ADVICE FROM THE BOTTOM: What Losing A Million Dollars Taught Entrepreneurs About Finance
A million dollars sounds, to most people, like absolute security, because being a millionaire seems like it would put you in a strong financial position for life. If your car were to break down or you lose your job, a million dollars could solve those problems pretty easily.
Unfortunately, there are no guarantees in personal finance. Even a million dollars can go away quickly through a string of bad luck or poor decisions. Learn the lesson from these ex-millionaires to keep a tight grip on what you have.
A MILLION DOLLARS CAN’T SUSTAIN A MILLIONAIRE’S LIFESTYLE
When most people think of a million dollars, they usually don’t think of the money in their accounts. They think about big houses, flashy watches, and fast cars. Those things are part of the lifestyle, and they’re part of what makes the dream of a million dollars so desirable. The problem is, a million dollars disappears pretty quickly when it’s being used on those things while trying to grow a business.
Take the example of Joshua Lee, an internet entrepreneur from Texas, who had accumulated that coveted seventh figure at the young age of 28. Like most 28-year-olds with extra cash, he bought cars and watches, treated his friends to expensive nights out and did all the other things millionaires are “supposed” to do. His first million didn’t last him long at all.
Lee was able to recover, thanks to hard work and good fortune, but he offers a valuable piece of advice on the topic. Once you’ve decided on a goal, whether it’s having a million dollars in your account or getting debt free, think about the parts of that goal that make it desirable. Once you’re 80% of the way there, take some time to re-evaluate. Figure out if the properties of that goal are sustainable. A million dollars looks and feels a great deal different from $800,000 than it does from $20.
KEEP AN EYE ON THE PEOPLE KEEPING AN EYE ON YOUR MONEY
Most people who get a million dollars do so by doing something other than working with finances. Even those who do, like successful investment managers, probably have someone else looking out for their money. Top earners in most industries have IRAs and other long-term investment accounts that are watched over by a third party. When there’s that much money, a professional can be indispensable in tax planning and long-term return maximization.
A millionaire can be too trusting, though. Millionaire retiree Jay Cee, a California resident, found out the hard way that not everyone who claims to be looking out for your best interests really is. He transferred his 401(k) from a previous employer and worked with a financial professional to do so. She encouraged him to put his money in a specific set of investment vehicles as part of an IRA rollover. The deal looked incredible since there was no line on the contract for a commission. When he asked about her compensation, she told him that the company took good care of them.
That part was certainly true. The investment company charged nearly 3.5% in management fees while earning a return of less than 4%. Jay’s retirement nest egg was growing at less than half a percent. He would have been better off putting his money into a basic savings account. Over the course of the year that his IRA was held by the company, they made $12,000 from his account, after just one 30-minute meeting. Talk about expensive advice!
Remember, the golden rule of economics: If you’re not paying for a service, you’re not the customer; you’re the product. Make sure you know how everyone who gives you financial advice is compensated and insist on seeing a detailed breakdown of fees before you sign any investment agreement.
Of course, the proper lesson isn’t one of exclusive self-reliance. Most people aren’t financial professionals. They don’t have the education or experience necessary to make expert, long-term financial plans. People who make a great deal of money tend to see themselves as invincible (see #1). That’s how someone like former Major League Baseball pitcher Curt Schilling went broke shortly after leaving baseball. Schilling invested his money without a proper understanding of risk, then lost everything when the one company he’d backed went bankrupt. Getting advice is indispensable; just make sure it’s advice you’re paying for up front.
KEEP AN EYE ON RISK
There’s a certain glamour in having nothing to lose. When you’re starting a small business, you can throw caution to the wind — to a certain extent. After all, if your new business goes belly-up, you haven’t lost more than you’ve put into it. It’s OK to swing for the fences when you’ve got a fledgling start-up. That changes a little bit once you’ve experienced some success. You need to take steps to protect what you’ve got.
Part of protecting what you have is realizing that it can be lost. If you’re a successful entrepreneur, you have to realize that success took hard work to build, and without that hard work, it’ll go away. Risks to your business are always present, and you have to work hard to minimize those risks.
That’s one of the lessons to be learned from the bankruptcy of rapper Curtis Jackson, III, known by his stage name, 50 Cent. Jackson was one of the most successful figures in the music industry, yet his stage name became equivalent to his net worth in 2015 as he filed for bankruptcy. One of the reasons behind the loss was his repeated entanglements in lawsuits. Jackson never stopped acting as though he had nothing to lose, picking fights with other performers and business owners, who would then take him to court. Even if he won most of the legal battles, he’d still suffer the slow loss of money in legal fees and settlements.
Once you’ve “made it,” you need to change your strategy. You can’t afford to take those same wild risks. You need to find safe investments and know when to back away from a challenge. Slow growth is better than losing it all.
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