Most self-made millionaires have done so by going their own way.

If there was a point-by-point road map to building wealth, they either didn’t realize it or simply were too individualistic to follow it.

Shemin bookRobert Shemin is a case in point.

He’s the multimillionaire author of How Come That Idiot’s Rich and I’m Not? and claims there are two positions when it comes to wealth:

  • right side up and broke, or
  • upside down and rich.

Shemin prefers upside down.

He says best way to build and maintain wealth is by breaking the rules you think and hear about when building it.

Following are eight rules worth breaking — in upside-down order — and what Shemin and other financial gurus have to say about them.

8. Before investing, learn enough so that you’re not going to make any mistakes

The problem here: Fear causes inaction, Shemin says. “Everything in life has a risk and a cost for doing it, and a risk and a cost for not doing it. Rich idiots focus on the risk of not doing something.” In his experience, most people don’t get started on stock market or real estate investing, or in estate planning, because they’re so scared of making mistakes, they’re overwhelmed.

fog of fear

“Of course you should expect to make mistakes when you start investing (or any time),” agrees Ramit Sethi, who writes the popular blog, I Will Teach You to Be Rich. “But if you start with small amounts, any mistakes won’t hurt you too bad. Plus, any mistakes can be mitigated by time.”

7. Don’t ask for help

“We’re taught from an early age that you’ve got to do everything yourself and that if you ask for help, something’s wrong; you’re dumb,” Shemin says. Yet he adds that getting help is critical to most people’s success. “Getting rich is a team sport.”

From selecting the best stocks to the best mortgage, trying to figure out everything yourself is stressful and won’t likely result in the best decisions, he explains. “Everybody’s good at a few things and not good at a lot of things.”

M. Nora Klaver, author of Mayday! Asking for Help in Times of Need, says, “Asking for help is actually a sign of strength. It shows that you recognize the gap between where you are and where you want to be — financially and otherwise — and have both the smarts and guts to take action and seek others’ support.”

6. Choose the path your advisers recommend

Of course, asking for help wisely means asking the right people. Get referrals, and in interviewing potential financial advisers, “Ask how they’re getting paid,” Shemin says. “You really have to be careful about with who you’re dealing with.”

Michael Edesess, author of The Big Investment Lie: What Your Financial Adviser Doesn’t Want You to Know, says, “The path your financial [adviser] advises is the one that will make them the most money. Money they make is money you lose. It’s that simple.” Edesess adds that there are ethical financial advisers out there but, he contends, “You’re most unlikely to find them at the big-name firms.”

5. Don’t invest in uncharted territory

Shemin gives the example of virtual real estate, which people are buying and selling with real money through Second Life. “When I found out about this, it made no sense to me,” Shemin says.”And a lot of smart people out there ask, ‘Why would anybody buy and sell space on the Internet that doesn’t even exist?'”

Second Life

But that’s right-side-up-and-broke thinking. So, Shemin says, “The rich idiot in me found some experts to explain it to me, and now I understand. It’s out there and it’s growing and it’s something that’s of interest. I have a lot of students and friends who are making fortunes sitting around on the Internet.”

4. Try to time the market

Every day, Shemin says he hears people say that the financial or real estate markets are down, making it a horrible time for investing. Sure, if you’re trying to make money within 90 days, maybe it’s not the best time to invest, he agrees. “But if your goal is five, 10, 20 years away like it should be, then we know over time the market’s going to do well,” he explains.


“Nobody can effectively time the market,” says Sethi. “We’ve seen this time and time again, with people thinking they can time the market and failing.”

And as Peter Miralles, president of Atlanta Wealth Consultants, points out, “Timing the market is not investing. Timing is speculation.” Miralles sees valuations, or the process of estimating the market value of a financial asset or liability, as less subjective than market timing and something that can lead to success.

3. Don’t invest until you have the money or good credit

Certainly most finance experts would not agree, but Shemin says building credit and maintaining a good credit score aren’t necessary in building and maintaining wealth.This example of upside-down thinking is one he learned in his early 20s, when he went to buy his first real estate property.

Shemin had grown up in a cash-only home, and it didn’t occur to him that never having borrowed meant he had no credit history. The bank denied the loan. But rather than letting the property pass him by, Shemin found a friend with good credit and they cut a 50-50 ownership deal.

business partners

When Shemin sold the property a few months later, his cut of the profit was about $20,000. “Not bad for a kid with no cash, no credit and no experience,” he writes.

Even though he has built a credit history now, Shemin says he hasn’t checked his score in more than two years. “Everybody in America worries about their credit score — it’s like a badge of honor,” he says, adding that it’s only important if you need to use your credit. His own experience has taught him that there can be ways around it.

2. Don’t get into debt

“Most people think debt is debt,” Shemin notes. “No matter how hard you work, your money is going to work harder for you if you put it in the right things.” For him, that has even meant doing real estate deals with a credit card.

A lot of people say credit cards are bad, but not for me. It’s discipline. I pay them off every month.”

credit card discipline

Sethi learned just how common it is to not to understand bad versus good debt when he gave a talk at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and spent most of his time comforting the students who paying for their educations with student loans that they’d made the right financial decision. He knew they would enter an industry where they would almost assuredly be able to pay off their debt.

“You made one of the smartest decisions in the world,” he told them. “That debt is just a hoist to get to let you get to the next level.

1. Make Sure of Everything before You Begin

Shemin says he failed math in high school, but he does remember learning that things with zero probability happen all the time.

“Has anything in life not worked out as you planned? As a business person, that happens about eight times an hour to me, so you’d better be prepared,” he says.

To most people, that means having a Plan A. But Shemin says it’s best to have a Plan B and Plan C, and sometimes even a Plan D and E for when things don’t work out as planned.

Miralles says, “A plan should be dynamic and will change as you grow in wisdom.” He suggests building a plan and showing it to as many as five people, and then repeating the process every six months as the plan evolves.

Tanya Marchiol, founder and president of the Arizona independent real estate firm Team Investments, also agrees that it’s best to break the rule of having a single wealth-building plan. She’s an advocate of financial goals, but says the path to them shouldn’t be set in stone.

“There will always be an abundance of opportunities that will present themselves to you. If you have your mind set on only those things written out in your plan, you could very well miss out on that opportunity, [which] could have been the one that would have gotten you where you wanted to be faster than your planned investments allowed,” she says.

Yet, Shemin notes, even on the road to wealth, it’s important to have the right mind-set and realize you’re rich already — with family, friends, health, freedom and “appreciation for what you have already and the gifts that are yet to come.”


Melissa Ezarik is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.

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