Financial literacy has not been a strong suit of the U.S. education system. And while interventions can be made to address this problem, let me share important lessons I learned outside the four walls of the class room.
Lesson #1: You Can Make More As An Entrepreneur Than As An Employee
In school, the focus is often on preparing students to become employees rather than entrepreneurs. The education system is designed to produce individuals who can fit into the corporate structure, keep their heads down, and work hard so they can pay taxes to feed the system. While this is a valuable and necessary path for many, it is important to recognize that there are alternative routes to financial success.
Entrepreneurship offers the opportunity to break free from the limitations of a fixed salary and traditional employment. By starting your own business or pursuing entrepreneurial ventures, you have the potential to earn significantly more—sometimes 10 or 100 times more—than what may be possible as an employee.
Lesson #2: Focusing On Return On Time As A Metric
You are trained by the school system to think in terms of what your value is per hour as an employee, but if you can make the leap to being an entrepreneur, you can put a system in place that allows other people or technology to fulfill the system and amplify your return on time.
To illustrate this principle, consider a simple business example involving a boy offering yard work services to neighbors. Initially, the boy could work directly for neighbors at a rate of $20 per hour, earning $160 per day for an 8-hour workday.
This is not much different than being an employee since the return on time is limited to the number of hours worked. However, if the boy takes on the challenge of finding new clients and hiring other kids to fulfill the yard work, he can amplify his return on time.
Instead of performing all the yard work himself, he can hire other kids in the neighborhood to fulfill the tasks at a lower rate, say $10 per hour. The kid now earns only $80 profit, but he can have as many clients as there are other neighborhood kids who are willing to be his employees.
By using his Saturday going door to door to secure one new recurring client per week, he can add $80 per week in recurring profits, doubling what he makes in only four weeks of securing one new client each week (four clients at $80 profit = $320 instead of $160). Imagine if he found 10 new clients!
Of course, scaling the business involves taking on additional challenges such as coordinating with other kids, investing in equipment or a truck, and assuming some risk. However, by embracing these difficulties and putting in the hard work, the potential rewards are far greater.
Lesson #3: The Real Cost Of Spending
When you spend money, you are actually spending the difference between what you earn and what your expenses are. Suppose fresh out of college, you earn $3,200 a month after taxes. If your expenses amount to $3,100, it means you are saving $100 per month.
If you can find ways to reduce your expenses to $2,700 per month, you will be able to save an extra $400 per month, allowing you to save for retirement or achieve financial freedom at a rate that is five times faster than before.
Another way to think about it is that when you engage in unnecessary or discretionary spending, you are not just paying for that specific item. You are also using up the margin or the difference between your income and expenses.
Let’s use the example above of $2,700 in non-discretionary expenses with savings of $500.
If you increase expenses by $300, it reduces savings for the month by 60% — from $500 to $200 — even though $300 is only 10% of your total $3,000 in expenses.
You are first spending all the money necessary for essential expenses like rent, utilities, phone bills, insurance, etc. After taking care of these expenses, the remaining margin is what you can save for retirement or invest in a business venture that could potentially lead to financial independence.
Do not give up that margin without first calculating its true cost.
Lesson #4: A Degree May Have The Worst Ratio Of Time And Money Invested Compared To Alternatives
While obtaining a degree may have been the traditional route to employment success in the past, it is no longer the only path to differentiation in today’s job market. There are hundreds of ways to build your personal brand to make yourself more employable, unique, and valuable.
Let’s say your degree costs an average $100,000 and took you four years to finish. There are things I would argue that cost one one-hundredth of the price and time you spent on that degree that add more perceived credibility to your name.
For example, writing my first book, Raising an Executive, was a major catalyst for me in terms of building my personal brand and lending credibility to my name. It garnered me multiple spots on TV and radio, and I believe, was the tipping point for making several clients choose to work with me.
It took me only a few weeks to write the book and leverage marketing tactics to make it a number-one bestseller on Amazon. The credibility I gained from writing the book was significantly higher than getting my degree. In fact, my degree is brought up very rarely in a professional context.
There are several other low-cost and time-efficient ways to build your personal brand and differentiate yourself. Pursuing certifications, seeking mentorship from prominent figures in your industry, engaging in public speaking, starting a non-profit organization related to your field, or contributing to media publications in your industry are all effective strategies.
While a degree may still hold value in certain fields, it is important to explore alternative paths that can provide a higher return on investment in terms of perceived credibility.
Lesson #5: Your Resumé Is Not As Important As You Think
College teaches you that your resumé is the most important thing, which is simply not true.
A friend of mine was having trouble finding employment out of college. After applying to over 300 jobs, he was not even making it to the interview process.
So, he created a fake resumé saying he graduated from Duke University with a 4.0 GPA and listed a bunch of other fake impressive details just to see if he could at least get a callback.
Sure enough, after filling out a dozen or so applications with the fake, perfect resumé, he still did not get any interviews.
In my experience, your network is significantly more important than your resumé. If you know the right people who believe in you, they can vouch for you to an employer and you will get a chance at a job, even if you do not have the resumé for it.
What gets your network to refer business your way or vouch for your employability is by doing good, hard work, and having a passion for what you do.
Lesson #6: Talking About Controversial Topics Is Okay
I’m a strong Christian and used to think my faith would somehow disqualify me from running in certain circles. But spending hours in prayer before God and talking with clients and colleagues about time with Him has had the exact opposite effect.
People are refreshed when they hear someone doing things differently. Before, I would conceal my faith to not ruffle feathers. But walking with God has made me more reasonable, humble, and sober-minded in a way that makes people with differing views cherish and value how I see the world.
I would never bring up a controversial topic for offense’s sake. But if God is showing me something through the house church my wife and I lead, and it applies to the business situation, I will absolutely speak up and share it.
I have had people I work with open up to me about alcohol abuse and sexual struggles, and overall have developed a kinship with clients and colleagues that I never would have developed if I did not share where I was coming from.
I would say that as long as you are talking and walking with humility, you are free to share things that may otherwise be taboo or put you at risk of butting heads with clients and colleagues.
The path to financial and professional success is not linear and certainly not one-size-fits-all. These lessons serve as a testament to the power of thinking outside the box, challenging traditional norms, and embracing a more creative approach to one’s career and financial success.
Whether it’s relearning how you think about your time, leveraging your unique strengths, or finding courage to share your convictions, I would encourage you to remain openminded in your path to financial success and to challenge the status quo. The most valuable lessons often come from experiences and perspectives not necessarily found in textbooks or taught in school, and it’s never too late to start learning them.