The midset of avoiding quick money, the dangers of financial ignorance, and enjoying the journey along the way.
I don’t want to win the lottery.
I have had this discussion with many people and they all think I don’t mean it. Despite the arguments on both sides, I would rather earn $5 million in my lifetime than win/find/receive $100 million via a handout.
I am not a millionaire yet, but if I am blessed to have good health past the age of 50, I am absolutely certain that I can pocket a minimum of $5 million in my lifetime. That’s enough to live comfortably and enjoy the freedom that comes with financial security. My ultimate goal for everything I do is to eventually provide a foundation for the future generations of my family and for society as a whole.
The main reason I don’t want to win the lottery is because of the result of it. Thomas Tusser once said, “A fool and his money are soon parted.” In this context, the word fool is not used as a derogatory remark, but to signify a person lacking financial literacy.
If you can’t manage and grow one hundred dollars, then you probably won’t be able to manage and grow one million dollars. You don’t suddenly learn how to deal with money by having more of it. Wealth is a side effect of financial literacy and not the other way around.
When I was thirteen, I wanted money for the same reasons as other kids my age. I wanted big shiny toys and I valued consumer materialistic luxury items more than knowledge and experiences. Back then, I dreamed of winning the lottery. I thought that magically receiving a large sum of money would solve everything and I would be set for life.
Thirteen-year-old me didn’t know how to manage my own pocket money. I didn’t even know about taxes or compound interest. He didn’t have a mentor or any connections to people he could trust to grow his wealth with. Even present-day me doesn’t know half the things that forty-year-old me will know and I’m yet to meet many more valuable teachers and business partners.
Nowadays, I value foundational wealth-building tools more than money. On the road to wealth, money is the car and the fuel is your skills, knowledge, and connections. The journey is the road and the surroundings. With money, you can buy a better, high-performing, reliable car that looks and feels amazing, but if you don’t fuel your car, it won’t go very far. And how about the road? The road will always have unexpected obstacles and inevitable potholes that you need to pass through. You need to be experienced enough to handle rugged terrain and bad weather. Most importantly, what’s the point of driving if you don’t enjoy the experience? Take a moment to look out the window and appreciate the beauty of the journey.
Successful self-made individuals earned their foundational wealth-building tools through experience. In the situation where the entire economy resets and all assets are redistributed to $10,000 per person, it won’t take long for someone like Elon Musk or Bill Gates to amass a substantial net worth. This is simply because they have intangible skills and characteristics, they’re knowledgable and are well connected, and they have people who trust them. These are all wealth-building tools that a lottery winner lacks.
Even if Elon Musk was the only person to reset his wealth, investors will be throwing money at the first new project he pursues. In the worst-case scenario, he’ll be hired by a Fortune 500 company with a top-tier salary. I’m using Elon as an extreme example, but this relates to anyone who holds intangible wealth-building tools.
History demonstrates that people who accumulate money too quickly often struggle to maintain that wealth long-term. It’s why family dynasties last for just a few generations, while 70 percent of people who win a lottery or receive a large windfall go bankrupt within a few years.
Family dynasties don’t survive because of money. Their wealth mainly lies in their last name. That alone usually represents a good reputation which leads to connections and opportunities. Even money-making skills and knowledge are ceded to their descendants. Dynasties usually fail when the incumbents lose sight of the long-term. They become too reliant on the tool of money which causes a chain reaction until their business implodes.
When a person suddenly gains a lot of money, it’s common for them to splurge on expensive luxury things. It’s normal to experience these things that were deemed exclusive and unreachable to the average human. But then some people realize that while the experience was fun, it just isn’t practical and many luxuries aren’t what makes them happy. So they use their money tool to pursue their passions whether it’s philanthropy, climate change, or making humans multi-planetary.
It can be an eternal black hole trying to keep up with the Joneses. When someone increases their income and upgrades their lifestyle by going on more vacations and upgrading their house, it’s amazing at first, but then they adapt to that new lifestyle.
Hedonic adaptation is a phenomenon where humans tend to quickly return to a stable level of happiness after something good or bad happens. When your lifestyle becomes more opulent, then that becomes your new baseline of happiness and anything below that is unsatisfactory. This cyclical pursuit is common with people who seek money for the wrong reasons or accumulate money too quickly without also building a solid foundation of skills, knowledge, and connections.
The burden of receiving money too quickly without acquiring wealth-building tools is common with professional athletes: 78% of NFL players reportedly go bankrupt or are severely stressed financially within two years after retirement, and about 60% of NBA players are broke within five years of retirement. These are people who make on average 80x more than the median income in the United States, yet they end up back to where they started. Sometimes because of loss aversion, this rapid accumulation and then loss of money can leave them worse off than before they ever earned the large sum of money.
There are some exceptions. Some people manage to obtain financial literacy and the tools of the trade only after reaching wealthy status. These people were lucky to be surrounded by honest people from the get-go who help them manage their money—which is rare. However, oftentimes acquiring money before financial literacy causes someone to lie prey to manipulation and scams within business deals. Since they are financially illiterate, they can’t tell the difference between a smart business move from a shady one because they’re used to fast money.
Jackie Chan has publicly announced that he plans to leave his $370 million net worth for charity when he dies instead of giving it to his son. He said: “If he’s capable, he can make his own money. If he’s not, then he’ll just be wasting mine.” Jackie Chan understands the value of a dollar. Someone who is born into money or inherits money too quickly is more likely to lack work ethic or contribution to society. This can sometimes lead to an unfulfilling life; just buying and consuming things rather than producing for society and feeling a sense of purpose.
I agree with Jackie Chan’s decision because even if his son doesn’t become wealthy, he lives a fulfilling life of value and purpose. After all, his son was left with something a lot more valuable than money—the skills, knowledge, and connections to build his own wealth. While money can be stolen or lost, what’s in his head can never be stolen from him.
A persons’ financial wealth should grow congruently to their intangible wealth tools.
Every physical structure first establishes its foundation and then builds the rest. The roof of a house doesn’t come before the foundation. This same analogy can be used in the philosophy of wealth building. Money cannot come before knowledge and connections which are required to make and survive with money. And if it does, it can result in devastating effects, even likely to leave you worse off than before.
If you were wealthy would you be buying lottery tickets? Probably not. So instead of doing what a wealthy person wouldn’t do, if you want to be wealthy, ask yourself what would I be doing if I were wealthy? What type of people would I surround myself with? How would I be spending my time? That is the blueprint to your foundation.
As a result of this mindset, I never feel tempted to steal or participate in quick money schemes. I value wealth-building foundations more than I value money itself because if you have the tools, then money is just a byproduct of your work. I believe that it can be a dangerous gift to receive a large sum of money too quickly. It’s also arguably not as fun, not as fulfilling, and certainly not sustainable. So, in the meantime enjoy the journey and the struggle.
Insightful thread on the dangers of winning the lottery: