You’re Broke Because You Want to Be
by Alexander Green, Investment U Chief Investment Strategist
Monday, February 27, 2012: Issue #1717

A few years ago, my family and I signed up with a local charitable organization to buy Christmas presents for kids whose families could not afford them. We were assigned a local family we had never met.

The charity told us how many boys and girls were in the household, along with their names and ages. My kids and I had a grand time shopping for their presents – and my wife Karen, being the good sport, spent hours wrapping them.

A couple weeks before Christmas, we called the family, got directions and arranged a time to come over. The next day, I loaded up my family and the gifts. We drove across town and parked in front of a modest house in a “wrong-side-of-the-tracks” neighborhood. My kids were so excited to be delivering presents they could barely contain themselves.

When the family answered the door, their kids starting cheering, my kids starting acting rambunctious, and the parents, of course, invited us all to come inside. When we did, I couldn’t help noticing a couple things. One, while the home itself was rather plain, there was a towering stack of DVDs next to the television set. (I’m talking a mini Eiffel Tower of DVDs.) And, secondly, there were two huge bird cages in the living room, each holding a majestic, beautifully-colored macaw. There was a 50-gallon aquarium filled with tropical fish, too.

Quite frankly, that bothered me. Why, I kept asking myself, was I buying Christmas presents for a family with hundreds of dollars worth of DVDs and thousands of dollars worth of exotic birds? Perhaps I was wrong, but that evening I left their house feeling like someone had stamped the word “sucker” on my back.

A Harsh Reminder

I was reminded of this the other day when I was browsing through a bookstore at Miami International and my eyes fell on a new book titled You’re Broke Because You Want to Be.

It’s written by Larry Winget, a fellow who calls himself “The Pitbull of Personal Development,” whatever that means. Although I’ve never seen it, he is also the star of A&E’s reality series “Big Spender,” where – in cahoots with family members – he ambushes over-extended consumers in the middle of a shopping spree and offers a plan to straighten out their lives financially.

Flipping through the book, I couldn’t help but chuckle every few pages. This guy is funny. And he offers “tough love” financial advice to out of control borrowers and spenders.

He starts out by assuring readers that his title is not meant to insult the poor. “Broke is not a condition like being poor,” he writes. “Broke is a situation you find yourself in because you are either underearning or overspending.”

When it comes to saving and spending, Winget doesn’t believe people have money problems. Instead, they have behavior problems. And he doesn’t bother with any sweet talk. “I’m not the guy you go to so he can put his arm around you and say, ‘That’s okay, it will be alright.’ I’m the guy you go to when you are circling the drain.”

Winget says people who are sinking financially should forget about thinking positive thoughts and start taking positive action. “No one else is to blame for your situation,” he writes. “Broke didn’t sneak up on you in the night. A stack of unpaid bills didn’t show up while you weren’t looking. You didn’t suddenly get behind. You chose to spend your money the way you did. Your life is a reflection of the choices you have made. If you want a better life, start making better choices.”

Winget knows what he’s talking about. He grew up in Oklahoma so poor he had only one pair of pants to wear to school every day. When he got rich later in life, his business went under and he was forced to file personal bankruptcy. Within a few years, he was a multi-millionaire again.

He warns readers that there is no easy way to financial solvency. You either have to make more, spend less, or both. His book discusses dozens of blunt suggestions like these: Cut up the credit cards. Give up cable television. Get a cheaper car. Move. Give up your home phone – and get a new cell phone plan. Cut your insurance expense. Give up your high-speed internet connection. Stop eating out. Stop going out. Give up the salon. Drop the gym membership. Stop smoking. Sell stuff, “including the DVD collection.” (And perhaps the exotic birds, too.) He also has sensible advice about how readers can upgrade their skills and earn more.

Winget says, “I am not a blow-smoke-up-your-skirt, you-can-do-anything-with-a-positive-attitude kind of guy. I am a nose-to-the-grindstone, no-excuses-will-be-accepted kind of guy.”

This is a small book, but it packs a powerful punch. And perhaps its most important message is this: “Life is not made up of the haves and the have-nots – but rather the wills and the will-nots.”

This is a philosophy most Investment U readers have already adopted and put into practice. But, if you’re like me, you may have a circle of friends, co-workers, kids, or grandkids who are learning the hard way – or soon will be.

Do them a favor and tell them about this book. It’s blunt. It’s plainspoken. But if you really care about them, send it to them anyway. Perhaps anonymously, but send it.

Good Investing,

Alexander Green