Ben Soppitt

Get Rich Slowly — 2020 Edition

Get Rich Slowly was a phenomenon in its time and continues to be a hugely successful website. Created back in 2006 by J. D. Roth it promoted a simple yet effective way to become rich. Crucially it was an effective antidote to and the opposite of the get rich quick promises of so much self-help then and now.

Its message is no less relevant today and is much copied, expanded and eulogised by many others. If you Google “Get Rich Slowly” you get 297m results.

The message might even be more relevant today as it was in 2006 — that was a time before even the iPhone existed. The massive rise of influencer culture and the growth of social media just was not around back then. The pressure to look “successful” and the apparent path to achieve it is so oversold its almost a meme in itself. If you believe this research 75% of Gen Z and young Millennials (bare in mind the oldest Millennials are now 40 so the term needs to be used specifically) aspire to be influencers as a career choice. Only 14% want to be a doctor or nurse.

COVID has also caused many to re-evaluate their relationship with money. Bad things happen to good people and becoming financially resilient to these shocks whatever they might be has been given new urgency and focus.

Get rich quick will always work for some — but statistically, your chances of becoming a successful influencer like @DavidDobrik or Toddy Smith (@todderic_) are pretty slim.

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Viner/YouTuber/Instagram Influencer Toddy Smith

Conversely, if you follow the rules of Get Rich Slowly your chances of becoming rich are pretty much 100%. Those are important odds — by all means, give it a shot to become a star but crucially have a plan B.

So we wanted to look again at the philosophy behind Get Rich Slowly — the source material, and review it in the light of 2020. We also wanted to review it against the aims and objectives of Unifimoney.

Unifimoney wants to make it easier for people to Get Rich Slowly by automating the manual processes involved. Technically impossible in 2006 but very possible now.

In 2012 J. D. Roth wrote about the 15 tenets of Get Rich Slowly in Forbes providing a great basis for a review in 2020.

1. Money is more about mind than it is about math. That is, financial success is more about mastering the mental game of money than about understanding the numbers. The math of personal finance is simple — spend less than you earn — it’s controlling your habits and emotions that are difficult.

This holds true today and the team at Unifimoney have written extensively about it — the key issue at play and the one most exploited by the financial services industry is a bias we all have called hyperbolic discounting. The tendency to perceive the value of rewards less the further away they are to being realised. We are very bad at deferred enjoyment.

2. The road to wealth is paved with goals. Without financial goals, you have no direction. If you have no direction, it’s easy to spend money on things you’ll regret later. But if you’re saving for a house, your daughter’s college education, or a trip to Europe, your goal will keep you focused, making it easier to spend on what’s important and ignore the things that aren’t.

This one has been interpreted by many Fintech companies especially in the “PFM” space (personal financial management) very literally. Creating budgets and savings goals with names and dates and tracking your progress. That's fine in theory but less so in practice. It's like saying the key to personal fitness is wanting to be fitter, have better muscle definition, lift more weights etc. I have all those goals but do I go to the gym, no sir, I do not. The problem is my motivation is lower than my threshold of inertia. Same is true for most people who don’t naturally budget anyway. At Unifimoney we believe the goal should be as broad and simple as possible — the ability to achieve financial resilience. We defined this as the ability to survive and adapt in the face of financial adversity, especially through unplanned events. Whether it’s a macro event like a global pandemic or more personal changes around health, career and relationships. It's universal but also very personal, my point of financial resilience will be different from yours. It is also less of a goal and more of a process. You can always be more financially resilient.

3. To build wealth, you must spend less than you earn. Basic math, yes, but it’s important. Successful personal finance is all about building a positive cash flow. By decreasing your spending while increasing your income, you can get out of debt and build wealth.

No arguing with this one — it’s an immutable law of getting and staying rich.

4. Saving must be a priority. Before you pay your bills, before you buy groceries, before you do anything else, you should set aside some part of your income. If you have to start small, start small. Even $25 a month is good. As you earn more and develop better habits, save as much as possible. (My wife saves nearly a third of her paycheck!)

This one has not dated well. Saving in today's market and for the foreseeable future will not under any circumstances make you rich.

Take this scenario from Personal Finance Club one of the many personal finance sites that in many respects reflect the original Get Rich Slowly creed.

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Personal Finance Club compares the return of saving that 20% in high-interest savings account vs investing it over 40 years. The top high-interest savings accounts are paying around 0.8% currently. The average stock market return is 10% per year. Inflation has ranged broadly between 1–3%. After 40 years of saving you would have saved $375,371 — not adjusted for inflation — that amount will be buying you very much less in 2060.

Had you invested that money you would be holding a forecasted $3,540,750. In 2006 Robinhood and Wealthfront did not exist, that had to wait 7 more years. Investing in the stock market as a retail investor was very much rarer and more expensive than it is now.

Unifimoney advocated for saving and getting a decent return on your money — not just in high-interest savings accounts but all your money including in your checking accounts. The average person earning more than $160K a year has $42K in a checking account earning next to no interest. That money can be put to better use.

5. Small amounts matter. Your everyday habits have a huge impact on your financial success. Frugality and thrift help build good habits and make a real difference over time. Plus, there are tons of opportunities to flex your frugal muscles.

Yes — small amounts are crucial, but not because they teach better behaviours. It's all about compound growth. Small amounts whether saved or lost over time add up to an awful lot. Invest $3.50 a day from age 26 by the time you retire you would have amassed a portfolio worth over $500K.

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But compound growth also works against you. Deposit interest that is lost (albeit a hidden loss through lower APY than you should be getting), unredeemed credit card rewards and benefits, high investment costs — they all add up and become a very significant opportunity cost over time that can never be recovered.

Unifimoney helps maximise passive income with a high yield checking account and cashback credit card. Every month deposit interest plus a minimum contribution is moved to a low cost highly diversified Robo portfolio. Additionally, credit card cashback is also used to fund the portfolio as is transaction rounding. Unifimoney customers automatically and by default follow the Get Rich Slowly methodology.

6. Large amounts matter, too. It’s good to clip coupons and to save money on groceries, but it’s even better to save on the big stuff like buying a car or a house. By making smart choices on big-ticket items, you can save thousands of dollars at once.

We refer to our core value proposition at Unifimoney as everyday money management. Our thesis is that you should be saving and investing as often as you are spending. We help automate that process. But as point 6 says there are ad hoc financial needs that also arise. For these, we work with 3rd parties to bring services specifically designed for our customers, young professionals, into the app. Student loan refinancing, home loans, auto loans, insurance, international remittances and more.

7. Slow and steady wins the race. The most successful folks are those who work longest and hardest at things they love to do. So try to find ways to make frugality fun, and recognize that you’re in this for the long haul. You’re making a lifestyle change, not looking for a quick fix.

We prefer to make achieving financial resilience easy and automatic rather than fun. So easy that it’s like paying for an Uber i.e. you hardly notice it at all. Rather than waking up in the morning (pre-COVID obviously) and regretting your unconscious spending the night before you wake up to celebrate your unconscious saving and investing.

8. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Too many people never get started putting their finances in order because they don’t know that the “best” first step is. Don’t worry about getting things exactly right — just choose a good option and do something to get started.

Our ambition at Unifimoney is to be the best first step for our customers.

9. Failure is okay. Everyone makes mistakes — even billionaires like Warren Buffett. Don’t let one slip-up drag you down. One key difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is the ability to recover from a setback and keep marching toward a goal. Use failures to learn what not to do next time.

We try to take ensure that this does not happen, automation takes out a lot of the problems with Get Rich Slowly in that it requires a sustained behavioural change and substantial manual labour. Remove these and the process becomes a lot easier and with a lot higher probability of success.

10. Do what works for you. Each of us is different. We have different goals, personalities, and experiences. We each need to find the tools and techniques that are effective for our own situations. There’s no one right way to save, invest, pay off debt, or buy a house — and don’t believe anyone who tells you there is. Experiment until you find methods that are effective for you.

Peoples needs are very different and require a different approach. At Unifimoney we have chosen to focus on the needs of young proffessionals. Doctors, lawyers, people working in finance and tech etc. This group has high income but it comes at great cost. High student debt, late to the workforce, progressive tax, stressful all consuming competitive careers and a high cost of living.

11. You can have anything you want — but you can’t have everything you want. Being smart with money isn’t about giving up your plasma TV or your daily latte. It’s about setting priorities and managing expectations, about choosing to spend only on the things that matter to you, while cutting costs on the things that don’t.

Always good advice. Enjoy that plasma TV.

12. Financial balance lets you enjoy tomorrow and today. You don’t have to choose between spending today and saving for tomorrow. You can do both. Strive for moderation in all things: Pursue your goals, but don’t forget frugality; be frugal, but don’t forget your goals.

Again solid advice. We calculate the average Unifimoney customer is wasting over $100 a month in unnecessary fees, lost interest and rewards and easy to recover wasted costs. That money alone can be put to work without any impact on daily life and could add up to a significant amount.

13. Action beats inaction. It’s easy to put things off, but the sooner you start moving toward your goals, the easier they’ll be to reach. It’s better to start with small steps today than to wait for that someday when you’ll be able to make great strides. Get moving.

We have often said that the sins committed by mass affluent consumers in personal finance are largely sins of omission, not commission. Its what they don't do that hurts them and over the long term. Unifimoney solves for this by making it automatic once that first commitment has been made.

14. Nobody cares more about your money than you do. The advice that others give you is almost always in their best interest, which may or may not be the same as your best interest. Don’t do what others tell you just because they hold a position of authority or seem to have a persuasive argument. Do your own research, get advice from a variety of sources, and in the end, make your own decisions based on your own goals and values.

We agree, always do the research but you don’t necessarily have to do the work as well. Advances in technology have made researching personal finance easier in many ways but technology has also created the tools to make managing money much easier.

15. It’s more important to be happy than it is to be rich. Don’t be obsessed with money — it won’t buy you happiness. Sure, money will give you more options in life, but true wealth is about something more. True wealth is about relationships, good health, and ongoing self-improvement.

“No wealth can ever make a bad man at peace with himself.” Plato
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Unifimoney Commerative Silver Coin

The world is a radically different place from where it was 14 years ago when Get Rich Slowly was created. Technology and are use of it has changed beyond all recognition. But we think the opportunity to harness technology to make putting into practice the ideas of J. D. Roth and make it easier than ever, almost effortless, to become rich slowly is now more achievable than at any point since it was first created.

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