Building Wealth & Minding Your Own Business

By Sarah Fallaw on Dec 7th, 2017 in Current Events, Lessons Learned, Mentor's Corner, Psychology and Careers

One of my students gave a presentation on how to use goal-setting theory to reach financial freedom and at the end he said, “but you’ll never save money if you don’t MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS,” and this really stuck with me. 

In the Twitterverse yesterday, one of my fellow industrial-organizational psychology friends retweeted this quote from another. Perhaps the quoted student has a future in the field of financial planning! It was a perfect reminder for this time of the year: ignoring the frenzy of shopping and consuming to ensure financial goals are met.

It was also great timing as I was preparing for an interview with the Financial Residency Podcast, talking about the trends we see in physicians and other medical professionals related to how they transform income into wealth. Physicians and surgeons earn more than four times as much as the average American each year ($210,170 compared to $49,630…note these are averages and not the median). There are approximately 650,00 physicians and surgeons in the United States, and they have typically fallen into a (somewhat justified) stereotype of high income earners that are challenged in building wealth. We see this in our trend research at DataPoints, where the majority of physicians fall into the 33rd percentile or below on our assessment of frugality and also tend to score low on financial acumen, a measure of knowledge and expertise in investing and financial management. Likewise, their median net worth is negative, due in most part to their student loans and age. How will these young physicians be able to transform that high income into wealth?

The facts reminded me of this blog post my father wrote in 2013 discussing trends over time, particularly related to physicians.

Are people with high realized incomes today better at accumulating wealth than those say twenty years ago?  Not really is the clear answer.  Most of what I wrote two decades ago still applies today.  Yes, “even today” high income producing physicians, attorneys, and corporate middle managers are still below the norm when it comes to transforming income into wealth.  And most high income producing couples in general are more of the income statement affluent types than the balance sheet affluent types.

How does this relate to minding our own business?

If I can take an inferential leap for a moment, I’m assuming the wise student quoted above was referring to ignoring (minding our business) what others drive, wear, and buy. If we can ignore the consumer behavior of others, and focus on our own financial goals, we will not spend like those around us. This is one of the main tenets of my father’s lifetime of research, and we’ve found this empirically through our research at DataPoints, demonstrating the relationship between being indifferent to what others are doing and the ability to transform income into wealth.

What’s especially challenging is when our neighbors, friends, friends of friends through social media, and coworkers are hyper-consumers. And, it may be even harder when you’re in a well-defined, professional occupation (i.e., physicians, lawyers, executives): there’s a stereotype that many buy into about what doctors should be driving, or where they should be living. Consider this: the most ever spent by millionaires in our latest nationwide study on a watch was $300. Physicians in our study paid $700.

Another reason very well-educated people tend to lag behind on the wealth scale has to do with the status ascribed to them by society. Doctors, as well as others with advanced degrees, are expected to play their part.
– The Millionaire Next Door, p. 75

To build wealth, be a contrarian. Don’t play the part. Going back to our wise student quoted above…to build wealth, we need to mind our own business and focus on what it takes to transform that high, physician salary into wealth. Ignoring what Dr. Jones is driving, where she is living, and that fancy watch she just bought is critical to building wealth.

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