Imagine someone who “did all the right things” their whole life.
- Studied hard and went to a good school
- Got a good job
- Met a nice girl/guy and got married
- Had 2 kids and bought a house
- Saved some money as they grew older
Now, truthfully, for a lot of people, this works out pretty well. It’s not a bad life.
But for some, as they enter their 40s and 50s, they look around and wonder: “Is that all there is?”
Or worse, “I did all the right things…and THIS is what I got?”
We all know someone like this. They followed the rules…but find themselves in their 50s or 60s wondering what happened.
‘Wasn’t it supposed to get easier?’
‘Why didn’t someone tell me what I was supposed to do with my money?’
‘How am I supposed to get a job when companies are sending our jobs abroad?’
Most of these people took a traditional path: They “cut back” and saved on things like lattes and ordering appetizers when they ate out. That’s what they were told to do!
Yet when they’re older…and wondering why they’re still running on the hamster wheel, do you think these people look at their financial situations in their 50s…and wonder if they took the right approach?
After decades of saving, scrimping, and pinching on t-shirts and dish soap, do they ever stop to say, “Hey…maybe frugality wasn’t the right approach. Was there something I missed?”
Of course not. Because for most of us, the frugality approach is all we know.
Instead, as we get older, we blame the government…taxes…the media…the politicians….and anyone else we can think of. And the truth is, we’re partially right! Most of the “experts” talk about saving on worthless things (like lattes) and they ignore the Big Wins in life — like negotiating your salary, finding a dream job, investing early, and earning more. Why?
Because they don’t know how.
But there’s one group we never blame: ourselves.
It would simply be too hard to acknowledge that we’ve been wrong for 40 YEARS. That all the scrimping and pinching and saving…all the cutting back on $5 here and $10 there really didn’t make that much of a difference. That perhaps real estate isn’t the best investment. That maybe, just maybe, we should have tried to negotiate our salaries.
The invisible scripts are so deep, it’s impossible for people to realize they’ve chosen incorrectly.
For example, every one of us knows someone who bought a house because it was “the best investment you can make.” But when they tried to sell it, they realized they couldn’t sell it for as much as they thought. Do these people suddenly re-evaluate their decision to buy a house? Do they systematically study asset allocation and return rates and risk and realize, “Hey, wait a minute…real estate isn’t all it’s been cracked up to be!”
No. They blame the market…politicians…and anyone else they can grasp at.
This is why I have friends who bought MULTIPLE houses, got into hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, had to discharge the houses…and STILL want to buy more! Their rationale: “Yeah…we just bought at the wrong time.”
When beliefs are that deep-seated — like the American Dream of buying a house with a white picket fence — it’s extraordinarily difficult to change them.
Here’s an example. In this stunning article, the New York Times reveals that real estate is not the perfect investment many Americans believe it is. But they quote a retired man who simply does not understand this — the “American Dream” is such an invisible script that even hard math — the math that he actually lost hundreds of thousands of dollars over his lifetime by investing in real estate instead of the market — won’t change his mind.
“Harlan Larson…views the four-bedroom home he bought for $32,500 in 1965 – or about $200,000 in today’s dollars – as a money tree. He and his wife recently listed it for $413,000. That would translate into an annual return of 1.2 percent, taking into account inflation and the cost of two new decks and an extra room.
They plan to move to Texas after it has sold. “I wish I’d bought more real estate,” Mr. Larson said.”
The cognitive dissonance of the lifetime of our decisions is so great that we find it easier to point the blame at other people — anyone! And that’s exactly what we do.
- WE SAY: “I can’t believe these crooked politicians…all they do is scheme on how to raise my taxes and take my hard-earned money!”
- WE DON’T SAY: “Maybe I should have learned how to invest my money in my 20s.”
- WE SAY: “Unbelievable. What am I supposed to do? I can’t sell this house in this market.”
- WE DON’T SAY: “Maybe I should have read one good book about real estate before I made the biggest purchase of my life.”
- WE SAY: “These corporations are evil. They just try to make more money by finding cheaper workers.”
- WE DON’T SAY: “Maybe I should have learned how to make myself the best candidate by cultivating mentors, becoming very good at my job, and building a network of supporters.”
After all, it’s easier to focus our inchoate anger on external factors than to look back at ourselves — especially a lifetime of doing what we were supposed to do.
Now, it’s important to note that a lot of this anger is RIGHT ON. Corporations and the government HAVE treated us poorly and taken advantage of us. See, while I wish everyone would read 20 self-development books every year, set up automated systems, and crush their careers, that’s unrealistic. I do hold us partially responsible — for example, if we read even one good book on money, we’d likely have hundreds of thousands of dollars more and control over our lives — but that’s not practical for 300 million people.
But I’m not writing for 300 million people. I’m writing for you.
And that’s why I write this site. Because while others are complaining about the economy, the fiscal cliff, taxes, and corporate and immigration policy, we know that we should focus on what we can control:
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