Getting Rich

There are about 2 million millionaires in the United Sates. Some are worth tens, or hundreds of millions. There are even a few billionaires. With house prices starting at a million in many of the more desirable neighborhoods in major metro areas, a million is not what it was in the 50’s or 60’s. It used to be shorthand for rich. Today, the number is at least 10 million. But hey, once you get a million the next 9 is a lot easier.

Either way, it’s heartening to know that lots of people found ways to get rich. Perhaps you can too. Let’s examine the reality behind the mythology of wealth accumulation. How do people really get rich? Here is a systematic examination of every possible way this might happen.

1. Inheritance
A. Parents: The biological lottery, you likely know already if this is going to happen. Problem is that with increasing longevity and the likelihood of only 20 to 30 years separation in birth, you are likely to be nearing retirement age before you can cash in. Doesn’t help much when you need a house down payment in your late 20’s, money for raising the kids, in your 30’s, help sending them to college in your 40’s, starting a business along the way, and so on.

B. Marriage: First realize that men die before women, so this is not going to work for them unless they marry old. For women however, this is absolutely the best way to get rich. Marry a workaholic, let him slave away chasing the dream until he finally hits the big time, and then promptly (hopefully) drops dead in his 50’s from a heart attack. Sell his business, stash the cash, date the pool boy and get plastic surgery trying to recapture the youth you wasted. Success!

2. Marry Rich
A. Women: You have been watching too many soap operas and chick flicks, and reading too many tabloids. Your prince, that takes you away from the evil stepmother and your dreary life of drudgery, is pure Disney fantasy. Back to the laundry Cinderella! Rich people like to marry rich people, as all groups tend to marry their own. It will be difficult if not impossible for you to fit in and be accepted because you don’t know the codes and can’t recognize the icons. You didn’t go the “right” schools, nor “summer” at the right resort area, nor can you rattle off the exotic destinations around the world you visited, nor can you sport the accents, wear the overpriced garb (nor recognize the brand or a fake at 50 yards), talk about your days at Harvard, and so on.

You can no more do this than you can fit into a tribe of Australian Aboriginals in the outback. It’s smart for the rich to only marry each other since their primary preoccupation is preserving their wealth at all costs. No real motivation to give half to you. If you are already rich than that issue is moot. The rich also field armies of lawyers and bankers that will force a prenup, without their client having to be the bad guy. He will just shrug and say “mumsy” insists. This nips any chance at a jackpot for you, and a dilution in wealth for him, in the bud. You may only get a million or two. For every Anna Nicole there are countless gold-diggers that ended up with a bus ticket back to Iowa and not much else. The marriage plan only works if you wait it out and hubby dies (see above).

B. Men: The men in her tribe will rally and block your attempts to act out your gigolo fantasy. Not gonna happen. On the other hand, if she is a society “reject” and hard to pawn off, they may reluctantly take you in. But only as far as the guest quarters. A prenup will be served with breakfast, and sign you will or it’s out the back (servant’s) door.

3. Savings
There was a poor shoemaker, who every week, faithfully and without fail, saved a dollar of his meager earnings. His dream was to one day be rich, like the fine gents whose shoes he repaired. Year after year he saved. Finally, as he approached his retirement at age 65, he found himself a rich man too. How did he do it? He married a rich widow. What about his savings? Not enough for a down payment on a modest house let alone the mansion he now resides in.

One of our most cherished American myths is that if we work hard, are thrifty, save 10% or more of our pay, that the “miracle” of compound interest will magically transport us to Millionaireville. If you look at the fine print on all the charts and graphs you will note that the exponential curve does not rise much for the first 30 years. Depending on how much 10% adds up to, you may only see a couple hundred thousand by then. Now factor inflation into the mix.

Most of us save less than 1% of our earnings. In fact, overall our savings rate is negative as we go into debt to support a lifestyle we can’t afford. Or perhaps we foolishly get sick, injured, lose a job, or experience other setbacks in life. Or take care of family members that are ill or disabled. All most of us will see in 30 years is a million dollars in credit card debt with an expected payoff date sometime after 2870.

4. Superstar
You can throw a ball through a hoop. So what? Millions of others can do the same. You think you can sing. Watch American Idol for a reality check – it’s amazing how many contestants with no discernible talent are perplexed and heartbroken when they discover that they are alone (with their “self-esteem” promoting parents and loyal friends) in the belief that they sound any better than a cat being run over by a truck. You want to be an actor? Table six needs more bread. A writer? Save us some time and put your manuscript in the recycle dumpster with the other 126 we got this morning.

Fame and fortune in sports and the arts seems an attainable dream because each of the success stories get immense press coverage while the other 99.99999% that are wannabe “losers” get none. If a plane crashes, it’s all over the news. “If it bleeds, it leads.” The reality is that there are 40,000 deaths in cars every year and only a handful in planes. You are more likely to get hit by a meteor than die in a plane crash. Especially if you never fly! Same odds for being a superstar. You can squander your life chasing this rainbow….look at the pretty lights…

5. Sell Out
The top brass at the Fortune 500 get huge salaries, stock options, and countless perks. Their workers, of course, get squat. But look at the odds. Let’s say the top 10 executives at the top 500 companies can get the prize. That’s 5,000 lucky winners that elbowed and clawed their way up the ladder. Perhaps a 1 in 10,000 chance that you get the key to the executive bathroom. Are those good enough odds for you to stay for 30 years trying? And sacrificing your family and personal life?

If you can’t sell out big, perhaps small. Go for the stock options and like all those Googlites and Microsofters you can cash in too and retire early. Sounds like a plan. Problem is, as in horse racing, you have to pick the winner before the race, when it’s near impossible, not after when it’s obvious. Nice try though!

6. Entrepreneur
Second only to inheritance as the most likely path to riches. And let’s not forget that every inheritance had its beginnings in some kind of enterprise that made money (legal or not… just ask the rum-running Kennedys). There is a common myth that 4 out of 5 businesses fail in the first 5 years. What’s not mentioned is that virtually every successful entrepreneur got there only after numerous “failures.” You don’t learn to play the piano, speak French, or do calculus overnight either. For those that truly possess the right stuff, and don’t give up, the dream can come true.

On the way you can expect, many disappointments and setbacks, like bankruptcy, divorce, and depression. Even then it’s a long shot with the one that makes it heralded and shown much adulation while the guy that did much the same thing, perhaps without enough lucky breaks, is ridiculed as a chump and a nobody. If you do make it, just be sure you don’t drop dead at 55 with your trophy-wife holding your bankbook as her trophy. Maybe the “dumb blonde” was smarter than she looked? She lived the good life all those years and will likely live to a ripe old age with your money to keep her cozy at night.

7. Investments
Understand this, and you’ll know it all regarding this topic. All, absolutely and I mean absolutely all, so-called “investments” are gambles. One big crapshoot with the bookies calling themselves stockbrokers. Of course they aren’t called that anymore, they were found out to be in cahoots with the analysts down the hall, so they call themselves “financial advisors” instead. This is like calling the drunk behind you at the blackjack table in Vegas a “gaming consultant” as he slobbers his advice on whether you should hold or fold. He lost all his money and now feels compelled to help you do the same.

If a scheme had no risk there would be no upside. More risk, more gain. The market quickly finds out and adjusts. The more complicated an investment sounds, the more likely you will lose your ass. No government seals, or big company reputation, are going to stand in the way of people taking your money. If anybody could beat the market, and billions have been wasted trying to develop a system to do so, they would soon own the entire planet. Last time I looked it was close but not there yet.

Before we go to the next method, we must look at real estate. Here was the one surefire way to riches and fortune! And not just the fart cats, but the common man too. All you had to do is buyem and flipem using zero-down loans. Fast forward to 2007. They are flipping them all right, except it’s burgers not houses. GAME OVER…. YOU LOSE. This balloon, like all before it, has popped. Everybody looked like geniuses o the way up. I don’t see many Einsteins now.

8. Inventions
An invention and a dollar get you a cup of (cheap) coffee. Again, it’s so unusual for an invention to have any real value, to succeed in the cruel cynical marketplace, that it will get widespread media coverage if it does. Not if it fails that’s very not newsworthy. Unless you spend millions, go crazy, and shoot up the place. Then you bought your 15 minutes of fame. The odds are miniscule, but just possible enough to keep the suckers investing thousands of dollars and years of their lives trying. Many get sucked in by the “invention marketing” scammers that tell you your dream is real while they fleece you like a sheep. Baaaa. There is a booby prize – if you do get your patent you achieve a kind of immortality. You will live on forever as some obscure footnote in some other chump’s patent application. Hooray!

9. A Life of Crime
Tired of waiting? Watching your prime years going by with nothing to show for it? Here’s your fast-track short cut to the money. All you need is a gun, a bag, a cheap Halloween mask, and balls of steel as you head off to the bank for a surprise withdrawal. As crazy as it sounds, you can definitely do this and get way with it. Nobody at the bank wants to get shot protecting a cheapskate employer that pays them doodly. Inside they are scared, but cheering you on. The deal here is that the average haul is a lousy few thousand dollars. To make this work you have to rob hundreds of banks. You’ll get caught at your third bank and possibly shot. Then it’s 20 years hard time. Do the math.

How about drugs? This used to work. Back in the old days before crazy Columbian drug lords going all Scarface on competitors. Before the government anti-drug war became as sophisticated as Star Wars. Before the Patriot Act and pervasive ubiquitous surveillance. But then again, there’s a lot of guys in Mendocino County and Vancouver growing boutique high-potency buds and banking millions a year (or at least stashing that much in a hole somewhere). But get caught and draconian mandatory sentencing laws will ensure you do more time than the murderer in the next cell.

How about the mob? Watch the Sopranos. See anybody other that Big Tony with a fancy house? But then again, a good hit-man can make nice money and gets to kill people at the same time. What’s better than that?

You could always just print up some money. Watch “To Live and Die in L.A.” to see how it a little more complicated than you may think. With the new generation of sophisticated engineered currency, it’s so difficult and expensive you may as well do a legit scam.

How about graft? Get yourself elected to public office. Go on the take. Put you buddies in plum jobs and make them kickback part of their paychecks. Rezone your (secret partner’s) swampland and build condos. The possibilities are endless. Few get caught, and when they do they get book deals.

10. Sell Yourself
You can try selling your ass. It’s the oldest profession. If you have the youth and looks you may get up to a $1,000 per trick. More likely a few hundred. You will burn out and get old. Eventually you’re a streetwalker supporting a meth habit. Nice plan. Unless you’re the madam or pimp. Then you can exploit others for money. Good for you.

Want to make money fast. Here’s your chance. Perhaps you can literally sell your self for spare parts. Sell your kidney. Hey you got two, right? Or whatever other part of your anatomy you can do without. Bad news is that there used to be big money to be had, $10,000 to $20,000 or more. Now there’s a black market from India and other third-world countries. Maybe you can get $500?

The Exceptions Prove The Rule
I can hear it now. “I know so-and-so who made it big on Wall Street, with his invention, in Hollywood, at Microsoft…. So what? Tell me the names of the thousands of losers standing behind him.

The dreams persist for exactly that reason. If the slots at Vegas never paid off, how many people would keep stuffing quarters in them all day? They are programmed to pay off by psychologists in a way that is purposely addictive. Like the tobacco companies do with nicotine doses. Enough people make it so that it seems possible anybody can make it. They can’t.

There is One Way
Commission sales. Why? Because it allows an unlimited upside, with a limited downside. The upside is proportional to the number of deals you can put together and how much per deal you get (along with any continuing residual income). When launching a business, you might invest and lose your life savings, and worse, go deep into debt and be forced into bankruptcy. As a commission sales rep you are not expected to invest much beyond simple personal office and phone expenses. Your downside consists of these expenses plus whatever income you gave up from a salary gig.

There are many commission sales positions offering a shot at hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. People give up trying to save money as they struggle to keep afloat in a ruthless globalized economy that is forcing more and more of us to compete for jobs against those willing to work for a dollar a day. If you can get ahead, way ahead, by vastly increasing your earnings, you can finally maintain a middle class lifestyle and have some left over to save and invest.

You have little to lose, won’t go to jail, can keep both kidneys, won’t have to kiss ass (or sell yours). Ivy league educations, pedigrees, connections, supernatural physical abilities, or artistic talent is not required. Yet, you can earn what many of those lucky enough to have these advantages (at least the bottom tier) do.

The odds are way better that you will succeed and get rich here than for any of the above fantasy long-shots. You can control your own destiny more than with any other endeavor. Top gun closers willing to take on the risks will find many opportunities to prove themselves. Many have done so and are doing so right now. You can join them.