Why most people will never get rich

Published February 10, 2016   Posted in How to Save

I think a lot when I’m pulling weeds, and I got a lot of thinking done over the past few days. This week, I spent several hours pulling those small green devil stalks in our backyard, and I got to thinking about a subject that I’ve pondered off and on for YEARS – why won’t most people ever become rich?

Why most people will never get richAt one point in time, I simplistically chalked this up to income. Most people are not pulling down seven figures a year, and who could possibly get rich without such a large paycheck? Of course, becoming a part of the personal finance community and taking control of my own money situation taught me that income has very little to do with getting rich. It makes it easier, but high salaries very often don’t relate to high wealth (Hat tip to The Millionaire Next Door).

If it’s not about income, then what prevents most people from getting rich? Over the week, I mentally built a small list of causes that I believe keep people from basking in the glory of riches. Let’s take a look at what I came up with.

Why most people will never get rich

1: They prioritize other things – The phrase “actions speak louder than words” gets to the heart of this cause. Almost everyone wants riches, but until we prioritize getting rich over spending money on stuff that we don’t need, most of us will never truly accomplish that goal. Most people do not want to get rich bad enough to make it happen, bad enough to cancel expensive cable television services or cell phone plans, or bad enough to drive around in a 10-year old Corolla instead of a brand new Mercedes, or bad enough to say no to expensive dinner or vacation invitations. These are uncomfortable decisions that need to be made to help accomplish financial goals.

2: They don’t believe that they can – In some cases, people simply refuse to believe that anything GOOD could possibly happen to them. A poor attitude is a devastatingly destructive state of mind for people who want wealth. If we believe that nothing good will ever happen to us, that will ultimately become our reality.

3: They want to keep up with the Jonses – When status matters, keeping up with the Jonses is how that status gets maintained. If Jim next door rolls in with a new BMW, guess who wants one too? Most of us see items that we don’t have with at least some degree of jealousy, and this habit is a huge factor in preventing significant wealth accumulation.

4: They don’t accept that “it takes time” – Our inability to delay gratification keeps money flowing out of our wallets faster than we could possibly blink. For most of us, getting rich takes time. It means sacrificing a little discretionary spending for the sake of your future self, and the word “future” scares a lot of people. Life is short, spend money now. What if I die next week in a car accident? I don’t want to wait 10 years before I can enjoy the nicer things in life. These are the excuses that keep us working towards a goal of wealth that never seems to get any closer.

5. They think it is too late to start saving – While it is true that the earlier we start saving, the earlier we accomplish our financials goals, that does not mean we can’t start saving in our 30s or 40s. In fact, while I did funnel some money into my 401k throughout my 20s, it was only the bare minimum. I truly started to save BIG MONEY in my early 30s. I started late, but late definitely beats never!

6. They built very few passive income streams – Salary is great, but getting rich (and staying rich) becomes much easier when passive income streams are developed as a channel for continuous income. Stock market and real estate investments are passive while commuting into an office and working a full-time job is very, very active. Generating income outside of the office (where your money works for you) is a big factor in getting rich.

7. They live on credit – While the use of credit cards is not necessarily a bad thing, using credit to make a purchase before acquiring the funds to pay those purchases off is a huge mitigating factor to getting rich. Arguably, credit card debt is the very worst type of debt in existence. Why? Interest rates are generally through the roof, and running a month-to-month credit card balance may also indicate a tendency to live beyond our means.

What else? Can you think of other causes why most people will never become rich?

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34 responses to “Why most people will never get rich”

  1. You hit it with your first point. People don’t prioritize saving and working towards being rich. For many, rich is the dream but they never actually take action towards that dream.

    Also, most Americans associate rich with having expensive “toys” such as cars and big houses. I think The Millionaire Next Door should be required reading for everyone in school. The book has an amazing ability to open your eyes to what being rich really is.

    • Steve says:

      It’s very true, Thias! Being rich will always be the dream, but living LIKE your rich doesn’t actually make you rich. And I agree, The Millionaire Next Door was an excellent read. One of my favorites.

  2. It is related to your comment on passive income streams, but most people follow the rules that they believe they are supposed to. Rule number one is that you should get a job of some sort, rather than make for yourself by starting a business. About 70% of America’s millionaires on their own business. The business doesn’t need to be glamorous, but it needs to be something that provides value to someone else. If you are not making a plan for yourself, and taking a job for somebody else, you are just being part of their plan. Truthfully, I spent my whole life working for giant companies – I was very fortunate and blessed to move up and make s good deal of money. But, that I am giving to my son.

    • Steve says:

      I love this quote, “most people follow the rules that they believe they are supposed to”. It’s spot on accurate – conventional wisdom and comfort zones are just terrible influences. Like you, I’ve worked for other people for the majority of my life. I did try a start up or two, but those just didn’t pan out. The next best thing to making a ton of money is, well, saving a ton. 🙂

    • Stockbeard says:

      I think having the “entrepreneur mindset” is one of the things that will always work to the benefit of people like us who save a lot.
      My 9to5 pays me what I consider a ridiculous amount of money (although it’s considered “normal in the field”), not because they overpay me, but because I can compare my salary to the money I make from my side income, which is roughly 25% of what my salary gets me.

      Every time I look at my side income, I ask myself: “Could my family and I live on just this? No, then we need to save more”.

      It helps me to have the goal of one day live on what is currently my side gig. It puts money in a better perspective than if I was only comparing my expenses to my 9to5 salary. I guess you could say it’s a mind trick I use to force myself to save even more.

  3. I believe many lack the basic understanding of personal finance. I though the only way to become a millionaire was to make a million dollar income. I know better now. I still talk to so many people that just don’t understand how to live within their means.

    • Steve says:

      Me too, Brian. I very much thought right along with you that being a millionaire required a million-dollar salary. Like you, I learned a lot since those days – and I believe that not only do a lot of people not know how to live within their means, a lot of people also don’t WANT TO live within their means.

  4. I agree with these points, Steve. It’s unfortunate though and I’ve written about this myself.

    One thing I would add to this list is that some people just want to keep working and have no plans to become rich and retire (my brother being one of them). When I actually let this sink in, I was shocked.

    My dream growing up was to be rich. However, over the years, I’ve realized that it wasn’t the rich part that I was after… it was the not having to work part that I wanted. I’ll be financially free in just over 9 years – I’m not going to be rich, but I’ll be able to continue my current lifestyle (no settling) and not have to work if I don’t want to. I’m very excited about it, although 9 years seems like a lifetime away!!

    — Jim

    • Steve says:

      Hey Jim – it’s true, some people just want to keep working and never retire, and quite honestly, that’s fine. If working makes someone happy, there is no reason to put a stop to working. To be perfectly honest, I find people who legitimately just want to keep working for the rest of their lives to be extremely fascinating – not in a bad way, but in a curious way. 🙂

  5. Matt Spillar says:


    Great post. I think all the reasons you listed really hit the nail on the head. In my opinion the biggest factors that hold people back are not wanting to delay gratification and getting caught up in what they “should be doing.” Most people have trouble waiting and aren’t very long term thinkers. If it makes them feel good now, they’ll spend money on it, without regard to what it means for their future. I know friends that got car loans right after getting a full-time job, because that’s just what “everybody does,” or they wanted to celebrate their success. Rather than go against the norm and make personal choices that don’t match up with the rest of society, they let external pressures make those decisions for them.

    Both of these factors stem from your first point: they prioritize other things. That is the root cause for all the others, and it’s a shame that people don’t realize that simply making different choices could lead to them being incredibly wealthy.

    • Steve says:

      Yup, delayed gratification is a big one. The “it takes time” syndrome is something that not a lot of us have patience for – in some ways, I’m as guilty of that as anyone! And BTW, I was one of those people who got a car loan right after I joined the full time work force. Yup, I bought a Corvette.


  6. This is quite the comprehensive list. I agree that one of the big factors is making “uncomfortable decisions.” However, I can attest to the fact that those decisions become a whole lot easier over time, after you see the big changes that can result from small adjustments in your life.

    • Steve says:

      Very true, Harmony. Once we see that the decisions that we make have a very real impact (both positive and negative) on our lives, we begin to see things just a bit differently. One break through begets another one, and another. It’s one big awesome snowball.

  7. Tawcan says:

    It all comes down to your way of thinking. If you think you can’t, all you see are limitations. Keeping up with the Joneses certainly don’t help either. Great stuff.

    Another point being being too conservative with their investments. “Investing” in GIC’s and bonds won’t get you anywhere.

  8. I agree these are all common reasons. I’d add that many people think it’s wrong to get rich, perhaps because of a scarcity view that assumes one person’s wealth necessarily causes another’s poverty. In some circles there is definitely a stigma associated with the rich. There are probably some wrong reasons for wanting to get rich, but the type of wealth you’re building only makes sense, and is more within reach than people tend to realize.

    • Steve says:

      Good point, Kalie – it’s unfortunate, but I agree that is probably another factor at play, here. Some believe that being rich is immoral or ASSUME that you gotta step on people in order to get rich, and therefore they don’t try.

      That’s a very sad and unfortunate attitude, but it’s true that it’s out there.

  9. Two thoughts on additions: 8. They don’t know the basic math of wealth building and compound interest, so don’t both to try, and 9. They think the best way to take care of other people is to spend money on them, rather than taking care of themselves first so that they can be in a position to help out in other ways. I know in our case, we were a little defeatist about all of it until we started to understand the math — like you, we assumed before that we couldn’t get rich because we didn’t make a million bucks a year. So, so wrong. Empowering people with a little math knowledge can change everything!

    • amber tree says:

      SO true… It took me some time and math as well to understand that it is possible to become FI soon. Before I found the different blogs, I was stuck in classic thinking with a lot of saving. Now, I have a more aggressive plan in place. Even if we are late starters, we still plan to be FI sooner than later.

      For most people, I think it just sounds too complex to bother about it. Especially in Belgium: in the 70-80, as a kid you could save in school. You brought some money, gave it to the teacher and it got written down in your small personal saving book. As an adult, why change…?

    • Steve says:

      I like ’em, ONL. Compound interest is a powerful thing and something that all of us in this community are taking full advantage of. It works and we are seeing it.

      Regarding #9, yup, I know these people myself. In fact, a couple of them are in my family!

  10. Simple Saving says:

    Not to bring politics into it, but what really gets me going is the politicians who always talk about how the middle class is getting squeezed and “can’t keep up”. Keep up with what? Your neighbors overspending habits, that’s what!!! No politician ever talks about personal fiscal responsibility. We reached the double comma club with total household salaries around 60k to 80k. It really wasn’t that hard, though it did take us a long 14 years! Yes, that last statement was sarcastic. Obey the simple principles you outlined above and financial independence is right around the corner.

    • Steve says:

      It’s true, Simple Saving – unfortunately, talking about personal responsibility doesn’t generate votes. When you create an atmosphere of fear, then you begin to paint a picture that there’s a force out there that will GET YOU, but I am here to save you, and therefore you should vote for me in order to stay safe and be prosperous.

      Sad state of affairs in our political system, no doubt. Congrats for ignoring all that and joining the double-comma club!

  11. Mr. SSC says:

    That list nails most of the mindsets that keep people holding themselves back. My brother is like this, in that he makes a good salary, but sees the building wealth part of it and saving it as “It’s too late to start, It won’t make a difference because I can’t save enough, this is based on his prioritization of everything else his money goes towards, and then, not believing he can make a difference and just accepting it.”

    ridiculous… People are their own worst enemies in many respects and finances are not any different.

    • Steve says:

      Saying “it’s too late to start” literally hurts my heart, because it’s never too late. That’s a defeatist attitude.

      People are their own worst enemies, no doubt.

  12. […] Why Most People Will Never Get Rich – ThinkSaveRetire […]

  13. Joe says:

    A lot of people don’t understand the math behind personal finance. They don’t understand that saving now will pay off a lot more later. Time is the secret ingredient, but most people just want instant gratification. Financial education is severely lacking.

  14. I’m currently reading Millionaire Next Door. Two things I’ve learned so far are (1) frugality is huge, and (2) wealthy people always have goals. Now I know I’m not a nut from always being a constant planner of the future 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Ain’t nothing wrong with planning! Though, admittedly that’s what my wife usually does, not me. I’m the visionary, but my wife is the implementer.

  15. Lady Locust says:

    I realize this is an older post, and it might be part of the attitude, but how about the excuse, “I’m just not good with money.” (or math, or numbers.) I can’t believe how many times I’ve heard that one. Also, there’s probably a good dose of #2 out there. We are not taught any other option than working until we drop. No other possibilities are even suggested. That’s probably partially why I love the FI community:)

    • Steve says:

      True that, Lady Locust! That’s a good one, and I’ve heard of that one before…but never really understood it. Not “good” at money? I guess that means “I enjoy spending more than saving”. 🙂

      Thanks for your comment!

  16. Brian says:

    They don’t know it’s possible
    I think this is a big one most people including me did not know that a few hundred dollars saved/ invested per month can lead to a early retirement.
    Think about it if your going to retire at 65 then saving 10-15% is all you need why save more, enjoy your self.
    But now because of people like you and the fire community there is an alternative view early freedom from forced work.
    Thanks for all you due
    My date is 45

    • Steve says:

      Hi Brian! Thanks for your comment. Congrats on setting your own early retirement date, too. Nothing wrong with calling it quits at 45 – that’s a good 20 years before the large majority of people will retire these days. And, I wouldn’t be surprised if you find a way to retire even earlier than that. 🙂

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