"Unless you marry into wealth or come from a very well-to-do family (both highly advisable strategies by the way), you’ll have to learn to spend less than you make."
With that pragmatic opening advice David Chilton sets off to provoke our thoughts about money; spending, saving and happiness. He uses stories and humor to take the intimidation out of financial planning. Why? He was pulling his hair out watching us get deeper and deeper into financial troubles.
He urges us in his first book, The Wealthy Barber to “pay yourself first”, live within your means and start now. He teaches us that a small cutback (hardly even a sacrifice) in our spending rate can dramatically improve our savings rate and give us peace of mind and comfort into retirement. It is so simple. Yet years after over 2 million of us enjoyed reading his blockbuster book, we still aren’t doing it!
In his long-awaited sequel, The Wealthy Barber Returns, Dave not only provides insight to all the typical financial questions but he also delves into the root cause of people’s money problems—the psychology of spending.
As someone who admittedly would rather poke my eyes with needles than talk about mutual funds, hedgehogs, RRSPs, TFSAs, ETFs and other alphabet words, I am a financial planner’s nightmare. I think that’s why Dave chose me as one of his “reading dummies”. He read each chapter to various regular folks to make sure we ‘got it’. He appointed me his “biggest dummy”. I took it as a compliment.
His witty banter kept me entertained and engaged as I giggled my way to financial enlightenment, which hopefully will transform into financial success.
The Big Idea
"Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty."
"There is no more potent antidote for the disease of envy than a dose of perspective."
If you have the means to read this summary then you are one of the lucky ones. The problems of billions of our neighbors in this worldwide community should remind us just how lucky we are. The key word in the previous sentence, however, is should. We forget, for example, when we’re frustrated we can’t find a high-speed wireless connection, that more than a billion people don’t have electricity.
In several pages of shake-your-head humorous examples, Dave discusses how we somehow ignore this perspective and instead look to the opulent few who have much more than we do. The obsession with what the Kardashians have has affected our ability to enjoy what we have.
If thinking about people around the world today doesn’t do it for you, expand your reference group to include people who came before you. You don’t have to go very far back to realize the things we take for granted now would have been considered extreme luxuries or science fiction merely decades (not centuries!) ago. Dave points out that we live better than did past kings and queens of wealthy empires.
I love reading Little House in the Prairie to my young daughters. Laura Ingalls was a girl just like them but who was born generations earlier. She was perfectly happy despite having a stick for a doll and a tin cup she shared with her sister at each meal. It gives us a dose of appreciation and perspective each night as we read a chapter and then reflect on the blessings in our lives.
What if financial success wasn’t about making more, rather about wanting less? Imagine if financial success was in your mind and a choice you could make by altering your perspective and gratitude.
I can't afford it
"Paradoxically, ‘I can’t afford it’ is not a limiting statement, but a liberating one."
Do you want to save hundreds of hours researching mutual funds or creating a detailed budget? It may be as simple as adding four words to your vocabulary; “I can’t afford it.”
When I asked Dave what lessons from his book made the biggest impact on people, this was surprisingly number one! It was his simple story about his advice to his buddy to say “I can’t afford it”. Dave believes it created a sense of relief in people who started stringing those four words together.
In the ‘olden days’ people hung out with people who had very similar financial means. The farmer down the road could afford about the same things you could afford. But now, people of vastly different incomes rub elbows. So when Joe and Martha are heading to Aruba and ask you to join them, you say “Why sure!” even though you know it will be another debt to add to your line of credit and anxiety. Instead the words “I can’t afford it” could give you relief, not to mention long-term financial comfort.
Why are we so reluctant to use these words? Maybe we think it’s an admission of failure; of not being as ‘successful’ as your neighbor. But, Dave said for people who started saying it, they realized it was no big deal. Their spouses didn’t leave them. Their friends still called and their retirement plans thanked them.
Less is often more
"…overspending on one’s home may be the single biggest inhibitor to achieving financial independence."
While Dave usually talks about saving money he goes out on a limb to offer advice on how to spend it. Bottom line: to be happier, spend more on experiences and less on stuff!
Take your home for example. When you give each other high fives for the generous mortgage the bank has ‘approved’ for you, keep in mind their incentive. It is not aligned with yours. Their definition of “good debt” is lent money that will be paid back with interest. Your savings and retirement deadlines are not the banks’ concerns.
The bank’s loan officer is not considering what you need to save for retirement, how many kids you have and whether or not you have a pension. She sees you as an income generator for the bank. Just because she “approves” a set amount does not mean it is “appropriate”. Somehow, we believe that if the bank will give it to us, we should take it. And that is the beginning of the end.
A bigger house from that oversized mortgage means higher property taxes, higher utility bills, higher maintenance costs, not to mention the landscaping to keep up with your neighbors and four potted urns each season and more furnishings… the list goes on. That’s how people get themselves into trouble.
People whose savings come first, who borrow based on their after-tax, after-proper-savings income make better borrowing decisions. As Dave points out, the etymology of “mortgage” is “death pledge”. Enough said.
And the research supports this lesson. People who live in homes they can afford consistently rank very high in happiness surveys. The materialism treadmill is just that—a treadmill. It doesn’t reach the desired destination of happiness. Experiences, on the other hand, do create happiness.
So, with the money you can afford to spend, adjust your ‘stuff’ to ‘experience’ ratio.
After decades of talking with the average Joe and priding himself on living like one himself, Dave Chilton gets it and he knows how to engage us and transfer his wisdom through his wit.
There are so many pearls of wisdom that space prevents me from including in this summary. As I mentioned before, I’m the antithesis of financial genius and this summary offers you just a few chunks that I got from this great book.
You are likely looking for advice on the popular retirement-savings-versus-mortgage-paydown-dilemma, reverse mortgages, conventional versus index funds etc. And it’s all there. Each chapter is more like a “sound bite” with an easily absorbable pertinent lesson you shouldn’t miss. Added up, these sound bites just might change your future… and your happiness!
How do you help your family choose to live within your means and love it?