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.

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I’m now financially independent, but 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.

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 realizing 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 will die tomorrow, but invest like you will live forever

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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.

The biggest winner in my IRA is Apple. I believe I bought it in 2002 or 2003 — my split-adjusted price is around $1 per share. Lately, Apple has been trading at $140 to $150 per 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

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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 too 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 someone promises a simple solution to a complex problem, stop listening to them and start listening to your own inner voice. Remember, you know there’s no pill that’s going to make you skinny, and the government’s not handing out free money for your small business.

3. Covet bad economic times

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Wealth is realized when the economy is booming. But wealth is created when times are tough, unemployment is high, 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 18,000 or 8,000?

Nobody wants their fellow citizens to be out of work. But the cyclical nature of our economy all but ensures this will periodically happen. If you still have a job when the next downturn arrives, it will be the time you’ve been saving for.

Stop listening to all the Chicken Littles in the media: The sky isn’t falling. Get busy — put your cash to work and create some wealth.

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