The Only Thing That Guarantees Your Financial Independence

by Alexander Green, Chief Investment Strategist
Monday, August 2, 2010: Issue #1314

Reading Tom Shales in The Washington Post recently, it dawned on me why so many people who should achieve financial independence don’t – and probably never will.

I’m not talking about those who are uneducated, unskilled or just can’t pull their lives together because of drugs, alcohol or crushing personal circumstances. I’m talking about the millions of bright, talented people who have plenty going for them and should be financially secure but aren’t.

If you happen to be one of them, just listen to Tom Shales. He offers a case study in the mindset of personal failure…

The Blame Game

Shales recently reviewed a new primetime TV show by self-help guru Tony Robbins, bestselling author of Awaken the Giant Within and many other books.

I haven’t read Robbins’ books or seen his show and no doubt never will. But I do know his basic mantra: If you want to achieve something in this world, you’d better quit whining and pull yourself up by your bootstraps, especially during tough times like these.

Is this message old, corny, and utterly predictable? Of course. The truth generally is.

But Shales has a bigger beef. He’s irritated that Robbins is “filthy rich” from selling “you know, jillions of books.”

Moreover, he calls Robbins’ message of personal accountability “trash TV” and moans that, “At no point does Robbins suggest that it just might possibly be society that has failed… All the bankruptcies, foreclosures, ruthless credit card companies and crooked captains of commerce – they must just be coincidences.”

Someone pass me the world’s smallest violin…

In a Word: Responsibility

The flip side of Shales’ rant is that those of us who didn’t buy more house than we could afford… didn’t use our home equity as an ATM machine… didn’t get caught up in the mania to flip land and condos because “real estate always goes up”… didn’t max out our credit cards or accept credit we couldn’t manage… we were just lucky, right?

Personally, I find it hard to swallow codswallop like this and keep breakfast down, too.

Sure, there are plenty of good, hard-working people who lost their jobs and fell into tough times through no fault of their own. But the Declaration of Independence proclaims the right to pursue happiness, not a guarantee that “society” will provide it.

Like me, I bet you know plenty of people who lived well beyond their means during the boom times. Now they’re paying for their mistakes. It’s a chastening experience. But most will emerge from this downturn, wiser and hardier souls.

Snivelers like Shales, on the other hand, who blame economic misfortune on corporate corruption (a minuscule portion of all U.S. business activity), greedy lenders (who apparently hog-tied their customers and forced them to take out variable-rate mortgages at gunpoint), or society (”anybody but me,” in other words), are destined to fail and fail again.

Until you take responsibility for your own actions and decisions, you cannot succeed. It’s just one of the laws of life. So what does this mean to you as an investor?

Four Simple Steps to Financial Independence

In short here are four simple steps to achieving financial independence…

  • It’s up to you to maximize your income and minimize your outgo.
  • It’s up to you to live within your means, use credit wisely (or not at all) and save as much as you reasonably can.
  • It’s up to you to outline your financial future and follow a workable plan to achieve long-term financial independence.
  • It’s up to you to invest your money wisely, keep a sharp eye on taxes and expenses, or make certain that you delegate this responsibility wisely.

This is how ordinary people begin building wealth in order to achieve financial independence. Of course, it’s much simpler and easier to blame “society” or “the breaks” for your problems.

But carping and complaining isn’t terribly becoming and – as Tony Robbins surely knows – it doesn’t change things anyway.

Good investing,

Alexander Green