What does it take to be financially successful in the USA?

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by SLC Flyfishing, Jul 10, 2014.

  1. SLC Flyfishing, Jul 10, 2014
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2014

    SLC Flyfishing Suspended

    SLC Flyfishing

    Nov 19, 2007
    Portland, OR
    When I read a lot of the posts on here I get the sense that many feel that the deck is stacked against most everyone; and that unless you're born wealthy, or are incredibly lucky, you have basically no chance to succeed financially.

    I disagree in general with this assessment. But part of that may lie with my definition of "success." The basics are very simple: if you work for a living and spend less than you make, you will accumulate wealth. That is really not that hard. Luck will always play a part -- if you get a debilitating disease or some other massive health problem such that you can't work or have considerably more expenses, you'll have trouble. But again, the basics are simple: work and save. You probably won't become massively wealthy doing just that, but doing that alone will make you more successful than quite a lot of people.

    If you define success as making "big" money, then I think luck will need to play a bigger role. That's not to say that hard work isn't necessary and won't take you far, but hard work won't always result in big money -- you do need some good luck.

    I guess what I mean is, hard work (along with an absence of really bad luck) will nearly always produce "good" outcomes, but in order to produce "great" financial outcomes, you'll need some good decisionmaking and good luck as well.

    And I think that as long as you're getting "good outcomes" the. You can consider yourself financially successful.

    Am I really far off here? I'd be interested in hearing what others think about my take.
  2. Bug-Creator macrumors 6502


    May 30, 2011
    Saving a reasonable chunck of your income requires your income to be well above the cost of living.

    Securing a job that actually pays good, requires either luck or some sought after education (often both).

    Access to good education can be limited by various factors (money not the least of them).

    So yes it seems logical that someone who made it that way thinks everybody else could also do it, it's just not the reality for a greater chunk of the population.
  3. rdowns macrumors Penryn


    Jul 11, 2003
    I think the same things that have made Americans successful in the past are applicable today. Sadly, opportunities today are much less than they were in the past, for many reasons.
  4. SLC Flyfishing thread starter Suspended

    SLC Flyfishing

    Nov 19, 2007
    Portland, OR
    what does "cost of living" even mean though. It seems as though cost of living is a pretty subjective concept. I know plenty of people who spend very little on anything; preferring to save money whenever and wherever possible. This means shopping for no-name clothing, using coupons etc for food purchase, limiting driving or using public transit, not spending money on thinks such as going out to eat or to the movies etc.

    My point is, I think a lot of people may have an inflated sense of what "cost of living entails" I know I struggle with it.

    Obviously there are jobs that don't pay enough to purchase a home or rent a nice apartment in a nice part of town. But that goes back to the hard work idea; I know plenty of people who work two full time jobs, or one full time and one part time. They are still not what most would consider wealthy, but they get by and are able to save some money that way.
  5. Desertrat macrumors newbie

    Jul 4, 2003
    Terlingua, Texas
    I don't give advice; all I figure I can do is tell what worked for me.

    From 1963 into 1979 I had an 8-to-5 job at reasonable pay. It wasn't enough to suit me. So, I worked on occasional nights and weekends. Shade-tree mechanic, coin shows, gun shows. I bought the tools out of disposable income, a few at a time. I borrowed money from a bank to buy collections at wholesale, selling at retail. I learned the pertinent tax laws, to minimize my tax burden.

    I learned to do all my home repairs, saving beaucoup $$$. I also did my best to minimize all phases of my overhead, whether house payment (no mc-mansions, thank you) or utilities.

    Over the decades, my billfold became ever-fatter. :D

    In 1979/1980, I became fed up with office engineering and environmental politics. I dropped out, moved to the middle of nowhere, jawboned my way into a backhoe and dump truck and became the local sand'n'gravel fella. Bought any cheap land nearby to me.

    Finally took to sittin' and spittin' around 2001.

    Today's world? All I know is to look around and play the old entrepreneurial game of, "Find a need and fill it." Bound to be something out there that is both remunerative and enjoyable.
  6. Happybunny macrumors 68000

    Sep 9, 2010
    While I do agree with a lot of what you wrote, I would like to add this.

    Of course not all people’s circumstances are the same, to get that great job some times is just a matter of who you know, and not what you know.

    The increase in non paying internships have overtime cut off a large percentage of the population. Plus if you are working two jobs it doesn’t leave much time for school/re-training.

    Trades and employment that are suddenly outsourced, or just plain made redundant. If this happens when you are still relatively young it can be a life’s lesson, but if it happens in your late 50’s it a death sentence on your finances

    Luck plays a role, but having family with deep pockets, that really is the golden ticket.
  7. jnpy!$4g3cwk, Jul 10, 2014
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2014

    jnpy!$4g3cwk macrumors 65816


    Feb 11, 2010
    You could easily assume that, if you live in a place with low social mobility. As a child, I lived in such a place, and, happened to see an aspiring businessman deliberately sabotaged because he dreamed above his station. It couldn't happen in public now like it did then, but, the expectations are still there. So, my first advice to young people who to improve themselves is simple: get out of places with very low social mobility. Like the red places on this map:



    I somewhat agree with you, but, I see (lack of) healthcare as a much bigger factor than you do.

    There is much more to "success" than money, but, to get out of the lowest rungs requires more than hard work. It is a fact that our society no longer values hard physical work, and, those individuals who can't compete as knowledge workers are basically screwed. For young men who are not academic material for a variety of different reasons, such as disabilities (as in IEPs in school for those familiar) and other "mental" (broadly speaking) disabilities and issues, willingness to work hard physically gets minimum wage or a little above, and, the work is just not valued, socially or monetarily.
  8. Technarchy macrumors 604


    May 21, 2012
    Taking out the entrepreneurship angle.

    Complicated, but there are some basics that put the odds in your favor.

    1. Get an education in STEM, Business or medical or something else that is not frivolous in the real world. Also consider the trades.

    2. Look at careers that are not easily exported/imported, can't be easily automated, can't be trained for in 3 weeks.

    3. Don't buy stuff you don't need.

    4. Live on a budget and save.

    5. Stay away from expensive, depreciating assets.

    6. Don't have a bunch of kids you can't afford.

    7. Work

    8. Location Location Location

    9. Think twice about who you are marrying. And then think again.

    10. WORK!!!!
  9. Hieveryone macrumors 68040

    Apr 11, 2014
    I'd have to agree with you for the most part.

    I think attitude plays a big role.

    There are poor people who became rich.

    There are rich people who became richer.

    And there are children of rich parents who became rich.

    There are also poor people who stayed poor.

    Rich people who became poor.

    And children of rich parents who did nothing with their life.

    The attitude that, "I want to make a lot of money and be successful, and I am willing to do whatever it takes to get there" will take you a long way regardless of background.

    Do rich parents help? Of course. But there are people with rich families who don't do much as well, and people who grew up poor but became rich.

    I know one thing is for sure, if you have the attitude that "I'll never be rich because the odds are stacked against me and the system is rigged" then I am sure you will never be rich. There are plenty of people who were poor and are now rich, who debunk that myth. It is harder to get rich being poor but it is certainly achievable if you want it.
  10. Michael Goff macrumors G5

    Michael Goff

    Jul 5, 2012
  11. Desertrat macrumors newbie

    Jul 4, 2003
    Terlingua, Texas
    Heh. The harder and smarter I worked, the luckier I got. :D

    Nobody gets rich as a hired hand with an 8-5 job. Doesn't happen. Comfy, okay, but hard to have a paid-for house and paid-for Mercedes and all that, by age forty or fifty.

    Calculated risk-taking can help. Using debt as a working tool can help. But never use debt for daily funsies.

    It doesn't take a great deal of talent to piddle away time on TV or on browsing the Internet. Time is your only capital.
  12. tshrimp, Jul 10, 2014
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2014

    tshrimp macrumors 6502


    Mar 30, 2012
    Was going to post the Obama "You didn't build that" speech, but decided to post this video instead.

    Here is one about hope and change. 4 Very successful guys.
  13. Technarchy macrumors 604


    May 21, 2012
    When you inherit millions or billions, you're a player with a reserved seat at the table from day one. No luck needed.
  14. FreemanW, Jul 10, 2014
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2014

    FreemanW macrumors 6502

    Sep 10, 2012
    The Real Northern California
    The importance of choosing the right parents cannot be overstated regarding "success" and "wealth"; two extremely subjective words.

    Generally, living within your means, doing something that you enjoy, and refusing to externalize any 'judgement parameters' should provide great opportunity for a successful life.

    Society in the United States (probably many other first world countries as well) is littered with outspoken people who were born on third base and spend their public life telling everyone that they hit a triple.

    Grover Norquist comes to mind . . . .
  15. Hieveryone macrumors 68040

    Apr 11, 2014
    This is true. If your parents have i.e. 10 million, then you do not have to work as their child.

    If you make 2% a year from investments, that's $200,000 a year.

    If you make 8% a year from investments, that's $800,000 a year.

    So on and so forth.

    Success and even wealth is also relative. A fisherman with a fish store earning 60K a year is doing very well if you ask the guy making ice cream at the DQ around the corner or the bank teller across the street.

    If you ask someone earning 500k a year, he wouldn't consider that successful. So it just depends on your roots too and where you come from and who you ask.

    IMO, a good benchmark is to take the average family income in the US which I believe is 50 grand a year or 4K a month.
  16. LIVEFRMNYC macrumors 604

    Oct 27, 2009
    What does it take to be financially successful in the USA?

    It takes sacrifice, patience, determination, and discipline. Those who think they can achieve their goals without getting out of their comfort zone, have extremely low standards for goals or are extremely lucky.
  17. aerok macrumors 65816


    Oct 29, 2011
    Or won the lottery
  18. Michael Goff macrumors G5

    Michael Goff

    Jul 5, 2012
    Your parents are part of the luck, really.
  19. Hieveryone macrumors 68040

    Apr 11, 2014
    I think luck is a big part, but also education. My parents got rich because they went school and earned their graduate degrees. Then saved up for years.

    Then came investment opportunities. The 90s in particular was a great time for investments.

    And now they don't have to work if they don't want to. Investment income is more than enough.

    They invested in my education sending me to a good high school then college which helped me get a good job as well.
  20. Michael Goff macrumors G5

    Michael Goff

    Jul 5, 2012
    Your parents could afford an education, another huge factor.
  21. Hieveryone macrumors 68040

    Apr 11, 2014
    Actually, they were blessed to get full scholarships!
  22. Michael Goff macrumors G5

    Michael Goff

    Jul 5, 2012
    Getting a full scholarship these days...
  23. Hieveryone macrumors 68040

    Apr 11, 2014
    These days it's really hard. I tried to get a partial scholarship because I had really good grades and scores and they told me point blank, we don't give many scholarships and if we do it'll be like a 1,000 bucks.

    Also, the luck part was the 90s for them. Those times were really good for people who had some money to invest.

    These days the markets are doing well but only if you're on Wall Street are you really seeing the gains.

    Mom and pop investors are still not in the market and haven't benefited much.

    Can't really blame them after 2008.

    EDIT: I should mention my parents were 2 out of 3 students to receive full scholarships in their class. So it wasn't easy back then necessarily either.
  24. 63dot macrumors 603


    Jun 12, 2006
    These are all good points. Unfortunately the STEM thing which was far more reliable, has dropped some since a lot of STEM jobs got outsourced as many nations got on the STEM bandwagon much earlier. But one is still better off with a STEM degree than with liberal arts.

    The 9th point is so key but we all marry for love, right? But it makes sense to have a spouse who is smart with money and in the long run it's probably even better than marrying rich. But if you marry rich and that person happens to spend less than is taken in, then that's ideal.
  25. VulchR macrumors 68020


    Jun 8, 2009
    Work ethic, luck, education, risk-taking and skill: How many of us have enough of these to compete against the super-rich that have money working for them rather than working for money?

    I used to believe that work and skill were the key to progression in my field (science), but I see a lot of self-promoting plonkers who do poor science get well ahead. In one sense I do not care, but then these guys get into power and start making life difficult for everybody else.

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