The title of this post is also the title of an article I just read on Yahoo! Finance (originally from Bankrate.com). A quote from author Keith Cameron Smith really struck a chord with me, and I want to share it with you:
The very poor and the poor are stuck in survival mode; they just want to survive. The primary goal of middle-class people is comfort; I just want to have enough; I just want to be comfortable. When you get into the rich and the very rich, their primary goal is freedom; I’m going to do whatever it takes to experience freedom. That’s the biggest difference.
It’s OK to have a plan for survival, it’s OK to have a plan for comfort, but just make sure that most of your mental energy is focused on freedom. Then you’ll start experientially understanding the old saying, “Seek and you will find.” If you seek to survive, you will. If you seek to be comfortable, you will be. But if you seek freedom, you will find it. It just takes longer to create freedom in your life than it does to create survival. Does it take longer to grow a weed or an oak tree? Financial freedom is like an oak tree, where survival or comfort is like growing a weed or a little bush; it doesn’t take too long.
This is a very interesting and important consideration. I agree that the poor are focused solely on survival and that the middle class is focused on comfort and a basic sense of security (“sense of” being the operative phrase). I also agree that those mindsets inherently limit financial and career potential of those people, as a group.
However, I’m not sure that all (or even most) of the poor and middle class can acheive financial freedom simply by “seeking” it. I strongly believe in individual responsibility and the American Dream, but the fact is that many people from those classes lack the education (formal or otherwise) and the ability to become a successful entrepreneur, which the article implies is really the only way to become financially free. Many also do not have the academic preparation, resources, or motivation to go to college, after which they could arguably obtain a decent-paying job.
Financial planners and “experts” love to look at people as individuals in a vaccuum. “Get educated!” “Save money!” “Start a business!” they preach, as though everyone is perfectly capable of doing such things but are somehow simply choosing not to. That advice may apply to many of us who typically read and write about finances–those who are already more or less financially comfortable. We grew up being told we can do and be anything we want. We were read to and educated constantly; we were taught how to handle and save money; we were expected to make good grades, go to college, and have a career (as opposed to a job).
It’s important to remember that millions of Americans never get that kind of education and guidance growing up. Many people never see or hear of a single positive financial role model. They are not expected or encouraged to become financially comfortable, much less “financially free.” Things like payday loans and savings jars (as opposed to accounts) are what they are used to–things like IRAs, savings bonds, and 529 plans are not even part of their vocabulary. And hearing about the tax breaks that a 401k has to offer is not going to change their reality or their financial situation. The poor and the middle class get their financial education from the same place the rich do–from friends and family. The difference is that their friends and family are more likely to be sorely mis-guided.
The point is not that there’s no hope for individuals from the poor and middle class to succeed. There are countless success stories (including all four of my grandparents). The point is that many of those people may need a different kind of financial advice and guidance. It’s not as simple as telling them to seek financial freedom.
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