I grew up pretty poor. I had a father who was a chronic gambler, a mom (who was pretty much a single mom) who worked menial jobs. I grew up not knowing whether my mom would be able to pay the rent at the end of the month, and if we’d be homeless.
A lot of stress for a kid growing up.
Anyways, I grew up with a very complicated relationship with money. I did see money as the “root of all evil” — seeing how much it fucked up my family life. I saw relatives fighting one another when it came to money, and how money would make relationships between family friends go sour.
I’m currently 30 years old, and for the first time in my life — I feel financially stable. Cindy and I are married, we have money in the bank, and I no longer need to live paycheck to paycheck. I’m fortunate and blessed to do what I love, am my own boss, and no longer am a slave to the 9-5.
My relationship with money is a lot healthier now. I see money as a tool — to help empower myself to do the work that I love (in order to help others). I don’t see money as an end in itself. I know that I don’t need any more money. Yet I still keep working to earn more money to help my family and my loved ones.
I know that up to a certain degree, money has given me a security blanket and cushion in my life — to not do what I don’t want to do.
Money alone doesn’t equal freedom. Money doesn’t buy happiness. But I’ve learned from personal experience that not having money leads to misery. I think the “golden mean” of money is desirable — not having too much money, nor being broke.
Anyways, I’m not a millionaire declaring to know the answer to all of your money problems. I’m still very poor compared to other people out there in the world.
Yet I feel wealthy. I feel contentment in my heart, and I no longer feel stress or anxiety about my finances.
Consider this list of ‘tips’ as advice I would have given my 18-year-old self. None of this will apply to you — but I hope it might spark some new ideas for yourself:
1. If you need to convince yourself to buy something, don’t buy it
One of the biggest money mistakes I’d make is buying things for the sake of it. I would simply try to buy the newest smartphone, camera, device, clothing trend— or whatever, simply to fit in, feel current, and feel better about myself.
The problem is that I didn’t need a lot of the stuff I bought. What I would do prevent regret of a purchasing decision was to give myself a rational or reason why I “needed” something.
For example, if I wanted to buy a new digital camera— I would come up with a multitude of reasons why I “needed” to upgrade. But the more reasons I conjured up — the more excuses and false reasons I was giving myself. I tried to convince myself of making a certain decision that wasn’t necessary.
The next time you need a reason to buy something — don’t buy it.
Necessary purchasing decisions don’t need more than one reason (credit to Nassim Taleb for the idea).
If you really need something — just buy it. If you need more than 1 reason to buy something, don’t buy it.
2. Never be an “early adopter”
I am a sucker for new technology. However one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to never be an “early adopter” — never buy “version 1.0” of anything.
The problem of any new product is that there are often bugs, and problems often arise.
For example, when I needed to buy a new laptop (after mine got stolen in France), I tried to decide between the 12’’ MacBook and the 13’’ MacBook Pro. I ultimately decided against buying the 12’’ MacBook because it was the first version. I soon found out afterwards from my “early adopter” friends that the 12’’ MacBook was severely underpowered for most things. And not only that, but a little less than a year later, there was a significant processor upgrade.
Yet with the 13’’ MacBook Pro — the MacBook Pro has been out for so many generations. So I knew that the MacBook Pro wouldn’t have any issues. And it hasn’t. It has been a wonderful machine — with great processing power, speed, battery life, and (lots of) ports (which has helped me during presentations and importing images).
Whenever you see a shiny new anything come out (new car, new laptop, new smartphone, new digital camera) — always avoid buying version 1.0. It will prevent a lot of headaches, potential problems, and buyer’s remorse.
3. Don’t skimp on things which bring you joy
The secret of money is that it can buy you happiness — only if you spend it on experiences and meaningful things that bring joy into your life.
For example, photography books bring me a lot of joy. They inspire me, motivate me, and uplift me. They are a necessary investment towards my happiness, and bring me joy.
Similarly, traveling brings me joy. I love the experience of pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, meeting new people, and opening up my mind to other cultures.
The problem that I think people make is that they are too frugal — they don’t spend money on anything. I think to become wealthy and to use your money wisely is to not spend money on things that don’t bring you joy — but to spend money on things that bring you true joy.
How do you know whether something or not will bring you joy? My suggestion: think if whatever you buy is an experience, or a physical thing.
A physical thing rarely brings you lasting satisfaction — we usually get used to our possessions in about 2 weeks.
However an experience is a gift that keeps on giving. We can keep reliving our past experiences. Not only that, but experiences help us grow and develop our skills and consciousness.
4. Earn more money, and spend less money
This is such an easy concept— I cannot believe it has escaped me for so long.
I think the easy formula to wealth is this: earn more money, and spend less money.
A lot of people who get raises in their jobs, or earn more money make the sucker mistake of upgrading their lifestyles. They get a raise, then immediately buy a BMW, a bigger house, or go out and eat more often. Their expenses start to equal their income. They don’t get any richer — they stay the same.
But if you started to earn more money, and spend less money — you will earn a surplus of wealth. You can save that wealth, and end up investing it however you would like.
Currently as I’m writing these words, I’m at a cafe in Hanoi. I’m earning Western-wages, while living in a developing country. As my business grows, I’m earning more money. Yet living in Vietnam, I’m spending probably 5-10 times less money than living in the SF-Bay Area.
Not only that, but I’ve been trying to consciously “downgrade” my lifestyle. I used to have a lust for expensive digital cameras— but now I’m sticking with a simple point-and-shoot camera. I used to always want to buy new clothes— now I stick to a few basics I buy at UNIQLO. I used to own tons of shoes— now I only stick with one pair of shoes at a time.
Think of how you can earn extra money — if that means putting in extra hours at work, working weekends, picking up another job, freelancing, or something else. Earn more income.
Then secondly, think of how you can spend less money. Eat out less. Cook more at home. Downgrade your wardrobe — spend less on your clothing. Downgrade your lifestyle — get rid of your car, and take more public transportation. Remember you don’t always need the best— settle for the basics.
Then take the difference, and use that money to pay off your debts, or to save up cash in the bank. With more money at your disposal, the more opportunity you have for freedom.
5. Never go into debt
Debt is slavery — they’ve known this for thousands of years. Peons were enslaved to their masters, because they were in constant debt. In today’s society — anyone with debt (no matter how rich they are) are still slaves to the banking industry. You can earn a million dollars a year, but if you’re several million dollars in debt, you’re still a slave. You need to keep working (perhaps at a job you hate) just in order to pay off your debts, and keep up with your lifestyle.
The biggest advice I would have given my 18 year old self is to avoid debt at all costs. At all costs.
That means to not take out any student loans. I fortunately got enough scholarships, financial aid, and a student-work job when I was in college to not need a loan. But one semester, I mistakenly thought I needed a loan to pay for my housing— so I took out $10,000. Then I got a bunch of money for my housing. Oops. As a 19 kid I had $10,000 sitting in my checking account.
I used some of the money to buy my sister a (then) new MacBook laptop. I used some money to upgrade my camera (from a Canon 350D to a Canon 5D) and bought a few lenses. I went out with my ex-girlfriend and ate out a lot. I also bought a round-trip ticket to Europe to backpack for a month.
Before I knew it, that $10,000 was gone. And after graduating, I had to work off my ass to pay off that money.
I don’t regret all the experiences I had with the money I spent— but honestly, I could’ve done without it.
If anything, by not having money — you are forced to be more creative with your resources.
For my future kid— if he/she gets into a school he/she wants (but needs to take out loans) I will tell them not to go. Better go to a cheaper school and avoid loans and debt, rather than to go to a prestigious school and get $200,000 in debt (happened to a lot of my friends).
There is no worse feeling than being in debt — you feel like a prisoner. You go to sleep, with the heaviness of the debt weighing on your heart. Or at least that is how I felt when I still had my student debt as well as credit card debt.
I’m happy to say now that I have no debt. None at all. And I feel free. I don’t need to do work I don’t want to do — just in order to pay off my debt. I can pretty much do anything I want with my time.
If you’re in debt, try to pay it off as quickly as possible.
If you’re thinking of starting a business, doing a project, or anything that requires going into debt — I would say don’t do it. Only do things you can pay in cash. It will be a lot safer, and not only that— but having limited money will force you to be more creative as an entrepreneur.
Never forget: debt is slavery. And you don’t want to be a slave.
6. Don’t desire anything
To be wealthy isn’t to have everything in the world. Rather, true wealth is when you no longer need anything else.
True wealth is to be content. To not desire anything else.
And it is the quickest way to become wealthy.
Just consider all the billionaires who are still poor— because they desire more. They might own 100 homes, but they hear their friend has a private space ship. Then the guy with the private space ship is jealous of the other guy with 10 private space ships.
We can never have “enough” until we look at what we already own, and know that it is enough.
Ask yourself the question: “How do I know that I don’t already have too much?” (credit to Seneca)
We often feel poor because we don’t have enough — because we’re comparing ourselves to those who are richer than we are.
Rather, compare yourself to those who are poorer than you. Suddenly your smartphone, camera, and lifestyle seems a lot richer.
Remember, wealth is all about your opinion and perspective. It isn’t about how many 0’s you have in your bank account.
7. Seek for “good enough” not “perfect”
As consumers in today’s society — we always want the best. We want the best car. We want the best home. We want to live in the best neighborhood. We want our kids to go to the best school. We want to have the best smartphone, camera, and laptop.
What if we lived a life where we could be content with “good enough” — not the best? What if we lived a life where we didn’t always want to upgrade our smartphone every 6 months? What if we looked at the things we owned, and our lifestyle, and realized that it was “good enough”?
For a month, don’t use the word “best” in your vocabulary (especially when it comes to purchasing decisions). See how much more money you will save in life, how much less you desire, and how much more content you will be in life.
8. Only own 1 thing of each thing
To me minimalism is about not owning anything superfluous.
For me, I get choice anxiety if I own too many things. If I owned too many shoes, I would have no idea what to wear that day. The same would go for clothes, digital cameras, or devices.
Therefore I did an experiment— I tried to subtract all the superfluous possessions from my life — until I was left with only 1 of each thing.
For example, as I type these words I pretty much only own one pair of shoes, one type of shirt, one type of boxers, one type of socks, one type of pants, one laptop, one camera, and one phone.
My life is so less stressful.
I wake up and wear the same thing everyday (of course, I own several pairs of the same item). I don’t own more than one pair of shoes so I can wear the same pair everyday and not worry about “coordinating” my outfit.
When it comes to my photography, I only have one camera and lens (Ricoh GR II) — which allows me to focus more on my photography, and less about my gear.
People say variety is the spice of life. I don’t disagree with them. But at the same time, I think life is far easier when you limit your possessions to 1 of each thing, or 1 type of each thing. It is less decision making in your life, less stress, and less money spent on superfluous things.
Look at your possessions, and ask yourself: which 10% of my possessions do I use 90% of the time? Which pair of shoes do you wear 90% of the time? The same goes with your outfits, or digital tools.
Everyday try to subtract your superfluous possessions. Sell them, give them away, or donate them, or trash them. The more you shed, the lighter you will feel, and the more energy, headspace, and attention you will have for your more important creative work.
9. Anchor your mind to lower prices
In the book “Thinking Fast, and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman — I learned this concept of “anchoring.” The concept is that whenever it comes to prices of things, we always “anchor” our conception of how much something “should” cost by comparing it with the price of something else.
For example, let’s say you’re shopping for a new camera. You’re not sure how much you want to spend. You meet a salesman, who shows you a brand new Leica which costs $7,000. You are shocked, and will never spend so much on a camera! Then the salesman shows you a $2,000 camera— then you think to yourself, “What a deal!” You buy it on the spot.
Imagine another scenario: you are shopping for a new camera, and the first camera the salesman shows you is a $2,000 camera. You then don’t think it is that great of a deal — and you end up buying a $1,000 camera instead.
The only thing that is difference is that your mind “anchors” itself to the first price you see.
The secret to spending less money in life is to never anchor yourself to high prices. Rather, anchor your mind to lower prices.
The next time you want to buy a car, go to the dealership and first only look at the cheapest cars. Then by comparison, every car will seem expensive. So you will end up spending less on a car.
Do the same with laptops, smartphones, or any consumer goods. Always look at the cheapest prices, then work your way up. This will “anchor” your mind to cheaper prices, and cause you to be less likely to over-spend.
10. Don’t live in a consumerist environment
I’m a sucker for consumerism. Whenever I see advertisements, commercials, or any marketing campaigns — I suddenly want to buy something new. I know I’m not immune to it. Neither are you.
The only way to escape spending so much money on “keeping up with the Joneses” or wasting money on stuff you don’t need is to change your environment.
For example, when I lived in Orange County, California for a summer— the only exercise Cindy and I could get was at the mall. And when we went to the mall, I would suddenly feel the urge to buy all this shit I didn’t need. But I still wanted it — I thought if I bought “X” I would look cooler, people would respect me more, and I would feel more confident in myself.
However once I moved away from there (currently living in Vietnam)— I was shocked by how much crap I wanted to buy that wasn’t necessary. I also realized how many car dealerships there were in Southern California — which always suckered me into desiring all these fancy cars.
Know that your environment affects your consumerist tendencies more so than you’d like to. Nobody is immune to it. If you think you’re immune to it — you’re more likely to be suckered into buying stuff you don’t need.
If you really want to spend less money, live more humbly, and simply — the best advice I have is to change your environment. That might mean moving away from where you live, to a simpler city, neighborhood, or environment.
I know that when I lived in Berkeley, I certainly felt less ambitious than when I lived in Los Angeles. And I can imagine that living in Portland would cause you to be less of a consumerist than if you lived in New York City.
Of course you don’t always have the control to change your environment— but change your lifestyle in subtle ways. Avoid going to the mall, shopping areas, or any place that might excite any of your cravings to buy stuff.
11. Don’t consume advertising
I have a personal rule: I don’t consume anything with advertising in it.
For example, I don’t watch TV because it is full of advertising. I don’t read magazines, because half of it is advertisements. I have ad-blockers on my browsers, so I don’t get bombarded by ads.
Going back to the prior point — advertising is more sneaky than we’d like to think. Advertising shifts our perception of a certain product subtly, without us even knowing it.
The only way consumerism works is by creating a sense of craving or desire. A desire for something we don’t already own. That is why Apple is so successful — their advertising convinces us that our digital tools aren’t good enough. And by buying an Apple product, you will become more creative, artistic, and innovative.
Do a purge. Get rid of anything, or unsubscribe from anything that relies on advertising. Pay for your services if it removes advertising (for example, I pay for Spotify so I don’t have to listen to ads). I also have friends who subscribe to YouTube Red so they don’t have to watch the advertisements.
Unsubscribe from all magazines of yours that have advertising. Install adblockers on all your browsers. Stop watching TV, or listening to the ad-supported radio.
Distance yourself from advertising (as much as possible) for a month. Gauge yourself— do you have fewer consumerist desires from before? And check your finances— did you spend less money this month?
12. More money, more problems
Biggie Smalls said it best— “Mo money, mo problems.”
We think that billionaires are the happiest people because they have all the money in the world.
More money = more stress. The more money you have, the more you have to stress about the IRS trying to “steal” your hard-earned money. The more money you have, the more greedy family members you have trying to siphon money off you. The more money you have, the more family members are (secretly) hoping for you to pass away (quickly) so they can receive an inheritance.
The more money you have, the more stressed you are about investing your money (what will give you the best return?) And even if you’re rich — losing money is extremely painful. If you have $100 billion dollars, and lose $20 billion dollars, you will still feel massive pain.
Money is desirable—up to a certain point. Once you have enough money to pay your rent, to put a little into your savings, and no longer stress— having more money won’t add more happiness to your life. In-fact, having too much money will ruin and add stress to your life.
Read all the stories of those who suddenly win the lottery. It is possibly the worst thing that can happen to you.
Realize that the richest people are often the most miserable. There’s a saying, “Show me a 100 billionaires, and I’ll show you 99 miserable people.”
More money = more problems and complications. Never forget that.
13. Books are one of the best “bang for the buck” investments
If you want to become wealthy, I say invest in books — and invest in yourself.
A $20 book can be one of the best bang-for-the-buck investments you make. Even if a book gives you 1 new idea that pushes you in a positive way, it is money well-spent.
With digital technology and e-books, books are becoming even cheaper. You can even find free PDF’s of many books online. Some of the most influential philosophy and history books from the past are easily accessible online for free.
Never regret spending money on a book. Just think about it — a book is often a distillation of one individual’s entire life’s work. A person can spend 30 years working on one book. And it will only cost you $20 — and take you a few hours to go through. What an effective way to learn life lessons, and apply them to yours (the best shortcut).
The best investment isn’t in the stock market— it is in yourself. The more money you spend on improving your knowledge, ideas, and creativity — the more rewards you will reap.
You might reap these rewards in terms of achieving tranquility, peace, calm, happiness, or excitement or innovative ideas about business, art, or life.
Eat food to feed your body. Eat books to feed your mind.
14. Invest in yourself before you invest in others
You’re always the best investment. Don’t invest in others, until you have properly invested in yourself.
I once read a saying, “Don’t water the garden of your neighbor, if your own garden is parched.”
We need to learn how to take care of ourselves before we learn to take care of others.
For example, if you’re struggling financially — don’t lend your friend or family member money. It will only strain your relationship. Only help others financially if you’re financially secure yourself. And as a tip — never “borrow” money to friends or family. Only give them as gifts (with no strings attached) — and then the money won’t ruin your relationship.
Never invest in others, before you invest in yourself. And I also suggest, don’t help others financially (until you’re financially secure).
15. Don’t invest in stocks
The stocks won’t make you rich. There is a ton of evidence out there which proves that even “expert” stock-traders aren’t better than monkeys throwing darts at a board.
And not only that— but even if you achieve impressive results in the market (let’s say 30% increase in a stock) — that pales in comparison in what you can invest in yourself.
Consider this— you can increase your investment (if you invest in yourself) by a factor of 10x.
A practical example: let’s say that you have $1,000. You can invest that in the stock market, and maybe you get a 30% return. Then you have $1300. You earned $300. Not bad, but that won’t change your life or finances.
But let’s say you take that $1,000 and you invest in a digital camera. Perhaps you can use that camera to start shooting commercial work, and eventually you can earn $10,000 of profits by investing in that tool.
Of course these are just fictitious numbers— but think of how you can invest your money into yourself.
How can you earn more money by investing in yourself, instead of the stock market?
Could you invest in yourself by attending classes, workshops, by traveling, or starting some new business?
16. Only take “calculated risks”
The common misconception that people have about entrepreneurs is that they love risk for the sake of risk.
Wrong. The smartest entrepreneurs make “calculated risks”. They know what their known downside is — and prevent situations where they can lose 100% of their money.
So if you want to start a business, know that you might fail. Set yourself up so you don’t lose your entire fortune in one bad investment.
The same goes when you invest in a business of a friend, or that other business opportunity you hear of.
Be risk averse — be protective of your money. Take calculated risks.
17. Becoming rich = not going broke
This is a lesson I learned from the philosopher Nassim Taleb — being rich isn’t about making a ton of money. Rather, the best way to get rich is to prevent yourself from going broke.
If you run a business, one of the hardest things is to keep your business alive. So rather than thinking of how to maximize your profits, consider how you can prevent yourself from going out of business.
If you’re an employee— think of how you can build your skills to not become redundant in the workplace. Perhaps that means building new skills, learning new technical skills, or by expanding your abilities.
Don’t think of how to get “richer” and how to earn more money — think of how you can insure yourself from going broke.
18. Over-estimate your expenses, under-estimate your income
My mistake: I think I earn more money than I do, and I think I spend less money than I actually do.
If you want to become more economical — do the opposite. Think you earn less than you actually do, and consider your expenses to be higher than you imagine.
It is easy for us to get fooled by ourselves. We tend to see the world through rose-colored glasses. We over-estimate ourselves, and under-estimate our negatives.
Under-estimate your income, and over-estimate your expenses. Imagine yourself to be poorer than you actually are, and cut back on your expenses. This will help you lower your expenses, lower your lifestyle, and then earn/save more money.
19. A $100 steak won’t bring you 10x the happiness of a $10 burger
Money is funny — we think that buying more expensive things will bring us more happiness.
Yet happiness doesn’t happen in proportion in how much money we spend.
That $100 steak won’t bring you 10x the happiness of a $10 burger. A $10,000 digital camera won’t bring you 10x the happiness of a $1,000 digital camera. You can apply this theory to every part of your life.
Realize that there is a law of “diminishing returns.” Past a certain point— more expensive things won’t bring us more pleasure.
That means figuring out what that “sweet spot” is. Invest in things that have the best “bang for the buck.” Avoid buying the most expensive of anything (the gains are often very minimal).
20. Think rich, look poor
“Think rich, look poor.” – Andy Warhol
The people who wear brand-name clothes (in a blatant and flashy way) are often the poorest people with the most debt. They do it because they are insecure of themselves, and want to show off to others.
Often the truly rich wear high-end clothes, yet with no branding or tags. They love great quality things, yet don’t like to show off.
If you need to “peacock” and show off your consumer goods— you’re probably not that rich. If you were truly rich, you would be content with the money you have, and need no external symbols to show off your wealth.
True richness exists in your mind. Dress “poorer” than you think you need to. Wear basic clothes, drive a basic car, and own basic things.
Yet in your mind, be wealthy. Know that you have everything that you need— and that you were destined for greatness in your life. Spend less time wasting money and effort on physical things, and more effort and time on creating beautiful art to empower humanity.
21. Live a poorer lifestyle than you “should”
We all live according to our means.
My suggestion: live “poorer” than you think you “should.”
That might mean buying cheaper things, even if you can afford the more expensive option.
This might mean buying the generic version of a drug, by buying the non-organic food at the grocery store (even if you can afford the more expensive option), and by buying the car that is below your pay-grade.
That means investing in digital tools, cameras, and devices that aren’t the most high-end.
It might mean buying the least expensive coffee at a coffee shop. Or buying the cheapest thing on the dinner menu when you eat out.
Adjust to buying cheaper things than you can afford, and learn to find contentment.
22. A Lexus is an expensive Toyota Camry
We often get suckered by symbolism and branding.
But a good way to become a non-sucker is this: downgrade the value of things that seem fancy.
For example, a Lexus is just an expensive Toyota Camry.
If you’re eating an expensive filet mignon — know it is just a dead carcass of a cow.
If you see an expensive wine — realize that it is just (expensive) fermented grape juice.
If you see an expensive sports-car (let’s say a Porsche) — remind yourself, “It is just an expensive toy for adults — kind of like how kids play with toy cars.”
That brand-new smartphone is just a metal slab with a touch-screen.
That expensive outfit is just cotton stitched together by some minimum-wage worker.
Don’t get suckered by marketing, branding, and advertising. Ignore the brand names — just look at something, and describe it for what it is. And constantly degrade your vision or value of these physical goods. Then you will desire them less.
23. Consider the 2-week rule
One thing I learned in psychology is “hedonic adaptation” — whenever we buy something new, or change our lifestyle, we tend to adjust to it in about 2 weeks.
For example, if you buy that new expensive sports car, you think it will bring you happiness for the rest of your life. But after 2 weeks, it is another box with a steering wheel, and 4 wheels.
If you buy that new big house, you adjust to it in 2 weeks. The same goes for the neighborhood you move into — the first 2 weeks are exciting, then it soon looses its allure.
If you realize that you adjust to anything in 2-weeks, realize that you can also adjust to the quality of cheaper things, and for living a poorer lifestyle.
If you’re used to living in a fancy neighborhood, know that if you move into a poorer and less hip neighborhood, you will “get used to it” in 2 weeks.
If you’re trying to buy a new digital camera, realize that buying a cheaper camera will bring you as much satisfaction as an expensive digital camera (if you wait 2 weeks).
Opt for the cheaper option — you’ll get used to it after 2 weeks, and you will have a lot more money in your bank account.
24. There is a limit to pleasure
One of the sucker mistakes I made was getting into the “foodie” scene. I spent too much time on Yelp (restaurant rating app) and wanted to always try more unique and tasty foods. I kept increasing my expectations for nice restaurants— and more and more money started to leak out of my bank account.
There is a limit to pleasure — especially when it comes to food, sexual pleasure, novelty in traveling, or any consumer goods. No matter how expensive experiences or things you buy — you will hit a wall where you can no longer add more pleasure to your life.
My suggestion: set a limit to your pleasure. Set a limit where you don’t want to spend more money on “better” food, or a “better” car, or a “better” sexual partner.
Pleasure is nothing but electricity that stimulates our brains. Yet there is a point where our minds become dulled to pleasure— and having more dopamine and serotonin won’t help us. By seeking too much pleasure— we start taking drugs, and fucking up our lives.
Don’t make increasing pleasure the point of your life. Rather, seek to increase your virtue.
What is virtue?
Virtue is doing good things for yourself and others. It means to not be shallow. It means investing in good deeds, that help empower yourself and humankind. It means giving people words of encouragement, by creating beautiful art, and by doing what feels ethically right to you.
It means caring less about the food you eat, where you live, or the clothes that you wear.
Realize no matter how much pleasure you have — you will hit a wall. And you can never have enough.
But we can never have a limit of doing good deeds for others. Follow virtue.
25. Cash is king
Liquid cash is king. If you have 99% of your money locked up in a home you don’t have flexibility and freedom with your money. If you need access to your money, you need to sell your home (which often can take months), you will have to deal with all these taxes and fees, and you might lose out on an investing opportunity during the process of selling the home.
Very few people have (lots of) cash in the bank. Because we are told that we need to always be investing our money. But the benefit of having cash that we can quickly move in and out of our accounts is this — we can be more opportunistic and invest in good opportunities when we see them. Not only that, but if a tragedy or medical emergency happens in our life — we can quickly pay it off.
Not only that, but I’ve found that having cash in the bank is the best way to sleep at night. You feel less anxious and worried. If an emergency happens, you can actually pay it off. And if you have money in the bank, you can live your day-to-day life according to your own standards.
Cash is king. Don’t think of yourself as wealthy unless you can quickly take out money from your bank account, and pay for something in cash.
Don’t over-invest in any investment that doesn’t allow you to have access to your cash.
Liquid cash will give you more flexibility and freedom in your life. And what is sweeter than freedom?
26. Never buy anything that you can’t buy in cash
Which brings us to the next point — don’t buy anything that you can’t buy in cash.
Whenever we put something on credit, we overly-optimistic about being able to pay it back quickly. But often, these debts snowball. And the more in debt we are, the more in slavery we are.
I buy everything on my credit card (it is easier for me to track expenses for my business, and I get some points) but I only buy things which I have cash in the bank for.
For a year, don’t buy anything that you can’t pay in cash for.
27. When in doubt, charge more
This is a piece of advice I wish I knew when I started working for myself — when in doubt, charge more.
I think that many people under-value themselves. And they under-charge for their services.
It takes a lot of confidence and courage to charge for your services. And as time goes on, it takes additional confidence and courage to charge more for your services — as you become more popular, and continue to add more value.
I think human nature is to under-sell ourselves.
But when we’re starting off our own business, it is true that you can’t charge much. So my simple tip is this: either do freelance work for totally free (to build up your experience or portfolio) or charge a good sum of money for your services. Try to avoid charging an “average” price for your services. If you charge only “average” prices — you will always struggle with paying the bills.
Do you sell yourself short? Value yourself higher in your eyes. If you are an entrepreneur, or freelancer — always charge more than you think you should. It might cause you to lose a few customers, but will help you become more profitable in the long-run.
Also when it comes to doing “free” work — follow your heart. Don’t get suckered into doing free work you don’t want to do. Only do free work that excites and motivates you. And also don’t forget to charge a healthy buck for your paid services.
28. More stuff, more stress
I always thought it was nice to own a lot of stuff. But honestly, with more stuff, comes more stress.
For example, the more digital cameras we own, the more stress we have. Before we go out to shoot, we’re not sure which camera to shoot with. Furthermore, if we own many lenses, we’re not sure which is the “optimal” or most “efficient” lens to shoot with.
If we accrue more digital devices, we have more devices to update, more devices to charge, and more devices to take care of. I once saw a funny comic — a man sitting on his couch, looking at his iPhone, his iPad, his laptop, and his TV — and he wasn’t sure which one to use to check his Facebook.
More cars, more stress. You need more space to park your cars. And you have more maintenance to deal with to keep the cars working.
The bigger house you own, the more stress. You have a bigger area to clean, more furniture to buy to fill the house, and more things will break that will also require maintenance.
Know that the more things you accrue, there will be hidden baggage that comes with it.
So whenever you want to buy something — consider the additional downsides that comes with the “ownership” of having it.
29. When in doubt, be generous
As humans, we are selfish (to a certain degree). We like to watch out for ourselves, before we watch out for others.
However I’ve found life is about generosity, and sharing your gift with others (whether that be financial, emotional, or spiritual).
I’ve created a mantra for myself whenever I’m not sure whether to pick up the bill for dinner for my friends, or when it comes to paying others:
“When in doubt, be generous.”
It is a simple saying that I keep in the back of my head, when I decide to tip my server or barista. Often I tip 25% more than I think I should — and that additional tip (doesn’t cost me that much more money) will bring so much more joy in the life of others.
I’ve often found the best use of money is to buy a nice meal for your friends. Food always tastes better when (someone else) pays for it. And there is nothing that brings more joy than having a lovely meal with people you care about.
I also believe that the more generous you are with your money, the more money ends up coming to you. Why? Of course if you have good friends— they will return the favor. And the less greedy you are with your money, the more good-will will come your way.
For a month, just keep this thought in mind: “When in doubt, be generous.” See how it will change your life.
30. Work on your passion on the side
Many people I know want to pursue their passion full-time. That might mean quitting your miserable 9-5 job, and becoming a photographer full-time, or traveling the world, becoming a writer, or something else.
For me personally, I wasn’t too crazy about my 9-5 office job — but I loved the financial freedom that it gave me. I was able to pay rent, and not worry about finances. And I was able to work on my passion/hobbies on the side (photography, blogging, travel).
I used all my free time to work on my passion. I woke up early before work to write a blog post. I would use my lunch breaks to walk around for 15 minutes to take some street photos. During work I would build up my social media following. And after work, I would do whatever I wanted until the next day (back then, it was considered strange to have work email on your personal phone).
I was able to build up my blog quite a bit in about a year, and after my company made me redundant, I had the opportunity to pursue my photography full-time.
There is no shame of having a full-time job while doing your passion on the side. Einstein figured out the theory of relativity while he worked as a clerk at the Swiss patent office. Many writers and philosophers in history had menial jobs — but they used all their free time and energy to come up with great thoughts and ideas.
If you want to make your passion a career, you need some business sense— as well as money coming in. I don’t recommend you to quit your job until you’ve started earning enough in your entrepreneurial pursuits to pay the bills. Also always have a plan “B” — if that means moving back in with your parents, getting another 9-5 job, or something. And it always helps to have some cash in the bank, to protect yourself.
But imagine— if you never were able to work for yourself, and had to work at a company for the rest of your life — how could you best use your free time to pursue your passion? Could you wake up 1 hour earlier every morning, and sleep 1 hour earlier to do your creative work in the morning? How could you best make your short lunch breaks — perhaps to go on a walk around the office, take some photos, or meditate on life? What more productive and creative things could you do after work — instead of just watching Netflix on the couch?
31. Ask yourself, “What else could I buy with this money?”
The problem is whenever we want to buy something, we only compare apples to apples — not apples to oranges.
For example, let’s say you want to buy a new digital camera. It costs $2,000 (including lens). We usually compare that $2,000 price tag to other digital cameras (whether they be more expensive, or less expensive).
However what you need to do is to have a mental shift — ask yourself, “What else can I do with $2,000?” (besides buying a camera).
Perhaps you can use that $2,000 to buy two round-trip tickets to somewhere international to travel. Or perhaps you can use that money to invest in some books for yourself. Or attend a class, course, or workshop. Or pay off some debt. Or using that money to invest in your own business start-up.
Don’t get trapped thinking in just one domain. Always remind yourself— a buck is a buck. And there are often better ways to invest your money, than to just invest in things.
32. Ask yourself, “How will I feel about this purchase 5-10 years from now?”
I’m a sucker for the new. Whenever a new Apple device comes out, I want to buy it. The same goes for many consumer goods, or trendy fashion clothing.
However what has helped me save tons of money is to ask myself:
“If I buy this thing, how will I feel about this purchase 5-10 years from now?”
It helps me get a longer-view and perspective, and some more rationality on the idea.
For example, I wanted to buy a jacket — and apparently red jackets were in vogue at the time. But I knew that 5-10 years from now, I would become bored of the red color. I opted for black instead. And I still wear that jacket 3-4 years later.
The same goes with any consumer device or gadget — it will become redundant in 5-10 years. So don’t worry so much about having the newest digital device — it will soon become obsolete.
By thinking in terms of a 5-10 year perspective, it will render about 90% of potential purchases as obsolete. Because most of what we buy are just based on trends and style which are all fleeting.
Anything you buy today will look like crap 5-10 years from now (especially with cars). So just be realistic with your purchasing decisions. Know that no purchase will bring you lasting happiness for 5-10 years. Try to avoid trends or “fast fashion” which quickly fades.
33. Don’t ask someone for their investing advice; ask what is in their portfolio
Many people like to give advice — but very few people take their own advice.
I learned this trick from Nassim Taleb — never ask advice from others (especially when it comes to finances). Rather, ask them what they currently have money invested in. Because they have “skin in the game.”
You can apply this idea in many different ways in life — ask the doctor, “What would you do if you were in my shoes?” or “If your son was in my position, what would you recommend him to do?”
Also you don’t need to ask the opinions of others — just see what actions they do.
Don’t ask the advice of a photographer what camera to buy — just see what camera they shoot with.
Don’t ask a person for their advice on family — just look at how they treat their family, and how they live their family life.
Actions speak more than words.
Don’t forget that words are cheap. Study the actions of people, not what they say. And never take financial advice from anyone who you don’t consider financially successful. People need to walk the walk, before they talk the talk.
34. Money has no intrinsic value
We value money, gold, and jewels. But if you think about it — “money” has no intrinsic value. “Money” is just a piece of paper with some words printed on it.
“Money” is nothing but trust between a country and its individuals. As humans, we create an imaginary “value” of a currency in our minds, and in our hearts.
Even if you think about “precious” metals like gold, silver, or platinum — what is inherently “valuable” in a shiny rock? We only create value on something based on our minds.
This is why we spend 10x money on luxury goods— because we create a false value of it in our minds. Marketing, advertising, and branding inflates the value of goods.
So I guess what I want to say is to not take money too seriously. Also know that you give money value.
Why do you value money? Do you value money because it makes you feel safe and secure? Do you value money because it is a marker of your “success”?
What personal relationship do you have with money? Does money equate freedom for you? Power? Absence of pain? The ability to do what you want?
For learning more about the history of money, I highly recommend the book: “Debt: The First 5000 Years.”
Discount the value of money in your mind. Realize that most money nowadays is just digital money — which can create out of thin air.
Don’t over-value money, or lust after it, as if it were the most valuable thing in the world. Money is just a concept in our mind. We can create our own riches for ourselves, if we are able to live in tranquility and peace with what we have.
For me, true value comes from our relationships with our loved ones, the meaningful work we do, and a sense of gratitude in our lives.
Ultimately just ask yourself— what value does money have for you?
35. Don’t become a slave to money; let money become your slave
I used to think money was the root of all evil — but that is because I saw other people become the slave of money. If we really want to be happy and wealthy — we need to let money become our slave.
Money isn’t “good” or “bad” — it is just a tool. We can decide how to use it— either for good or bad.
For example, fire isn’t a “good” or “bad” — it is what it is. You can use fire to cook your food (good) or use fire to burn down someone’s house (bad).
Just ask yourself the question — what is money good for? What do you need money for? What joys will money bring you? What stress will money bring you? How can you use money to empower yourself and others? How can money ruin your life?
For me, money is good for paying the bills, paying for coffee, paying for food, traveling, taking out my friends, and buying books. For me, money is not good for buying a BMW, expensive goods (to shield myself of my insecurity), and for feeling a sense of self-worth through the 0’s I have in my bank account.
One of the best lessons I’ve learned from the philosopher Seneca is to always imagine like your money is going to disappear from your hands at any time. You never know — you might get this horrible disease, which will wipe out your entire savings. The world might go to shit, and your savings account will be wiped out by the government or frozen (has happened many times in history). Inflation might go wild, and your money is suddenly worth nothing.
Don’t be attached to your money or wealth. Use your money sensibly— to give yourself some comforts and pleasures. But at the end of the day, I recommend you to earn enough money to make a comfortable living — then use the rest of your mental energy figuring out how you can best help and empower those around you.
Are you the master of your money? Or is your money the master of you?
Don’t see money as “evil” — see it as a tool that can be used for either good (or bad).
Provide yourself the basics and essentials, but once you have enough money — focus all your time, energy, and efforts towards developing the best version of yourself. Then once you build yourself up, dedicate the rest of your life to helping serve others and the common good.
I am wealthy not because I have a lot of 0’s in my bank account — but because I am content. I am content with my daily coffee, my devices, my camera, my friends, family, and my opportunity to do meaningful work.
I certainly still am a sucker to consumerism, I get suckered by advertising, and still feel cravings now-and-again for buying stuff I don’t need. Perhaps it is to fill some sort of void, or sense of insecurity I still have that remains dormant inside me.
I still have a complicated relationship with money — sometimes it conjures up negative ideas and emotions from the past. Yet my relationship with money has certainly improved— and I’ve realized the positive benefits of money — to help my friends, family, and to give myself security to do my creative work.
I certainly don’t have everything about money or finances figured out. I probably never will. Yet everyday is a learning experience from me, and this list of tips is a list I wish I could have given my 18-year old self.
So please, don’t take any of the things written here as “truth” — it is just an autobiography of my personal experiences. None of these tips might help you; but some might.
But at the end, the last point I want to leave with you is this — you already have all the riches in your soul and heart. Don’t search for riches and wealth outside of you. You already have everything you need, to become the best version of yourself.