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The Big Wins Manifesto

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The Big Wins Manifesto
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Compare two people trying to get an edge in life.

John, 28, earns $62,000/year as a project manager. He used to have $8,200 in credit card debt from overspending, but he’s been slowly paying it down over the last two years and now it’s at $6,400. How? He tried all the typical personal-finance advice: He set up a budget, he tried to cut back on his daily lattes, and he made sure to make a list of goals he wanted to achieve. Yet last week, he took an honest look at his life and realized he’s still treading water. Despite paying off part of his debt, he still has years ahead of being in debt — plus no real savings, no investment, and something always comes up, causing him to yo-yo back and forth on his goals.

Chris, 32, earns approximately $120,000. Four years ago, Chris was making about $60,000/year but he was barely getting by — he had $50,000 of student-loan debt and, most days, would eat the free snack bars at his office instead of buying lunch. Yet within 4 years, Chris paid off $50,000 of debt, amassed a savings account of tens of thousands of dollars, and more than doubled his salary. To do this, he set up automated systems to pay off his debt. He turned his skills into a side income to earn over $1,000/month on the side. He knew he was slightly socially awkward, so he spent time joining courses to improve his social skills and ended up negotiating multiple salary increases — including over a $50,000 raise two months ago.

The difference between the two people?

John focused on tiny, meaningless tactics that experts told him he “should” do. Chris, the successful student with the dramatic results, focused on doing a few important things, and mastering them. He focused on Big Wins.

Chris is, in fact, a real person — the only student who has joined every single one of my courses.

A national reporter also wrote about Chris in a recent 6-page Fortune profile of my teachings.

There’s a reason why many of my IWT students have results like Chris, and this, and this — results that include earning tens of thousands of dollars more every year, paying off $50,000 in debt, and leapfrogging their peers to land their Dream Job in their 20s — while so many other people are stuck cutting back on $3 lattes with no discernible results and a side of soul-crushing guilt.

IWT students focus on Big Wins instead of minutiae.

IWT students don’t worry about saving $2 or $3 on lattes, knowing that in the grand scheme of things, that money is largely meaningless — plus, as cognitive misers, we have limited cognition and attention, so each additional thing we try to focus on means an overall reduced amount of willpower and attention.

If you had to use your limited willpower to cut back on $2 a day of something you love, versus learning how to negotiate a $10,000 salary increase, which would you rather do?

Minutiae-focused people try to focus on everything, rarely prioritizing. They obsess over their monthly spending as much as turning the oven light off, never understanding the futility of trying to trick human nature. They use phrases like “I just need to…” and “Yeah, I really should…” and “If I just try harder this month, I should be able to…”

True masters of human behavior understand our shortcomings, and use systems, automation, and a judicious use of our limited willpower to tackle the things that really matter — while ignoring the rest.

Once you adopt this frame, you’ll see it everywhere. You’ll see people dutifully trying to cut back on small daily expenditures, then getting frustrated when it adds up to very little…and they yo-yo right back to their former behavior. You’ll see them sporadically jumping from expert to expert, like others jump from diet to diet, searching for the one “magic bullet” that will solve all their problems — all the while, never understanding the mechanics of what actually works.

Ironically, if you suggest that they focus on doing a few Big Wins (e.g., learning how to negotiate their salary, or earn money on the side), the very same people will claim they’re “too busy” to do that. Indeed.

This is a fascinating wrinkle in human behavior. People will continue to do something — even if it doesn’t work — instead of potentially trying something that might actually work but is novel (and therefore scary) to them.

  • Even if their closest friend has used these strategies and techniques to pay off tens of thousands of dollars of debt
  • Even if they see examples of people just like them who have changed their lives
  • Even if they trust that the techniques work for other people, many of us will use barriers like “Well, that might for HIM…but I have [INSERT SEEMING UNIQUE SITUATION THAT IS NOT REALLY UNIQUE AT ALL]

I find this human tendency totally astonishing. This is why you see people who have been working out for 3 years but haven’t lost much weight at all. Yet when you suggest they try getting a personal trainer — even for a week — they say, “I could never do that! It’s too expensive.” Same with diets. And money. And relationships.

Today, a short primer on the difference between the “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” approach and many others’ approaches.

BIG WINS: A KEY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN IWT AND OTHER “EXPERT” ADVICE

There are a few Big Wins in life where — if you simply get them right — you almost never have to worry about the small things. If you can focus on the 5-10 Big Wins, rather than 50 little things, you can have an insurmountable edge in life.

The I Will Teach You To Be Rich philosophy has always been to focus on the long-term, and to focus on big wins that matter. If you start investing early, pick a sensible asset allocation with low-cost funds, save for big events in the next 10 years (wedding, down payment on a house, kids, vacations…), focus on having great credit, and cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t care about. Do these things and you’ll be ahead of 99% of other people.

Here are several examples of typical advice you’ll read in magazines, newspapers, and blogs…contrasted with my teachings that I’ve tested with over 1 million students.

THEY SAY: “Keep a budget! How can you cut your spending if you don’t know where your money is going?”

I SAY: Nice in theory, but it almost never works. Nobody wants to keep a budget (it makes people feel bad about themselves), and if you study people who pick up personal-finance books, only to find the first chapter saying “Let’s create a budget,” you’ll predictably see those people shut the book and put it right back on the shelf. Ironically, “experts” who recommend that others keep a budget rarely keep one themselves. Had they tested this worthless advice with even 10 people, they would see that 10/10 would fail to maintain a budget past 2 months, a laughably terrible result. Their natural exhortation, should they ever decide to test their terrible lifelong advice? “These people should try harder.” Sigh.

***

THEY SAY: “No, you can’t buy those jeans. No, you can’t afford those shoes. No, you can’t take that trip. No, no, no.”

I SAY: Who wants to be told what you CAN’T do with your money? For too long, money experts have been telling us all the things we’re not allowed to do, instead of telling us what we CAN do. Guess what? I want to live a rich life. I WANT to buy nice things. I want to travel to Vegas, or San Francisco, or LA, to visit my friends and go out. I WANT to buy a round of drinks for my friends or send a nice gift to my family. So if you want to buy $300 jeans, or a $1,000 weekend in Vegas, great! Instead of judging you and making you feel guilty, I’ll show how to do it — how to live a rich life by spending EXTRAVAGANTLY on the things you love, as long as you cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t — just like my friend who spends $21,000/year going out.

***

THEY SAY: “Stop spending on X, Y, and Z. Oh, you want to know about earning more? [Crickets]”

I SAY: There’s a reason why most personal-finance experts write about cutting back and constant frugality, yet they don’t write about earning more:

They don’t know how.

Now, cutting back relentlessly on the things you don’t love is an important part of living a rich life. But earning more is at least as important.

It’s why I’ve raised my hourly rate from $20/hour to $3,000/hour in a few years. It’s why I’ve taught thousands of students how to earn thousands of dollars/month on the side via one of my flagship courses, Earn1K.

There’s a limit to how much you can save — but not to how much you can earn. You can’t outfrugal your way to being rich.

***

THEY SAY: “You should search around for the right accounts. You should call banks and try to bargain. And be sure to negotiate your salary some time!”

I SAY: You already know what you “should” do — yet few of us do it. Instead, I provide the exact word-for-word scripts, phone numbers, and exact accounts I use so you don’t have to think. You can simply open the right accounts, negotiate your salary, automate your money, and get on with your life.

Exact scripts for:

***

THEY SAY: “Do this. Do that. Not that!!”

I SAY: Read virtually any money or career advice, and you’ll see a laundry list of tactics. The funniest examples are (1) where books/columns try to teach you about the difference between corporate and municipal bonds. Who cares?? What person ever woke up in the morning and said, “YEAH!! I REALLY NEED TO LEARN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STOCKS AND FIXED-INCOME STRATEGIES!!” and (2) raw lists of ideas of so-called “businesses” you could start on the side: Plumber, freelance writer, freelance nurse, freelance nanny, freelance cardiothoracic surgeon.

Are you seriously kidding me? As if people simply need a list of ideas? Yes, THAT is what’s holding me back! Ahh! What a great idea!! Now that I see this 2-word IDEA, I know exactly how to turn that into side income, including marketing, positioning, targeting, referral strategies, pricing, and lead generation and qualification!

These are all tactics that assume people need to be “educated” — a belief that’s so deeply held, it’s become an invisible script. “Ah, if we just educate these poor people and show them a compound-interest chart, they’ll wake up from their spending stupor and realize the critical importance of financial management!”

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

As Clotaire Rapaille wrote in his terrific book, The Culture Code,

“Years ago, Tufts University invited me to lecture during a symposium on obesity…

Lecturer after lecturer offered solutions for America’s obesity problem, all of which revolved around education. Americans would be thinner if only they knew about good nutrition and the benefits of exercise, they told us. Slimming down the entire country was possible through an aggressive public awareness campaign…

When it was my turn to speak, I couldn’t help beginning with an observation.

“I think it is fascinating that the other speakers today have suggested that education is the answer to our country’s obesity problem,” I said. I slowly gestured around the room.

“If education is the answer, then why hasn’t it helped more of you?”

There were audible gasps in the auditorium when I said this, quite a few snickers, and five times as many sneers. Unsurprisingly, Tufts never invited me to lecture again.’”

(See great/hilarious comments on this story.)

We already “know” we need to exercise more, eat healthier, control our spending, and maintain our relationships better. So why don’t we?

That nexus –the difference between what we CLAIM and what we actually DO — is where I’ve spent 10+ years studying from a psychological and persuasive basis.

Short answer: When it comes to changing human behavior, education alone is not enough.

7 BIG WINS

If you simply get these Big Wins right, you’ll almost never need to worry about minutiae like “Can I afford this appetizer?” or “Should I spend $2.50 on this mocha?”

The beautiful part about Big Wins is you do the work up front — and they pay rewards for the rest of your life. For example, one $5,000 salary negotiation in your 20s can be worth over $1m over your lifetime. How many lattes is that worth?

  1. Automate your finances
  2. Start investing early
  3. Improve your credit score
  4. Land your Dream Job
  5. Negotiate a raise
  6. Earn money on the side
  7. Negotiate your rent

Next time you hear the same old tired advice of keeping a budget, or cutting back on $2 lattes, ask yourself: Has that really worked for the millions of people who’ve tried it? Are they really not “trying hard enough”? Or is there perhaps a systemic problem urging people to waste their limited cognition on near-meaningless tasks with little reward…and should we instead focus them on high-leverage areas that will result in massive payoffs?

Put another way — how can we focus on using Big Wins so we can have an edge in life…and get on with doing the things we truly love?

That’s my philosophy at IWT, one I’ve shared with millions of readers. I cover the exact action steps in my New York Times best-selling book (automating finances), my Earn1K course (earning money on the side), my Find Your Dream Job course — plus all over this site for the last 8+ years. I hope it helps you, too.

For even more Big Wins, join 200,000+ others on my Insider’s List

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54 Comments

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  1. Ramit,

    This has been your most comprehensive post to date. It’s all there in plain site.

    I am heading off to Asia for several months in September thanks to your IWTYTBR Blog and courses.

    Thanks Ramit and IWTYTBR staff.
    +John Mean

  2. The Negotiate Your Rent link goes to the “I’ll pay your rent” page, but no articles about it. Is there an article about it?

  3. If the majority of people spent their time embracing Ramit’s advice rather than systematically attempting to pick the opinions apart based on non sensical untested theories most would be better off. Whether its fitness, health, love, career or life goals actions speak louder than words. If you want something go get it. I don’t care for fancy clothes but have no problem spending hundreds a month on fitness memberships or nutritional products. Make choices and stick to them!

  4. Ramit,

    I really enjoyed this post. It was indeed comprehensive, as Johnny Mean had mentioned. I am eager to continue working on implementing the remaining steps on this list.

    Cheers.

  5. Ramit, fantastic the way you blend human behavioral psychology and personal finance. Because other than just plain not knowing (lack of knowledge or experience), isn’t one the primary driver of the other? Your automation system does wonders to negate the things that hold most people back from making a lot of wrong choices – fear and uncertainty. Multiple scientific studies show that the human mind is hard wired, when it comes to risk, fear and uncertainty around our personal finances to make poor decisions. Automation allows us to make the right choices by bypassing that wiring. That’s a HUGE win.

  6. Thanks, Ramit. I am passionate about mastering your teachings for myself so that I can help others do the same in their lives, especially regarding healing themselves.

    I’ve been meditating on increasing my focus. This Big Wins article came just in time as a pleasant reminder. Information addiction is a time waster, right? I reminisced about my life coach Shanel Cooper-Sykes’ words, “Ignorance on fire!” haha

    Thanks again!

  7. Ramit,
    Great manifesto. I chucked several times while reading it. I still feel many of your anti-frugality arguments are straw-men, but overall your philosophy is clearly to focus on big wins. Nobody is going to argue earning 10k more per year versus cutting back on a latte every day. But then again cutting back on the daily latte isn’t the best frugality has to offer.

    How about big wins like:
    Living closer to your work to cut back on commuting time and cost.
    Getting a small car versus a luxury SUV.
    Living in a modest home versus a mansion.

    I would say many of these differences can be just as large if not larger than earning 10k more a year. I think people would be wise to both earn more and spend less.

    And really deep down I think we are on the same page, as your say yourself in this article “as long as you cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t [love]”.

    • The big wins that Ramit suggests are long term solutions that can apply to anyone looking to increase their income.

      Your “big wins” list is more specific to certain geographical areas. Living closer to work is viable, if you can find a suitable spot near work. If you work downtown, you might be hard pressed to find an affordable and suitable solution ‘close to work’. This may rely more on luck than skill. The luxury SUV may have more than one purpose (if you have kids, soccer mom, or transport large objects.). In regards of the size home, i assume you are renting your home vs owning the home. Yes, a smaller home should be cheaper. But again, location/landlord has a larger effect on price than . If you are truly frugal, why not stay in an efficiency/motel? You can get utilities and a roof over your head for what $400-800/mo all included.

      The frugality approach and the earning more approach still have the basic component of ‘opportunity costs’ to consider for each

  8. I love your emails Ramit, I am going to get rich with your advice, thanks for being so honest and real

  9. One time I calculated how much I was spending on lattes per month. It came out to around $200. At first I thought “Damn Kelly, that’s a lot of money every month for something you could make at home.”

    Then i asked myself, “What would I do with $200 per month if I was making all my lattes at home?” The answer was (you probably guessed it) buy lattes at my favorite cafe!

    Yes, I can and do make lattes at home, but something about the cafe experience is like a ritual and puts me in the mindset to be productive. I get some of my best, most focused work done with a large in hand, prepared for me by a friendly barista who knows my order when I walk in the door.

    I’ve cut back on other things, but it’s like you say: I spend extravagantly on the things i care about, and almost nothing on anything else.

  10. Great article. I’m someone who tends to focus too much on the minutuaie sometimeis – the idea of a few big wins (as in your book) is great for simplification. And yes, we are tired of the same old advice from ‘experts’ to cut out lattes 😉

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