Advice for a new multimillionaire!

I guess I am one of the few personal finance writers qualified to answer this interesting question that came to me the other day:

What advice would you give a new 32 year-old multimillionaire that you wish you had known at that age?

Firstly, don’t overestimate your wealth.

Spectrum (a Chicago-based consultancy that specializes in understanding the High Net Worth individual and family) surveyed a number of people whose net worth was in the $1m, $5mill, and $25m+ ranges about how much money that they would need in order to feel wealthy.

Almost invariably, the answer was: “about double”.

Having lived through the ups and downs of wealth, I think I understand the reason:

Wealthy people spend capital. What they should be spending is income.

That’s another way of saying that it’s very easy to live beyond your means no matter how much money you have.

Here’s how to control your wealth:

1. Take your capital and divide it by 20. That’s roughly how much you have a year to live off (if you’re going to live on bonds and savings, well, divide by 40 instead).

2. Invest 95% of the capital as though it’s the last money that you will ever see (because, it most likely is).

3. Be Rent Wealthy, not Buy Wealthy. Rent Wealthy means that you rent what you need: want to holiday in Aspen? Rent a villa … but do not, under any circumstances, buy one. Want to travel? Go First Class but do no buy the plane!

[Note my rule on personal ‘capital purchases’ (eg houses, cars, boats, etc.): only buy something when it makes absolutely no sense not to]

4. How you invest your money during Life After Work (a.k.a. early retirement) is VERY different to how you might invest your money while you’re still trying to build your fortune:

– Pre-retirement investments include: businesses, francises, property development, share trading, and so on.

– Post-retirement investments include: TIPS (inflation-protected bonds); dividend stocks; 100% owned commercial real-estate, and so on.

The sad reality is that most people who make multimillions that young do it by chance: inheritance, lottery, corporate payout.

Even when they do manage to earn it (as I did), not many people can make the mental switch from high-flying entrepreneur/investor/big-wig to conservative investor … in order to survive post ‘Your Big Windfall Event’ you’re going to have to make the switch.

For new readers ….

Every so often I like to do a post for new readers, because this isn’t your ordinary personal finance blog.

How so?

Well, the first thing you’ll notice is that there’s no advertising. In fact, no obvious way of monetizing the blog at all …

That’s an important clue. It either means: (a) I have no readers to bother monetizing, (b) I have no idea how to monetize a blog, (c) or I don’t need to monetize.

Given the title, it should be obvious that (c) is the correct answer.

In fact, the lack of monetization is one way that I try and ‘prove’ the basic premise of this blog … and, therein lies its greatest differentiator:

I am one of the vey few self-made multimillionaires to write about finance … and, one of a tiny group that actually made their money before they started writing.

For example, in one of Robert Kiyosaki’s books he states that his passive income from real-estate was about $100k per year when he wrote Rich Dad, Poor Dad (or, produced his game “cashflow quadrant”, whichever came first: book or game).

To be fair, let’s just take that to mean ‘net income’ … assuming that his net-income was between 5% and 10% of his real-estate portfolio, that made him a millionaire once – perhaps twice. Certainly impressive, but hardly enough to retire on.

On the other hand, I started $30k in debt and made $7 million in 7 years.

In fact, the highest cash balance that I had in my bank account before I started to write this blog was $10 million. And, that was on top of the other assets that I owned.

This makes my perspective very different to most personal finance bloggers who are all about frugality, debt reduction, paying yourself first …

… all admirable, even necessary, but none will make you rich.

And, herein lies the unique nature of this blog: I believe that you need to become relatively rich in order to retire reasonably well (and, early) these days. I believe that you need to build up a nest-egg of $x million in y years, where x > 2 and y < 10.

I filter my readers by the title of this blog: How To Make $7 Million In 7 Years.

So, when new readers, like Emily tell me:

Some people really don’t care about riches. Our neighbor and handyman loves being able to work at his own pace and not deal with employees. He will occasionally have a nephew or brother help him with a job, but he has no desire to rack up a ton of money and looks forward to continuing his trade until he dies.

I say:


But, pushing aside obvious issues such as what does he do if he gets too sick to work (or, simply too sick OF work), my blog is aimed solely at those who DO want riches. ;)


You don’t need to become a barber to become rich …

Darwin’s Money shares a story about his barber that shows how anybody can become rich; here’s a trimmed down version of Darwin’s assessment of how his barber became rich:

  • Real Estate Mogul – He owns multiple rental properties.  He started off small and kept rolling his profits into more and larger properties.
  • Business Savvy… and Patient – He knows the real estate market very well and he waits for deals to come around.  He’s patient.
  • Frugal – Just through some casual observations, it’s evident he’s a frugal guy.  He dresses modestly, he doesn’t take extravagant vacations, and he doesn’t drive a fancy car.  The combination of multiple streams of income and frugality make for a huge net worth in your later years.
  • Small Business Owner– Like all smart business owners, he gets other people to work for him and generate income and offset his costs.  Rather than just running a one man barbershop, he has a couple other barbers working there.

This looks likes an great observational report … I’m not certain that Darwin actually asked his barber how much money he has or how he made it?

I’ll do the reverse; I’ll tell you how I made my money … it’s much the same as the barber, but I think it’s the order that’s critical:

Business Savvy, Impatient, Small Business Owner – I started by becoming a small business owner, then trying to become business savvy. But, it was a slow path. When I finally hit rock bottom (business-wise) and found my Life’s Purpose, hence my Number, I suddenly became impatient. In fact, this was the turning point for me: as I accelerated my business growth, I accelerated my income, which is the first key to becoming rich.

Frugal – Now, this is where most high income earners go wrong: as their income increases, they become looser with their money. It should be quite the reverse: in dollar terms it’s OK to (in fact, you should) reward yourself by increasing your expenditure [slightly] in $ terms. But, and this is the secret, you should be decreasing your expenditure in % terms. While it’s fine and dandy to be frugal while you are still on a low and/or fixed income (i.e. job), it’s actually critical to become more frugal in relative terms as your income increases.

… and Patient Real-Estate Mogul – What to do with the rapidly increasing bank balance? Well, you could put it in mutual funds (but the fees are too high and/or the returns are too slow), stocks (but, they are not leveraged enough), or other businesses (but, you run the risk of spreading yourself too thin). For me, the best compromise between the leverage of a true business and a passive investment is – and remains – investment-grade real-estate. This is where being patient finally kicks in, because buy/hold real-estate is subject to the vagaries of the market. But, I had a primary source of growing income, so I didn’t need to touch my real-estate investment income until I finally began Life After Work.

So, my assessment is that Darwin is right, but the order is wrong.

Oh, I also think that you can substitute small business ownership for any high income potential (e.g. highly-paid professional; CxO-level employee; consultant; etc.) with the only catch being that you miss out on the potential capital gains that owning a business may offer – on the other hand, you may be able to negotiate yourself a nice golden parachute …

How well do you think this simple strategy could work for you?

Early retirement … the depressing truth?

Pinyo‘ s Twitter account pointed me to a great essay by Philip Greenspun about early retirement.

In it, Philip breaks some myths about early retirement, particularly the one where people think that they will do everything in retirement, but end up “waking up at 9:30 am, surfing the Web, sorting out the cable TV bill, watching DVDs, talking about going to the gym, eating Doritos, and maybe accomplishing one of their stated goals.”

Having said that, it’s pretty much my ideal of the early retirement 🙂

But, it was actually this paragraph that caught me, as it’s something that I had experienced but just below the level of conscious thought – maybe it’s something you will one day experience, too:

Tattoo Your Net Worth on Your Forehead … otherwise folks will greatly overestimate your wealth. If someone at a party asks you what you do and you answer “retired”, if you appear to be under the age of 50, almost always they will greatly overestimate your wealth.

The magazine Elite Traveler, depicts the lifestyle to which Americans aspire. A watch costs $30,000, a survey of hotel accommodations in Mexico or New Orleans shows suites ranging in price from $3,000 to $20,000, getting from point A to point B costs $5,000 per hour in a private jet, partying for a week involves chartering a yacht for $200,000.  When you say “I’m retired” the other person at the party hears “Even without working anymore, I can afford to live the Elite Traveler lifestyle.”

I have retired with a few million (the title of my blog underestimates my wealth), yet I cannot live the “Elite Traveler lifestyle”, at least not in good fiscal conscience.

I usually travel business class, but sometimes fly coach (I always fly coach domestically); I could afford a Ferrari but drive a BMW (OK, I’m not exactly slumming it: it’s a current model M3 convertible); we travel overseas twice a year (this year we’re ‘saving money’ and only traveling o/s once); and, I live in what can only be described as a mansion (with a ‘spare’ one in Chicago).

But, I certainly don’t consider myself in the Elite Traveler league.

What I did notice – retrospectively, after reading Philip’s essay – is that my friends do make comments indirectly about my wealth (“oh, you don’t have to worry about that” when talking about spending $x on $y), kind of assuming that I’m Oprah.

I’m not. And, I still budget …

… kind of: sometimes, I count millions (“oh yeah, the business is worth $1m; the house in Chicago $1m; the house in Australia $5m; the two development lots are worth another couple …” and, so on); I do this when I get nervous about money … when you live in a ridiculously expensive house, with another you can’t get rid of, and don’t really have anything (yet) that brings in an income, even millionaires worry about money. Hopefully, totally unnecessarily … but, they still worry.

I remember the survey conducted a while back by The Spectrem Group who analyze America’s wealthiest families; when asked how much the average millionaire  or multimillionaire thought they would need to feel truly wealthy, they overwhelmingly answered: “about double”.

That’s how I feel … but, don’t feel too badly, I’m sure I can learn to live with it 😉

A very short vacation …

I’m still technically on vacation – half way around the globe from my usual abode as I write this – but, I did promise to share the ‘missing piece’ of the Formula for Wealth:

This formula – were it not for the one factor that I added – would fail on two counts:

1. Wealth being a function of Capital and Time is merely another way of confirming the so-called ‘power of compounding’, which is no great shakes as 1,000 others have already sung its praises and hardly justifies me adding my voice, and

2. It doesn’t explain The Bill Gates Effect: why Bill Gates (and, Steve Jobs, and Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerburg, and Oprah) is rich and the rest of us (present company excepted) are not.

That’s why I added the key: the X-Factor …

… which, in itself would be totally useless, if I couldn’t explain it so:

For the non-mathematically minded (and, you have to be, because as a strict formula this is nonsense), the first part of the ‘formula’ expresses the classic Risk (Ri) versus Reward (Re) tradeoff.

This is logical: “Bill Gates is richer because he takes bigger risks. I’m risk-averse so I cannot be rich. No problem, back to frugality and 401K’s …”

The good news is that Risk and Reward are related: for every financial activity there is a built-in level of risk. Choose one and you automatically choose the other.

To a greater or lesser extent, you can treat this Risk/Reward Tradeoff as a constant (actually, a curve, but there is a fixed point on the curve for whatever financial investment activity that you undertake).

In other words:

1. You choose the level of Wealth (W) that you want to achieve i.e this is your Number

2. You choose the Time (T) that you have available i.e. this is your Date

3. You have a set amount of Capital (C) that you start with i.e. this is your savings

4. You calculate the required Annual Compound Growth Rate, which tells you what financial activity you need to undertake (e.g. stocks, business, real-estate, etc.)

5. This automatically puts you on a set point of the Risk/Reward curve.

So, by selecting your Number and Date in advance, you have – in effect – taken away all decisions and the Wealth Formula works automatically for you.

You have only two levers to pull that will determine if you succeed – and how well (Bill Gates well, AJC well, work-for-40-years well, or hobo well):

Leverage (L) and Drag (D).

I’ll explain these in the New Year 🙂

Mr Krabs is alive and well!

Eugene (Mr) Krabs is the Mr Scrooge of the modern age. Scrooge McDuck was there for a while, but the duck got bumped by the crab. Sorry, duck!

All of these misers got rich, not by being misers (I’m sure it helped … a little!) but, by having a business; Mr Krabs has a hamburger joint. Nice cashflow business that – perfect for providing the funds to invest in all sorts of stuff.

And, I bet he owns the building …

Mr Krabs has one other advantage over his predecessors: he reads personal finance blogs!

I know this, because “Eugene Krabs” left his secret formula for wealth in a seemingly innocuous comment on Free Money Finance’s blog:

I’ve boiled what I’ve read myself down to the following equation:

Wealth = Capital + Risk + Time

(To be clear, capital is the money you have right now to make more money with.)

Technically, any one of those factors can do it for you. For example, if you have a massive amount of capital, or if you take massive amounts of risk and beat the odds, or if you have a lot of time to build your wealth, then you can still become wealthy at the expense of the other two factors.

However, there are downsides to all of these individual factors.

Sensational stuff!

The formula itself needs a little tweaking, but ‘sensational’ nonetheless, for example it’s probably better written as:

Wealth = Capital x Risk x Time

Here’s how to make it work for you; if you are an:

– Ordinary person: do nothing … your wealth will not grow. In fact, it will decline in real terms, as inflation takes its toll. You can offset this, to a greater or lesser extent by cutting costs (including interest costs and living expenses). Whole legions of people swear by this approach.

– Reasonable person: limit your risk, and offset your limited capital by applying Time … lots of it (provided you are happy to work for 40+ years, don’t get sick or lose your job, etc., etc.), and pay yourself first to increase your capital by roughly 10% each year.

– Extraordinary person: you also make a 10% improvement, because that’s reasonable, achievable, sensible … but, you don’t make a 10% improvement in just one area, you do it – as Eugene Krabs suggests – across all three!

Look at what happens if you apply one unit of Capital, one unit of Risk, and one unit of Time: you gain one unit of Wealth.

But, what happens if you increase your:

1. Capital by 10% – let’s say by starting a business on the side and applying at least 50% of it’s net income to your investment capital?

2. Risk by 10% – let’s say by moving from investing in Mutual Funds to individual stocks (if you buy/hold one, you buy/hold the other)?

3. Time by 10% – let’s say you allow yourself 10% more time to get there?

Nobody would be too scared by making a 10% improvement in one are; so, what’s so hard about making it in three areas at the same time? If you do, you end up with 1.1 units of each of: Capital, Risk, and Time: 1.1 x 1.1 x 1.1 = 1.33 …

… your wealth doesn’t increase by just 10%, it increases by 33%.

Of course, you want to REDUCE time, not increase it, so play with a simple annual compound growth rate calculator and see what happens if you:

i) Double your Capital (increase your savings; reinvest 100% of your side business earnings; grow your side-business even more)

ii) Double your Risk (buy/sell your stocks; buy/rehab real-estate; start a ‘real’ business)

iii) Halve your Time

2 x 2 x 0.5 = 2 … how’s a 100% increase in your wealth suit you?

BTW: for the mathematicians out there, this simplistic formula is nonsense; for example, as your wealth increases over time, any ‘spare’ wealth (i.e. that you don’t spend) increases your Capital (thus compounding either/both until your Capital converges to your Wealth … but, never quite meets it), whereas Time is linear (as long as we don’t approach the Speed of Light), and Risk is certainly neither linear nor compounded.

But, that’s not important right now … 😉

Announcing the 5 x $100 Apple Gift Card winners!

Speaking of contests: I have launched (in ‘stealth mode’) a new site that marries contests and social marketing. I am now looking for a team to help with the build/launch. If you love contests and if you have experience with social/viral marketing or development, then contact me immediately at ajc [at] 7million7years [dot] com. This is your opportunity to hit the big-time with a small salary (full or part-time) + a chunk of equity + your name in lights!


Thanks to everybody who entered the contest inspired by Trent Hamm, from a Simple Dollar, who is giving away a book called Everything You Ever Really Needed to Know About Personal Finance On Just One Page.

If you want to find out more about the contest, click here:

It’s too hard to pick a “best” entry, but, I did like Mike Hunt’s stool analogy (“needs all three legs to stand up”):

Our other winners (in no particular order) are:

– Roger, the Amateur Financier certainly deserves a card for his entry:

– Jaime @ Eventual Millionaire just got $100 closer with her gift card:

– Daniel is Sweating the Big stuff, but (thankfully) still had time for this:

… and, I’m saving the final prize for a cartoon character. Seriously!

You can see Eugene Krabs’ entry as the first comment to this Free Money Finance blog post:

He described a formula for wealth (it’s not THE formula for wealth; this is: the key to untold wealth):

I’ve boiled what I’ve read myself down to the following equation:

Wealth = Capital + Risk + Time

(To be clear, capital is the money you have right now to make more money with.)

Technically, any one of those factors can do it for you. For example, if you have a massive amount of capital, or if you take massive amounts of risk and beat the odds, or if you have a lot of time to build your wealth, then you can still become wealthy at the expense of the other two factors.

However, there are downsides to all of these individual factors.

The best thing to do is to push on all three of these fronts at the same time, I believe you will then maximize your chances of becoming wealthy.

That’s it. As we have all have probably known for quite some time that there is no real secret to being wealthy. It’s just not easy. Bottom line, we need start now, stay fanatically focused, and be mindful of the risks involved.

The winners need to contact me via e-mail [ajc AT 7million7years DOT com] for details on how to claim their prizes; if any prize isn’t claimed I’ll donate the $100 to charity and post back here.

Thanks to everybody who entered, commented, and/or spread the word!


Come and visit us at this week’s Carnival of Personal Finance:

The key to untold wealth!

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may have the sneaking suspicion that I’m also a bit of a ‘mad scientist’.

For example, I told you that, like Albert Einstein, I’ve been working on a ‘unified theory’ [AJC: I’m rather proud of this post, so go ahead and pull it out of the 7m7y archives by clicking on this link: The Big Papa lives in the 11th Dimension!].

Unlike Albert Einstein, though, I am (a little more) kempt; (very slightly) less absent-minded;  (a lot) less than genius (even a little more ‘less’ each year); and, have no Germanic accent, although my parents spoke the language fluently (but, never allowed me to learn it … it was their ‘secret language’).

On the positive side, unlike Albert Einstein who reportedly went to his grave with his secret, I have found the Unified Theory of Finance!

After literally years of searching – and, this blog has been a way for me to publicly articulate my thoughts, and get the feedback that I needed along the way [AJC: so, I will need to remember to thank all of my readers – that’s you! – at my Nobel Prize for Finance acceptance speech] – I finally made this Great Discovery (?!) on the weekend.

In fact, the breakthrough came in two parts:

The Search

Because I am (still) enamored with Sponge Bob, I was attracted to “Eugene Krabs“, who left his version of the secret formula for wealth in a seemingly innocuous comment on Free Money Finance’s blog:

I’ve boiled what I’ve read myself down to the following equation:

Wealth = Capital + Risk + Time

(To be clear, capital is the money you have right now to make more money with.)

Technically, any one of those factors can do it for you. For example, if you have a massive amount of capital, or if you take massive amounts of risk and beat the odds, or if you have a lot of time to build your wealth, then you can still become wealthy at the expense of the other two factors.

However, there are downsides to all of these individual factors.

Sensational stuff!

Unfortunately, I can’t thank “Mr Krabs” because he didn’t include any links with his moniker. On the other hand, you may quickly spot a few issues:

1. Clearly Wealth isn’t an additive of capital, risk, and time, it’s really a complex function. But, that can be solved by rewriting the equation as W = C * R * T or, even better yet, as:

W = Fn {C,R,T} i.e. Wealth is a (perhaps, complex) function of Capital, Risk, and Time.

But, understanding the math is not the point – I’m sure that Mr Krabs’ formula is meant as conceptual, not mathematically rigorous – it’s understanding that you need to balance Capital, Risk, and Time, if you want to become wealthy, that’s important … at least, according to a fictional cartoon character who saves every penny that he can get his claws on 😉

2. The more important point is that this version of the formula forgets Return; and, if we substitute Return (e.g. the 9% or 0.09 return that you supposedly get if you stick your money in the stock market for long enough), you actually have something very similar to the basic formula for compounding (which, at least according to Einstein, is the ‘most powerful force in the universe’:

3. Even if I somehow modified Mr Krabs’ simple version (and/or the more complex – but, correct – mathematical representation of compounding) to include both Risk and Return (a.k.a. Reward), the formula IMHO still wouldn’t explain why Warren Buffett is sensationally rich investing in exactly the same stocks that we invest in, yet we manage to lose money (in the short term, in absolute value, and even in the long term, certainly after inflation is taken into account)!?!

Until I can explain that, there is no formula 🙁

The Breakthrough

Still my gut told me that Mr Krabs [AJC: I love using his pen name … I’ll see how many more times I can fit it into this really very serious post!] was on the right track, because his representation did provide the missing simplification that I needed.

But, I kept hitting brick wall after brick wall …

… until last Sunday.

Last Sunday, I took my son and a few friends to play in their weekly teenage tennis competition [AJC: we all got free ‘slurpies’ from a 7-11 Convenience store on the way back home from tennis because it was 7-11 Day: November 7, 2010. Go figure!].

Instead of watching the game, I sat in the car with all my notes – pages and pages of complex math, simple math, all trying to fit Risk, Return, Capital, Time, and so on into a simple, conceptual ‘formula’ … all the while, trying to use it to explain the difference between you, me, and Warren Buffett.

As I said, until I could do that, I had nothing!

It was driving me crazy! So, I did the only sensible thing: I laid back the car seat and dozed off … but, when I woke up half an hour later, I had it:

“Is that all?”, you say [yawn]

Hell, yes!

Really understand this, and you have the key to untold wealth … in any field of endeavor.

I’ll explain the X-Factor (it can be explained!) in an upcoming post …


PS Remember: this ‘formula’ is conceptual and is more correctly (but, still grossly) simplified as:

W = Fn {C,X,T} i.e. Wealth is a (definitely, very) complex function of Capital, The ‘X-Factor’, and Time.

Who cares what a millionaire won’t tell you?

I love (not!) these “secrets of how a millionaire thinks” types of articles, like this one called 10 Things A Millionaire Won’t Tell You [AJC: actually, this one really is quite interesting] …

… the problem is that they mix the poor millionaires in with the rich ones!

I’m not sure that I can define a ‘rich millionaire’ for you (seems like a tautology, but isn’t), but it’s something GREATER than $7 million, because I don’t ‘feel’ rich yet. Wealthy, yes. Wealthy enough to live my Life’s Purpose without ever needing to work again … just.

Extravagant, no … but, it would seem extravagant to you, wherein lies one of the problems: you may consider house with swimming pool and tennis court extravagant now. You may consider private schooling for your kids extravagant now. You may consider a BMW M3 Convertible and a Lexus Hybrid extravagant now.

But, when you become a ‘millionaire’ you won’t: you’ll expect the house + a second home in the country. You’ll expect the BMW and Lexus on the street + the ‘exotic’ in the garage. And, you will only want the best for your kids (unless you already live in a top public school district … then, watch your land taxes!).

You need to pin this down … now … when you are working on your required annual living expenses. Inflate this by 4% per year until you expect to retire (a.k.a. begin Life After Work). Multiply by 20. Add in your one-time costs (e.g. house/s). There’s your Number.

Which brings me back to my point; as the article says:

Some 10 million households have a net worth above $1 million, excluding home equity, almost double the number in 2002. Moreover, a recent survey by Fidelity found just 8 percent of millionaires think they’re “very” or “extremely” wealthy, while 19 percent don’t feel rich at all.

A millionaire, these days, can ‘safely’ spin off about $30k to $50k a year. That’s it.

If that makes me rich, then I was rich when I was still working my first job in my mid-twenties.

So, what does it take to truly feel rich, these days. Somewhere north of $7 million …

… Fidelity says the ‘magic number’ is about $23 million [AJC: citation needed; can anyone find the original Fidelity source for this?] before fat boy gets thong girl.

I won’t argue with that! 😉