30 Hard-Learned Money and Life Lessons
I’m turning 40 this month, which got me thinking: why not share how to make the most of your 30s.
What qualifies me to do this? I spent most of my younger years horsing around, focusing on the wrong things. And isn’t that the very worst thing about a life, wasting it?
Today, sitting here typing this, what I’m most proud of is the life I’ve created. It took years to build, much like anything worth doing in life, which reminds me, I’ve still got a lot to do before they put me in the ground.
1. Wealth is a mindset
Someone making half a million and spending half a million can feel poor, whereas someone making $75,000 and spending $50,000 can feel rich. John D. Rockefeller said it best, “A man’s wealth must be determined by the relation of his desires and expenditures to his income. If he feels rich on ten dollars, and has everything else he desires, he really is rich.”
2. Be willing to walk away
Some people probably think I’m a huge ass for this, but I’ve walked away from jobs, friends, relationships. If someone or thing isn’t adding to your life anymore, it’s okay to move on. Why stick around?
3. Break the rules
The world wants you to follow a single path through life: go to college, get a good job, buy a house, have kids. Life can be so much more than that. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “Break the rules. We have so many rules in life about everything. I say break the rules. Not the law, but break the rules.”
4. Say yes, then no
In your 20s you need to experience the world, to figure out how you fit in, so say yes to most things, pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. Eventually you’ll settle into your purpose in life and can say no to everything, to protect your time, in order to work.
5. Having money means having options
When I decided a good goal was having money, it had nothing to do with Ferraris and mansions and tuxedos, and everything to do with options. The best position in life is having great options to choose from, and the worst is being forced to do things you don’t want to do.
6. Break bad habits
Alcohol, video games, or other means of escaping life can be short-term fun. We all know the problem is over-indulging into pure escapism, which robs us of our full potential. Keep bad habits in check, or break them completely.
7. Keep an inner scorecard
Someone will always be doing better than you. Whether it’s living in a more prestigious neighborhood, having a better physique, being more influential. It’s natural to compare ourselves to everyone else by using an external scorecard. Instead, use an internal one, comparing yourself to what you were yesterday.
8. Traveling is learning
I’ve been very fortunate to visit 15 countries, and in the process learning how to overcome language barriers, coping with being uncomfortable, and solving problems. There are always problems. But if you’re flying halfway around the world to sit in some Bangkok hostel, drinking cheap beer with other tourists, what’s the point?
9. Mail handwritten notes
People remember that, so remember that.
10. Know what’s bad debt
Bad debt is buying things you want but can’t afford. For instance, paying for a $3,000 vacation with a credit card charging 15% interest. Making minimum payments it’ll take 10 years to repay the debt, at a total cost of $5,000.
11. Don’t waste your time
After Steve Jobs acknowledged he was going to die he started pushing the limits of what he wanted to get done. Death is the best motivator for life, and so at the end of your life what are you going to say was important to you: that you really mastered watching TV, or contributed something useful to humanity?
12. Learn how to change
It’s nuts to think the world should change for you. That’s the “I can’t help the way I am” approach to life. In reality, you need to change the things that need to change in order to get the things you want to get.
13. Keep a yearly notebook
I use Moleskin notebooks to capture ideas and thoughts. Old notebooks are extremely useful to me, because looking back you learn how insignificant most things are, or how things you thought would make you happy didn’t. This reflection helps improve decisions in the present, for the future.
14. Busy is out of control
When someone brags they’re “so busy” it’s not an accomplishment. There aren’t any awards. In fact, it’s an inability to manage and prioritize time.
15. Live below your means
Just because someone will lend you $100,000 for a car or $1 million for a house doesn’t mean you need a $100,000 car and $1 million house. The worst irony is that the easiest way to get rich and have lots of money to spend is by not spending lots of money. It’s a well-worn path to wealth.
16. Don’t be afraid to get help
I’ve gotten help from masterminds, mentors, psychologists, etc, etc. Getting help doesn’t mean something’s wrong with you, it means you’re willing to see things from a different perspective, in order to improve yourself.
17. Learn how to sell
You’re not in sales? During interviews you sell achievements, on dates you sell qualities, at work you sell ideas. It’s just how the world works, and doesn’t have to be scammy.
18. Upgrade your knowledge
Charlie Munger: “In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn’t read all the time — none, zero.” Here’s a running list of my favorite books.
19. Cultivate focus
These days it’s easy to blame technology for our lack of attention span, but when you stop refreshing Facebook for the 27th time and focus on your goals you’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates believe focus is the single most important trait in their success, and so if you want to do something in life, it’s the one thing you need to cultivate.
20. Invest in things with things behind them
You can get rich from stocks or real estate, assets producing something. With things like cryptocurrency or chunks of gold you’re just hoping someone else pays more, and that person hopes the same thing. That’s the type of investing likely to ruin you.
21. Failure is an edge
People hate failing. That’s why failure is the easiest way to get an edge in life, because you learn and gain experience most people never will. This is what Nassim Taleb calls “negative information.” Reducing the ways you approach life by acquiring the knowledge of what doesn’t work.
22. Material things likely won’t make you happy
New things always become old things after the novelty wears off. You can keep going back to “go”, playing a never-ending game of Monopoly, or learn to be satisfied with what you already have. That’s happiness.
23. Force rejection
Always ask for what you want and force the answer, rather than never asking for anything and never getting anything you want.
24. Build habits, but break them
Habits are about practicing discipline and self-control, muscles that get stronger if you exercise them and weaker if you don’t. Contrary to popular belief they won’t make you instantly rich with six-pack abs, but practiced over long periods of time they’ll get you closer to where you want to go.
And always ask yourself if some ingrained habit is still serving its original purpose. Take short breaks, to test your assumption.
25. Become antifragile
Walk the two miles instead of taking a car. Make beans and rice instead of eating out. Fly economy class instead of business. We aspire to bigger and better, easily adapting once we get there. It’s important to become antifragile, to practice surviving without, because someday you may have to.
26. For goodness’ sake, exercise
I heard Ido Portal say, “The body will become better at whatever you do, or don’t do. If you don’t move, your body will make you better at not moving. If you move, your body will allow more movement.” We weren’t meant to sit and stare at computer screens for eight hours a day, because we were designed to forage and climb trees. So make it a point to move.
27. Don’t be productive
Kevin Kelly was right when he said, “Productivity is for robots.” It’s naive to think the harder you work, the more hours you put in, the faster you climb. The key to getting ahead is becoming valuable, and then showing that value.
28. Figure out how to live
You have no idea how to live until you figure it out. My current answer:
1. Work on what I’m interested in
2. Challenge myself, and continue to grow
3. Have an impact on the greatest amount of people
Now you have a guide when facing big life decisions.
29. Understand the power of compound interest
A $10,000 investment earning 10% a year will grow to $11,000. What happens next? The original $10,000 earns another $1,000, while the new $1,000 earns $100. Money making money making money. That’s compounding. And if we keep going it grows to $26,000 in 10 years, $67,000 in 20 years, $174,000 in 30 years, $453,000 in 40 years, and $1,174,000 in 50 years. Investing is overwhelmingly about starting early.
30. Don’t listen to advice
Advice is shaped by a unique combination of success, failure, and luck. The right place at the right time. It’s okay to listen to advice, but only take what you want, and adapt it to fit your own situation.