Book Review: Thomas J. Stanley's 'Stop Acting Rich'

When I was in high school -- just a few years ago -- I had friend who drove to school in a BMW one day, a Range Rover the next and, if he was feeling bored, a Mercedes on Friday's.

Like most of my classmates, I was driving a crappy old car (and I still drive the same crappy old car, but it's older and crappier now) and some of my friends were jealous of his wheels -- or at the very least impressed by them.

I wasn't so sure. "The only way you really know how someone's doing financially is to look at their tax return", I thought. If someone drives a $50,000 car but owes $55,000 on it, isn't he poorer than someone who drives a paid-for Pinto?

Fast forward three years and one brutal recession, and I heard an update on his situation: His father was a real estate speculator, and he's trying to negotiate short sales on properties they own. And the cars? They're trying to sell them to raise cash but, surprise, surprise, they were never owned outright, as most of my friends seemed to assume. They were leveraged to the hilt and while ditching the cars will reduce their monthly obligations, it won't generate any cash. They'll have to borrow more money to get rid of the cars -- and their credit is shot, meaning getting a loan could be tough.

So all this was on my mind when I picked up Thomas J. Stanley's latest book Stop Acting Rich. . . And Start Living Like a Millionaire,. Let me tell you, not only is this a book that everyone should buy, it's a book that every parent who loves his or her kids should buy for them -- and bribe them to read it. In the spirit of his landmark book The Millionaire Next Door, Stanley conducted extensive interviews with balance sheet millionaires and high-income types, and discovered a number of things that will shock people whose ideas of wealthy people are shaped by shows like MTV Cribs. Here are just a few tips for wealth-building that Stanley gleaned from his research:
  • "To enhance your chances of becoming financially independent. . . You need to be surrounded by neighbors who have lower incomes than your household generates."
  • "Only 7.3% of the millionaires surveyed own a bottle of wine that retails for more than $100. But nearly 4 in 10 have wine of the $10 or less variety."
  • "If you spend in anticipation of becoming rich, you are unlikely ever to become truly wealthy."
  • If you want to be fawned on by salespeople, walk around with a Gucci shopping bag. (You can get them on eBay for $5 bucks each).
That's just a sample. Stop Acting Rich can be repetitive in places, but still: If you only buy one personal finance book this year, make it this one. It'll teach you to think like a real millionaire.
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