Babylon was reputed to be the wealthiest city of the ancient world. Not just in terms of its ruling class, but also among a large population of merchants and professionals and farmers who lived in beautiful homes, enjoyed produce from their own gardens, and were able to comfortably retire well before they were too old to work.

So says George S. Clason in his 1955 best seller, “The Richest Man in Babylon”. It’s not a serious book, but it’s an amusing read if you have a taste for success parables. It’s also a reminder of the wealth-building principles in the tradition of Ben Franklin that we hold to in ETR.

The story begins with Bansir, “sitting upon the low wall surrounding his property, gazing sadly at his simple home and the open workshop in which stood a partially completed chariot.”

Kobbi, a friend and musician, stops by to borrow two shekels.

“If I had two shekels,” Bansir replies gloomily, “to no one could I lend them — not even to you, my best of friends; for they would be my fortune. No one lends his entire fortune, not even to a best friend.”

Floored by the thought that the two of them haven’t got two shekels between them, the old friends begin to speculate on the disparity of wealth in Babylon, even among free men, and cannot understand why they, who have worked so hard for so many years, are still so poor.

They decide to consult with Arkad, who is said to be the richest man in Babylon.

“So rich the king is said to seek his golden aid in affairs of the treasury,” Kobbi says.

“So rich,” Bansir interrupts, “that I fear if I should meet him in the darkness of the night, I should lay my hands upon his fat wallet.”

“Nonsense,” says Kobbi. “A man’s wealth is not in the purse he carries. A fat purse quickly empties if there be no golden stream to refill it. Arkad has an income that constantly keeps his purse full, no matter how liberally he spends.”

“Income — that is the thing,” exclaims Bansir. “I wish an income that will keep flowing into my purse whether I sit upon the wall or travel to far lands.”

And with that goal in mind, the two old friends go to seek the wisdom of Arkad.

Thus ends the first chapter of “The Richest Man in Babylon,” with Basir coming to an important understanding: “The reason why we have never found any measure of wealth,” he says, “is because we never sought it.”

When it comes to wealth, the two most common mistakes people make are:

1. Believing that if they want it badly enough they’ll one day get it.

2. Believing that working harder and longer than their neighbor will achieve it.

I am involved in three personal wealth-building projects. In each case, I’m working with an intelligent, energetic, and serious person who has spent 20 or more years working long hours, enduring great stress, and making enormous sacrifices. All three of these people have arrived at middle-age with very little to show for it. Some memories, some good stories . . . but virtually nothing in the bank.

One has been an executive for non-profit organizations all her life. Another has owned and run his own business. A third has spent 25 years trying to get an import-export business going. All three are smarter than I am, harder-working than I am, and at least as ambitious as I am.

So why aren’t they rich?

Simply this: They have not sought wealth in the sense that Bansir describes it. They have not directed their working lives according to a proven, practiced method of wealth building.

In pursuit of wealth, most people make foolish mistakes — simple mistakes that add up to a lifetime of disappointment and, ultimately, failure.

Becoming good at producing wealth is no different from becoming good at any other complex skill — singing, acting, surgery, etc. You must develop specific, individual skills. By practicing these specific skills, you become better at them. As you pair one skill with another, new strengths emerge. Gradually, you change from being a hardworking person who cannot seem to save money to a wealth-creating dynamo.

It’s all about habits — developing specific little habits. Each one is not difficult to master. But each one must be studied, learned, and practiced.

It takes 1,000 hours to master painting, dancing, or gymnastics. It takes no more time to master the skill of building wealth.

I know you can do, it because I did it. For the first 27 years of my life I worked like a madman, helping other men get rich. But it was not until I stopped to figure out how I could actually acquire wealth and made that acquisition plan a formal part of my life that things changed for me.

Tomorrow, let’s see how you can start to become wealthy by coming up with a plan that will make it happen.