How Rich People Think: 25+ Things They Won’t Tell You

Most of them weren't always rolling in it. Here are 25 tips from rich people on how to make your money matter.


Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine October 2013
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    We're cheap—and proud of it.

    When you open up the paper and you see those coupons, it looks like dollar bills staring you in the face ... It’s how I grew up. Why not?—Hilary Swank to talk-show host Kelly Ripa, on clipping coupons

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    I think about it this way: Not spending money is the same as making money.

    So if I save $2,000 by not flying first class, that’s the same as someone paying me $2,000. Wouldn’t you sit in an uncomfortable chair for three hours for $2,000?—A successful Boston plastic surgeon

    Phillip Toledano / Trunk Archive

    I go to the ATM only once a week and pay for everything with cash.

    "That way, I’m forced to stay on a budget without counting pennies and saving receipts. I can spend only what is in my wallet. I turn it into a game where each week, I reduce my ATM withdrawal amount by $20 to determine how low I can really go."—Alan Corey, author of A Million Bucks by 30

    We're just like you.

    Millionaires tend to pay about $16—including tip—for a haircut at a traditional barbershop.—Researchers from the University of Georgia Survey Research Institute

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    We loathe waste.

    One time my granddaughter was filling out all this paperwork, and there were several paper clips. I told her to take them off so she could reuse them. She said, ‘Grandma, do you know how cheap paper clips are?’ I said, ‘Do you know how far a penny can stretch when you need it to?’—Pat Brennan, co-owner of Brennan Builders, a premier custom-home builder in Evans City, Pennsylvania

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    We invest on whims.

    During the spring of 2012, I  read the Wall Street Journal and learned that Talbots was supposed  to be acquired, but after the deal fell through, its stock fell nearly 50 percent in one day. That’s when I purchased $5,000 worth of Talbots stock. Its value increased by 50 percent that day, and I made the decision to sell it right then.—A partner at a prestigious Washington, DC, law firm

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    We're gutsy with our jobs.

    When negotiating a new salary, always end the negotiations with a request for a nine-month review, instead of the usual 12-month review. It always gets approved, and it gives you a three-month head start on a potential salary raise or bonus.—Alan Corey

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    We're not as smart as you think.

    It’s amazing how much smarter everyone thinks you are once you have money. Two days after I sold my company, I got asked to speak at a conference I had been trying desperately to speak at for six years.—Peter Shankman, entrepreneur and angel investor

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    We find investment ideas in everyday life.

    After my wife got excited about the fact that Hanes sold its L’eggs panty hose in grocery stores, I figured that the company was on to something. I bought Hanes’s stock and watched it rise sixfold.—A manager of the Fidelity Magellan fund

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    We don't quit until we get the deal.

    I once went all the way to the head of customer support at Dell over a problematic computer that was out of warranty, and I was shipped a new one the next day. If you are willing to go up the chain, you will very likely reach someone who is willing to bend the rules to rectify a complaint and fix the problem.—August Turak

    Phillip Toledano / Trunk Archive

    We accept risk in order to achieve success.

    I was working at AOL in the 1990s when the company let go of 300 people. I was one of them. The movie Titanic was coming out, so I took my rent money and had 500 T-shirts printed that read, ‘It sank. Get over it.’ If I didn’t sell those shirts, I was homeless. I sold 500 shirts in six hours and made five grand. Then I called USA Today and gave a reporter the story. I sold 10,000 shirts on the Web over the next two months and ultimately racked up 100 grand. That was my very first company.—Peter Shankman

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    We can't win when we give a gift.

    If it's modest, people think, All she bought me was a vase? But when you give something over-the-top (I bought someone a house once), people say, 'She's showing off.'—A retired California tech executive and multimillionaire

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    Contrary to popular belief, we do pay taxes—a lot of taxes.

    And the rich don’t all have teams of high-priced lawyers and accountants to do the paperwork. Many of them do their own with TurboTax, just like the rest of the world.—A partner at a prestigious Washington, DC, law firm

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    We're careful about giving to friends and family.

    A whopping 72 percent of wealthy families—those with more than $250,000 to invest—think their children should pay at least part of their college tuition, and nearly a third think the prospective student should plan on contributing at least half.—A 2012 survey of 1,000 affluent families by asset manager Legg Mason

    Phillip Toledano / Trunk Archive

    We come up with clever ways to deal with requests for money.

    "Anytime the newspaper lists my name among the 100 top-paid executives in the area, I get a ton of requests from people asking for money.It happened so much that I had to come up with a strategy to deal with it. Now I say, ‘I’m happy to give. I’ll match however much you raise yourself.’" —A retired California tech executive and multimillionaire

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    We don't necessarily splurge on suits.

    I buy three suits every five or so years and own only ten total. That’s all I need—T. Boone Pickens, oil billionaire, in an interview with Kiplinger’s magazine in 2012

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    We admit we're snooty.

    When I go to other people’s houses, I don’t like watching TV on their smaller screens and listening through their wimpy stereo sound systems. It feels like you’re watching TV while slightly blind and deaf.—Allen Wong, multimillionaire developer of many bestselling apps and author of Lifehacked

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    We like to use initials.

    You rarely meet a really rich person named Bobbie, Rickie, or Danny, but you may meet Robert W. Smith—or, if he’s really made it, R. W. Smith—An investment professional who blogs at stuffrichpeoplelove.com

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    Rather than handouts, we put people to work.

    "After I made a bit of extra cash by being an app developer, I decided to give some to my old friends and family members who were living paycheck-to-paycheck during the recession. But I knew that most of them wouldn’t accept it. So instead, I asked them for app ideas, which I’d code and sell. They weren’t great ideas, and the apps barely make any money. But that wasn’t the point. I’d pay my contributors thousands of dollars anyway."—Allen Wong

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    We get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from not wasting things.

    "I still collect all the tiny pieces of soap and put them together into one bar. I still squeeze the toothpaste tube dry. And I grow a lot of my own vegetables." —August Turak, founder of two successful software companies and author of Business Secrets of the Trappist Monk

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    We give a hand in unexpected ways.

    "One time my hairstylist told me she had been fined for passing through a tollbooth without paying the fee. She didn’t have enough change and figured she’d pay the toll later by mail. She didn’t realize that the fine for passing a tollbooth would be a hefty $125. So I decided to tip her $125."—Allen Wong

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    We have neighbors who are billionaires, but you would never know it.

    "The really wealthy are usually not the ones who wear the most expensive clothes, have the latest handbags, or drive flashy cars. In Martha’s Vineyard, you see a lot of people who live in houses that sell for $10 million driving ten-year-old Toyotas."—A successful Boston plastic surgeon

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    Our huge homes might have specific rooms dedicated to entertaining.

    "Your home might not have a ballroom, but you can save yourself stress by creating an off-limits area when entertaining. Bonus: You can shove the ‘I don’t know what to do with this stuff’ pile into one of those rooms and shut the door."—A real estate broker from Million Dollar Listing New York on Bravo television

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    A lot of life is really about who you know and making sure you hold on to those relationships.

    "My big break was when I was hired to represent a company started by people I knew from high school."—A partner at a prestigious Washington, DC, law firm

    Gregory Reid for Reader's Digest

    When you're buying something, it's good to ask, 'Where does the store get it?'

    "We were paying for organic produce, and the prices were killing us. So I think, Where is this store getting its food from? We do the research, call the wholesaler, and find out the criteria for ordering. The minimum order was $250. So we started taking orders from friends and arranged to get palettes of food dropped off in our driveway."—Jerrod Sessler, founder and CEO of HomeTask, entrepreneur, and former NASCAR driver

    Gregory Reid for Reader's Digest

    What's in our wallets?

    EXPIRED DRIVER'S LICENSES “I keep several in my wallet. Occasionally looking at how I’ve aged in my license photos reminds me to make every day count.”—August Turak
    A $100 BILL “At one point, one of my employers gave me a personal bonus to recognize a job well done. In a Donnie Brasco kind of moment, he handed me an envelope of money he had taken out of his own personal bank account, and I keep one of the bills in my wallet. It’s a good reminder that someone else recognizes I have value.” —An Investment professional who blogs at stuffrichpeoplelove.com
    A BUS TICKET “Instead of driving and being stressed out about traffic, you can work your scene or do your exercises on the bus.”—Vincent Kartheiser, Mad Men star, in an interview with the New York Times.

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    Your Comments

    • Marla

      #25 – “pallets”

    • qa4057

      To sum it up: We don’t use credit cards, accept risk, invest on whims, cautious, aggressive in our jobs, persistent, frugal and cheap, snooty, worried and creative about how we give people handouts, pay our taxes, lucky in our investments, keep several drivers licenses and a $100 dollar bill in our wallet.

    • crabbyoldlady

      So, did a rich person write this article? Seems unlikely. How does the writer know what rich people think?

    • you killin me

      When I googled this subject, I was wanting to learn more in the range of the moral fiber of the rich, or some of them anyway. Meaning, there are some who don’t care if their decisions cause harm to others, money is more important. Being rich creates control over others, etc. Most people revere the rich when in truth, they are no better than anyone.

    • Ting

      they dont spend on expensive suits probably because they already have a closet full of expensive suits.

    • Tom M

      Keep old driver’s licenses? All states make you surrender the old one when you get a replacement. So, Alan is claiming that he lost one every time a license is due for renewal? Lots of fees, not to mention a big hassle, when doing that.

      Another article of complete BS.

      • Bob

        I live in PA, and they’ve never made anyone surrender their old one. They just punch a hole in the magnetic strip, you still get to keep it. I have all of my old licenses.

        • Rufus T. Firefly

          Same here (in Alabama).

          • HistoChic

            Same here in NC, and mine is actually in my wallet behind the current one, although it hasn’t made me any richer.

      • Inspector Spacetime

        $8 for a replacement license, and it’s an online order form.