Most of us spend a good portion of our lives working for a paycheck. Yet we have conflicting emotions about money and wealth. We envy the rich and famous. At the same time we berate the so-called 1 percent for being greedy and selfish. We play the lottery in search of a sudden windfall. Yet many of us still believe that money is the root of all evil, and that it's easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter heaven.
Money, not sex, is the last taboo. But if you want to make a successful life for yourself and build up resources for a comfortable retirement, you need to get beyond your mixed feelings about money and start thinking like a rich person. Here's what rich people believe:
1. Money is not evil -- it is the fuel that produces good things in life. Greed may not be good, but money brings health and happiness and a comfortable lifestyle for you and your loved ones. The wealthy are not inherently dishonest; they do not feel ashamed of their first-class lifestyle or their bulging portfolios. In fact, most rich people take pride in their accomplishments and enjoy the fruits of their labors.
2. There's nothing wrong with wanting more money. Many people find it more difficult to talk about money than they do about sex. But there's nothing shameful or dirty about money. And while there are always people trying to keep you down -- who say you're too big for your britches, or too full of yourself -- the real road to riches is paved with rising ambitions, a focus on the future and your willingness to bet on yourself.
3. The way to achieve real wealth is to earn more, not save more. Sure, you can squeeze out a few extra dollars from your monthly budget to deposit into your retirement account if you clip coupons and shop at the outlet mall. But the way to get rich is to play offense, not defense. You need to earn a bigger paycheck, not pinch pennies. Your time is better spent cultivating your career and developing new opportunities. The key is not to view your job as drudgery, but to enjoy what you do, expand your skills and look for new opportunities. Don't be afraid to take a few risks, learn from your mistakes and let failure roll off your back.
4. Rich people tend to live below their means, not above. Too many middle class Americans run a budget deficit every month and struggle to pay the interest and penalties on their credit card bills. Rich people pay themselves first. They spend less than they earn and use extra funds to invest in the future. They may take on debt to start a business, pay for training or buy a house, but not to purchase the latest consumer item. They get on a virtuous cycle: the more you invest, the more you earn and the easier it is to live below your means.
5. Rely on brain work, not a lucky guess. Millions of people play the lottery, but only a handful win the jackpot. Millions of investors trade stocks, but the people who get rich are not the day traders but the Warren Buffetts of the world -- the ones who do their homework, invest for the long term and end up retiring rich. It's no different with your career. Yes, a few lucky people are discovered in Hollywood or make a hit record. But most people who get rich do it by working hard, solving problems and planning for the future.
6. Spend more on education and less on entertainment. Nobody ever struck it rich reading the tabloids, watching television or playing video games. Successful people spend their time improving their skills, researching opportunities and figuring out ways to solve problems. Yet these people typically do not put a lot of faith in formal education or fancy degrees. They focus on useful, practical skills that are relevant to their career.
7. You think you deserve it. Magazines and newspapers are filled with articles about successful people in all walks of life, from business to education to government. There's no reason why you can't be one of them. But you have to believe in yourself, develop your skills and trust your judgment. You need to look after yourself, and not defer to other people. And realize that you cannot give what you don't have. You're never in a position to help anyone else unless you're in a strong position yourself.
Tom Sightings is a former publishing executive who was eased into early retirement in his mid-50s. He lives in the New York area and blogs at Sightings at 60, where he covers health, finance, retirement and other concerns of baby boomers who realize that somehow they have grown up.