–by Thomas C. Corley

When I travel speaking to high school and university students about exactly what they need to do to become financially successful in life, I always begin my presentation by asking the same three questions:

  • “How many want to be financially successful in life?”
  • “How many think they will be financially successful in life?”

Almost every time I ask the first two questions, every hand rises in the air. Then I ask the magic third question:

  • “How many have taken a course on how to be financially successful in life?”

Not one hand rises in the air, ever.

There are no courses
Clearly every student wants to be successful and thinks they will be successful, but none have been taught how. Not by their parents and not by their teachers. Not only are there no courses on basic financial success principles, but there are no structured courses teaching basic financial literacy.

Living month to month
Is it any wonder that most people live paycheque to paycheque? That most people accumulate more debt than assets? That many people lose their homes when they lose their job? Is it any wonder that most people cannot afford university for their children and that student loan debt is now the largest type of consumer debt?  

We are raising our children to be financially illiterate and to fail in life.
Parents who are success mentors to their children teach them specific good daily habits. And these habits put them on autopilot for financial success later in life. In my five-year study of the daily habits of self-made millionaires vs. those struggling with poverty, I uncovered specific habits that separate the rich from the poor. I’d like to share some of what I found:

1. Read to learn
63% of self-made millionaires in my study were required by their parents to read to learn. Their parents made them read two or more books every month on topics such as: history, biographies of successful people, science, self-improvement, etc. Only 3% of the poor said their parents made them do this.

2. Don’t gamble
6% of the wealthy in my study played the lottery vs. 77% of the poor. Worse, the poor admitted to playing the lottery every week.

3. Follow your dreams
82% of the self-made millionaires in my study pursued a dream vs. 3% of the poor.

By far, the wealthiest in my study were individuals who pursued a dream.
On average, they accumulated R105 million in net assets during their lives.

4. Eat healthily
21% of the wealthy in my study were overweight by 15 kgs or more vs. 66% of the poor. 78% of self-made millionaires ate less than 300 junk food calories a day. 97% of the poor ate more than 300 junk food calories a day.

5. Avoid time wasters
63% of the wealthy in my study spent less than 1 hour per day on recreational internet use. 74% of the poor spent more than an hour a day in the internet. 67% of the wealthy watched less than 1 hour of TV per day vs 23% of the poor. 9% of the wealthy watched reality TV shows vs. 78% of the poor.

6. Invest your time in your kids’ education

83% of the wealthy in my study attended parent/teacher evenings for their kids vs. 13% of the poor. 29% of the wealthy had one or more children who made the honour roll vs. 4% of the poor.

7. Engage in daily self-improvement
63% of wealthy in my study listened to audio books during their commute vs. 5% of the poor.

Kids have smart phones and this makes it easy for them to download audio books to listen to.

8. Spend less than you make
73% of the wealthy in my study forged the habit of spending less than they earned, long before they were rich. 95% of the poor were never taught this habit by their parents, by their teachers, or by any other mentor in life.

9. Forge relationships with other success-minded people
79% of the wealthy in my study networked with other success-minded people, 5 hours or more per month vs. 16% of the poor said they did this.

10. Hard work creates good luck
92% of the wealthy in my study said they created their own good luck through hard work, persistence, daily practice, determination, and goal achievement. 79% of the poor believed the rich were rich due to dumb luck.

11. Take personal responsibility for your circumstances
79% of the wealthy in my study indicated that they believed they were individually responsible for their financial circumstances. 82% of the poor believed they were poor because they were born and raised in a poor household.

41% of the self-made millionaires in my study were born and raised in a poor household.

12. Exercise aerobically
95% of self-made millionaires in my study exercised aerobically 30 minutes or more per day, four days a week. Only 23% of poor did the same.

Studies have shown that daily aerobic exercise improves brain health, brain efficiency, and IQ.

13. Seek out success mentors
100% of self-made millionaires in my study had a success mentor in life. Success mentors put you on the fast track for success. They teach you what to do and what not to do.

Mentors teach you the habits you’ll need in order to succeed in life.
Typically, these mentors were one of their parents or a mentor that took an interest in them at work. Not a single one of the poor in my study said they had any success mentors in their lives.

14. Negativity leads to poverty63% of the wealthy in my study had a positive, optimistic mindset. 94% of the poor had a negative, pessimistic mindset.

Studies have shown that a negative mental outlook inhibits and depresses brain function.

Good habits are essential
The fact is, the majority of the time, the poor are poor because they have far too many bad habits and not enough good habits. And parents are to blame.

The Bible says to train your children in the ways of the Lord when they are young. God teaches us many financial principles in His Word, and they are all based on the principle of good stewardship. 

Habits are formed by age of 9
According to a Brown University Study, in which the habits of 50 000 families were analysed, the author of the study, Dr. Pressman, found that most of our adult habits were forged by the age of nine. In another study by Nicholas Christakis, he found that habits spread throughout our social network. Since children spend most of their early lives with their parents, these two studies show the critical role parents play in the habits all of us forge in life. And my study corroborates this.

Habits are integral
68 % of the self-made millionaires in my study said that they picked up most of their good habits from their parents. 94 % of those in my study who struggled with poverty said they also picked up most of their habits from their parents. But if parents fail to teach their children good daily success habits, what are we to do? Teachers need to step in and teach children these habits.

Habit education needs to become a structured part of our education system.

From my research, I learnt that all it takes is one or two ‘Rich Habits’ to completely transform a life:

  • The reading habit, on its own, can set your children up for career success.
  • The savings habit, on its own, can set your children up to be financially independent.
  • The exercise habit, on its own, can set your children up for a long, healthy life.
  • The happy birthday or life event calls, on their own, can set your children up to forge strong relationships.

Our curriculums need to change
Lastly, high schools should be teaching specific financial education courses to their students in Life-Orientation. It needs to be a multi-prong curriculum that includes the following courses:

  • How to pay bills and balance a cashbook
  • How to save and invest your savings
  • How insurance works – auto insurance, home owners’ insurance, health insurance
  • Understanding student loans
  • Personal income tax fundamentals – How to deal with SARS

Schools teach what they are required to teach. It’s unfortunate, but none of these financial education courses are a requirement in most schools.


Article source: JOY! Magazine (December 2018)

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