38 Secrets for Financial Success: My Personal Finance Manifesto

38Awhile back, somebody asked me to summarize my personal finance “playbook” in a blog post. Well … Here it is:

  1. Debt is a form of indentured servitude where people agree to sacrifice a portion of their future earnings in exchange for instant gratification.
  2. ATM machines are the Achilles’ heel of impulsive spenders.
  3. History tells us that all fiat money eventually returns to its intrinsic value: zero. The US dollar is fiat money.
  4. Given a choice, it’s always better to live your life anonymously rich, rather than deceptively poor.
  5. If you have to ask your boss for a raise, then you need to find a new employer.
  6. When in doubt, always choose credit over debit.
  7. It’s almost impossible to effectively manage your personal finances if you don’t track your income and outgo.
  8. Only suckers play the lottery.
  9. People who properly manage their finances don’t fear credit cards. In fact, they embrace them.
  10. Credit card “convenience” checks are anything but.
  11. Frugality has its limits. The most effective way to stretch your income is by finding ways to earn more money.
  12. Treat your household like a business; actively manage your finances and continuously look for ways to maximize your income.
  13. Not everyone requires a budget to effectively manage their personal finances.
  14. When it comes to saving money, patience is a virtue.
  15. Nobody should pursue a non-technical college degree until they’ve calculated their projected payoff point and return on investment.
  16. Precious metals such as gold and silver are for insuring wealth; not investing.
  17. Money does not buy happiness. If you’re looking for nirvana, you need to focus on attaining financial freedom.
  18. Only fools and the financially naive believe that everyone who drives an expensive luxury car is financially well-off.
  19. Only fools and the financially naive believe that everyone who drives a beater is broke.
  20. No matter how nice your financial adviser is, nobody will ever care about your retirement nest egg and investments more than you.
  21. When it comes to managing personal finances, those who fail to plan are planning to fail.
  22. Keeping up with the Joneses is a fools’ errand. Besides, the Joneses are broke.
  23. Personal finance management is not rocket science.
  24. Achieving financial freedom becomes extremely difficult if life’s major milestones aren’t accomplished in this order: 1) education, 2) career, 3) marriage, 4) kids.
  25. Buy low, sell high, and have an exit strategy for every investment.
  26. It’s sometimes better to rent a home than own one.
  27. People who believe in personal responsibility, and strive to be self-reliant, control their own destiny.
  28. A spreadsheet can help even the most disorganized person successfully manage her personal finances.
  29. It’s more important to save for your retirement than your kids’ college education.
  30. Americans under 50 who are counting on Social Security to provide for them in retirement will be working until the day they die.
  31. If you can’t live on $50,000 per year, it’s your own fault.
  32. Failing to save and being financially dependent on friends, family or the government severely limits one’s choices in life.
  33. You can achieve financial freedom regardless of how much money you make.
  34. He who dies with the most toys, doesn’t win.
  35. Actions have consequences, which is why it’s important to always spend less than you earn.
  36. You can be financially successful without a college degree; and a college degree does not guarantee financial success.
  37. Sometimes it makes sense to splurge, especially when it comes to vacations.
  38. The harder you work, the luckier you’ll be.

Photo Credit: Rene Mensen


    • 2

      Len Penzo says

      Oops. Fixed it. Thanks, Jen! :-)

      (That’s what happens when I edit these pieces too close to my bedtime.)

  1. 3

    David C. says

    Great post and words to live by. I would have to add, “Marry someone with similar viewpoints on managing money.” Divorce profits few, but the lawyers.

  2. 7


    I like #24. My cousin got pregnant at 16. I have to say that I’m very impressed, though, that she did #4, #3, #1, and #2 in that order, and has done pretty well.

    (Ended up with a PhD in physics).

    • 9

      Len Penzo says

      It is … but I’m cutting some slack for inflation.

      I originally wrote that $40k post back in 2009.

  3. 10


    Great stuff Len! I’d wholeheartedly agree with #24. We did follow that pattern initially. However, later in life my wife decided to add #5) more education, and #6) a new career as a CPA. Making that transition was extremely difficult…three of the toughest years of our lives. But the entire family pitched in to help and we made it through. Now she is making double what she used to as a teacher and I’ve been able to become a stay at home dad and manage family affairs. So financial freedom can come with an alternative pattern, but like you said it’s much more difficult.

  4. 11


    I occasionally play the lottery, I don’t expect to win anything, but it lets me dream. For the few days where there is the 0.0000001% chance of winning I get to plan how I will quit my job and plan vacations. Actually at that point it’s no longer vacation, it’s just life.

    For those few days of letting my imagination run wild, it’s worth the buck.

  5. 14


    Thanks for sharing this. The amount of times I said Amen when I read this post was ridiculous. I love it. It summarizes so much of what I believe especially this point: “Frugality has its limits. The most effective way to stretch your income is by finding ways to earn more money.”

  6. 15


    Awesome post! I personally love #4 the most: I see some people in my neighborhood that just looking at them, most would think that they are just getting by. But if you really pay attention, they are the ones with all of the money while the guy with the new car ever couple of years is the fool.

  7. 16


    I really liked reading through the entire list. I liked most of them and have lived by them as well. I don’t know how to influence others who aren’t reading this! And, very cool site redesign:)

  8. 18


    Last year my return on Lotto tickets was 8.5% , not much but better then nothing. My idea is someone will win sometime. For less then the price of a fancy coffee and donut, each week (1-5$) I could become richer then I’ve thought of. Also consider this volunteer taxation which is better then mandatory.

    If those in Washington, DC had some agates they would start a state and national lottery with prizes tax free. Consider each city would have a new tax source, county, state and federal would receive their share at time of sales. Every person could use an extra 1 or 5-10- 15-20-25 or 50K tax free?

    The only problem I see is who would manage it. We already see the problems of super sized gov’t agencies. Thanks Len.

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