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My Book Reviews

Category: Personal finance
Published: 1998
Read: 2004
Reviewed: May 2010

This book profiles the lifestyles and financial habits of Americas wealthy. The book compares people who are good at accumulating wealth ("PAW"s or Prodigious Accumulators of Wealth"), with people are bad at accumulating wealth ("UAW"s or "Under Accumulators of Wealth"). The book lists the 7 factors of wealthy people: (1) they live below their means (2) they value financial independence more than status (3) they devote time to wealth-building activities (4) their parents did not provide economic outpatient care (5) their adult children are economically independent (6) they are proficient in spotting market opportunities (7) they chose the right occupation.

The book covers various topics, including: case studies of wealthy people, a quiz to see if you have good wealth-building habits, a rule of thumb that tells you how much wealth you should have, surveys that reveal how much wealthy people pay (on average) for specific items (like watches), advice about spending money on cars, advice regarding parents and children, recommendations for future high-earning professions, and wealth profiles of the self-employed.

There were a few random observations and pieces of advice I found useful:

  • Comparisons of levels of wealth by country of origin, and explanations about the differences.
  • Have goals for different time frames - 5, 10, 20 years, and lifetime goals.
  • For high-income earners (those earning at least $100,000 annually), the relationship between education and wealth accumulation is negative.
  • Some interesting theories about why doctors are bad with money.
  • About real estate: "God continues to make more people, but he doesn't make more land."
  • Entrepreneurs are not just wealthier because they have higher incomes, but because their attitude of self-reliance when it comes to generating income spills over into a self-reliance with money issues in their personal life. Employees are the opposite, the dependence on others for income spills over into their personal life, where they don't know how to handle any money-related issues themselves.
  • The typical first-generation affluent American is a business owner. He has a high net-worth but often low self-esteem. The low-status, high net-worth parent often lives vicariously through his well-educated adult children who occupy high-status professions.

Many readers point out that the extremely frugal wealthy people profiled in the book are not having any fun. A reviewer on Amazon phrased it best when he said, "What is their definition of the good life? Being the richest person in the cemetery?" Although this appears to be a valid point, the extreme behaviors profiled in the book are used simply to illustrate the book's points, since the law of cause and effect is most clearly illustrated through extreme examples. The authors aren't recommending that you should mimic them - they're just letting you know what they did to get where they are. It is implied that if you prefer to choose a point in between and find a balance between financial security and enjoyable consumption, then that is a personal choice which only you can decide on.

Overall though, this book is quite repetitive and is over-saturated with tables of data. The whole genre of millionaire books would also be more enjoyable to read if they stopped acting as if their lessons were so revolutionary (although this book is not as bad as "The Millionaire Mind").

The biggest weakness of this book (and the whole genre) is that it doesn't bother exploring the actual reasons as to why people overspend. It points out that purchasing things to increase your status will make you poor, but it needs to dig deeper into the psychology of this behavior. This is because most hyper-consumers over-spend because they want to, and not because it hasn't occurred to them to save their money. Their desire to spend originated from somewhere.

Another major gripe I had with this book is that it has a major omission with regards to the drivers of wealth. One of the biggest factors of wealth is having people skills. This is a point that "The Millionaire Mind" didn't miss, as one of their most important wealth-building factors was "getting along with people". This book partially addresses the idea of people skills by recommending that you learn how to "leverage" the work of others, while pointing to business owners as an example. Although this example is a valid one, maximizing your wealth through other people doesn't necessarily need to be done through a hierarchal relationship. People who simply have a positive worldview and are generally likable end up developing invaluable people skills and social connections which are similarly conducive to building wealth. The rewards for being good with people are just as applicable to a manager or salesman who makes $80,000 per year as it is to an entrepreneur who makes $80,000.

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