Want to get rich? Stay in school and save your money.
New York Times financial columnist Sullivan (Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Other Don't, 2010) has a deeper, more sophisticated take on money management than all that, but the point remains: Most wealthy people place a premium on education, have voted on that with their wallets, and have learned the fine art of deferring gratification with an eye to building a portfolio. Writing sometimes too breezily but always engagingly, Sullivan distinguishes between “rich,” meaning simply having a lot of money, and “wealthy,” meaning “having more money than you needed to do all the things you wanted to do.” That distinction—the thin green line of the title—is important, since it gauges financial well-being on one’s tastes and requirements. In that sense, a person without encumbrances who has $100,000 can be wealthier than one leveraged to the hilt and worth 10 times that on paper. So being rich does not translate to being financially secure. Nor does it necessarily mean having successfully captured huge swaths of the market; by Sullivan’s account, the top 1 percent of earners in this country had “just about the same percentage they had in 1936.” Of course, since that time, the 1 percent has become adept at rent-seeking. All the same, they distinguish themselves in other ways, including spending less money eating out and putting more into retirement accounts. “Over years,” Sullivan notes, “those differences become enormous.” Other subtle differences come into play, as well. There’s a reason employers are reluctant to hire workers with GEDs, for instance, and why being rich doesn’t always equate to having good taste. Still, as one of Sullivan’s chapter titles puts it by way of summary and slogan, “It’s better to be wealthy than rich, even if you’re poor.” Therein lies the secret to security.
There’s good how-to stuff here, but Sullivan’s added value is his gentle insistence that wealth and money aren’t synonyms.