“I didn’t want to be rich, I just wanted enough to get the couch reupholstered.” – Kate (Mrs. Zero) Mostel

If you continue to get up early and read Early to Rise your income will climb. How do I know that? Because the world is starved for ambitious, hardworking, and focused people. Waking (and getting to work) early gives you a head start day after day, month after month, year after year. That adds up. By charging your batteries with Early to Rise (or something similar), your energy will always be high and your efforts razor-sharp — focused toward achieving your goals.

Even a modicum of extra effort will give you enough extra income to become wealthy eventually. The best-selling book “The Millionaire Next Door” (by Thomas Stanley and William Danko) documented that. If you are satisfied being among the “lumpen capitalists” (see “How Rich Do You Want to Be?” below), the secret is to spend less than you earn, invest those extra savings over a long period of time, and let the miracle of compound interest do the rest.

But you probably don’t want to wait 30 or 40 years. And you may not be satisfied with a mere $500,000 to $1,000,000 in net worth. If so, you are going to have to do the following:

* Learn (and eventually master) a financially valuable skill.

* Use it to position yourself as a profit maker.

* Secure for yourself a fair cut of the success you create.

This will give you — almost from the start — an above-average income. And that income will increase as you get better at what you do. But no matter how high you boost your income, you won’t acquire wealth unless you learn to spend less than you make. For it is the money we save, not the money we make, that determines our wealth.

That’s what I’d like to talk about today: how to avoid the very natural and deceptively powerful impulse to spend more as you make more.

If you have enjoyed a growing income, you already understand (all too well) what I’m talking about. Make more money and things get better: your car, your clothes, even (and most expensively) your home address. That’s fine so long as there is a limit. But for many (if not most) income builders, the desire to spend is always two steps ahead of the ability to earn. If you fall into that trap, you will have the accoutrements of wealth but never its most valuable benefits: financial peace of mind and the freedom to stop working.

Fat people consume more calories than they burn. Poor people spend more money than they earn. Getting thin and getting wealthy are the two easiest things you can do — at least in theory. The hard part is the mental discipline.

We’ll talk about dieting some other time. Today, I want to give you one powerful trick that will give you a wealth builder’s mind-set.

It’s a technique I stumbled upon many years ago that has been a great help in my financial success. It has allowed me to get richer in good times and bad, when my ideas were working and when they were not, when the economy boomed and when it stalled. It’s something you can do for yourself. Something that will change you in a subtle but powerful way so that you will never have to worry about being poor again. It’s the financial equivalent of a diet pill that would make it impossible to ever gain back a pound of lost weight Wouldn’t that be nice!

This came to me about 20 years ago, about six months after I “decided” to “get rich.” I had had a “hit” with my second moneymaking scheme. My idea involved a business start-up that cost about $25,000 to launch. Every day after the business opened, I’d count the money that came in — and on that glorious day when we passed the breakeven point, I started doing something that I’ve continued to do to this day.

I took out a sheet of paper and tallied up the value of everything I owned and everything I owed. There was an 8-year-old car that was worth about $1,500, some cheap jewelry I had bought for my wife that I could hock for maybe $200, and a couple of inexpensive (but actually good-quality) oil paintings I’d bought that might get me $50 each in a garage sale. That was about it. Except, of course, for the sweet green cash that was piling up in my mind each day as my fledgling business paid back its start-up capital and went on to earn thousands and then tens of thousands of dollars.

When I started this little scribbled list, my financial assets were overshadowed by my debts and liabilities (credit-card debt, some old student debt, a car loan on that piece of junk vehicle, etc.). The bottom line was bright red. But since I had a cash-positive business, things were getting better every day. The hole I had dug for myself was getting less and less deep. In a matter of months, I could poke my head above ground level and see a future for myself. A year later, I was among the lumpen lot!

It wasn’t a straight march up. A year later, I was a partner in about a dozen operating businesses and suddenly found myself — for several scary months — more than a million dollars in the hole. If things hadn’t turned around, it would have been very bad for my family.

Those two experiences — making that good, fast money and then almost losing it — inspired me to adjust my habit of adding up my wealth. The twist was this: I promised myself that I would do whatever it took to make sure that each new total — each new bottom-line number — was larger than the one before. Since I’d gotten into the habit of running my numbers on a monthly basis, my vow meant that I was committing to becoming wealthier every month.

That may seem like a simple promise, but it had a profound impact on the way I thought about myself, my job, my business relationships, and wealth building itself. It made me see — almost instantly — that many of my habits (including some of my spending habits) were financially unhealthy. It also gave me, at times, the panicked energy I needed to do something drastic — to start something new or end something that had gone wrong . Plus, it gave me an underlying determination to get a little bit richer every day — and this, as Robert Frost said, has made all the difference.

You might want to do the same thing:

* Make it a habit to recalculate your net worth on a monthly basis.

* Then promise yourself you’ll do what it takes to make that bottom line always bigger than it was before.

You’ll have to be scrupulously honest. The temptation to meet your goal by overvaluing a particular asset may be strong, so be aware of it and resist it.

Counting your money is an unseemly activity. You probably don’t want to do it in front of anyone else. And you certainly don’t want to talk about it. But it will remind you of the progress you’re making — and that will give you the mental strength to continue. Ultimately, it will make spending less than you earn automatic. And that means your future wealth will be guaranteed.

Don’t dismiss this little technique because it’s simple. All the best and most powerful things in life are simple. This WILL make a difference. Do it.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]

Mark Morgan Ford

Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Wealth Builders Club. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.