Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Gas Prices, Part I

Higher-than-ever U.S. gasoline prices are changing the American lifestyle, USA Today reports. One retired stock analyst, for example, is driving less and considering trading in his F-150 for a “mid-size car that will get about 25 miles per gallon.” If you are concerned about gas prices, you have a serious problem – but it’s not one that can be remedied by bringing gas prices down. Your problem is that you are not making enough money.

The difference between the gas used by an F-150 and a mid-size car is about 10 miles per gallon. So if you drive 16,000 miles per year (as the typical American does), the difference will be 1,600 gallons per year. If the price of gas increases by 50 cents a gallon, that would mean it would cost you an extra $800 per year to drive the F-150 instead of a mid-size car. If an $800 increase in your yearly cost of living changes your lifestyle – you are not making enough money.

The solution is not to fret about gas prices (which are absurdly low anyway compared to what they should be if the U.S. oil industry weren’t subsidized) but to make more money – and enjoy doing it. If you don’t need an F-150 and/or are feeling guilty about over-consuming your fair share of the world’s dwindling oil resources, by all means switch to a smaller car. But don’t do it because you are in a pinch. Make more money. Making money is fun, natural, and very good for your lifestyle. I am puzzled by the fact that so few people who write about money ever make that point.

When I look at the top-selling books on personal finance, the great majority of them are promoting one of two ideas:

1. “The best way to become wealthy is to get a better yield on your portfolio – and here’s how … ”

2. “Financial independence is about spending less than you make – and here are a hundred ways to cut down on your spending …”

I never liked either of these ideas. I rejected the first one after years of being in the financial publishing business taught me that I couldn’t get rich chasing stock stories. Yes, some stock systems are better than others. (Some are much better.) And some stock advisers have good, long-term records. When I want stock advice, I go to those guys. But I recognize that even the best stock pickers don’t make 30% a year.

And even if they did, that wouldn’t give the average investor with the average investment base (about $10,000 to $50,000) enough R.O.I. to become financially independent in 3 to 15 years. Yes, you can become wealthy by getting realistically good R.O.I.s (10% to 15%) – but you’ll do so over a long, long period of time. How long? Almost every personal finance book I’ve ever read that promotes wealth through saving and stock investing uses a 40-year schedule to demonstrate “the miracle of compound interest.” Compound interest is indeed miraculous … but the miracle doesn’t kick in until after about 30 years.

Until then, your wealth increases, but modestly. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the following chart from “Automatic Wealth”: Number of Years Value of $100,000 Compounded at 10% 1 $ 110,000 2 $ 121,000 3 $ 133,000 4 $ 146,000 5 $ 161,000 10 $ 259,000 20 $ 673,000 30 $ 1,475,000 40 $ 4,526,000 50 $ 11,739,000

That’s one of the main reasons I wrote “Automatic Wealth” – to demonstrate my belief that the way to wealth runs on two parallel roads: Dramatically increasing your income (as opposed to cutting gas and other expenditures) Leveraging your investments safely (and the only way I’ve found to do that is by investing in local real estate) Judging from sales of “Automatic Wealth,” it appears that I’m striking a chord – at least among baby boomers who realize they don’t have 40 years left to let the miracle of compound interest take care of them. The book has also gotten good reviews from younger people who don’t want to wait 40 years to become rich.

As I said above, I’ve been puzzled by the fact that most bestselling financial books don’t talk about the importance of making more money. Actually, I shouldn’t be surprised. From a marketing point of view, it’s understandable. If you want to sell a lot of copies of your book, don’t tell people what they DON’T want to hear. And what is it that American wealth seekers DON’T want to hear? That if they want to become wealthy, they have to be prepared to do some extra work. There. I said it. The dirty little secret is out of the bag.

If you want to achieve wealth the Michael Masterson way, you are going to have to step out of your comfort zone and get to work. You are going to have to spend an extra hour or two a day starting a side business … or becoming much more valuable to the business you work for … or making the business you own do better. It’s not hard work like digging ditches. It’s not hard work like shutting your mouth while someone screams at you. But it’s work nonetheless. The same is true for real estate.

If you want to make good money buying and selling local real estate, you are going to have to dig in and get to know your market. You’ll have to drive down every street and check out everything that’s for sale or has been sold. And you’ll have to jump when a good opportunity avails itself. Yes, it’s work. But guess what? Nothing that’s worth having is free. When God or Chaos created the world, something was installed at the same time to operate it. We call that thing “natural order.” And the natural order of life is that you get out of it what you put into it. If you want more value, you have to be prepared to invest more value. And that thought – that getting wealthy quickly is about following nature’s design – is the topic of the book I’m writing now. I’m thinking of calling it “Natural Wealth.”

The idea, in a nutshell, is that most of what we are told about wealth building is wrong, because it’s based on a false, mechanical view of the universe. It’s based on the fantasy of the money machine: Push this lever and money will start flowing out. That’s a message that’s easy to sell. And if you look at the bestselling books on wealth building, most of them have that idea embedded in their “systems.”

For example: “Don’t do anything but buy the stocks I recommend.” “Plug this patented program into your computer and follow the instructions.” “Repeat this magical, self-transforming phrase and you’ll turn yourself into a money machine.” But becoming wealthy has nothing to do with turning on a machine or turning yourself into one. It has everything to do with work. If that sounds like bad news, don’t despair.

What I’ve learned lately is that the best kind of work is the kind that doesn’t feel anything like work. It feels a lot more like fun. (I’m having fun as I’m writing this. I feel like I’m onto a good idea and I’m enjoying the chance to tell you about it. I like the idea that what I’m saying may excite you and that you might be able to use it to make your life better in some way.)

The point I’m trying to make is that work doesn’t have to be work. It can be pleasurable as well as financially rewarding. It can be both financially rewarding and life-enhancing. And that’s exactly the kind of work I’ve been thinking about lately. I’ll tell you more about this new idea of mine on Monday …

[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.]