Saturday, November 12, 2005

Reasonable and unreasonable advice


A folksy gambol through the life of its author, a real estate investor, motivational speaker and producer of a financial board game called Cashflow 101, "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" turned some traditional financial advice on its head.

No longer is it enough to study hard at a good school and get a good job to be set for life, advice given to him by his father, the poor dad. Instead, Mr. Kiyosaki advocates the staples of late-night infomercials: investments in small stocks and distressed real estate. He argues that one has to think like a millionaire by recognizing the difference between an income-producing asset and a liability, advice given to him by a friend's father, the rich dad. The whole trick to financial success is creating passive income.

"People do respond to it," said Rick Wolf, vice president and executive editor of Warner Books, the publisher of the series. The old rules no longer apply in a world of outsourcing and pension plan collapses, he said.

"People are definitely looking for some alternative pathways to financial freedom," Mr. Wolf said. "The staying power speaks for itself."

Gaining millionaire status is still an accomplishment. It's important to note that even though the threshold for making the Forbes list of richest Americans is now $900 million, only 7 million out of 100 million American households have net assets of $1 million or more, which includes, of course, the equity built up in most people's biggest asset - their homes. (Of course, Mr. Kiyosaki would say that reflects "poor dad" thinking; a home is a liability.) That number has not changed significantly despite all the millions of books sold telling people how to join the club.

You have to ask yourself before you buy any of these books: did my neighbors get rich because they just think differently, or because they use money more wisely?

This millionaire-mind mania started in 1998 when two professors, Thomas J. Stanley, then at Georgia State University, and William D. Danko, teaching marketing in the business school at the State University at Albany, tried to answer that question. They described the seven characteristics of a breed of frugal and inconspicuous millionaires, which included living below one's means, picking smart advisers and having a spouse involved in the family finances. It was an eye-opener, and the book "The Millionaire Next Door" sold about 2.5 million copies in hardcover and paperback while it perched on the New York Times best-seller list for more than three years. The book made the two professors millionaires.

The lesson learned here? It may have been that the way to get rich is to write a book revealing the thinking of millionaires. Mr. Stanley is back with a brand extension, "The Millionaire Mind."

Except of course, that the average Joe is going to have problems correctly identifying lower risk sources of passive income, and - who the hell goes to Starbucks regularly? - people already find it difficult to live below their means for essentials.

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