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A new editor asked me if it really is possible for everyday Americans to build a seven- or even eight-figure net worth.
Absolutely. I’m living proof of that. And my experience is not unusual.
I come from a middle-class background. I grew up in the South in a home without air conditioning. (The public schools I went to were also not air-conditioned.)
As a young man, I worked a succession of tedious, brain-dead, low-paying jobs, including maintenance on a truck terminal, night shift in an auto parts warehouse and waiting tables in a tavern.
I lived in modest accommodations, drove a beater car (the stereo was worth more than the vehicle), virtually never ate out, owned no valuable possessions and spent little on entertainment.
Most would say my prospects for becoming wealthy were slight.
I had no great genetic gifts, no connections, no inheritance, no mentor, no networking skills – and no network.
However, I did have two things going for me: an intense curiosity about how the world works… and a love of reading.
With no other options, I turned to something widely derided in academia and the mainstream media: self-help books.
Sage Advice From a “Basic” Place
Most people will tell you it’s crazy to think you will change your life by reading books.
Books changed mine. In fact, I can’t imagine how I would have succeeded without them.
My parents and friends knew nothing about building wealth. And my co-workers were as broke as I was. So I turned to books like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Here’s what the author recommended:
- Be genuinely interested in other people.
- Talk in terms of their interests.
- Make them feel important – and do it sincerely.
- Remember their names and use them.
- Be a good listener.
But I’d never heard this advice before. And who could dislike anyone who embodied these qualities?
To influence other people, Carnegie had equally straightforward advice:
- Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
- When you must give constructive criticism, begin with honest appreciation.
- Show respect for others’ opinions.
- When you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
- Be sympathetic to other people’s ideas and desires.
- Appeal to nobler motives.
- Ask questions rather than giving orders.
- Use encouragement. Praise every improvement.
These suggestions made so much sense to me as a young man that I wrote them down on index cards and carried them around with me. My only regret is how many times I was unable to live up to them.
I also read the classic Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.
I liked the idea of becoming wealthy just by outthinking other people – and still do. That, in a nutshell, is the essence of stock market success.
What did Hill recommend?
- Develop a burning desire to better your circumstances.
- Create concrete goals. (“I want to be rich” is just a wish. “I want to have a $3 million net worth on my 60th birthday” is a goal.)
- Write down a clear plan to achieve your goals.
- Have faith in your own success. Don’t give up when you run into the inevitable obstacles along the way.
- Develop specialized skills or knowledge.
- Ally yourself with people who can help you carry out your plan. (Avoid the nattering nabobs of negativism.)
- Master procrastination.
- Develop self-reliance.
- Adhere to positive habits.
Some will laugh and say, “This is just Interpersonal Skills 101.” Indeed. But nobody had ever shared this basic knowledge with me.
I took it to heart. I had to. It wasn’t just that I had no Plan B. I had no Plan A.
No one would hire me for a salaried position. So I got my real estate license and offered to work on straight commission. (My friends advised against the “No Deals No Meals” program. But my low overhead and frugal spending habits made it possible to take the risk.)
Eventually, I read How to Wake Up the Financial Genius Inside You by Mark Haroldsen.
Quite frankly, it wasn’t that good. It was mostly about how to buy real estate with no money down. Which isn’t easy, although the book did inspire me to buy my first two homes that way, which was great since I had no credit history and no money for a down payment.
(That’s a long story that I’ll save for another day.)
Haroldsen began the book with an essential piece of wealth-building advice: PSIC.
That acronym stands for Plan… Save… Invest… Compound.
First you must develop a plan to build wealth, something most folks never do.
Then you live beneath your means in order to save, something not enough Americans do.
Next you invest, which many don’t like because it involves volatility and the risk of loss.
Finally, you let your money compound. (Because even if you’re a superb investor, you won’t get rich unless you leave the money untouched so it can multiply in value.)
The ideas from these books were the seeds that – over time – allowed me first to earn a high income and then to achieve a high net worth.
When I started out, investing was more difficult in many ways.
Brokerage account minimums were high. Commissions and spreads were enormous. Sage advice was hard to come by.
That is no longer the case.
And in this series of columns, I’ll describe the exact steps necessary for ordinary Americans to build extraordinary wealth.
Along the way, I’ll prevent you from learning things the hard way… like I did.
(I’ve made all the dumb mistakes, so you don’t have to.)
Here’s the good news…
It’s not just possible for middle-class Americans to reach financial independence. It’s probable… if you follow proven principles of wealth creation.
The ones we’ll discuss here in the days ahead…
Click here to watch Alex’s latest video update.