“Banking is necessary; banks are not.”

– Bill Gates

TO MOST PEOPLE, money is one of life’s greatest mysteries. We never seem to have enough, and we don’t know how to change our situation. After we pay all our monthly obligations, there’s never enough money left over to do even a few of the things we would really enjoy, like travel, take up a new hobby, buy a vacation home or a nicer car. The thought of all those things we can’t have is one of life’s harshest realities.

I’ve had a lot of experience with money—good and bad—which has taught me a few simple lessons.  Here’s four key lessons I learned:

  1. We all have money problems.
  2. Society does a lousy job of preparing us to deal with everyday money issues.
  3. Debt is the single biggest obstacle on the path to wealth.
  4. Poor money decisions create some of the biggest personal challenges you’ll face in your life.

WE ALL HAVE MONEY PROBLEMS

My first job after college was in the brokerage industry. I worked in a firm in Southern California along with about 100 other brokers, selling investments by telephone to people all over the country.

Having just come from the world of a starving student, my life was pretty simple. During my years as a student, I thought about having a nicer apartment and driving a new car, but those things were simply not possible with my meager student income and very limited savings.

Then I walked into a world where some of the guys in our firm made great money. They lived in glamorous beach towns and had homes overlooking the ocean. They drove to work in their BMWs or Mercedes. They wore the nicest suits, and they worked in the biggest offices.

In the brokerage where I worked, everyone’s sales numbers were posted on a wall by the sales manager’s office for everyone to see each morning. It was no secret how much money these top producers were making. Their names were at the top of the list almost every single day, while mine was nearer to the bottom. Compared to my commissions, these guys and gals were rich.

I remember one day at my desk thinking that if I made as much as they did, I wouldn’t know what to do with it all. How could I possibly spend that much money?

One day I overheard one of the top producers talking with another broker about the severe money challenges they were facing. They were both behind in their house payments and were worried that a repo man would show up in the company parking lot and take away their cars. It was a total shock to me that someone who made as much money as these two did could possibly be in the kind of financial jam they were describing.

Many years later, after going through my own personal financial challenges that I described at the beginning of this book, I learned that the size of your paycheck has less to do with your financial happiness than you might imagine. One of the great money myths is that the bigger your paycheck, the faster you’ll get wealthy and the less money stress you’ll have. Sure, making more money gives us the potential to accumulate wealth faster, but I think you’d be surprised by how many times it doesn’t work that way. Why? Because too many people spend every extra penny they make on enhancing their lifestyle rather than building their savings. And the simple reason for that (which I think you already know) is that society has us hooked on consumption.

We all know people who have great incomes and yet have nothing to show for it. Everything they have is leveraged to the hilt, and they own virtually nothing. They live in a big house with a loan for 120 percent of their equity, financed by an interest–only, adjustable rate mortgage. They shell out $500-1,000 each month to lease a new European sports car—and they own nothing at the end of the three-year lease. They wear the latest styles of clothes and hairdos and pay for it all with credit cards that charge 18-21 percent on unpaid balances. You know the people I’m talking about. If they ever have a hiccup in their job, their financial world will be turned upside down in no time at all.

To them, the appearance of wealth is more important than actually being wealthy. It’s all a façade that will eventually crumble and leave them exposed—to their family, friends, and creditors. They are consumed by consumption.

On the other hand, we all know someone who never made a big salary all their working years, but when they retired or passed away, they had significant wealth. They never needed that fancy car or boat. They were always content with their simple home and lifestyle. They worked hard and saved part of their income every month. They invested wisely to make their money grow, and when it came time to stop working, they had enough money invested to generate the income they needed to sustain, or even enhance, their lifestyle for the rest of their lives.

Gladys Holm was a secretary in Chicago who never earned more than $15,000 a year during her entire career. She used to visit the kids at the Children’s Memorial Hospital and bring them teddy bears. Hardly anyone even knew her name. To most she was simply “The Teddy Bear Lady.” She often told others she wanted to leave a “special gift” to the hospital someday.

When she died in 1996 at the age of 86, Gladys Holm left that special gift in the form of an $18-million donation to the Children’s Memorial Hospital. It was the largest gift in the 115-year history of the hospital, surpassing a $10-million gift from Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s.

Miss Holm lived a simple life, but she was a religious saver and wise investor. She started early in life and stuck with her plan—and surprised everyone with her generous gift. She was the model millionaire next door.

When my top-producing friend in the brokerage firm revealed his money problems, I was shocked. I couldn’t understand how someone who made so much could get in that desperate of a situation. But when I finally started to make some good money in my first business, I began to understand.

For many, our lifestyle is tied to our paycheck. The second our paycheck increases, we immediately increase our lifestyle. It’s a fatal financial mistake that most people make. We figure we worked hard for that raise and we want some instant gratification and reward. So we go spend the increase to upgrade our lifestyle, with a new car, a bigger house, or an expensive vacation.

Typically, we not only spend our raise, but also much more when you figure in the added interest of financing a major purchase. We also live in a very payment-driven society. We see a little extra money as an opportunity to add another payment to our monthly expenses without causing us too much pain. When the money is rolling in, it’s almost impossible to think things won’t continue to roll our way. We fall into a false sense of security by thinking that financial disaster is something that only happens to other people.

A good friend of mine owns a car lot and has sold cars his entire adult life. His lot is in a part of town where there are many other car dealers. It seems the names on the lots change from month to month, yet he’s been around for many years. I was talking to him one day about his success, and he told me the secret is to match the payment to the customer’s income. What he’s found is that if you can convince someone they can afford the payment, they will buy the car, no matter what the price. The world has convinced us that the $300 payment is all that matters, not the $30,000 price tag. That’s not reality. That’s what all the advertising gurus on Madison Avenue want you to believe so you’ll buy their clients’ products and services. Unfortunately, just affording the payment doesn’t always mean we can afford the car.

The same is true for a house. That harsh reality was never more apparent in 2008 when the housing bubble burst because many homeowners could no longer afford to make the payment on their adjustable rate mortgage. In 2008 the global credit crisis caused panic around the world. Everyone was concerned about their bank deposits, their investment accounts, and the value of their homes and the security of their jobs. These were clearly the most challenging economic conditions we’ve seen since the Great Depression.

Not much has changed since then.  We still live in uncertain time.  This is no time to sit on your hands and do nothing. This is the time to take swift and decisive action to preserve your financial future and take advantage of the many tremendous opportunities that always follow times of financial uncertainty. You can’t wait to get your financial house in order any longer. You simply must take control of your personal financial situation because nobody else cares about your money like you do.

Making more money is not always the solution to your money problems. When you make more money, the problems may be different, but they are still there. To a family that doesn’t make much money and has lots of debt, just paying the mortgage or the rent can be a huge financial challenge.

Doctors may have an income many times higher than the average household, but a single malpractice claim (justified or not) can wipe them out financially. A simple car accident could leave them disabled and unable to continue to practice medicine. As soon as the income slows or stops, the reality of their paper wealth comes crashing down.


Money challenges seem to rise to match our income. You can’t fully appreciate this until you experience it yourself. Trust me, it’s true. The secret to eliminating money problems is to make sure we live a lifestyle we can afford. There is great comfort in living within our means.

After my own personal financial challenge ended and my financial life was back on solid footings, I was talking with my wife one day about how tough things were during those challenging times. She made a comment that I will never forget. She remarked, “Whoever said money doesn’t buy happiness didn’t know what they were talking about.”

Now before you get the wrong idea about my wife, let me explain what she meant. She is the most frugal person I’ve ever met. I can’t force her to spend money. I’ll give her some money to go shopping for a new outfit, and she’ll come home without having spent a penny because she didn’t find anything she liked enough to spend the money on. (I know what you men are thinking…what a lucky guy, right?)

What my wife was trying to say is that not having enough money to cover our basic needs such as housing, food, and transportation is an unhappy life. I’m pretty sure most of you reading this book know exactly what I mean. It’s hard to be happy when you’re broke and in debt and have no way to ease your money problems. Money may not buy true happiness, but a lack of money almost always leads to an unhappy life.

Learning to control your money is the only way to eliminate money problems. More money is rarely the solution. In order to truly change your financial fortunes, you must change your behavior and bad habits.

  • SOCIETY DOES A LOUSY JOB OF PREPARING US TO DEAL WITH EVERYDAY MONEY ISSUES

When I look back on all my money challenges now, I can see some very simple solutions that could have helped me avoid many of them. And, when I go out and teach my investment seminars, I often get comments at the end saying, “Where were you when I was 20 years old?” It’s a fact that society does a lousy job of teaching us about money and debt.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t understand the importance of balancing a checkbook until I ran out of money and bounced a check. Most people don’t learn about the dangers of high interest credit cards until they max one out and can’t make the minimum payment. Recently, a lot of new homeowners discovered the perils of adjustable rate mortgages when their homes went into foreclosure because they could no longer make the inflated payments. When it comes to our money, there is no more expensive way to learn than by making mistakes. I like to think I have a Ph.D. in money and debt from the school of hard knocks, where the school colors are black and blue.

Money is a part of life. We can’t survive in this world without a basic understanding of money and finance. There are always sharks waiting for us to make mistakes or to take advantage of our naiveté and thereby take our money. Unless we know what we are doing, we’re easy prey.

And yet I can’t think of a single class I took in high school or college that really prepared me to deal with even the most basic principles of money and debt. When you consider all the challenges most of us endure because of mistakes we make with money, you would think the smart people running our schools would make a basic finance class a requirement to earn a degree.

There’s an old saying I love that says, “It’s a wise man that learns from his mistakes, but it’s a wiser man who learns from the mistakes of others.” You don’t have to make costly mistakes to learn how to eliminate debt and become wealthy. There is a better way to learn to master your money challenges, and the tips and strategies in this book will provide you with a proven process to follow.

When I teach people about investing, they always want to rush to the part about finding the next great stock or option to buy. They are often disappointed and impatient when I spend the first hour talking about how to put up the safety net to avoid catastrophic losses. Too many people never consider the worst-case scenario when it comes to their money. I like to plan for the worst and hope for the best. Rarely does the worst case become reality, but life is full of unexpected surprises when it comes to money.

Eliminating a couple of simple money mistakes is one of the best ways to free up additional cash flow to eliminate your debts and accelerate your progress toward a wealthy life. When I speak to investors, I often ask them to think about the worst investment they made in the past year. Then I ask them to determine what the impact on their entire portfolio would have been if they could eliminate that one disastrous investment from their results. In most cases, their overall returns would increase a minimum of 2-3 percent or more just by eliminating one bad decision. The difference in real dollars often amounts to thousands more that they would have earned had they taken the time to plan for the unexpected. Take that 2-3 percent annual savings and compound it over a lifetime of investing, and you’re talking about some serious money that would have a huge impact on almost anyone’s financial situation.

Your money situation is no different. One bad buying decision or debt decision could sink you financially—or at a minimum set you back substantially from your goal of a debt-free and wealthy live. Before making a new purchase or taking on a new debt, you need to consider the worst-case scenario to make sure you can really afford that purchase you just can’t live without. The worst-case scenario rarely happens, but it’s good to know that with anything short of that, you’ll be in a solid financial position.

I’m not much of a computer wiz, and I’m always amazed when I watch someone who really knows what they are doing use a computer. In my business I’ve often had to put numbers into a spreadsheet to analyze. I use Microsoft Excel to create my spreadsheets. I’m far from an expert, and it often takes me hours to get everything working the way I want it to in Excel. On the other hand, I have a partner who is an Excel expert. I love to look over his shoulder as he creates a spreadsheet because I always learn a few simple keystrokes that will save me tons of time on my next project.

If you want to be debt-free and enjoy a wealthy life, why would you trust anyone who isn’t living that kind of life already to teach you? Seek out those who live the life you dream of and learn from them. You’ll often find that successful people are happy to share the lessons they have learned to help another person who is motivated to have a better life.

DEBT IS THE BIGGEST SINGLE OBSTACLE ON YOUR PATH TO WEALTH

I have four kids in their late teens and early twenties.  I’m amazed at the amount of mail we get offering my kids credit cards and financing for buying cars and other things. I know how unprepared they are for those responsibilities, yet the companies that sell debt aggressively target them anyway.

I’ll bet you didn’t know this, but the credit card and banking industry sends out over four billion credit card offers in the mail every year (and that’s just in the United States). In the chapter on managing credit, I’ll tell you how to get off their mailing list, but for now, just do like I do and shred them (don’t just throw them out, as that can lead to identity theft). You’ll be doing your kids a huge favor.

The fact is that the banks and other companies that sell debt don’t ever want you to get out of debt. Just imagine if we all paid off our credit card balances every month, rather than just making the minimum payment. These companies would go broke because they make money by collecting interest (and late fees) from you. Their business models are built around a plan to keep you in debt. (Ever wonder why, when you’ve run up a balance on a credit card, the company increases your credit line?) If you only pay the minimum monthly payment on your credit cards, you’ll end up paying many times the price of the items you bought before you actually pay your balance off. And if you don’t stop charging, you’ll never pay them off! The game is rigged in their favor. You have to learn how to beat them at their own game.

Debt in America is an epidemic. Right now there is more than $2 trillion in consumer debt held by Americans, and it continues to grow at an alarming rate. The average American household has over $10,000 in consumer debt, mostly on high-interest credit cards.

Not surprisingly, bankruptcies and foreclosures are at their highest levels in decades as Americans struggle to pay their debts in a rapidly slowing economy. It’s bad now, and it’s only going to get worse unless we learn that we can’t spend more than we make and expect to avoid money problems. The current credit crisis is going to accelerate the speed at which things worsen.

One of the first keys to eliminating debt is realizing that as long as you owe money to a bank or another lending institution, you are enslaved to them. They are never going to do you any favors to help you retire your debt faster because they don’t want you to. The only person who cares about your money is you.

I have a saying that’s proven true a hundred times in my life: “Nobody takes care of Ross’s money like Ross.” Swap your name for mine, and make this your motto for the rest of your life.

The fact that you’re reading this book leads me to believe that you may have some money problems on your hands right now. You’re probably carrying a load of debt and trying to find a way out of the pressure and stress you feel as a result. Just know that eliminating your debt is the single biggest victory you must achieve if you want to be wealthy and live the lifestyle of your dreams. It’s not the financial finish line, but it’s a significant milestone on your path to wealth. Once you experience the feeling of being debt-free, everything else will be easy.

POOR MONEY DECISIONS CREATE SOME OF THE BIGGEST

PERSONAL CHALLENGES YOU’LL FACE IN YOUR LIFE

I would agree with my wife that money won’t buy true happiness, but she and I both know that not having enough money to meet our basic obligations is a recipe for an unhappy life.

Most of the major challenges you will face in your life will come as a result of a poor money decision or a lack of money. I’m talking about really serious things like divorce, ruined relationships, substance abuse, failed businesses, lost jobs, and even suicide. Research shows that almost 90 percent of all divorces are caused by money problems or disagreements over money.

Not having money puts so much additional pressure on us that we often can’t function in any part of our life. The stress you feel when you’re broke or in more debt than you can handle will affect every aspect of your life.

Let’s face it; it’s a whole lot easier to feel good about yourself when you’ve made it through a month with money left over—or to see the good qualities in your spouse when you’re not upset because he or she just sent your credit card over its limit with an unnecessary purchase.

The secret to financial happiness is making sure your values align with your attitudes about money. If you really want to be wealthy, you first must clearly understand what a wealthy life means to you. How will you know you’ve arrived at your destination if you don’t recognize your surroundings?  So the first thing we need to do before we get to my simple steps is find out what being wealthy means to you.

A friend of mine sent me one of those feel-good emails with a heartwarming story and a powerful life lesson. I don’t often read them, but this one came as I was writing this chapter, and it really seemed to make a critical point in a very simple way. I don’t know who the original author is, but I thought the story was worth sharing with you

WHAT DO YOU DRINK YOUR HOT CHOCOLATE FROM?

A group of graduates, well established in their careers, were talking at a reunion. They decided it would be fun to go visit a favorite professor they had all taken classes from who was now retired. They looked him up and arranged to visit him the following evening in his home. During their visit, the conversation began with stories of their college days, but quickly turned to complaints about stress and challenges in their work and personal lives.

The wise old professor was enjoying the lively discussion. As they visited, he offered his guests some hot chocolate, and they eagerly accepted. He retired to the kitchen and after a few minutes returned with a large pot of hot chocolate and an assortment of cups. Some of the cups were made of porcelain, some of glass, some of crystal, and a few of paper and Styrofoam. Some of the cups were plain looking, some looked very expensive, and some were absolutely exquisite. He placed the cup sand pot of hot chocolate on the table and told his former students to help themselves.

After all of them had a cup of hot chocolate in hand, the professor made the following observation: “Notice that all the nice looking, expensive cups were taken, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones.” The former students didn’t quite know how to respond to his observation. Before they could respond, he began to expound. He said that while it is normal for you to want only the best for yourself, that is the primary source of your problems and stress. The cup you chose for your chocolate adds nothing to the quality of the hot chocolate. In most cases, it is just more expensive, and in some cases, it even hides what we drink. “What all of you really wanted was hot chocolate,” he noted, “not the cup; but you consciously went for the best cups first and then you began eyeing each others’ cups as if you were making judgments.”

The conversation stopped as the former students received another valuable lesson from their wise former teacher. He told them that life is the hot chocolate—your job, money, and position in society are the just like the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain life. The cup you have does not define you, nor does it change the quality of life you have. Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the hot chocolate.

The happiest people don’t have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything that they have. Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly … and enjoy your hot chocolate.

Is your life filled with fancy wrappers that hide the real treasures in your life? Do you focus too much on the trappings of success at the expense of true happiness? You’re not alone. That’s the primary reason so many people are in debt today. They fail to see that happiness rarely comes from things, but from being in control of our lives and money. Happiness comes from making wise choices. Too often we sacrifice the long-lasting delayed reward of true financial freedom and the peace of mind and joy that come with it for the immediate, but short-lived, gratification of fulfilling an unnecessary want.

Where are your priorities focused…on the cup or on the hot chocolate?

In the space below, I want you to list ten things that you would like to have when you attain your goal of living a debt-free, wealthy life that you don’t have right now. Don’t try to be too philosophical here. Go ahead and put down a trophy or two if that’s really something you want. In addition to a few material things, consider what you would do with your most valuable possession, your time. What would you do for your job if the paycheck weren’t the most important issue? Where would you live? How would you spend your free time? What hobbies would you take up? How much money would you have in the bank? When would you retire? That should give you a few things to think about. These things are going to serve as motivation to help you stay the course when you encounter bumps in the road and want to quit.

List ten things that a debt-free, wealthy life will enable you to have:

  1. __________________________________________________
  2. __________________________________________________
  3. __________________________________________________
  4. __________________________________________________
  5. __________________________________________________
  6. __________________________________________________
  7. __________________________________________________
  8. __________________________________________________
  9. __________________________________________________
  10. _________________________________________________

You may want to enter this list into your word processor and print off a few copies. Maybe even add a few pictures to bring those things to life.  Put one in each of the places you normally go to make your money decisions. Here are a few ideas:

  • • On the refrigerator
  • • Next to your computer
  • • In your purse or wallet by your credit cards
  • • In your checkbook
  • • Next to your bed
  • • On your bathroom mirror
  • • In your car

If you struggle to come up with ten things for the list, here are a few suggestions to consider:

  • • An emergency fund equal to six months of my salary
  • • A new car
  • • Remodel the kitchen
  • • A college fund for each of my children
  • • Build a cabin at the lake
  • • Put in a pool in the backyard
  • • Set up a trust fund for each of my kids
  • • Make a donation to my favorite charity
  • • Leave my job to teach elementary school
  • • Mentor a college student from my alma mater
  • • Take a trip to Tahiti
  • • Take care of my aging parents
  • • Go back to college and finish my degree
  • • Retire from my job at 55 rather than 62
  • • Go fishing once a week
  • • Take up quilting

You get the idea. Dream a little because you’re going to turn those dreams into reality.

The key is to use this list as a constant reminder that a better life is in store for you—if you follow the tips and strategies in this book and stick to your plan. You may even want to get some pictures of some of the items to give you an even clearer visual reminder of your goals. It won’t take long before those images are burned into your memory. When you think about falling off the wagon and splurging on an unnecessary item, those images will instantly pop into your mind to remind you why you’re making these sacrifices. These images will become powerful reminders of the rewards of living a debt-free, wealthy life.

If you don’t have any money values, you’re going to just spend to satisfy your emotional needs. You’ll buy that new outfit because it makes you feel pretty, not because you need it. When I talk to investors about making investment decisions, I tell them that their single biggest enemy is emotion. Emotions are powerful forces that can lead us to do things we otherwise might never consider. That’s another way of saying that emotions lead us to make bad money decisions. You’ll never eliminate emotions from money decisions, but you must learn to control them. I tell investors that they need to make decisions in an almost mechanical way. The more mechanical their investing process becomes, the more likely they are to stick to it through thick or thin times.

I also instruct investors to write a mission statement that defines the type of investor they want to be and specifically details the strategies and methods they intend to use to reach their investment goals. Then I have them make a list of trading rules, which are basically all the lessons they have learned from the mistakes they have made on previous investments. This list often grows as they experience new challenges and make new mistakes. But if they pay attention to their lists, there is always a lesson to be learned. Improved decisions come from avoiding past mistakes. I tell them to put the mission statement and trading rules by their computer and refer to it each time they make a new investment. I tell these investors to ask himself or herself, “Does what I’m about to do align with my mission statement, or does it violate any of my trading rules?” By using this simple check and balance, they can avoid many of the emotional decisions that often lead to bad investments.

You need to do the same thing when it comes to making money and spending decisions. If you know the goal and you have faith in your plan, you can stick to it. Become mechanical in the process you use to make a spending or saving decision, and you’re likely to make better decisions that keep you on track for a debt-free and wealthy life.

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?

This is an interesting question that I’ve asked many people over the years. I’m always amazed at the answers I get. When I was graduating from college and embarking on my new career as a broker, I was driven to be successful. I remember when I interviewed for that job. The sales manager showed me a list of W2 earnings from all the brokers on his sales team. From the perspective of a recently married college graduate, the numbers on that list looked astronomical. I looked out the window of his office at the dozens of brokers working away at their cubicles and thought to myself, “If these people are making that kind of money, then I’ve just found my place in life. Just show me how to do this and get out of my way.” I felt that the good life was just around the corner.

I vividly remember the pressure and stress I felt when the guaranteed training wage I was paid while I trained and studied for my securities license ended. There were ten days left in the current pay period, and if I didn’t sell something, I wouldn’t get another paycheck. In the next ten days, I worked my tail off and opened a number of new accounts that generated over $3,500 in commissions. That would be my smallest paycheck during my time in the brokerage business. Life would never be the same.

In 1987, that was a ton of money. I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment and newfound confidence. Gone were the feelings of stress and pressure that I felt just a few days earlier. My priorities changed almost instantly with my newfound confidence. I remember heading out to the local auto mall to check out the new cars. My first big financial reward was a bright red Acura Integra. It was the first new car I had ever owned, and I can remember today just how proud I felt to be seen driving it into the office parking lot. I felt like I had finally arrived!

Suddenly, I found many of my financial sights were pointing higher. There has always been something magical about being a millionaire. A million dollars doesn’t buy today what it did in 1987, but it’s still a goal of many to become a millionaire. You may be surprised to know that if you make more than $40,000 per year over a 40-year career, you will earn more than a million dollars. Unfortunately, just earning a million dollars won’t make you wealthy, but if you save and invest wisely, it’s enough to get you to that goal eventually.

I remember thinking at one time that if I had a million dollars; I would be set for life. I could quit my job and live off the interest for the rest of my days. Be honest, you’ve probably had the same dream at some time in your life. It’s almost like a rite of passage.

If my lifestyle had never changed from what it was when I started at the brokerage firm (and before I bought my red Acura), I probably could have retired with a million dollars in the bank and done just fine. But by the time I reached millionaire status in my early 30s, my financial situation was a vastly different picture. Now I had a house with a mortgage, a young son with another on the way, a couple of cars, and a closet full of nice clothes for both my wife and me. And I had a big balance on my Visa card. All of a sudden, a million dollars just didn’t seem like enough, and it wasn’t if I wanted to maintain that lifestyle for the rest of my days. Clearly I had changed in a few short years.

So when I’ve asked the question, “How much is enough?” I’ve had people tell me they thought they could quit their job and live the good life with as little as $100,000 in the bank. Others have said they couldn’t think of quitting their job until they had $10,000,000 or more. So what’s the difference?

It’s your money values. How much money does it take for you to get the things in life that matter most to you? That’s when it’s enough. Everyone’s number is different, but we all have a number, whether we’re aware of it or not. Give that concept some thought for a day or two and then come back to this page and write your number in the space below.

I’ll know I have enough when I have $ ______________ cash in the bank and no debts.

Now get to work and don’t look back until you reach or surpass that number. I’m going to predict that when you reach your number, you’ll realize it probably isn’t enough. But that’s okay because even if it’s not enough, you’ll be in a much better financial position than you are now, and you’ll clearly have the knowledge and discipline to keep making progress to reach your eventual goal.

WHAT DOES RETIREMENT LOOK LIKE?

In 2003 I resigned from a very successful company that I founded to take a trial retirement. I figured I had most everything in life that I wanted. The only debt I had was a small mortgage on my house, and I had enough money in the bank and the stock market to pay it off several times over. I felt very secure.

I have a saying about retirement. Retirement is when you stop working and send your money to work. The challenge for most people, when they consider retiring, is that they don’t have a big enough nest egg to generate the kind of cash flow they need to sustain the life they currently live.

I’m convinced that many people are totally unprepared for the realities of retirement. The only thing they have right in their view is that they won’t be working anymore, at least when retirement starts. When they realize that the money they get from Social Security or any pension or retirement plan provided by their employer isn’t enough to meet their monthly obligations, reality begins to set in.

If they truly want to stop working and live off their retirement income and savings, they have to downsize their lifestyle. They have to sell the house and buy a condo. They have to sell their second car, and they may even have to pick up a part-time job to make ends meet. What kind of retirement is that?

If you want to enjoy a debt-free and wealthy retirement, you’re going to have to do better. I don’t know about you, but when I finally stop working, I want to keep all the homes I have and maybe even get another one at one of my favorite golf destinations. I want to enjoy what I’ve worked all my life to create.

By the way, my trial retirement only lasted about two years. For the first year, I spent most of my time building a beautiful cabin in the mountains near Park City. When I finished that, I started playing golf almost everyday. I love to golf, but I soon realized there is such a thing as playing too much golf.

When I was on the verge of driving my wife crazy, I decided it was time to go back to work. I started another company in 2005, and it quickly turned it into another multimillion-dollar success. Looking back now, the cynic in me tells me I should have stayed retired. Don’t get me wrong. If you go into business, you need to set a goal to be successful, or you shouldn’t ever start. But keep in mind that success can also be a liability because you may have to trade your time to get it.

So the final thing I want you to do before we start learning some of my tips and strategies is to define what retirement means to you.

  • • At what age do you want to stop working?
  • • What kind of monthly income will you need?
  • • Where will you live?
  • • How many years do you plan to live off your savings?
  • • What activities will fill your spare time?

There’s only one more thing we need to cover before we get started.

DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE YOU CAN BE DEBT-FREE AND WEALTHY

I’ve met many people who believe they are destined for a life of poverty. They see themselves as victims of society. They were born into the wrong family. They live on the wrong side of the tracks. They didn’t go to the right schools or meet the right people. Their financial failures are not their fault. Their misfortune was out of their control.

If you have any of those thoughts or feelings right now, get over it!

I’ve never had anyone offer me a job that I thought would pay me what I feel my time is worth, so I went out and created those jobs for myself. I wasn’t born into a family with money. I never went without the things that I needed, but there were few frills. We struggled at times to make ends meet. I got an education by doing well in school and by being a decent baseball player. I also figured out what a Pell Grant was and how to qualify for one. I started my first successful business with nothing but an idea and a lot of hard work. It took me more than a year to figure out how to make enough to pay me a salary, but it was worth the sacrifice because by the next year I was well on my way to being a millionaire.

You make your own breaks in life, and that’s especially true when it comes to money. You must believe that it can happen to you. You must believe that you deserve to live a debt-free and wealthy life, or it will never happen.

Before you start the next chapter, you must commit to the goal of being debt-free and wealthy and not let anything distract you from that goal. This journey you are about to begin will test you in every way. I assure you that you will want to quit at some point. You’ll get tired of making sacrifices, and you’ll be tempted to splurge—or, worse, give up completely. You need to realize that the reward at the end of the journey will be worth the sacrifice, the effort, and the time you invest. It may seem so far away today, but when you reach your goal, you will be able to say you were part of a miracle – Your own financial miracle.

You deserve to live a debt-free and wealthy life, and if you follow the seven steps outlined in the remainder of this book, I’m confident that your dreams will become your reality.

Let’s get started!