The Ugly Way To Become Rich
There is no shortage of promoters of wealth-building schemes. Many start by writing books extolling secrets that they learned along the way to their own alleged success. If their fame from their books grows they often develop seminars and training classes designed to provide more secrets, tools, and motivation to help you become rich like them. But did the secrets they are sharing really make them rich in the first place? And is the approach they are recommending one that you would be comfortable following?
Robert Kiyosaki, author of the Rich Dad, Poor Dad series of financial advice books, is a case in point. His “life lessons” advice was that you’ll never get rich as a wage-earner. If you want to become financially independent you need to follow the alleged money-making strategies of the rich, namely investing in highly-leveraged real estate and in other cash flow-producing investments such as stocks (always on margin) and commodities. He claimed the advice originally came from the life experiences of two mentors, the Rich Dad and the Poor Dad, although no evidence has ever surfaced that either one actually existed.
Leveraging his fame from his books, he founded a company (Rich Global LLC) that promoted seminars to share his secrets. The first seminar was free and was used to sell the second seminar costing $495. Graduates of the second were encouraged to purchase advanced seminars costing as much as $45,000. Kiyosaki made millions from his seminars & books but, according to Wikipedia, there is little evidence that he actually made any money – following the secrets he purported to have learned – prior to having written his books. In fact, both of the companies he created before starting his financial education business (one selling surfing bags with Velcro fasteners and the other selling T-shirts) went bankrupt.
In 2012 Rich Global LLC itself filed for bankruptcy after having been sued by its business partner the Learning Annex for over $23 million. By that time Kiyosaki had siphoned off much of the assets from the company, leaving it with only a few million dollars with which to settle the debt.
Kiyosaki’s real life lesson, as demonstrated by his own behavior, is that you can become wealthy by leveraging other people’s money to make yours, sheltering your accumulated wealth from your business dealings, claiming to be rich while hiding your actual wealth, and declaring business (but not personal) bankruptcy when things go bad.
Personally I think that’s an abysmal way to get rich. It’s all about taking advantage of others. Fortunately that’s not the way every rich individual has attained wealth. But it does suggest that you should be wary of following someone’s advice in a book or a seminar without first doing some serious due diligence on his/her background. After all, Kiyosaki is not the first promoter to have garnered fame treading this path. Can you think of another well-known real estate developer, book author, and politician who claims to be a billionaire but hides his wealth, went bankrupt four times yet still manages to own resorts in Florida and elsewhere, and was forced to shut down a university he created selling real estate advice after having been sued for false promises?
The fact is, the more risk you take financially, the greater the chance that you can become wealthy. But you can also lose everything. Kiyosaki and his ilk have avoided the downside losses that inevitably occur by getting others to shoulder them. They may not have any trouble sleeping at night but it’s certainly not a lifestyle I’d choose to follow.
“…you’ll never get rich as a wage-earner.” Yeah, I read, enjoyed, and learned from the Rich Dad book(s)… But retired at age 57, “rich enough”, as nothing but a wage-earner. So there’s one anecdotal data point that it’s possible, if you get a decent education, a professional job, live frugally enough, and most importantly, whatever your level of income, you don’t live up to your income, but instead save, invest, and sit on the excess (preferably in boring, low-cost, widely-diversified assets).