I generally have the pleasure of facilitating three to seven personal finance classes each week, usually around the Treasure Valley of southwest Idaho. Many of those classes are for high school students in an economics or a personal finance course.
Inevitably, whether I’m discussing budgeting, credit, avoiding debt, or effective consumer spending behaviors, questions or comments come up about wanting to be rich.
In a previous post (“What It Means to Be Rich“), I discussed what I believe is a good definition of wealth, as well as some important tips for reaching the level of being wealthy. Today, though, I’d like to share thoughts about the “millionaire lifestyle” that so many of our youth (and many in our adult population) so desperately want to live. Thanks to the extravagance of many in the entertainment, professional athletics, and other high-profile industries trumpeted in magazines and publications proclaiming themselves to be the luminaries of and guides to the lifestyles to which we, as patriotic American consumers, ought to aspire, many young people have a warped sense of who the wealthy are and how the overwhelming majority of them live.
To many of the students in the classes I visit, wealth is all about spending. There is little concept of how the wealth was created or of the finite characteristic of wealth. Too often, wealth is only for fulfilling today’s appetites for thrills, frills, and glitz designed to attract attention.
Such a view of wealth discredits the hundreds of thousands of millionaires who, typical of most in their group, have spent decades dedicating themselves to their business, their employment, their investments, and the management of their own money in order to reach such an achievement. And when they wake up one morning, look over their finances, and discover that, not including their primary residence, they have a net worth of over a million dollars, they do not then go out and begin buying fancy cars and designer clothing. It is not their habit.
One of my favorite series of books that help to enlighten us on the “secret” lifestyles of the rich is the “Millionaire Next Door” books by Thomas Stanley and William Danko. They may not be the most compelling of readings, but the substance of their surveys should shake long-held, though misguided, attitudes and beliefs too many of us and our children cling to.
Some of the most interesting findings:
1. Most millionaires never purchase new cars. They buy and drive used cars.
2. Most millionaires have never spent more than $55,000 (in 2010 dollars) on a new car.
3. Most millionaires live in homes worth less than $300,000 (in 2010 dollars)
4. The most common make and model of a millionaire’s primary mode of transportation back in 1996 was a used Ford Taurus, not a Mercedes or a Lexus or a BMW.
High school students in my personal finance workshops get a kick out of that last one, especially when I ask who, in the class, drives a Ford Taurus. It seems there’s always at least one or two, so I congratulate them as likely being on their way to becoming a millionaire.
My hope is that eventually, we can collectively teach our young people to value life as an experience and not as a race to collect and show off as much superfluous STUFF as our incomes will permit.
If you have any suggestions or stories on how you’ve experienced relief from credit cards and other debt feel free to share in the comment section below. Tips, tricks, and other suggestions are always welcome!