If you want to be wealthy, live below your means.” – Paul Merriman
A few days ago, Thomas Stanley, author of “The Millionaire Next Door,” died in a car accident at the age of 71. I met Mr. Stanley at the Atlanta Investment Conference a few years ago (hosted by Martin Truax, a well-known stockbroker and money manager with Raymond James).
We plan to dedicate a room to Mr. Stanley at FreedomFest.
Why? Because more than any other financial expert, Stanley dispelled the notion that the rich are bad people, that they flaunt their wealth, engage in white-collar crime, divorce then marry trophy wives and don’t pay their fair share in taxes.
Stanley’s research proved otherwise. In fact, most millionaires are model citizens.
According to “The Millionaire Next Door” and the sequel, “The Millionaire Mind,” wealthy American millionaires are good people. Here are the results of his survey of more than 1,000 super-millionaires (people who earn $1,000,000 a year or more):
- They live far below their means and have little or no debt. Most pay off their credit cards every month; 40% have no home mortgage at all.
- Millionaires are frugal – they prepare shopping lists, resole their shoes and save a lot of money — but they are not misers; they live balanced lives.
- 97% are homeowners; they tend to live in fine homes in older neighborhoods. (Only 27% have ever built their “dream home.”)
- 92% are married; only 2% are currently divorced. Millionaire couples have less than one-third the divorce rate of non-millionaire couples. The typical couple in the millionaire group has been married for 28 years and has three children. Nearly 50% of the wives of the super-rich do not work outside the home.
- Most are first-generation millionaires who became wealthy as business owners or executives; most did not inherit their wealth.
- Almost all are well educated; 90% are college graduates and 52% hold advanced degrees; however, few graduated at the top of their class — most were “B” students. They learned two lessons from college: discipline and tenacity.
- Most live balanced lives; they are not workaholics. 93% listed socializing with family members as their #1 activity; 45% play golf. (Stanley didn’t survey whether they were avid book readers – too bad.)
- 52% attend church at least once a month; 37% consider themselves very religious.
- They share five basic ingredients to success: integrity, discipline, social skills, a supportive spouse and hard work.
- They contribute heavily to charity, church and community activities (64%).
- Their #1 worry: taxes! Their average annual federal tax bill: $300,000. The top one-tenth of 1% of U.S. income earners pays 14.7% of all income taxes collected!
- “Not one millionaire had anything nice to say about gambling.” Okay, but his survey also showed that 33% played the lottery at least once during the year!
Thus, we see how the super-upper-income families of this nation are not the ones contributing to crime, welfare, divorce, child abuse and a spendthrift society. But they are paying a lot of taxes and making a lot of contributions to help solve social problems.
Although Stanley did not cover this issue, I’ve also seen studies indicating that higher-income individuals live longer, on average five to ten years longer, than the average American (76 years) and enjoy better health, fitness and quality of life. Higher-income individuals aren’t the ones causing Medicare to go bankrupt.
Stanley had been criticized for emphasizing the Calvinist lifestyle of self-denial. For example, New York Times columnist Thomas Frank complained of Stanley’s “militantly Calvinist attitude toward consumption” in which “saving and investing are ends in themselves, evidence of moral virtue, while spending is empty dissipation.”
And Nasim Taleb wrote, “I see no special heroism in accumulating money, particularly if, in addition, the person is foolish enough to not even try to derive any tangible benefit from the wealth…. I certainly do not see the point of becoming [a millionaire] if I were to adopt Spartan (even miserly) habits and live in my starter house.”
But that’s not what Stanley advocated. He was a devoted follower of “The Richest Man in Babylon,” who believed in living liberally, but always within your means.
After all, Thomas Stanley did die in a car accident driving a Corvette, not normally a symbol of asceticism.
Instead of bashing the rich, let’s salute them. If indeed the wealthy are such good citizens, as Stanley’s work suggests, our goal should not aim to impoverish the rich, but to enrich the poor. That is our goal at Forecasts & Strategies.
Let the Debate Begin: Is the American Dream Alive or Dead?
Can you still become a millionaire next door? Is the American dream still alive – to get a fulfilling job, marry and raise a family, buy a home and retire comfortably? We’re going to debate this issue at this year’s FreedomFest.
During the past week, I’ve spent hours putting together the entire list of speakers, panels and debates for this year’s big show in Las Vegas. You will be amazed at what we have planned. What’s FreedomFest all about? Everything! Read about the conference lineup so far.