You don’t need to follow a “simple guide” to get rich

Published January 18, 2016   Posted in How to Think

Do you think that you need to follow some simple guide written by a “self-made millionaire” in order to get rich? Think again – or better yet, turn that question around and ask: how many of those self-made millionaires do you think got rich by reading some other dude’s “simple guide”?

You don't need a simple guide to get filthy richHow many people who read guides about bodybuilding become professional, 260-pound chiseled to the bone sponsored IFBB professionals or fitness models?

How many successful business owners turned their idea into a [multi]million dollar company by blindly following the steps outlined in a free guide on how to start a business?

Yeah, not many.

Our world tends to reward those who want to succeed the most. Very often, this means trying and failing (a lot), making friends and building a network of smart and dedicated people, engaging in uncomfortable conversations and getting out of our comfort zones.

Getting rich, like any endeavor in life, takes time for most of us. Time to realize the situation that our past spending has put us in, and time to correct the problem by making better decisions with our money. Making these decisions, consistently, are critical to building wealth.

But, guides don’t make decisions for you. More importantly, guides can’t make you WANT IT, and want it bad. You gotta want it bad enough to try, and guides won’t get your butt up from off of the couch to start making things happen. That responsibility falls on us.

Remember, a lot of success is purely psychological

Let’s say that you stumbled upon a free guide to building a $10,000 a month business by selling on eBay. Clever titles draw us in and tickle our interests – even if we weren’t specifically looking for this material, who doesn’t want to earn another $10k by selling stuff on eBay.

And so we download (or buy) it, thinking that if we follow the steps outlined in the book, we’ll build our own $10k/month business. It might not all be easy, but at least we have the instructions.

The problem? If it were that easy to make $10k a month on eBay, everybody would be doing it. And if the information were so invaluable that somebody put it in a free guide, why wouldn’t this business idea be taking our country by storm? Earn $120k a year by following a simple guide? Wow!

Let’s get real. The information might be spot on accurate. The insights may also be truly profound. The knowledge contained within the covers of the guide could be so useful that $10,000 a month may only scratch the surface of what is possible. The book may truly be a valuable resource.

But in life, blindly following steps outlined in a book only works in a purely academic setting – and even then, following steps may not produce the desired result. Building a successful business takes motivation and desire to achieve, big time. To make $10,000 a month on eBay, we must WANT an eBay business, not $10,000 a month.

Our minds need to be focused on building the business, not swimming in piles of cash.

Many times, it takes sacrifice. It means saying no to guy’s night, or passing on that dinner invitation and spending your weekends maintaining and growing your business instead of nights on the town.

In other words, stuff that no guide can ever teach.

That said, free guides are not all bad. The best guidebooks provide us with “actionable motivation“, or enough information and/or enthusiasm to make us want to start moving, get excited or otherwise more knowledgeable about a subject that you’re currently pursuing – something that you can apply to your life, today.

Where simple guides can help

I would be a damn fool if I didn’t recognize the good that these free money-making guides can provide. While many are pure advertisements disguised as legitimate content, others do contain valuable information.

For example:

Guides can help you to get started – If you truly want a better financial life for you and your family, but you have no idea where to start, a guide can point you in the right direction.

Guides can build a foundation – Though these guides often contain fairly generic “beginner”-level information, that is often all we need to set the wheels turning in our heads for further effort.

Specific guides can be a great value – For example, “How to start investing in index funds” will certainly offer more detailed information on building true wealth than, say, “How to make $50 a week by selling yarn”, or “How to make an easy $1m in a year”.

Like I said above, many guides do contain valuable information while others don’t. How can we properly evaluate whether a guide is worth our time?

Look through the web site – If the site reads like nothing but a cheap “get rich quick” advertisement to you, then it may not be worth your time reading.

Check out the author – Use Google to research the author a bit. Forum posts are often a great source for helpful feedback about the writer of the guide. The more positive the feedback, the greater the likelihood that you will take something useful from the guide.

Is the guidebook on Amazon? If so, browse through the reviews for a quick and dirty determination of whether or not the material is worth the effort.

Or, just read through the first chapter, then decide. This will take a little time, and you might have to cough up your email address and get spammed incessantly because of it, but giving the guide’s first chapter a quick read is another way to determine its usefulness for you.

Remember, anybody can write a guidebook, and Amazon’s publishing system makes it incredibly easy to publish books with very little effort or, quite frankly, knowledge on the guide’s subject.

Remember, guides can’t make you want it

It will never matter how much material that we read – if we don’t want something bad enough, then no guidebook on the face of the planet is going to change that. They can get us started. They might even motivate us initially. But unless we make the decision to GO FOR IT, we won’t reach our goals.

I would like to hear from you. Are there any free financial guidebooks that you have read and found to be useful? I remember reading the Motley Fool’s guidebook when I was a kid (note this guide was not free, but cheap). It was high level, but still very approachable and easy to understand.

Are you currently reading a guidebook (of any subject)? Has the book provided you with actionable motivation?

We track our net worth using Personal Capital


37 responses to “You don’t need to follow a “simple guide” to get rich”

  1. I agree that guidebooks are more about motivation and maybe some general tips. Big success usually requires a lot of creativity and unconventional thinking, and no one can tell you how to do that in your field. Also, if it’s a competitive field, it seems like a guidebook might only share so much information.

    • Steve says:

      That’s an excellent point, Kalie. I think these guidebooks might be able to get you started, but they will only work if you already have the motivation to see it through.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. This is a great reminder and a great post. I just finished reading the 4-Hour Workweek, which is a guidebook of sorts. And it WAS helpful in the ways you say – it gave me actionable motivation, but it also made me realize what I really wanted. And I don’t WANT a job managing a company of outsourced people so that I can only manage them 4 hours a week. It sounds stressful. I don’t have the “forget it” or “let it work itself out” mindset as a manager. I wouldn’t be able to relax. Even if I only had to do hands-on stuff for four hours a week, it would be taking up mind space the rest of the time! No, thank you! But reading it helped me realize what kind of freedom I really want and deciding what projects would be worth doing. So, even though I don’t plan to follow his guide, I learned some important things I can use to create something I WANT to do.

    • Steve says:

      Hey Maggie! I’ve read The 4-Hour Workweek too and loved it, primarily because of the reason that you’ve just described – it gave me ideas. It discussed alternatives to the way that we as people tend to mindlessly go about doing our business. Why I may not investigate every alternative described in the book, it very much gave me a direction to head in when it came to working smart, not hard. 🙂

  3. Stockbeard says:

    “To make $10,000 a month on eBay, we must WANT an eBay business, not $10,000 a month.”

    Wow, this might sound borderline cliche or a bit “cheesy”, but this is very, very true, Steve. Well said!

  4. I’m not a huge guidebook person. Rich Dad Poor Dad was largely discredited, along with many others. I agree with the thinking of if someone ACTUALLY has a way to get rich that is easy, why the F would they tell others about it. Do you see Steven Cohen and Ray Dalio (hedge fund billionaires) selling their guides? I didn’t think so. Wow you kind of got me heated there a little 🙂 I just think it is sad that people learn from these “guidebooks” and not from actually taking the time to diligence their subject and find appropriate material to study.

    • Steve says:

      That’s always been an interesting topic to me, actually – the thought of someone finding the “secret” to something and then supposedly selling it for $3.99 a pop. That’s not the way things work. If someone actually found a secret, he or she ain’t telling anyone!

    • Andrew says:

      Interesting, Rich Dad Poor Dad was the book that actually started me on the path to financial independence. The books obsession with property is annoying and doesn’t mention the fact that most of the authors money is made by selling seminar tickets. The general thoughts i got out of it was that you need to start generating passive income or setup businesses doing useful work for people, then leverage other people working for you to make more money.

  5. Amber Tree says:

    A “how-to” guide will in it self not make it happen. You are correct when you say that you need desire, the conviction that you want the end result.
    A “how-to” guide got me started in investing on my own, being my own adviser. I had the desire to do so, but lacked a small push to start. Some of these guides did help me.
    The same goes for non financial items, like my running. I wanted to do sports, to run. A “how-to-run 5 k” program in an app is the push that I needed to get started.

    Some non free books that are helping me now: the one page financial plan, the intelligent asset allocator.
    A free guide: lazy & uncomplicated investing on how to set up an index investing plan

    None of these did the work for me, but they paved the way to the final step: just do it!

  6. I think a lot of this depends on your personality. I wouldn’t necessarily follow a guidebook on what to do with my finances… however, I do appreciate the motivation that some of these books can bring. In fact, Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad’s Prophecy was the book that got me off my can to actually put myself on the track to become financially free sooner than later.

    Funny enough though, I just read 4-Hour Workweek for the first time and it didn’t do a thing for me (it seems I’m in the minority out there on this one!). So I guess it just depends on if you take these books as rule-books or just books to either get you on track or keep you focused and motivated.

    — Jim

    • Steve says:

      It’s true, the motivation aspect can definitely be a positive in many of these guidebooks – on virtually any subject, too. They can also let you know whether or not you actually do have a true interest in something.

  7. I typically search for specific topics and tend to settle on reading well-written articles. Sometimes forums are informative. I tend to believe that you get what you pay for. Although I have heard that Buying Rental Properties With No And Low Money Down by the guys over at Bigger Pockets is a great, free/cheap book. Aside from that, nothing ranks higher than building relationships, working your butt off, and failing over and over again. Get rich quick schemes tend to be just that. Schemes.

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

    • Steve says:

      I’ve generally found forums to be VERY informative, actually – when taken as a whole, the more people that respond to a forum post, the more intelligence that exists within the forum. That’s not to say that every individual post is necessarily intelligent, but taken together, a more full picture can often be drawn because of it. 🙂

  8. Absolutely right! We are responsible for our own success and only our hard work will get us to achieve our goals. Guides are always misleading in the fact that they try to persuade us through enticing titles. We build our own success and future!

  9. This is spot on. Guide books are saturating the market right now as every blog looks for an opt-in offer. We have to remember what guide books truly are, a guide. They aren’t going to do the job for you. Even if they are 100% actionable and doable, if you don’t put in the effort needed to do it (and for most things, a lot of effort is needed) then you aren’t going to get the results.

    • Steve says:

      I think part of the reason why so many guide books are in the market is because they are SO easy to write, and it often leads to what the author truly wants – readers to engage in his or her other services, whether that be consulting or something else. It’s an easy draw to capture people’s attention.

  10. TheMoneyMine says:

    Hey Steve – I agree guidebooks aren’t everything, but cannot it compared to education?

    Steve Jobs didn’t need an MBA, neither did Bill Gates, because they were so damn driven that they could just figure out and build huge businesses.
    But for the rest of us, or at least for me, education and advices from experts help me consider other points of view, make me grow and may help me find an alternative solution to a problem I didn’t even know existed before.

    One ‘guidebook’ that I would think is excellent is Warren Buffett’s shareholder letters. They are simple to read and understand and I’m sure many people learned a few things about keeping it simple and index investing reading them.

    But in the end, all that matter is actually putting to practice.

    • Steve says:

      Hey MoneyMine – I agree, these guidebooks are essentially a helping hand for those who want something, or at the very least motivated enough to follow through. I haven’t seen Buffett’s shareholder letters, but I’d bet they contain some very valuable information. 🙂

  11. So I’ll confess that I actually connected some pretty huge dots with regard to my health after reading a *self-published* “simple” guide on a health topic a few years back, but that’s not the norm for me. I value the longer form guides that don’t sugar coat things. Like Your Money or Your Life, which is basically my financial bible. And agree with you — “simple” usually talks about the steps, but doesn’t fully represent the hard work and time and patience and willingness to fail that’s built into actual success!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks ONL – and honestly, I took a lot from the Motley Fool’s guidebook on investing when I was younger. There definitely are some good ones out there. Like you, I’ve read Your Money or Your Life and enjoyed the read, thoroughly! 🙂

  12. Jim Wang says:

    I find that guides are helpful in teaching me the language of a particular skill and provide coverage of all the subjects I need to understand. From there, I can google for more in-depth information because now I know what key words to use.

    That said, I agree 100%. Guides won’t get you there on their own, if they did, they wouldn’t be free. 🙂

    • Steve says:

      If they did, they wouldn’t be free – absolutely! The language guides I agree could be an excellent subject for a guidebook to get you started. We may invest or download some culture guides when we begin traveling overseas. 🙂

  13. James says:

    I can’t point to a specific guide or book that I used to formulate – and subsequently execute – my investment philosophies and ultimately retirement plan. It was really a combination of reading various material (e.g. money magazine, blogs, Kiplinger’s, The Wall Street Journal, books like The Millionaire Next Door, etc.) and talking with friends I respected.

    • Steve says:

      That’s primarily the way it works for me as well, James – through a variety of reading options I’m able to gain a good enough understanding to at least get started. Experience, though, is what ultimately provides expertise.

  14. The guide books for me provide a high level approach to the subject and some insight from someone who supposedly knows that subject. I tend to pick up a couple “nuggets of knowledge” and hacks from these guides that can be used in other aspects of my life.

    When I am really interested in a subject, I will do a lot of research and read everything I can get my hands on (library,low cost books, or the internet)to expand my understanding. Those get rich quick schemes or the seemingly impossible concept of working from home for 2 hours a day making $0K a month don’t get much of my attention.

    BTW – I read the first few chapters of YMYL or the 4HWW occasionally just to get me motivated and to consider revisiting my approach.

  15. Jaime says:

    I think a lot of people have a general idea on what to do because there are several FIRE books already published. It’s the actual implementation of the idea that’s difficult. Most people throughout the world aren’t savers even when they make six figure incomes. I’ve noticed that many people in the pf community aren’t your average people either! 😛

    I’ve found “Automatic Millionaire,” “The Millionaire next door”, “Your Money or Your Life,” and J.D. Roth’s “Your money the missing manual” helpful. Anything worth doing isn’t going to be easy. It’s going to take work. =)

  16. Mr. Groovy says:

    Hey, Steve. Great reminder that we must consider survivorship bias when reading guides. Yes, doing steps 1, 2, and 3 turned the author into an EBay stud. But how many people followed the exact same steps and became EBay duds?

    • Steve says:

      Good question, Mr Groovy! Blindly following the steps won’t get you anywhere. As with everything in life, we gotta want it to make it happen. Want it bad enough.

      Thanks for the comment!

  17. Kurt says:

    As the “dude” who wrote the 5-vol “Simple Guides to Debt, Credit, and Wealth,” I take offense! 🙂

    No, seriously, I couldn’t agree more with your message here. Self-help books are worthless–in every topic area, not just personal finance–if all the reader is willing and able to do to make improvements is read books. To alter another oft-heard cliche: those who won’t do, read.

    • Steve says:

      Hehe, thanks Kurt – appreciate your comment. There is a lot that guides can offer, but it really does take motivation to actually get it done. Take those gems that we learn in guides and put them to work, baby! 🙂

  18. […] on how to get fit. Or, better yet, here’s how I have managed to get and stay fit. Steve at Think $ave Retire recently had a great post discussing the limited value of how-to guides. The steps that worked for […]

  19. Mortimer says:

    I’ve had similar thoughts as these while walking through my local library. I look at all the books and think, there’s a complete wealth of information in here, for free, available to anyone with a library card, written by some of the smartest people to ever live. And yet, most people don’t take action on the words written in the books. (And many of those books are financial goldmines.) Like you say, it’s all about an internal shift—deciding you will make a change and pursue a big goal. All the ads, pamphlets, and books on whatever subject won’t make you rich. Only you can.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Mortimer. You’re right, there is a huge wealth of information out there, and the key is using that along with your own internal motivation to just get things done and TRY. Failure isn’t a bad thing. It’s an opportunity to learn. 🙂

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