Friday, September 7, 2012

Live Rich or Die Broke?

Breaking news:  Rich people are different from the rest of us. 

They’ve got a lot more money, for one thing.  

(Sorry.  I couldn’t resist.  That’s one of my favorite lines from “A Perfect Murder,” the 1998 remake of Hitchcock’s thriller, “Dial M for Murder.”) 

On the occasions when I ponder the subject of wealth versus reality, that piece of dialogue pretty well sums it up for me.   

Such musings typically surface when I’m in line to buy a Lotto ticket.  So you can imagine my chagrin when I read in an excerpt from Steve Siebold’s book, “How Rich People Think,” his list of 21 Ways Rich People Think Differently.  Item #3 – Average people have a “lottery mentality.” 

I beg your pardon!  Average!  Average!?  Why I’ve just been told this very morning that I’m wild, courageous and brilliant!  OK, it was in a shared post sent to about a bazillion people.  But average!?  I don’t think so.  Not where I live, here in Lake Woebegone. 

Yet there I was going and stopping, pausing and stepping among the run-of-the-mill.  My people.  All of us living out the distinction so coldly laid out by someone who wrote a book and therefore must be smart.  Smarter than we are, the ordinary folk with dollars in our hands. 

The really stupid thing I do is get in line to buy a Lotto ticket when the jackpot gets huge.  You know, when the media starts talking about the biggest payout in Lotto history and shark bites and lightning strikes and weight loss after 60. 

If the odds against hitting a Lotto jackpot aren’t already gargantuan, which they are, the odds against hitting the biggest jackpot in Lotto history are comparable to the odds of Republicans and Democrats shutting up and listening to each other.  You know nano-odds.  Microscopic.  Grain of sand on the beaches of the earth.  Slight. 

Then I saw a related piece of research on the Science Channel.  Lab geeks demonstrated that humans remain optimistic in the face of facts to the contrary.  In their experiment subjects were first asked to rate the likelihood that they would succumb to each of 80 negative life events.  For example, what are the odds you’ll have a broken leg in your lifetime?  The schmo at the keyboard enters 3%.  The computer comes back and tells her the odds are actually three times greater - 11%.  Next, she’s asked to estimate how likely it is she’ll develop high blood pressure.  She guesses 34% and the computer says no, it’s actually only 24%. 

Here’s the kick.  When she goes back through the list with her newly acquired information, she adjusts her thinking to match any scenario that’s rosier.   

But, if she started with a brighter outlook than the actuarial tables foretold, she kept it!  She didn’t change her expectations!  In spite of the facts, she held onto her more optimistic / less realistic view of her future.   

That’s my homies and me in the Lotto line.   

Siebold also says that the average person thinks money is the root of all evil, while rich people think poverty is said root.  Those of us who fight the battle of correcting long-standing and intractable misquotes know that it’s the love of money we’ve gotta eschew.   

Nevertheless your humble servant, moi, will stand with the fat cats on this one.

Ironically, that’s another thing separating me from the treasures I deserve – it’s the built-in guilt that rides sidecar with the money, and the belief that I’m supposed to make the world a better place.  Oh!  Poor, poor, middling me.  If only I’d been raised with that wealthy, airline-safety mentality:  take care of yourself first.  

That’s not greed, or selfishness.  That’s rich.  But all I want to do is share.  Oh well.  Too bad for me (and my husband) and for those who would be our beneficiaries.  They’re just not gonna get that much. 

So there it is – I’m not rich, and much as I’d like to maintain my rose-tinted view, I’m not like rich people. 

Still there are smart people who write books for common folks like me. 

Watch this space for an upcoming review of Pollan and Levine’s radical four-part approach to financial planning, “Die Broke.”