The 10 Commandments of Wealth and Happiness

I’ve been offering money advice for more than 30 years. Here are the 10 most important things I’ve learned about making more money and being happier while you do it.

Better Investing

I’m now financially independent. I didn’t get this way overnight, nor did I do it by selling books or advice. I did it the same way you can: one paycheck at a time over many years.

One of my young staffers recently asked if I could condense everything I’ve learned into 10 simple ideas that would serve as a guide to those starting out, starting over, or maybe beginning to realize they’re not where they’d like to be. While certainly a challenge, it’s a worthy one. So here goes: the 10 commandments of achieving financial independence and being happier while you do it.

1. Live like you’re going to die tomorrow, but invest like you’re going to live forever

The ease of making money in stocks, real estate, or other risk-based assets is inversely proportional to your time horizon. In other words, making money over long periods of time is easy – making money overnight is the flip of a coin.

Money is like a tree: Plant it properly, care for it occasionally, but not obsessively, then wait.

Stare at a newly planted tree for 24 hours and you’ll be convinced it’s not growing. Fixate on your investments the same way, and you could miss out on a game-changer.

The biggest winner in my IRA is Apple. I don’t remember exactly when I bought it, but I’m guessing it was in 2002 or 2003. My split adjusted price is around $1/share: As I write this, Apple’s trading at around $126/share. Had I been listening to CNBC or some other outlet promoting constant trading, I almost certainly wouldn’t still own it.

The lesson? Enjoy your life to the fullest every day – live like you’re going to die tomorrow. But since you’re probably not going to die tomorrow, plant part of your money in quality stocks, real estate or other investments; then hold onto them. Don’t ignore your investments entirely – sometimes fundamental things change indicating it’s time to move on – but don’t act rashly. Patience pays.

2. Listen to your own voice above all others

My job as a consumer reporter has included listening to countless sad stories about nice people being separated from their money by people who weren’t so nice. While these stories run the gamut from real estate deals to working from home, they all start the same way: with a promise of something that seems too good to be true.

And they all end the same way: It was to good to be true.

If someone promises they can make you 3,000 percent in the stock market, they’re either a fool for sharing that information or a liar. Why would you send money to either one? When you hear someone promising a simple solution to a complex problem, stop listening to them and start listening to your own inner voice. You know there’s no pill that’s going to make you skinny. You know the government’s not handing out free money for your small business. You know you can’t buy a house for $300. Stop listening to infomercials and start listening to yourself.

3. Covet bad economic times

Wealth is realized when the economy is booming, but that’s not when it’s created. Wealth is created when times are bad, unemployment is high, problems are massive, everybody’s freaking out, and there’s nothing but economic misery on the horizon.

Would you rather buy a house for $400,000, or $200,000? Would you rather invest in stocks when the Dow is at 12,000 or 7,000?

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  • Thank you Stacy! Once again, one of my networking colleagues shares some of their Business wisdom to help others. Thanks again and Have a Very Happy Thanksgiving!

  • my favorite of all the ones i’ve read. actually you are my favorite, very sincere, and downright true, instictively just covers a good sense of life. Common sense is not so common afterall, but really should listen to our own selves and be connected… knowing what you want! Thanks! I love it!

  • Jo

    very much true. I like this article.

  • So, does he have advice for those of us who are in debt AND unemployed?

    • K

      Start your own business. If you are not working anyway, why not? Micro loans are available in almost every state to start business under $35,000 start-up. For many of these loans, you do not have to have good credit, you actually need to NOT qualify for bank credit. You have to agree to be monitored and helped with the business. Everyone has some type of talent. If you cant or dont want to start your own business, write a blog. A blog is especially nice, because if you put Google ads on it, you get paid when people are reading the ads. You update your blog daily and this something you can keep up when you do find a job.
      Or take surveys online. A very reputable paying company is Vindale Reasearch. check it out. Sign up with Kelly services in your area. They have several divisions worldwide. They also have free online job training if they dont find you a position right away and will position inside major companies. Lastly, volunteer to do anything, (ex: pick waste paper baskets) at the company you want to work for. If you volunteer, eventually, people there will talk about you and to you. You will be able to look at the internal employee boards for jobs, network and get a position from the inside. This some suggestions.

      • Y2KJillian

        While I agree wholeheartedly that starting your own business can be a great idea, if you have to borrow as much as $35,000 to merely start up, perhaps you’re looking in the wrong direction. We’ve started several successful businesses (they not only paid for themselves but saved our house and bought us food and heat and eventually helped pay off our mortgage) and with only one did we borrow anything at all to get started–and that one we only borrowed a tenth of that $35,000 mentioned. That would be a huge amount ot have to pay off for a starting business. We looked at our skills, our possessions, our situation–MANY services can be offered with no start-up costs at all. There was an article about things like walking dogs–scooping poop–what about clothing alteration if you sew? You have no idea how many people don’t sew, and if you do, you already have a needle, thread, likely a sewing machine–what’s to buy? What a bout if you fix your own car, you could offer oil changes or brake work if you already have the tools. What can you do? what are you willing to do? What do people really need? Babysitting is a free start-up business! You don’t even have to have a location!

    • Vote Obama out of office is my best advise.

      • chocolip69

        shut the hell up you don;t know what you’re talking about our surpluss is out because of bush dumb butt not Obama get your facts straight idiot.

  • Great article, should have been written about 5 years ago, before the ‘bust’. Will be an avid follower from now on as this seems to happening in China (where I’m based) and flapping money around here, based on projected growth, has become popular.

  • Sound advice, Want to know the secret to have lifetime income.  call 503 389 2140 Please keep it a secret. Better than having your own Gold Mine and Oil Well.

  • Good focused article,   unlike some of the  other out of touch ones that I have read,  who make tons of cash and are overly cheap ,practically changing friends/family  for a cup of coffee or making sure they know how much it cost them to let you have one at all their expense, or impracticle for real life without being a hermit or easily done when you make more money then needed to get by!  The only problem I have understanding about making money with all the great interest implied, is no one is paying that type of interest ,6% or even 4? WHERE?  unless you are willing to lose it in the stock market.  People who work hard and lost money in it more then once, are not likely to give it up for those with the most to collect and keep.  Saving is great, if you can force it, with the high cost of everything, but most finacial institutions are not even paying 1%!

  • What a Great Story and new way to save money.

  • I am already on the road to financial security, but that’s a long and rocky road.  These suggestions set a good base to reach.

  • I bet the Unorthodox Jewish community loves this one, as they roll on the floor laughing  counting their money…..

    • chocolip69


  • This article misses an important point about opportunnity costs (which is an economic term by the way) when borrowing money.  If you can borrow monty at a lower rate then you are earning with the cash then borrow the money.  Since you ahve the money you could pay the loan at any time.

  • grandmaguest

    As usual Stacy another great article.
    I especially like #4. That’s what I did for my career of 40+ years. It was not a high paying career choice….maybe 35K when I retired 6 years ago. And yes there were days when it felt like work, but I would say that 90+% of the time it was my lifelong passion and very fulfilling. By adding the rest of the items above, I managed to retire early with no debt (not even a mortgage) and a steady income that keeps me comfortable. Why, I’m even going to…..gasp… a brand new car for the first time in decades. But a little hint…..I will be paying cash for over 3/4 of it…….thought since I haven’t had a loan for many, many years that having one (even a small one) might be beneficial on my credit report. I’ll probably have it paid off in less than a year anyway. My old (2 decades) car, although still running quite well, does not have all the great safety features that I would like to have. Especially now that I am older and want to not only keep myself safer, but also those around me.
    Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge, and I hope this article will help many others on their way to living what I call…. “Life Is Good”!!!!

    • Thanks, Grandma!

      • grandmaguest

        Your welcome.
        While I may not agree 100% with every article posted….I can always find something in each one that is beneficial and increases my knowledge. Even at my age. Keeping an open mind, and increasing our learning is something everyone should strive towards no matter how old they are. When you stop learning, you die.

  • Lots of great wisdom in this post! These lessons aren’t always easy to learn as most of them involve time, sacrifice, and self-control. The payoff, however, is always worth it. There is nothing like living with the freedom of being debt-free. Thanks so much for your encouragement and sound advice. Blessings.

    • IIlI

      i will gladly give up “stuff” for free time. i know every year i am that much closer to death. i only believe in one life so this is all i have. i don’t want to spend it amassing stuff. i want to be happy with my own free time, my own choices, doing whatever i want.

  • I think this is sound advice, but I have minor quibbles with a couple of your examples:

    1) “It’s hard to lose weight without depriving yourself of the foods you love.” Actually, I think it’s much harder to lose weight and keep it off if you *do* deprive yourself of the foods you love. That’s a diet no one could ever stick to. You have a much better chance of success, in the long term, if you find a plan that lets you enjoy the foods you love most in moderation, and cut back on things you care less about. For instance: I will never, ever give up sweets. Not gonna happen. If I tried to go on a diet that cut out all sugar, I would not last a week. But I can easily cut out most meats and snack foods, and I can be quite happy with lower-calorie versions of my favorite desserts, like low-fat ice cream and cakes made with applesauce instead of oil. It’s the same with budgeting. Cut back in the areas you don’t care about, and then find lower-cost ways to enjoy the things you do care about.

    2) “the new cars you’ve bought when used would have worked”: This seems to be a standard piece of advice you hear all the time: “Never buy a new car.” When we went shopping for our last car, I started out looking at used cars because I assumed they would cost less. But guess what – for the kind of car we wanted (a small, fuel-efficient car with a stick shift), it was actually cheaper to buy new. The few acceptable used cars we found cost nearly as much as a new one, and they didn’t have the latest safety features. So it ended up costing us less in the long term to buy a new car that will last us 15 years than it would have to buy a 2-year-old car and keep it for 13 years (assuming it lasted that long, since you can’t really be sure how scrupulous the last owner was about maintenance). So don’t just assume a used car is cheaper; shop around and do the math.

  • davistrain

    That “work as little as possible”, i.e. as long as you have to have a “day job”, work at something you like, and if possible turn a hobby into a profession. This worked out for me, most of the jobs I had before I retired were interesting, and in some respects enjoyable. But there’s a big difference between a weekend angler and a commercial fisherman, and of the millions of people who enjoy a round of golf, only a few hundred make a living at “cow pasture pool”. And I think of people who had a choice of doing something they detest or at best tolerate, or go hungry.

  • Great advice. I especially like the debt talk. I think so many people are absolutely afraid of debt, which is better than the alternative, but I also think people miss opportunities to borrow money to purchase assets that produce. Mortgage is not bad debt, as long as it is at a reasonable rate – even (especially?) for rental property, where you’ll be bringing in an income to offset your expense and possibly make a few bucks on an appreciating asset.

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