avatarOpher Ganel

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These 5 Wealth-Building Myths Are Worth Questioning

Financial “gurus” and “finfluencers” often peddle these; it’s helpful to consider these ideas from another angle

Photo by Gantas Vaičiulėnas: https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-moon-on-hands-3278643/

You may have heard people saying you should only rent; buy used cars; shun any job, no matter how well-paying; avoid 401(k) plans; and never spend more as your income grows.

If you read enough personal finance articles, you’ll come across these ideas, peddled as eye-opening insights. Unfortunately, they’re myths.

Following them can hurt you financially and reduce your enjoyment of life. I never paid attention to them, which helped me go from negative net worth to work-optional.

No matter where you are in your career, re-examining these money myths can help you make the most of your finances.

Busting Five Money Myths

Myth 1. Your home is a liability, not an asset

This is famously peddled by personal finance “guru” Robert Kiyosaki, “[I]n the real world where you need money in your pocket to survive, if you have a house, paid for or not, that you live in, then it really isn’t an asset. Instead of putting money in your pocket, it takes money out of your pocket in the form of a mortgage, utility payments, taxes, maintenance, and more. That is the simple definition of a liability.

I Say Own, Don’t Rent

After leaving the military, I rented for 16 years. I’d write a sizable (for me) rent check every month. I never thought I could afford to buy until a friend challenged me to run the numbers, and I realized I could.

I bought my first house in 2000. It was a 1,570-sqft, 3-bedroom split-level with a 2-car garage on a 0.2-acre lot. Nothing extravagant, but much nicer than the 1,200-sqft, 3-bedroom apartment we were living in, paying $1,250 a month ($2,270 in today’s dollars).

By the time I sold in 2005, I’d refinanced several times, reducing the monthly principal and interest (P&I) payments from $2,293 (in today’s dollars), barely higher than the rent I stopped paying, to $1,863. All while taking $45k (in today’s dollars) cash out to consolidate an auto loan and other large expenses.

Then, I sold for over double what I paid! Can you count on your home’s value doubling every 5 years? Of course not. That’s a 15% annualized appreciation, nearly triple the 5.24% average appreciation for US residential real estate.

When Kiyosaki’s followers say your house takes money out of your wallet, they ignore that renting you’ll likely pay more to a landlord. That’s because your rent has to cover the landlord’s mortgage P&I, taxes, insurance, maintenance, repair, property management costs, plus positive cash flow.

Otherwise, the landlord would sell. That’s why, on average over time, renting should be costlier than buying the same home.

And, if you finance 80% with a mortgage, you leverage the 5.24% annual appreciation 5-fold, for an annual return of 26% (22% adjusting for 3.5% inflation).

If you rent, that appreciation goes to your landlord. That’s why we’re renting out our previous home instead of selling it. Note however that in certain circumstances renting is more appropriate.

Here’s what a financial pro, Michael Reynolds, CSRIC®, AIF®, CFT-I™, Principal at Elevation Financial LLC says about Kiyosaki’s claim, “The concept of a house being a liability instead of an asset is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. An asset is something that has value. A house has value, plain and simple. You can sell your home and you will get money for it based on its value. It couldn’t be any clearer than that.

Myth 2. Never buy a car new

This admonition is common. Here’s an example: “[A] new car will lose nearly a third of its value within the first year… if you spent $50,000 on a new vehicle today, by next year it would be worth about $35,000… your car will lose… a total depreciation of about 60% after five years.

I Say: Buy Cars New, Not Used

If you maintain and repair your cars, by all means, buy used. However, if you pay a mechanic to change your oil and fix problems, you’re better off buying new and driving the car for at least 10 years.

As for 60% depreciation on a new car over 5 years? BS! Edmunds’ “true cost to own” of a hybrid Toyota Camry shows depreciation is ~20% in the first year, dropping to 5%/year after, totaling 39% for 5 years.

Buying a hybrid Camry new and driving it for 10 years averages $7,370/year, $340/year less than the $7,710/year average for buying when it’s 5 years old and driving it until it turns 10.

Decades ago, my dad considered buying another used car. “You can’t afford to own a used car,” he was told by our wealthy neighbor. He bought new from then on. As have I, for over 30 years.

Myth 3. A job won’t make you wealthy

Another Kiyosaki “gem” says, “The reason ‘get a good job’ is a Rich Dad Scam is because being an employee actually makes you poorer, especially if you have a high paying job, because you pay the most in taxes.

I Say: A Good Job Can Make You Wealthy

I was in academia for most of my career as an employee, so my salary was low. Except for my last job, my highest salary was $87.5k in today’s dollars, at the 71st percentile of 40+ hours income. And that’s with a PhD (my last job paid significantly more, but I was let go after 2 years, so I won’t consider it here).

Building wealth from such a salary is no mean feat. After taxes, it’s about $63k. After the average rent of $2,070, you have $3,200/month. Pay $340 for groceries, $490 for auto expenses, $300 for employee health insurance, $350 for utilities and broadband, and you’re down to $1,720 before any fun stuff.

And that’s if you’re single. If you’re married with kids and your spouse doesn’t earn at least as much, things will be far tighter.

If you’re disciplined and invest $10.3k a year, at a 7% return for 45 years (age 22 to 67), increasing the invested amount each year by inflation, you’ll end up with $5.1 million! Assuming 3.5% average annual inflation, that’s $1.1 million in today’s dollars. Half of what Americans consider wealthy.

But that’s with my paltry salary of way back then. What if we assume instead that you earn the $161.5k salary of the 25th percentile of software developers, and invest 30% of it?

After 45 years, under the above assumptions, you’d have $24 million, nearly $5.2 million in today’s dollars. I don’t know about you, but I’d consider that wealthy!

Does this prove everyone should stay at their 9-to-5? Of course not. I’ve been self-employed since 2011 and it’s been great for me. But that doesn’t necessarily make starting a business your best, let alone only, option for building wealth.

If the risks and stress of starting a business and being responsible for bringing in paying work isn’t for you, a well-paying job is an excellent alternative.

Myth 4. Your 401(k) won’t be enough for retirement

Another “guru,” Grant Cardone, says, “I would never, ever invest money in a 401(k). Why would I go to work, have my employer give me another $6,000 a year, and then take that money and send it off to Wall Street, where I can’t even touch it for 30 years? I wouldn’t do that.

Instead, he’d put the money into a savings account until it reaches $100k and invest in properties.

I Say: Your 401(k) Can Make You Wealthy

This one depends on your employer. Since I’m self-employed, I can contribute to my 401(k) $69k, plus a $7.5k catch-up since I’m older than 50 (I won’t say how much I sock away and how my investments have grown, but it’s considerable.)

That’s more than the above-mentioned $48.5k, and as we saw, that can build up to over $5.1 million in today’s dollars!

What if your employer offers a more typical 1-to-1 match up to 6% of your salary? Your 401(k) gets $30.5k from you plus $9.7k from your employer. With the above assumptions, in 45 years you’d have $20 million, $4.3 million in today’s dollars.

Nearly double the $2.2 million “wealth threshold.”

But don’t take my word for it. Ted Erhart, CFP®, founder of Norris Lake Retirement Planning says, “One of the biggest misconceptions of investors is that getting rich requires being a genius, deftly picking the next Microsoft or Apple. The overwhelming majority of 401(k) millionaires got there by simply investing a chunk of their income for 20, 30 or 40 years in a diversified stock allocation. If you do the math, saving 10–20% of your income plus a match, plus, say 8% annual return (below the long-term average return of the market), it’s nearly impossible not to end up with millions after 30+ years. On top of that, you don’t have to try to beat the market by being clever or taking crazy risks. The S&P 500 is presently about 41× its 1980 level and over 13× where it was in 1990, even without dividends. It’s not hard to see how riding a train like that would create a lot of 401(k) millionaires. The hard part is sticking with it and being patient.

Myth 5. Don’t ever let lifestyle inflation increase your spending

Another common piece of advice is to avoid lifestyle inflation. For example, Bankrate says, “While lifestyle inflation may initially bring a sense of newfound wealth and enjoyment, it often comes with longer-term costs that can impact your financial wellbeing.”

I Say: Let Your Lifestyle Expand with Your Income

My favorite wealth-building tip is to start at whatever investment level you can, and invest 50% to 80% of each income increase, spending the remaining 20% to 50%.

This makes it easy to increase your savings rate dramatically without penny-pinching. Instead, you expand your lifestyle (less than your income allows), which makes it emotionally sustainable.

Since I started my own business, I’ve targeted 67% to increase investments and 33% to enjoying life more.

The Bottom Line

The above are 5 examples of money myths being peddled by too many who ought to know better to too many who need to know better. Personal finance is just that — personal! What’s right for one person can be terrible for someone in a different situation.

Too many financial “gurus” and “finfluencers” fill the Internet with soundbite financial “advice” that sounds great, but rather than being insightful is far too often wrong for most people.

By charting my own, contrarian, path I went from owing more than I owned 31 years ago to being able to retire tomorrow while enjoying a lifestyle far better than I’d believed possible.

Would you be better off following the sensationalist advice of the likes of Cardone and Kiyosaki, or perhaps charting a different course?

As Omar Morillo, CFP®, Founder of Imperio Wealth Advisors, says, “One-size-fits-all financial advice from the Internet or social media can be bad for your financial well-being for several reasons. First, your situation is unique so generalized advice could be a bad fit — what’s best is personalized advice that considers your overall financial picture and personality holistically. In addition, it may be inaccurate, outdated, oversimplified, or even biased.

Disclaimer

This article is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be considered financial, investment, business, tax, or legal advice. You should consult a relevant professional before making any major decisions.

About the author

Opher Ganel has set up several successful small businesses, including a consulting practice supporting NASA and government contractors.

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Myths
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