More On Pinching Your Pennies

I can tell what kind of retirement plan an entrepreneur has from the car he drives,” says Jonathan Pond, NBC’s guru financial planner. “To spend is human,” he says, “but to save is divine.” According to Pond (who drives a Toyota Camry and refuses to buy a cell phone), most people spend more than they should to maintain a lifestyle they can’’t really afford. He advises his clients to be stingy when it comes to personal possessions and generous when investing for college and retirement. I think he’’s right, but it’’s hard to do.

It’’s difficult because we are psychologically trained to do the opposite. You work hard for your money. It is tough to see so much of it go to cover obligations that give you little or no pleasure (taxes, utilities, mortgage payments, etc.). With the little that is left, you want to have some fun. You want to give yourself some pleasure. And you should.

But before you do, you must make a major, fundamental change in the way you think and feel about spending.

How To Reprogram Your Spending Brain

I am suggesting that you develop a wealth-building brain. By that, I mean a mind that understands the power of regular investing and compound interest and a heart that takes pleasure from seeing your net worth increase.

To make the mental change, you need to do the following:

* Determine the cost of your desired lifestyle.

* Multiply that by 10.

* Make that number your net-worth goal (not counting your house).

* Figure out how much you’ll need to save each month to get there — and then start doing it.

To make the emotional change, you need to do the following:

* Calculate and review your net worth on a monthly basis.

* Praise yourself each time your net worth grows.

* Always keep your goal in mind.

* Imagine how good you’’ll feel when you become financially independent.

The idea is to change your emotional pattern from Spender to Wealth Builder. The Spender believes that buying things — and especially status symbols — makes him richer. He drives a Mercedes, wears Zegna suits, sports a Rolex watch, etc. As his income grows, the Spender buys more and more expensive things — because that is the only way he can signal to himself and others that he is improving himself financially. The Wealth Builder doesn’’t fall into that trap. He understands that improving his financial position means increasing his net worth.

To that end, he DOES NOT LIKE to spend money on depreciating assets (anything with a value that diminishes over time), because he knows that each such purchase makes him poorer. Poorer immediately and much poorer in the long run. The Wealth Builder takes pleasure from growing richer, and he does so by putting almost all of his extra money into appreciating assets. Having said all that, I don’’t think you should entirely abandon your penchant for buying yourself (and/or your loved ones) “toys.”

In fact, I think you should make a habit of it. The trick is to reward yourself only when you have done something financially positive and to make your reward meaningful but inexpensive. If you get a consulting fee of $10,000, for example, put aside what you need for taxes and then resist the temptation to buy a new dining-room set. Instead, invest 80% of what remains and use the rest of the money to reward yourself. The reward must be something that gives you sustainable pleasure. You don’’t want to throw it away at the racetrack. You don’’t want to buy something you don’’t really care about.

My personal recommendation is to become a collector and reward yourself with a new piece for your collection. Collecting is popular with wealth builders, because it gives pleasure on many different levels (both intellectual and emotional), it lasts a lifetime, and the collection tends to become more valuable as time passes. (More on this in a future message.) The point is this: You don’t have to give up “things” to become a wealth builder, but you do have to spend much less on them and much more on your net worth.

If you haven’’t done so already, take time out today to calculate your net worth — honestly and objectively — and make yourself a promise that when you recalculate it every month, it will be higher each time. Do that and find something relatively inexpensive to reward yourself with every time you improve your financial well-being.


In his new book, “Values Shift: The New Work Ethic and What it Means for Business,” John Izzo argues that the “new work force” is demanding more flexibility and shorter hours. Plus “entrepreneurs are hard driving, but they intuitively know that long hours don’t equal productivity.” It’’s certainly true that it’s possible to be more productive in six hours than in eight. If you goof off enough, you can even be more productive in one hour than in eight. But that’’s not the point. The question is “Can you be productive for eight hours?” And the answer is “yes.” Definitely.

The six-hour day has already been tested — and has failed. From 1835 to 1935, there was a strong push among labor groups for shorter hours, and the six-hour workday was the primary model. It was tried here and there and eventually dropped. One company — Kellogg — gave it a 50-year test. In another new book, “Kellogg’s Six-Hour Day,” Iowa University Professor Benjamin Hunnicutt documents the efforts of the Battle Creek, Michigan cereal giant to make the concept work. It did for a little while, but a few years into the experiment the company saw its productivity gradually diminish until eventually it was lagging behind all its competitors. In 1985, Kellogg reverted to an eight-hour day. As should you if you are doing less.