April 06, 2009, 9:47 AM — Career management and personal finance are very closely related -- more closely than most people realize. Sure, we members of the middle class understand at a basic level how a given job (or rather, the compensation associated with a given job) will or will not help us achieve our financial goals.
But we fail to recognize how good financial management can help us pursue more meaningful careers and can ultimately liberate us from the rat race.
Our problem is that we see good career management as the way to get ahead financially. We think that if we play our cards right -- if we work hard, avoid getting laid off and negotiate good salaries -- we won't have to worry about money. That's only partly right.
In fact, good career management stems from a foundation of good financial management. Career freedom and financial freedom begin with effectively managing our money.
Which leads me to our other big problem: Most of us don't know how to manage our money. As a result, we get stuck in jobs we dislike just so we can pay the bills, and we think we have no other choice but to work our pants off for a living. (For the record, I enjoy my job.)
However, if we understood how to manage our money-how to make it work for us, as opposed to us working for it-those of us in dead-end jobs would realize that we do have choices, and we wouldn't feel so trapped by our aluminum handcuffs.
That message of good personal financial management as a means to career freedom is an underlying theme of Robert Kiyosaki's book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad (Warner Business Books: 1998), which I began reading early last month upon my husband's recommendation. (I'm 60 pages from the end.)
Rich Dad, Poor Dad has transformed my outlook on money. I used to have a very adversarial relationship with money. I always assumed that I'd struggle financially. I always hated dealing with money, and I viewed it as the root of all problems, both personal and global.
After reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad, I realized that I don't have to struggle with money my whole life. I have choices. What's more, managing my money no longer feels like a punishing chore. I enjoy thinking about money-how much I can save, how I can save more, and how I can use those savings to make even more money.
I found Kiyosaki's personal finance lessons in Rich Dad, Poor Dad so personally empowering that I wanted to share them with you. I realize CIO.com's audience is pretty sophisticated and includes some very wealthy readers, but for everyone else who's struggling financially, I hope you find the following insights as helpful and inspiring as I did. I think we can all benefit from some personal finance tips right now.
Who's Your Daddy?
A powerful point in Kiyosaki's book is that we're really working for lots of other people besides ourselves. First, we work for the business owners who employ us and for their shareholders (if it's a public company). They enrich themselves off of our hard work. Kiyosaki writes, "Most people, working for a paycheck, are making the owner, or the shareholders, richer. Your efforts and successes will help provide for the owner's success and retirement."
Second, we work for the government. It gets a cut of our paycheck before we even see it, writes Kiyosaki. The more money we earn, the more the government takes away. Kiyosaki notes that most people spend the first five months of the calendar year essentially working for the government. That's how much money they pay in taxes: five months' worth of their wages.
Finally, we work for the financial services industry. After taxes, our next largest expense is our mortgage and credit card debt.
All three groups take a big cut out of our earnings and, in all but the last case, before we even see our paycheck.
The way out of this trap is to manage our money effectively-or in Kiyosaki's terms-to get our money to make money for us. We may need to keep our day jobs-at least for a while-in order to save some coin that we can invest in profitable ventures, but at least we'll be taking concrete measures to build our own wealth.
Grow Your Assets. Limit Your Liabilities.
Kyosaki writes that middle-class professionals' money problems mainly stem from the fact that they don't understand the difference between an asset and a liability. So he defines asset and liability in real simple terms: Assets are things that put money in our pocket, like stocks (ideally), bonds, real estate investments (again, ideally) and intellectual property. (For technology professionals, any applications they develop for themselves or books they write in their spare time are examples of their intellectual property-things they can sell and make money off of.)
Liabilities are things that cost us money, that take money out of our pocket, such as houses, cars, boats and credit cards.
The key, then, to making money, building wealth and getting out of the rat race is acquiring assets and decreasing liabilities, according to Kiyosaki. It's true that you have to spend money to buy assets, but the income that those assets generate should more than offset the cost.
The reason the middle class struggles financially, writes Kiyosaki, is because they acquire liabilities that they think are assets and because every time they take a step up financially, they only increase their spending.
By contrast, adds Kiyosaki, the rich "get richer" because their assets cover their expenses and because they reinvest whatever balance remains into new assets. They're constantly acquiring assets, and as their asset base grows, so too does their income. And that's how rich people get their money to work for them. Their money is their employee, says Kiyosaki.
Suck It Up: Become a Salesperson
The chapter of Rich Dad, Poor Dad that resonated most for me was a chapter called "Work to Learn -- Don't Work for Money." In it, Kiyosaki talks about the number of smart, talented people who don't get paid what they deserve. He writes:
"I am constantly shocked at how little talented people earn. I heard the other day that less than five percent of Americans earn more than $100,000 a year. I have met brilliant, highly-educated people who earn less than $20,000 a year. ...
"The world is filled with talented poor people. All too often, they're poor or struggle financially or earn less than they're capable of, not because of what they know but because of what they do not know. They focus on perfecting their skills at building a better hamburger rather than the skills of selling and marketing the hamburger."
Needless to say, Kiyosaki is an advocate of sales and marketing training for everyone, whether you're an IT manager or a journalist. The ability to sell and market oneself is the basis of personal success, he writes.
He also recommends using your job to learn as much as you can about business and management as opposed to specializing in a particular trade or domain. "...the more specialized you become, the more you are trapped and dependant on the specialty," Kiyosaki writes. "Work to learn, not earn."
All of this will help you launch your own successful business, should you choose to pursue an entrepreneurial path.
Kiyosaki shares far more tips and insights in Rich Dad, Poor Dad than I can include here. (Note: I am not being paid to promote this book. I have never met or spoken with Kiyosaki.)
The moral of Kiyosaki's story is that building wealth is not a luxury. It's a necessity, and you don't have to be rich to do it. The more money you have, the easier it is to build wealth, but all it really requires is a basic understanding of finance, some creativity and the desire to change your financial situation.
And if I can learn to better manage what little money I have, you can too.