Updated Jan. 18, 2023
When I think about how to build wealth, I remember the day I had to hock my TV for food. I was an undergraduate. It was a little color one with a VCR built in (I’m dating myself here). I cradled it in my arms on the bus all the way to the Hock Shop.
I guessed it was worth $100.
The guy at the Hock Shop gave me $40.
I was insulted enough I almost left with the TV, but I didn’t want to carry it home… and the whole needing food thing.
$40 didn’t buy a lot, but it got me through to the next student loan deposit in my bank account.
It wasn’t just that I was poor. I had mismanaged the first student loan payment so much that I was left with no money at the end of the month.
When I look back at my time as a student, I can’t believe the amount of stupid shit I did with money. I didn’t know what money was. We didn’t have it growing up. So as a poor kid who was the first in his family to go to university, predictably, I made a lot of mistakes.
My relationship with money has changed a lot over the years. Although I still find I’m unlearning stuff, still unpacking money blocks, I’m developing a way better money mindset.
So in this post, I want to talk about how to build wealth. This is stuff I’m learning, stuff I’m trying to put into practice.
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1. Earn more
I think one of the first steps for building wealth is to earn as much as possible for a while. Now, I’m not saying this for the reasons you might think. My parents’ generation thought a high-paying job was security for life. But it’s not.
There are two reasons to try to earn as much as you can if you want to build wealth.
The first is to minimize the gap between your income and your expenses so you actually have some money to do something with. If you’re going to be investing and buying assets (below), you’ll need money to do it with.
The other reason to earn as much as possible is because purchasing assets requires debt — and the more you earn the more you can get approved for.
Last year, I interviewed 37 people who doubled their income. I found that all of them did this by being valuable. Some were employees and provided a ton of value to a company. Some were entrepreneurs.
I’ll get into the business stuff below. But here’s what I learned from the people who doubled their income in a traditional job:
- They became so valuable their bosses wanted to keep them — at all costs. This meant adopting an “owners mentality” — taking ownership of the work and making sure their companies succeeded.
- They got other job offers which led to either new positions with more money or counter offers from current bosses.
- They networked ALL THE TIME, which often led to these offers.
- They often learned new skills that made them more valuable.
That’s a quick summary, but I got into the nitty gritty of earning more in this post.
2. Watch your student debt
There are different approaches to debt, but I tend to agree that there’s good debt and bad debt. Student loans are often considered good debt, which leads to people doing stupid shit like taking out $200k for an English degree. (Oh honey. I’m sorry if that’s you 🙁 )
Student debt can be a wealth-building killer that hangs around your neck for life. If you’re going to take it, make sure the degree is worth it. Be sure your earnings will justify the cost and keep your costs as low as possible.
You should pause at this point and watch this John Mulaney routine if you’ve never seen it.
Bachelor’s degree holders have an average student debt of $32k. Graduate students owe an average of $189,162. 🤯
As someone who’s met a ton of people in the second camp — yes this site started as a career site for unemployed PhDs — please… for the love of God… avoid debt at all costs. Figure out how to make money on the side. Apply for more scholarships. Pick up TA or RA work. Don’t borrow.
3. Separate time from money
The only way to really grow wealth is eventually to separate your time from money. When you’re working a job, it’s hard to do this. You can pick up extra work or side hustles, but at some point you run out of hours in the day — no matter how hard you work.
This is the point where you’ll need scale. You’ll need to earn passive income of some sort. Here are some of the main ways of earning passive income:
- Investing money
- Owning a business (that people work in)
- Selling a product
- Renting property (rentals, AirBNB, REITs, etc)
- Monetizing an audience (YouTube, Blogging, Instagram, media, etc.)
- Licensing a patent or trademark
- Owning a platform
Of course, you can do more than one of these (or all!). But real wealth usually comes from one of these things. Go look at the wealthiest people in the world and… you guessed it.. They’re probably doing something on this list.
- Elon Musk = Owns a business (Tesla, SpaceX, etc.)
- Sergey Brin = Owning a platform & Monetizing an audience (Google)
- Warren Buffet = Investing & Owning a business
- Walton Family (Walmart heirs) = Owning a business
- Sara Blakely = Selling a product (Spanx)
- Jimmy Donaldson (AKA Mr. Beast) = Monetizing an audience
4. Buy assets
If you’ve ever read my favorite money book — Rich Dad Poor Dad — you’ll remember Robert Kiyosaki’s definition of an asset. “An asset is something that puts money in your pocket. A liability takes money out.”
This definition famously pissed off a generation of boomers who believed “your home is your greatest asset.”
Bullshit. It takes money out of your pocket. Kiyosaki said, a home is not an asset. Cue boomers losing it.
ANNNNYYYWWWAAAYYYSSS, study wealthy people and you’ll see they spend their money buying assets. Buying cashflow into their pocket. That’s basically what a stock is — you own a piece of the company and get a chunk of the returns (either in stock increase or dividends).
People who buy rental properties rent them out and the cashflow (ideally) pays the mortgage AND puts money in their pocket. Some people buy businesses, or put the money into building one — we’ll go there next.
Buying assets is a surefire secret of the wealthy.
BUT A WARNING – A lot of people lose money trying to match the rich in buying assets they don’t understand, so do your homework. There are lots of assets I don’t understand. This is not a call for you to go buy a bunch of real estate when you don’t know anything about it. Whatever asset you choose to buy, you’ll need to learn how it works.
5. Build assets
This is sort of where most people start (yours truly included). One of the ways to build wealth is to build assets. Heck, let’s just start with one.
So what is an asset you can build? Well, it needs to be something that produces cashflow (Remember, assets put money in your pocket). Ideally, it should produce an outsized return that’s not connected to your time (separate time from money).
And the real gold standard? It should be sellable.
“So hold on there, Chris,” I hear you saying. “What the hell is an asset I can build that will make me money and be sellable?” There’s not a perfect science to this, but here are some ideas.
- Business: A business can be an asset. But only if it’s creating value that can be sold. I love consulting, but most of my consulting work needs to be done by me. = not an asset. I made a list of businesses you can start with almost no money.
- Digital Asset: Digital assets, stuff like websites, blogs, apps, software, courses, and sometimes even social media channels are things you can build for next to nothing. Some of these can be considered assets. Let’s talk about blogging. I created this blog from nothing, spending a couple bucks a month when I started it with Bluehost. I don’t know what it’s worth now, but it could be a lot. Top websites can sell for millions (okay — I’m not there yet). And unlike a social channel, I own this blog.
- Houses or Rentals: Hell of a step up from building a website, but if you built a house or a rental you’d be creating an asset. You’d have to pay to build it, but play your cards right and it could be worth more when you’re done.
- Intellectual Property: When you write a book that becomes a best-seller, you’ve created an asset. You start with nothing, but have the potential to build a brand that could earn money for years to come. License a patent. Write a song that gets picked up by an artist. These are all creative pursuits that can create assets. I’m not saying they’ll be easy. Some of these are long shots… but hey, if it’s what you love to do. Why not try!
6. Start saving for retirement
It’s the oldest thing in the book, and the thing my generation struggles with the most (me included). Life is so damned expensive sometimes that it’s hard to put away for the future.
But if you can get your income up and start getting ahold of some of the assets we’ve talked about above, hopefully you can get some gap between your income and expenses and put some away.
Set your account to take out, money every month automatically and invest it. Learn about why compound interest is your friend. Basically start establishing the patterns for building and growing wealth that will serve you for the rest of your life.
7. Educate yourself
Take time to educate yourself about finance. I know the Millennial Money blog is great. I read the book The Millionaire Teacher when I was in grad school, and I’ll occasionally listen to Dave Ramsey’s Podcast. I tend to read, watch, or listen to something on personal finance once a week at least. Because even though money isn’t my life, I want to take care of what I have and earn what I’m worth.
Here are my favorite books about making money
1. Rich Dad Poor Dad – Robert Kiyosaki (Get it!)
2. The 4-Hour Workweek – Tim Ferriss (Get it!)
3. Broke Millenial – Erin Lowry (Get it!)
4. Think and Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill (Get it!)
5. I Will Teach You to Be Rich – Ramit Sethi (Get it!)
6. The Millionaire Fastlane – MJ Demarco (Get it!)
7. You Are A Badass At Making Money – Jen Sincero (Get it!)
I know a lot of smart people who know the ins and outs of grasshopper DNA or Stoic philosophy. It takes a lot of time to learn that. Personal finance doesn’t take that long. Educate yourself!
I hope this post has helped you to see building wealth in a different light. The thing is, so many people have been taught the wrong things about how to build wealth. And even if we know the right things, it can be hard to stick it out for the long haul and do them.
Here’s to you and your wealth. May you be rich, in all the things that matter (and yes — that includes money). Good luck!