A common question is: What is the difference between a rich man and a poor man?
Long ago, when this site was young, I reviewed Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker. Eker believes that we each possess a “financial blueprint,” an internal script that dictates how we relate to money. Our blueprints are created through lifelong exposure to money messages from the people around us. Unfortunately, Eker says, most of us have faulty blueprints that prevent us from building wealth.
In his book, Eker lists seventeen ways in which the financial blueprints of the rich differ from those of the poor and the middle-class. According to him:

  1. Rich people believe: “I create my life.” Poor people believe: “Life happens to me.”
  2. Rich people play the money game to win. Poor people play the money game to not lose.
  3. Rich people are committed to being rich. Poor people want to be rich.
  4. Rich people think big. Poor people think small.
  5. Rich people focus on opportunities. Poor people focus on obstacles.
  6. Rich people admire other rich and successful people. Poor people resent rich and successful people.
  7. Rich people associate with positive, successful people. Poor people associate with negative or unsuccessful people.
  8. Rich people are willing to promote themselves and their value. Poor people think negatively about selling and promotion.
  9. Rich people are bigger than their problems. Poor people are smaller than their problems.
  10. Rich people are excellent receivers. Poor people are poor receivers.
  11. Rich people choose to get paid based on results. Poor people choose to get paid based on time.
  12. Rich people think “both.” Poor people think “either/or.”
  13. Rich people focus on their net worth. Poor people focus on their working income.
  14. Rich people manage their money well. Poor people mismanage their money well.
  15. Rich people have their money work hard for them. Poor people work hard for their money.
  16. Rich people act in spite of fear. Poor people let fear stop them.
  17. Rich people constantly learn and grow. Poor people think they already know.

Out of context, some of this advice seems glib and facile. In the book, however, Eker explains each point, demonstrating how successful people discard limiting beliefs while the unsuccessful succumb to them. This book was instrumental in changing my own attitudes toward life and money.

Recently, somebody pointed me to a similar book: The Top 10 Distinctions Between Millionaires and the Middle Class by Keith Cameron Smith. I haven’t had a chance to read this yet (it’s on my to-do list), but I glanced through some of it at Google books. Like Eker, Smith attempts to differentiate between the mindsets of the rich and the rest of us.

His 10 distinctions are:

  1. Millionaires think long-term. The middle class thinks short-term.
  2. Millionaires talk about ideas. The middle class talks about things and people.
  3. Millionaires embrace change. The middle class is threatened by change.
  4. Millionaires take calculated risks. The middle class is afraid to take risks.
  5. Millionaires continually learn and grow. The middle class thinks learning ended with school.
  6. Millionaires work for profits. The middle class works for wages.
  7. Millionaires believe they must be generous. The middle class believes it can’t afford to give.
  8. Millionaires have multiple sources of income. The middle class has only one or two.
  9. Millionaires focus on increasing their wealth. The middle class focuses on increasing its paychecks.
  10. Millionaires ask themselves empowering questions. Middle-class people ask themselves disempowering questions.

Some of the items on Smith’s list seem to be derived from Eker’s philosophy. But although there are similarities, Eker’s list gives me warm fuzzies and Smith’s list does not. I’ve spent some time trying to figure out why.

Maybe the difference is this: From my experience (and your experience may be different), Eker’s many distinctions hold true (at least in the U.S.). I’ve seen the differences he describes in my own life. But I’m not convinced that the differences Smith lists do hold up.

I know lots of people who talk about ideas rather than things and people, for instance, and I know many folks who embrace change. Many of my friends are continually learning, but they’re not millionaires. And haven’t we seen statistics that show, based on a percentage of income, poor people give more than the rich do? I’m not ready to dismiss Smith’s list outright — I need to read his book to see how he supports his claims — but my initial reaction to his list is skepticism.

But I think both authors are too quick to dismiss systemic causes of poverty. And perhaps neither of them has ever actually been poor. Some of their criticisms make sense, but some are grounded in a mindset of wealth. “Rich people act in spite of fear,” Eker writes. “Poor people let fear stop them.” Why is that? Could it be that the rich can act in spite of fear because they have a safety net?

There’s no question that wealth brings opportunities, both in the U.S. and in other countries. Those with money have more choices. The rich can take risks, and they’re often rewarded for taking them. (Thus, “the rich get richer”.) I have so many more options now than I ever did when I was a boy, when my family was poor. I’m one of the lucky ones who has managed to make good. Yes, a lot of that was through hard work, but there’s no question that I’ve been lucky. And I think this element of “luck” is something that both Eker and Smith miss.

There are differences between the mindsets of the rich and the poor, of this I’m sure. But I think they’re closer to Eker’s list than to Smith’s. (And, really, they’re probably closer yet to the attitudes described in The Millionaire Next Door.

Related >> Nine lesson in wealth-building in The Millionaire Next Door

What do you think? From your experience, what are the differences between the rich and the poor? How do the rich think differently? What behaviors to the poor and the middle-class have that the rich do not? Or is it even possible to create distinctions like this? Does it all just come down to luck?

Note: I think Eker and Smith are talking about the rich and the poor in the U.S. Globally, the differences between the rich and the poor are myriad and complex. Don’t get me started about the long-lasting effects of European colonialism…

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