The Get Rich Quick Fallacy

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Readers, today’s guest post is written by Elsie Brown at GundoMoney. GundoMoneyElsie is a student, blogger, and all around cheapskate (Edit: Elsie is a cheapskate, not a cheapstake. Who else loves getting used to a new keyboard?) who writes about how we can all live better on less. She hails from the Los Angeles area, and you can find her on Twitter.

Some of her recent posts include:

The Financial Surrender

Balancing Frugality and Enjoying Your Life

The Money Truth Behind Apple Products

How to Marry Someone’s Money in 3 Easy Steps

Onward to today’s post!

The Fallacy of Get Rich Quick

We’ve all seen those infomercials that come on tv around 4am that say just buy my book or learn real estate investing and you could get rich too!

I don’t think that logic really fools us but there is an inherent bias in our culture that implies rich is better. If you’re rich you’ll have a better life. If you’re rich you’ll be happy. If you’re rich you’ll be more accepted, more loved, and more at peace. I could keep going but I think you already see the faulty logic.

The get rich quick scheme is pretty sleazy but is there something about it we like? Is there some part of getting rich that we want?

Well, you’re reading a personal finance blog so some part of you wants more money. “That’s a dumb question Elsie everyone wants to be rich.” I can hear my readers lamenting already. Still, I think we know on some level that wanting to be rich is shallow.

Money as a Destination

I see evidence constantly of the fact that when we get money we always want more. Imagine a multi-millionaire getting that most recent bonus check and saying, “ok I’m good now.” That never happens and the reason is we’re never really satisfied with any amount of money. When money itself is the destination we are always two steps behind the goal.

Rich is no more a destination than perfect health or complete knowledge. Embarking on the path to riches is a relinquishment of your own personal power in favor of the idea that status and wealth will make you a better person.

David Walters at Esquire wrote an article this year in which he interviewed different people at vastly different income levels. He asked each one the same questions about their money. Among the questions was “what’s one thing your family needs but can’t afford?” The top earners answered that there was nothing they couldn’t afford. But when Walters asked “how much money do you need to live the life you want?” Those same people said they needed more money.

The pursuit of money for money’s sake is a never ending process; a path shaped like an infinity sign. It just goes around and around and around.

carrot gundo

Money and Freedom

This is all starting to sound like a bit of personal finance blasphemy! No, I don’t want you to sell all your possessions or take a vow of poverty. It’s ok to want more money. But hear this: money will not make you feel better. I write about this all the time but I’ll go ahead and say it again, money won’t give you belonging, happiness, love, peace, or any of the other emotions we associate with being a fulfilled human.

The purpose of money is not to give you happiness, it is to give you the freedom to be happy.

Here in the personal finance blogosphere you’ll hear us talk about money in a very different way than you will in, say, The Wall Street Journal or The Economist. The mainstream personal finance world hasn’t quite caught up with the underbelly of wisdom you’ll find on smaller, more personal saving communities.

Our purpose is to get out of debt, learn to live without the ridiculous conveniences and luxuries afforded to us, and thus save most of the money we make. In whatever capacity you do this in, be it riding a bike to work instead of driving the SUV, or making meals for yourself at home, you’re way ahead of your fellows.

I read the other day that the average American household has $15,000 in consumer debt. They all seem so happy and fulfilled, don’t they? Right.

Rich Living vs. Living Richly

If you just do these five things you will be rich and have an awesome life like me! Sound familiar?

I can’t stand the taglines I see around the web that perpetuate the idea of getting rich. It especially irks me when I see those lines on websites that position themselves as helping people get out of debt and save money. They’ll say things like you don’t have to give up your extravagant lifestyle to save money, just do everything I say and you’ll get rich like me. Rich living is certainly very convenient and comfortable but it follows the same logic that got us into debt. Namely, buying stuff, living above our means, and not paying attention to money at all.

On the contrary, getting on track with finances is all about how you live, think, and feel.

If you live below your means you’ll always have more than you need. If you harbor a mindset of less is more, you will always be provided for. If you feel ok without a lot of wealth or material things money will only enhance your life.

If Gundomoney had an infomercial it would say “get money and live richly.” Not as catchy, I know.

Hard working people, including myself, tend to come at well-being from the wrong angle. We think that once all the outside stuff is ok (the job, the appearance, the money) that the inside will feel better. Living richly is realizing that the insides need to be ok before money will fix anything.

I personally hate the word rich. It’s a word of separation. It implies that some people are worth more than others. Without realizing it, we attach more personal value to those with high net worths.

I think the personal finance community needs to invent a word to describe the kind of rich we’re searching for. It’s the kind of rich that builds up slowly over years, through careful planning and hard work. Our kind of rich sets us free, allows us to work doing what we love or quit working altogether. So try to live your life as richly as possible. Pay attention to finances but don’t make money God. Enjoy possessions but don’t make your joy about having them. One day you may wake up to find your financial life has changed.

If I had $1 million I wouldn’t buy a helicopter for easier commuting to work. I’d get those I love out of debt and spend my time teaching people about money for free. What would you do with it?

Readers, what does “rich” mean to you? Do we need a new word to describe the free act of choosing to do work that we love?

Don’t forget to visit GundoMoney and follow Elsie on Twitter!


21 thoughts on “The Get Rich Quick Fallacy

  1. Thank you again for the excellent guest post, Elsie! My favorite excerpt among many fine points is this:

    When money itself is the destination we are always two steps behind the goal.

    Rich is no more a destination than perfect health or complete knowledge. Embarking on the path to riches is a relinquishment of your own personal power in favor of the idea that status and wealth will make you a better person.

    This is thought provoking, and I enjoy the rest of your thought process which follows. I’m eager to read what others think, as well.

  2. If I had a million, I would go straight to my favorite nonprofit in my city, because the woman who runs it has been getting homeless lgbt youth off the street and into safety for decades. Whether she has money or not, she takes care of the most marginalized in my community. I try to imagine how much more effective she would be with money.

    1. I’m always inspired by people who find it in themselves to help people, even when they themselves don’t have much to give. Helping people always makes me feel better no matter where I’m at.

  3. Nice work Elsie! You are going at this from such a great angle. If the inside is not aligned with living richly, the outside will never prosper from being rich. And I hate that word too. My life is incredibly rich and we don’t need much money to have that. Keep surrounding yourself with people who have that same feeling and you will always be rich!

    1. Thank you Vicki. I agree with your point about surrounding yourself with the right people. I want people around me who have the same goals and who will build me up rather than tear me down. I think loving yourself has a lot to do with the company you choose to keep as well. You put people around you who will make you feel good about you.

  4. Oh Elsie – such truth! I agree 100%, especially after a long weekend spent with family, where we barely spent a penny… those days really reminds you what it is that makes you happy. I also think that there are different subconscious incarnations of the word “rich,” and some of them are utterly grotesque to me. Such a good example – I have a family member who lives in one of the richest most expensive suburbs in the country. When I drive around her neighborhood, I swoon over the beautiful greenery, the Tudor architecture, the well planned, walkable streets. It is… rich. But lovely, you can see how the heart gravitates to it honestly. It’s like the Shire for God’s sake! But then I come into contact with the people she is surrounded by, and I have to admit , and God forgive me – I cannot stomach most of them! I’m sorry, I can’t help it! I will just say, they are nothing like Hobbits. So I look at my husband and say, if we were rich and lived in a place like this, we would have to suffer all these people! That is the grotesque face of rich for me and I have no desire for it… those ugly social pretensions that some people crave. And I agree about the unseemly “get rich like me” threads in the personal finance blogosphere. Some have really turned me off to blogs I otherwise enjoyed. Great post.

    1. Thanks Linda, I feel like I read similar opinions about the emptiness of being rich in the personal finance community. I love that it’s not fooling us because it’s kind of an insidious belief people just hold and never challenge. It’s hard to see through just wanting to be rich when every piece of media essentially tells us we’re not enough.

      I’ve been doing a lot of work on “enoughness” in my mindfulness meditation as well. It’s amazing what can happen when we start to look at addressing our feelings rather than covering them with stuff.

  5. Thanks for the post Elsie, I think it expresses the sentiment many people have about FI very nicely. The point of wealth is not to accumulate more wealth, but to live richly!

  6. I’d travel around the world and enjoy the natural beauty of cheap countries like Mexico and Ukraine, but I’m already doing that with the much less than $1 million that I have 🙂

    1. Ha! Glad you’re living your dream. I continue to gather inspiration from people who are living richly. I can write about it all I want, but the true inspiration comes from the people who’ve planned for years and are living the freedom of early retirement

  7. You bring up so many deep, meaningful issues within this one piece. It really struck me, once again, how wise you are, beyond your years. I watch HGTV regularly. However, I need to change the station often though, when the same theme resinates: ‘Needs’ versus ‘wants.’ For example, “I NEED granite counter tops, an open concept, three bathrooms…” Etc., etc., etc. There is most definitely a division between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots.’ A desire is not a need. What is important becomes lost in the clutter of collected ‘stuff.’. We easily lose site of what IS critical; What feeds our souls. Thank you for reminding your followers of what ‘being rich’ is truly all about.

  8. Thanks for the post Elsie, nice to meet a fellow student who’s passionate about personal finance 🙂 (recently ex-student for me though..). To me, rich means having the freedom to not worry about money. Right now, I’m counting the pennies and the dollars and I feel dependent on my soon-to-be employer. That’s why I’m going to put in my dues early in my 20’s to enjoy and not stress as much in my 30’s. Look forward to following more of your blog!

    1. You and Elsie are both in a great place to win with money, FinanceSolver. Granted, I am too, even at the ripe old age of 30. 🙂

    2. Thank you for the comment! Theres no problem with putting in your dues, in fact if I hadn’t done a little dirty work I wouldn’t be making what I do now. The thing is, most of us here know that our “dues” are temporary until we can build our wealth. It’s sad that some people live their lives that way, oblivious to the possibilities they could have if they stopped shoveling money into the incinerator.

  9. I’d make sure my parents are completely set for retirement. They have saved well, but to pay back everything they’ve done for me and taught me, I’d make sure they are completely free and comfortable.
    Some of the remarks you’ve made remind me of my father – be smart with money, but also enjoy life. Another that came up this past weekend – is play with cash, borrow for business to make money. I agree, you are wise beyond your years. Thanks for the great read. 🙂

    1. How selfless of you to think of your parents, Kelsey. I would definitely do the same.

      Your father sounds similar to my parents. They know how to have fun!

    2. I’d hate to get to the end of my life with a huge pile of money and realize I could’ve done more. Could’ve traveled more, could’ve given more gifts to people. I’m always looking for balance in my life not just in financial areas but also personal relationships and health. I think if you’re using your money as a tool rather than a destination your on the right track. Thanks!

    3. I’d hate to get to the end of my life with a huge pile of money and realize I could’ve done more. Could’ve traveled more, could’ve given more gifts to people. I’m always looking for balance in my life not just in financial areas but also personal relationships and health. I think if you’re using your money as a tool rather than a destination your on the right track. Thanks!

  10. Ebjoyed the post – my entire site is based on these ideas!

    Getting rich quick takes time. The best we can do (legally & sans-gambling) is Quick’ish. That’s defined differently by everyone, but generally speaking I think a person can get rich enough to buy their freedom in about 10 years.

    1. When Elsie approached me about guest posting and shared her idea, I thought of you and your site, Ty. You two obviously share similar ideologies; maybe you and Elsie should collaborate – just a thought! 🙂

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