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7 things I learned from 9 years of IWT

Ramit Sethi

I’m not a sentimental dude. But this week, “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” turns 9 years old, and I’ve been thinking about the last NINE YEARS of writing hundreds of blog posts, thousands of emails, and millions of hilarious jokes.

In 2004, I wrote my first blog post, which was about the first steps to getting rich. IT WAS HORRIBLE! I said that Step #1 is knowing what you spend. That is exactly WRONG! I used the word “budget” multiple times. I had no narrative, only boring information.

In short, I hate myself of 2004.

picture of Ramit in college

College Ramit repping thugs

But at least I got started.

I continued developing my philosophy and systems. I tested my material with hundreds, then thousands of people. I learned how to track results, stop nagging (like 99% of other “financial experts”), and focus on the Big Wins.

Slowly, the site started to get readers. The Wall Street Journal covered me. Then, a New York Times best-selling book. Then a 6-page Fortune profile, and Forbes putting me next to Warren Buffett.

Picture of Ramit Sethi and Warren Buffet in Forbes magazine

Warren is in the house (that was his actual first tweet ever)

All of that is great, and it’s nice to be recognized since we’re doing something nobody has done before: we’re focusing on living a Rich Life.

And we’re doing it NOT by dumbing things down, or appealing to the lowest common denominator, but by relentlessly TESTING our assumptions. Do we really need to keep a budget? Should we really submit our resume through job websites? Do we really need to start a Facebook page to have a successful business?

More importantly, we have CONCRETE results. While thousands of life coaches (AKA unemployed people who give advice and can’t generate any meaningful results, including profit) continue sharing touchy-feely tips like “Get in touch with your emotions,” IWT readers handily crush platitudes, generating hundreds of thousands of measurable, concrete results.

I employ 2 people whose only job is to catalog our success stories.

email from reader thanking Ramit


Dream Job success stories

To me, this is what I’m MOST proud of. Not the cool technology we’ve developed, or the intricate behind-the-scenes systems that scale to millions of data points.

It’s results like these:

We’ve moved from just writing about personal finance to all aspects of living a Rich Life — entrepreneurship, careers, fitness, even relationships.

And I have a lot more up my sleeve for you.

Today, I thought I’d celebrate the Rich Lives we’re developing by sharing some of the biggest lessons from IWT.

LESSON #1: Brutal honesty. No nagging.

A friend of mine is brutally honest about being materialistic. She loves bags and shoes — expensive ones. She does online sales, and she made a rule for herself that each time she does a monthly webinar, she takes 5% of sales and spends them, guilt-free, on anything she wants.

I love this!

A $2,000 bag? Get it. A weekend trip to Vegas for $4,000? I’ve done it. Flying last-minute to see your old college friends? Let me show you how to do it.

None of us wants to live like a penny pincher. Do you really want to know how to make your own laundry detergent and save $0.32/year? Who wants to live like that?

Instead of telling you all the things you CAN’T do, IWT is about showing you what you CAN do. But it takes you being brutally honest about what you really want — and what you’re willing to do to get it.

LESSON #2: Big Wins, not minutiae

It’s easy to talk about cutting back on lattes, disabling the oven light to save $0.03 over 2 years, and never ordering appetizers. Great! You’ll save $11,000 in 30 years and hate your self every day of your life.

Or…you could focus on the 5-10 Big Wins in life and never have to worry about ordering your morning coffee: Investing early. Negotiating your salary. Starting a side business. Finding a Dream Job. Optimizing your credit. And a few others.

You can listen to the experts who tell you to keep a budget and cut back on lattes. The truth?

  1. They don’t even do this
  2. Why don’t they ever talk about Big Wins like earning more? Answer: They don’t know how.

LESSON #3: Psychology first.

We tend to believe we can do it all. Especially in America, we use phrases like, “I’m going to buckle down” and “If I just try harder, I can (lose that weight / save that money).”

We truly believe that if we try harder, if we just learn one more piece of information, we’ll change our behavior.

This is patently wrong. Here’s a great excerpt from the Culture Code, by Clotaire Rapaille:

“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.’”

If you’ve looked beneath the hood, you’ll notice that IWT isn’t about money, or entrepreneurship, or even careers. In truth, IWT is about using psychology to live a Rich Life. The psychology, persuasion, and social influence lessons I learned at Stanford, applied in my life, and tested in my business. This is what I teach every day via my personal laboratory of IWT.

LESSON #4: Being the best = disproportionate results.

In a world of infinite choice, there’s a flight to quality. That means it’s “free” to try all the free ebooks, the $7 online courses, the “guru” webinars…but ultimately, we start to realize we’re wasting our most valuable resource of all: time. I’ve found the best people want the best material. And when you’re ready for the best, price is a mere triviality.

That’s why I spend millions of dollars developing my courses, sparing no expense. I spend years researching the market, collecting 100,000+ data points, ripping my courses apart and rebuilding them until they’re perfect.

And it’s why I’m not afraid to charge premium prices for premium material. Because the best know to focus on value, not cost.

I love when people write me saying, “Dream Job looks great but WOW that’s too expensive. I might buy it if it cost $50.” I just laugh. I don’t play in the $50 sandbox. Why would I? I’d rather give my material away for free than attract people who pay $50.

So I give away 98% of my material free. My goal is to make my free material better than anyone else’s paid stuff. And I know that after I’ve invested in you, sometimes for years, you’ll invest in yourself when the time is right.

LESSON #5: Avoid losers.

It’s politically incorrect but true. Avoid losers in your personal life and above all, avoid them in your professional life.

That’s why I’m brutally honest about who I want on this site and who I don’t. I openly urge people to unsubscribe if they’ve read my material but haven’t taken action. If someone has been reading for 2 years, and they can’t afford one of my courses, I’m very blunt with them. Why? What have you been doing wrong? People are crying out to be held accountable, and nobody does it for them.

I learned this in 2006, when I released my first premium mini-course — a laughable $4.95 ebook — and people went apeshit crazy. “RAMIT, YOU JUMPED THE SHARK!!!” they cried. “OH, SO THIS IS JUST I WILL TEACH MEEEE HOW TO GET RICH, NOT YOU, HUH!?!” These stupid morons were so focused on a $4.95 charge that they missed the entire point of paying for value (and nearly drove me insane). It took me 3 years to learn how to master my psychology of being the best, working with the best, and charging for the best.

That’s why I systematically surround myself with people who challenge me to be better. My friends. My amazing staff. And it’s why I set up a program to make that same personal network available to you.

If you’re the average of the 5 people you surround yourself with, and they’re keeping you down, how can you expect to succeed?

LESSON #6: Think big. Being the best is never an accident.

If you’re going to look at anyone in your industry, study the best. Being the best is never an accident.

I advise a lot of startups. Almost always, they want to know the “magic bullet” to more traffic, or generating automatic revenue, or building courses that sell for thousands of dollars. In classic IWT fashion, I give them what they WANT to know, but I also give them what they NEED: I teach them some of the inside techniques we’ve developed in the IWT Lab, but I also encourage them to study the best copywriters, marketers, product designers, and other specialists. I tell them how many thousands of hours we spend developing our courses, sales material, emails, even a simple guest post. Inevitably, their eyes glaze over.

They want the results without the work. Just like your neighborhood complainer wants the 6-pack without the work, most of us want the results without the work.

They will never succeed.

Worst of all, some of them come to me with dim goals. “I just want to have enough to cover my expenses!” is the rallying cry of every digital nomad.

What a waste. To live like a subsistence farmer? So you can brag to your friends that your scammy SEO business covers your $600/month expenses to live on the beach in Thailand, while you jealously look at other businesses doing more good (and more revenues)?

Think big. It doesn’t mean you have to make a million bucks, or have a best-selling book, or be on TV next year. But it does mean surrounding yourself with the best, challenging yourself to think bigger, and studying the best to know it’s possible to do more than you ever imagined.

LESSON #7: Live a Rich Life today.

I love really nice hotels. When I took a 3-week vacation to SE Asia in 2012, my motto was “My villa is your villa” and I invited my friends to join me.

To keep track of my favorite hotels, I save a list of them to visit whenever I travel. A little while ago, I was telling my brother-in-law that I save the REALLY nice ones for later in life. Because, as I said, if I stayed in them now, where would I stay in the future? In other words, how can you go from driving a Mercedes to a Toyota Corolla?

He looked at me. “Dude,” he said, “if you can stay there now, do it. There’ll always be new hotels. And you never know what’ll happen tomorrow.”

Amazing insight. We can save for our retirement — and we should! But we can also live a Rich Life today. That means focusing on Big Wins and ensuring our money automatically goes where it needs to go, so we can spend guilt-free. It means setting up systems so we can travel on a whim (if we want to). Or if we want to be healthy, we can afford healthy food, or a personal trainer, or even a chef! Or it may mean starting a scholarship, funding your parents’ retirement, or simply giving back to your local public library.

We don’t have to wait until tomorrow to live a Rich Life.

That’s what I’ve learned in 9 years. And I have a lot more coming your way in the next 9 years.

Until then, it’s a thrill to write for the 500,000+ monthly IWT readers who’ve committed to a Rich Life.

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  1. avatar

    Dude, those really are pimpin’ slippers.

    I don’t want to sound like a dick (even though I will), but the handmade Ugg boots on my feet right now were worth every cent. Plus, my last pair lasted nearly 15 years. Spending the extra cash on these once, rather than buying cheap crappy ones every year or two – that’s what I consider living the Rich Life. Oh, and the $10k pay rise I negotiated last week, plus $3k of training materials for my next promotion.

    Sorry, I really got sidetracked by the slippers.

  2. avatar
    Laura Roeder

    Looooved this post! Thanks for writing this awesome blog and always being so generous with what you’ve learned.

  3. avatar

    Thanks for driving people to achieve their true potential.
    The day I your posts stop punching me in the gut is will be the day I know I have really started to achieve something.

  4. avatar
    Geoff McNeely

    Love it! Keep on rocking the Rich Life, Ramit! You inspire me every day of my life. Nothing like having a surrogate South Asian father to bust my chops when I’m whining or slacking or feeling unmotivated.

    Keep doing what you’re doing. Thank you!

  5. avatar
    David Kadavy

    Huge congratulations! You’ve done so much in your 9 years, and it’s been a big help to me personally. Hey, we’re both turning 10 next year! Wow, we are old geezers.

  6. avatar

    Huge congratulations on hitting nine years, an incredible achievement.

    I laughed at your first blog post, not out of spite, but because it was just written for a level way below what you offer now. I truly admire that you play big and bring actual value to the table.

    Here’s to the next nine years.

  7. avatar
    Noj Vek

    That is some great progress mate. Inspired by your life story, I’m sure there’s more coming.

  8. avatar
    Christina Buiza

    Loved reading this, Ramit. I only started reading your blog at the end of last year after finding your book. Am I ever glad! Reading the book and going through your blog archives was the first slap in my face to get my act together financially and career-wise.

    Congratulations on your first nine years, and looking forward to learning more from you in the next nine years!

  9. avatar
    Andrew Schrage

    Congrats Ramit…really cool to see the evolution and growth over the last 9 years…great stuff and keep up the amazing work there…it’s truly a unique approach you’re taking.

  10. avatar
    Kate Olivieri

    Congratulations Ramit! You’ve done so much with another idea you say often but didn’t happen to mention – a year from now, you’ll be another year older, and where will you be? I also like: we overestimate what we can achieve in a year, and underestimate what we can achieve in ten years. I’m really excited to see your next 9 years 🙂 thank you for doing what you do!

  11. avatar

    Congrats on the milestone Ramit and thanks for all the work you do. I’ve learned a heck of a lot about myself in the couple of years I’ve been subscribed to your work. The ideas of big wins and earning money on the side have really resonated with me. Looking forward to your future work.

  12. avatar

    Beautiful Ramit! I’ve been following you since 2009, and I’m really happy to see you live the life you want to live – and helping others do the same. Happy Birthday!

  13. avatar
    Samira Khan


    I loved this . . .especially being a mom of two (and maybe more ;)); I aspire to plan in the best way for my family financially while pursuing my dream job (and a business idea) . . .your advice gives me hope that it’s possible with some belief and concrete actions.


  14. avatar
    Chris Johnson

    I’ve learned a ton from you, all of it between the lines.

  15. avatar
    David Hunter

    Dang, those are some pimpin’ slippers, Ramit!

    Looks like you were always kick ass! Hana

  16. avatar
    Gregory Bettis

    I’m just learning to step outside of the box and actually put actions behind words and as a result I find myself studying all this awesome information by Ramit!
    “People seldom improve when they have no other model but themselves to copy.” – Olivia Goldsmith

  17. avatar

    Congrats on the milestone Ramit.

    Thank you for changing my life in many ways. Got a dream job in a dream organization, 33% salary increase, recognized top performer, I’m a better negotiator, and I don’t feel guilty anymore for having two Starbucks coffee a day :p

    Long live to IWT

  18. avatar

    Thanks Ramit! Glad to now have 2 of your programs!
    Your hard work and creativity is appreciated.

  19. avatar

    Thank you for helping me change my behavior and the way I think. I doubled my rate using your tactic for a summer gig.
    Is that a bottle of Tobasco sauce on the desk?

  20. avatar
    Greg Hickman

    Thanks Ramit! Great post and I personally love and respect your approach to IWT and look forward to your continued success. Thanks!

  21. avatar

    “So I give away 98% of my material free. My goal is to make my free material better than anyone else’s paid stuff. And I know that after I’ve invested in you, sometimes for years, you’ll invest in yourself when the time is right.”

    This is exactly what made me finally invest in Earn1k last month. After about a year and a half I had mastered the money basics and small life hacks. I realized that literally everything else on the web was focused on penny pinching and frugality that I didn’t need since I implemented Ramit’s methods. What I needed was a kick in the ass to make me money in my free time and NOBODY had it but IWT. So here goes.

  22. avatar
    Peter Scott

    Congratulations Ramit and thank you for the immense value you’ve created for countless people.

    You’ve created an incredibly successful business that I know required a lot of sweat equity. As a miserable investment banker (indentured servant) turned purposeful lifestyle coach & entrepreneur, you’ve inspired me to pursue my passion of inspiring others to overcome their fears to transform a mundane existence into a totally Bad Ass Life by Design.

    Keep sharing the raw truth about what it really takes to be a successful entrepreneur. You’re authenticity is greatly appreciated in a crowded market of “get-rich-quick” schemes.

    Peter Scott IV

  23. avatar

    Hi Ramit,

    I’ve been reading you for one year now, started when I was on deployment to the Middle East. Even though I am a member of the military (hence no salary negotiation), IWT has been such a big game changer for me. While I can’t negotiate with money, the most valuable resource I own is my time. Thanks to you I have learned to ruthlessly manage it and to understand how to apply your advice to my own personal life situation. This past year I a hard look at the invisible scripts I was telling myself and thanks your advice and programs, I have radically shifted my perspective and my situation. In short, this site has changed my life! I woke up this morning in beautiful SoCal, looked around my awesome, beautiful home and realized, wow. I’ve made it. I am living the rich life and it’s not just because I have a kick ass house or enough money in the bank that I don’t even have to consider if I can afford that latte (don’t get me wrong, that also feels fantastic). It’s the rich life for me because I am enjoying myself, doing what I want. And while I have money, I am no where near being a millionaire. It’s just feels nice to give myself permission to relax and enjoy the fruits of my labor before I’m 65.

    So thanks Ramit. You have a fan for life!

  24. avatar
    Michael Kowalczyk

    Hi Ramit,
    I’m relatively new reader of your blog, but I really like your style and your useful money/job/business advice.
    Here is why:
    1. “A $2,000 bag? Get it!”
    Your financial advice is in line with economy needs. We need to save money – sure, but we also need to use it. Without spending, the economy would go down, businesses would fail and financial crises will show up. So the advice to guilt-free spending is economically desirable.
    2. “Big Wins, not minutiae”
    This one is really good. It’s better for your future well being to invest in yourself than avoiding latte like the plague.
    3. “Think big”
    We don’t need mediocre businesses (especially in Poland, where I live…). We need great ones. Good business makes a better country. Better country makes us all better of.

    Wow, 9 years! Congrats. Hope you will continue an excellent job here on your blog, giving 9x% of your materials free 🙂

  25. avatar

    Thanks for the lessons and congratulations on the blog birthday. This post was encouraging because it showed that you weren’t always great (that 1st post was great) and that you went through a lot of the struggles I’m hitting now, like opposition to offering a priced product. I’m excited to get more involved with IWT going forward.

  26. avatar

    Thank you so much for the post!!! Keep them coming!


  27. avatar

    Your book, courses, posts, and emails have helped me keep see the importance of seeing the big picture and taking action. Over the past 6+ years of following your material, I’ve gone from a someone who spent more time in my room reading and studying but not doing. Over the past few years, I’ve found myself setting up interviews and calls with people I admire, closing the loop, delivering value, and automatically thinking about how I can help the other person. Almost without realizing it, I’ve changed by implementing your lessons step by step. It’s amazing how these lessons have become part of my natural thought process.

    Thanks for setting a high bar and showing that it’s worth reaching for.

  28. avatar

    Amazing to see how far you’ve come! It just goes to show you that success is multiple marathons, not a sprint.

    I recommend your book to all of my family. Keep the good stuff coming!

  29. avatar
    Nathalie Lussier

    Congratulations Ramit! I love your insights and I’ve come to many of the same conclusions, through lots of trials and error. So glad you’re here preaching (and it’s not even Sunday!) because it’s such needed advice.

    Excited for you and the next 9 years (and many more beyond that) because you take all of your readers with you as you continue to grow and evolve!

  30. avatar
    Erno Hannink

    Great insights Ramit. Thank you.
    Especially love points…. wait, I love them all.

    Congratulations on 9 years and many more to come.

  31. avatar
    Anton Ivanov

    Love the ballsy attitude. If you’re not willing to set the biggest dreams possible and go all out reaching them, what’s the point in trying at all?

    Congrats on your 9 year anniversary and I hope you keep kicking butt in the future!

  32. avatar

    I haven’t watch your from the beginning but I have read a lot of influential articles on your blog.
    Recently I learned the most from LESSON #4: Being the best = disproportionate results. I wasted a lot of time on “shitty educational materials”. Yes, there was a few gold mines but looking at “premium” courses I attended there is a huge, huge difference in quality of knowledge. It’s not so obvious from outside but free/cheap materials are really expensive.