post deals with that same concept. I am going to review the book The Five Lessons a Millionaire Taught Me About Life and Wealth by Richard Paul Evans (#1 New York Times bestselling author of The Christmas Box). I picked up a copy at the local library and read it in one sitting. It’s an easy read (93 pages of content and an additional 70 pages of resources), but definitely worth your time.

Evans learned these lessons at a young age from a millionaire and went on to change his mindset, incorporate them in his own life, and make a lot of money. He teaches five lessons or principles that he says will lead all who follow them to wealth and financial independence. In fact, he says that all wealthy people share this common denominator – they understand the principles of accumulating wealth and follow them (and by wealthy he isn’t talking about those who win the lottery or inherit a fortune then go broke 5 years later, but truly wealthy people who earn and keep their wealth).

None of these principles are new – you won’t find anything earth-shattering in the five lessons. In fact, they will seem very ordinary to you. However, very few people actually follow them. I discovered areas that I can improve and plan to sit down with my wife so she and I can decide together how to better live some of these principles. I also plan to teach these principles to my children in ways they can understand.

Here are the five lessons:

Lesson One: Decide to be wealthy

Evans says this is the most important principle and that wealth is a mindset – it’s all or nothing. Bryan Tracy, another one of my favorite authors, says that it never occurs to most people that they can be wealthy and that “the primary reason for underachievement and failure is that the great majority of people don’t decide to be successful. They never make a firm, unequivocal commitment or definite decision that they are going to become wealthy. They mean to, and they intend to, and they hope to and they’re going to, someday. They wish and hope and pray that they will make a lot of money, but they never decide, ‘I am going to do it!’ This decision is an essential first step to becoming financially independent.”

Lesson Two: Take responsibility for your own money

You need to know how much money you have (by calculating your net worth monthly and annually), know where your money comes from and where it is going (budgeting). If you don’t control your money it will control you.

Lesson Three: Keep a portion of everything you earn

As George Clason says in The Richest Man in Babylon “a part of all I earn is mine to keep.” Evans says that millionaires save between 15-20% of their income and recommends that you start with a minimum of 10% of your salary and 90-100% of any side earnings.

(Consequently, the book The Richest Man in Babylon is one of my favorite books about money – you can read it for free here: http://www.ccsales.com/the_richest_man_in_babylon.pdf).

Lesson Four: Win in the margins

This principle is the one that will help you increase your nest egg as quickly as possible. The basic idea is to look for ways to increase your income and decrease your expenses. Evans goes through a number of different ways to look for deals and decrease expenses. He says that one of the best ways to save money on a purchase is to ask “Is that the best you can do?” This seems to especially be true with high-ticket items.

Lesson Five: Give back

Evans donates 10% (or a tithe) of his money and says that he has never felt the loss of the money but instead has felt specifically blessed for his contributions. My wife and I do the same thing and feel the same way that Evans does.

Those are the five lessons. Are you surprised at all by the simplicity? I would guess that you are. Like I said, none of the ideas are earth-shattering revelations. How many of them are you actually living, though? If you are intrigued by these ideas I highly recommend you pick up a copy of this book and make some plans to improve.

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What’s up with the economy?

Are you tired of watching your savings earn .02% per year and seeing your investments lose money each year? You’re not alone.

You probably feel a lot like this guy – you just want someone to “FIX IT!”

Let’s establish a few things up front:

  • The economy moves in cycles:

economy

We go through times of high unemployment, low savings rates, negative stock market growth, etc. and we go through times of low unemployment, great stock market growth, etc.

It’s all part of a cycle.

There are times, of course, when the recessions and troughs last longer than others, but overall that is how the economy works. No one knows how long or short any part of the cycle is going to be.

  • The “stock market” is made up of a lot of different components.
    There are individual company stocks, company and government bonds and money market savings. It also includes things like commodities (gold and silver), oil and real estate. You can invest in all of these.

  • Most people invest in the stock market through their employer (401(k)) or through another retirement account such as an IRA. Typically this is in the form of mutual funds, which is a collection of corporate and government stocks and bonds. Throughout the article when I refer to investing in stocks I am talking about stock mutual funds. Most people shouldn’t be purchasing individual stocks.

  • Past performance in the stock market doesn’t predict what it will do in the future, but it can give you an idea of trends.

So how do you make or lose money in the stock market? When the market is down in a recession or trough stocks generally lose money. This can be caused by many things. Most recently the drop in the market has been caused by economic issues in China and the low price of oil, along with a continuing sluggish economy in the U.S.

In the first two weeks of 2016 the stock market has lost about 8% of its value. 8% in two weeks! Everyone’s invested assets are taking quite a hit right now.

Let’s take a look at some historical data.

Dow Yearly Return Histogram

The graph above shows the Dow yearly return frequency. You can see that there are years that the return on your investments would have returned more than 70%, and years it would have lost more than 20%. About 25% of the time the market has lost money.

This next graph shows the range of returns for a portfolio of 100% stocks, 100% bonds and 50% stocks and 50% bonds between 1950-2013.

In a single year the stock portfolio returned between -37% and +51%.

If you invested for 5-years that range narrows to -2% and +28%

If you go out to 20 years, the range narrows even more to +6% and +18%.

range of returns

The average annualized returns for stocks during those 20-year periods is 11.1%.

You have to decide if you are willing to ride out the negative years in hopes of gaining in the good years, and how long your time horizon is.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The further out your time horizon is the better chance you have of getting a positive return, with the stock market returning the most. If you don’t have at least 5 years, or even better 10 years, you shouldn’t be invested in stocks.

  • The shorter your time horizon is the more you should be invested in conservative assets such as bonds. That means that you can be invested in stocks the younger you are, and move your money to bonds the closer you get to retirement.

  • A good rule of thumb is that you should take 100 minus your age and that’s how much you should invest in stocks. If you are 40 years old you should invest about 60% in stocks (100 – 40 = 60%). If you are 55 years old you should invest about 45% of your money in stocks. Your risk tolerance level might be higher or lower than that, though. Here is a good free online tool that will help you determine your risk tolerance level: http://njaes.rutgers.edu:8080/money/riskquiz/. Because I have a higher risk tolerance I have more of my assets invested in stock mutual funds.

  • Remember that there are additional ways to invest your money. While most of our retirement money is in the stock market, we are saving up money to invest in some real estate as well. A diversified portfolio is best.

  • What you don’t want to do is invest in stocks, panic when it goes down and pull all your money out, then when the market goes back up move your money back in to stocks. That’s a losing game, and you will never get ahead that way. You are buying high and selling low, which is the opposite of what you should do. A lot of people do this, however, which is why there is a big difference between investment returns and investor returns. Investment returns assume you leave the money in the market, while investors move their money around when things get bad.This chart helps me to remember that I need to stay invested:

    missed opportunity

    This chart assumes you invested $10,000 between Dec 31, 1993 and Dec 31, 2013. During that time the stock market had some great years and rough years.If you kept it fully invested you would have ended up with just over $58,000. If you missed the 10 best days (which often come right after the worst days) your return drops to $29,000. If you missed the 40 best days your return is actually negative – your $10,000 drops to $8,147.

    People miss the best days all the time though because they switch from stocks to cash when the market goes down, miss the up-side, and invest when stocks are back at their most expensive.

I realize that all these charts and statistics don’t make you say, “Well, I’m sure glad my portfolio is losing money!” No one likes to see their portfolio drop for even a day, let alone for a few years in a row.

Every time it feels different, like we aren’t going to recover this time. I understand it. I get it. If you need help, find a financial planner who can help you set goals and stick to the strategy you outline together. Make sure it is someone you trust and has your best interests at heart. Someone who will teach you and encourage you and cheer you on.

As always, feel free to leave comments or ask questions below, on Facebook or in an e-mail.

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The Difference

For each attitude or behavior listed below indicate whether it describes you Very Well, Well, Slightly or Not at All.

Very Well Well Slightly Not at All
I feel stocks are worth the risk.
I devote money to personal savings each month.
I save regularly for emergencies.
I have invested for retirement.
I am significantly reducing or I have eliminated outstanding debt.
I have a goal to be financially comfortable during my working years.
I have a goal to retire comfortably.
I know what I want to do for a career and I am actively pursuing it.
I have a goal to accumulate $1 million.
I own a home (or plan to).
I am confident.
I am optimistic.
I am happy.
I am competitive.
I am a leader.
I have a college degree or I am actively working on getting one.
I socialize with friends at least once a week.
I exercise at least 2-3 times per week.
I read newspapers (or online news) regularly.
I am married (or plan to be married).

According to research conducted by Merrill Lynch, Harris Interactive and Jean Chatzky, these twenty attitudes and behaviors were the most critical in determining individuals varying levels of wealth.[1]

The initial question asked by Chatzky was, “Why do some people seem to move relatively easily from a paycheck-to-paycheck existence into comfort or wealth, while others get stuck or – worse – fall back?”

The study, which included hundreds of questions and was administered to more than five thousand individuals, identifies four levels of wealth, along with what percentage of the population falls into each category:

  • The wealthy – 3%
  • The financially comfortable – 27%
  • The paycheck-to-paycheck – 54%
  • The further-in-debtors – 15%

Chatzky and her team found that the wealthy can select at least twelve of the twenty attitudes and behaviors listed above as describing them “very well”, the financially comfortable have at least ten, while only half of those in the paycheck-to-paycheck group or further-in-debtors have more than three that describe them “very well”. In her book, The Difference, Chatzky stresses that most of the above factors are things that can be learned, and that moving up is not only possible, but inevitable if you focus on the right things.

There are, of course, other important factors. While these were identified as the top 20, Chatzky also discusses gratitude, giving, hard work, long-term thinking and others.

Here is Chatzky’s description of those who understand the difference their attitudes and behaviors make and have achieved success in life:

“They knew what they wanted, they plotted a course, and they arrived. They’re not stagnant. That wouldn’t do. Every day, they think about what’s next and set about achieving it with intention and purpose. And today, as a result, they are surrounded by people they care deeply about – and who return the favor. They wake up happy and go to sleep fulfilled. And they don’t lose sleep at night worrying about paying that next bill or any other financial matter.”[2]

It does take time, after developing the attitudes and behaviors listed above, to move from one group to the next. On average, it takes about seven to eight years to move from paycheck-to-paycheck to financially comfortable, and an additional eight to move to a life of wealth. In can be done faster – in fact there were some people that moved from paycheck-to-paycheck to wealth in a total of about ten years. The research also showed the number one reason people slipped from financial security to living paycheck-to-paycheck is overspending.

So where does all of this data leave us? First, Chatzky says, is that you need to make a decision that you want to change and achieve higher levels of wealth. “You choose The Difference,” Chatzky says, “it does not choose you.” Second, you have to take action. Look through the list above and select some things you can begin to work on. Maybe you can start building up your emergency fund, or start exercising more, or focus on your career goals. Any step in the right direction is a good step to take.

For further discussion on this topic, I encourage you to read Jean Chatzky’s book The Difference.

Ryan H. Law, M.S., CFP®, AFC®

[1] The study and findings are discussed in detail in Jean Chatzky’s book “The Difference”  ISBN: 978-0-307-40714-6
[2] Chatzky The Difference pp. 2



For a printable version of this article go to: www.ryanhlaw.com/The_Difference.pdf


      Meeting Jean Chatzky at a conference

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