The 10 Commandments of Wealth and Happiness

I've been offering money advice for more than 35 years. Here are the 10 most important things I've learned about making money and being happy.

4. Work as little as possible

A black man relaxes in a hammock next to a poolBlend Images /

A friend of mine, Liz Pulliam Weston, once wrote a great story called “Pretend You Won the Lottery.” She asked her Facebook fans what they would do if they won the lottery. From that article:

Most of the responses had a lot in common. People overwhelmingly wanted to:

  • Pay off all their debts.
  • Help their families.
  • Donate more to charity.
  • Pursue their passions, including travel.

Note these goals are largely achievable without winning the lottery. And that was her point: Listing what you’d like to do if money were no object puts you in touch with the way you’d really like to spend your life.

My philosophy takes this concept a step further: When it comes to work, you should try to do something you regard as so fulfilling you’d do it even if it didn’t pay anything. In other words, the word “work” implies doing something you have to do, not something you want to do. You should never “work.”

If you’re going to spend a huge part of your life working, don’t fill that time with what makes you the most money. Fill it with what makes you the most fulfilled.

5. Avoid debt

"Say no to debt" is written in a notebookConstantin Stanciu /

I’m always getting questions about debt. “Should I borrow for this, that or the other?” “What’s an acceptable debt level?” “Is there such a thing as good debt?”

There’s way too much analysis and mystery around something that isn’t at all mysterious. Paying interest is nothing more than giving someone else your money in exchange for temporarily using theirs.

To have as much money as possible, avoid giving yours to other people.

Never borrow money because you want something you can’t afford. Borrow money in only two circumstances:

  • When your back is against the wall.
  • When what you’re buying will increase in value by more than what you’re paying in interest.

Debt also affects you on a level that can’t be defined in dollars. When you owe money, in a very real way you’re a slave to that lender until you pay it back. When you don’t owe money, you’re much more the master of your own destiny.

There are two ways to achieve financial freedom: Have so much money you can’t possibly spend it all, or don’t owe anybody anything.

Granted, living debt-free doesn’t offer the same level of freedom as having massive amounts of money. But living debt-free isn’t a matter of luck or even hard work. It’s a simple choice, available to everyone.

6. Be frugal — but not miserly

An older couple makes a toast over a mealMonkey Business Images /

The key to accumulating more savings isn’t to spend less — it’s to spend less without sacrificing your quality of life. If you enjoy going out to dinner with your significant other, not doing it may create a happier bank balance, but an unhappier you. That’s a trade-off that is neither worthwhile nor sustainable.

Eating an appetizer at home, then splitting an entree at the restaurant, however, maintains your quality of life and fattens your bank account.

Finding ways to save is important, but avoiding deprivation is just as important.

Diets suck. Whether they’re food-related or money-related, if they leave you feeling deprived and unhappy, they’re not going to work.

But there’s a difference between food diets and dollar diets: It’s hard to lose weight without depriving yourself of the foods you love, but it’s easy to reduce spending without depriving yourself of the things you love.

Cottage cheese isn’t a suitable substitute for steak, but a used car is a perfectly acceptable substitute for a new one. And the list goes on:

No matter what you love, from physical possessions to travel, there are ways to save without reducing your quality of life.

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