What Prevented You From Being Rich?

Team Clark has a list of things that may have prevented you from reaching financial freedom. Did we miss anything? As you reflect on your finances, let us know what decisions blocked your finances from growing.

“Pay yourself first” is critical for savings, but I disagree with this:

“The way to do this is to find out how much you can afford to live on each month.”

Most of us live on our income and if anything is left over, it might get saved. To Chinese, that is backwards.

We lived in Taiwan a few years and learned from the Chinese. Wife adopted their Draconian savings plan. She put X% off the top into savings, and forced us to live on the rest. We learned how Chinese do this faithfully, and if they can only afford rice three times a day, well, that’s what they do.

They quickly learn to budget and live within their means. Returning to the states, we ate a lot of hamburger helper and produce from our garden.

But her hard rule to pay ourselves first, has given me the financial stability I enjoy today.


Agree. I do volunteer financial coaching and have interacted with full-time financial counsellors. They say that the most important personal financial concept is those three words “pay yourself first”

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What prevented me from being rich?

My two partners in business.

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I became rich, but I can see what will keep most people from being rich, and they’re sitting in the driveway. Multiple massive, obese, fuel-guzzling vehicles that each cost possibly as much as my first house in a really nice neighborhood in Bellaire TX did in 1987.

In 33 months I retire with a seven-figure net worth. Because I won’t be commuting, I will let go of my car which will be 14 years old, and my wife and I will share her car, which will be 13 years old… just like we did when we were students.

I keep track of trips, and I have logged zero trips where I needed to go to a non-work location where I could not have used her car or Uber. Zero. To replace it would be the worst and most “stranding” use of capital ever.

Inability to identify and control costs will keep people poor, no matter their salary.

I think a major factor in achieving financial success in life is that many people underestimate their real earning potential and settle for less than they are capable of earning. Much depends on the opportunity to observe up close what being wealthy looks and feels like.

Additionally, the difference between a person’s ultimate accumulation of wealth compared to the average, often hangs on luck. Past experience with this forum tells me that many here will disagree that luck plays a part in a person’s net worth, I say it plays a significant role.

Thirdly, the definition of “rich” is itself a fuzzy one. It’s very much a matter of personal goals, self evaluation, and wanting to feel good about yourself.

I would add:

  1. Using your house as a bank (my parents did this). I’ve seen people do cash-out refis so they could take that vacation they so desperately needed. And they always took more than they needed for teh vacation.
  2. Ditto on the new cars. We have plenty of money but, until recently, everyone had much nicer cars than we did. Just bought a new one, been 18 years since the last one. We drive them until they’re dead.
  3. Leasing cars. I finally talked my sister into dumping her lease, then she went ahead and bought it for the residual that she took out a loan for. Between the lease and the loan, I think she paid for that car for 10 years. Ugh. But, I think she’s finally turned the corner and will drive her current car into the ground.

And I have to say, race and gender and all of that are still a big part of the “luck” factor. Affirmative Action may help people get entry-level positions, but they don’t propel people to the C-Suite. We’re just not a very representative Nation. Sticking to gender for a moment, look at female representation in national legislatures in the US versus elsewhere. How many US Presidents have been female, versus so many (and often very excellent) female foreign chief executives over the years? Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Maggie Thatcher… these names go back to my childhood. But here in the US?


The lack of a female president isn’t preventing anyone from becoming rich.

Over half of all lawyers and doctors are women.

Women are woefully underrepresented in technology jobs. Women just don’t pursue degrees in computer science and engineering in significant numbers.

At my last two mfg plants, HR went to great lengths trying to find female mechanical engineers. Offered a nice signup bonus. Could not find any.

OK, my Mother and Sister are MDs. Yes, many women are doctors, no question… but getting back to this “luck” thing, they don’t get selected for leadership roles. There is bias all over the place, and this one is rampant and very well known about amongst female non-white docs: “communication skills could be better” which means “she has a Chinese / Korean / Indian accent”.

“Luck” unfortunately still means “you drew XY, not XX”, or “you drew haplogroup [R1b1a1a2]”

It’s a tough issue for many industries, and it’s self-inflicted over generations. I came into an oil company in the mid-1980s with a cohort of very bright women, and I was one of a few non-Whites and I’m a guy. Well, it’s 2023, and in retrospect really none of us made it into leadership roles. Just silently not selected. I even had an MS in STEM and an MBA (which the Company paid for, thank you very much). I just never get called up for leadership, and after a while I just left, then the British bought them and laid everyone off, so there. Same thing with the women, just got fed up with being passed over and ignored. One after another we all left. That was our “luck”.

And now the Companies are offering up perfect Utopian visions of how good they are at diversity & inclusion… well, don’t lie to us. We’ve seen this movie before. We’ve already pre-warned our daughters and nieces while they were in university selecting major and career. And my 26 yo female engineer daughter has already suffered workplace sexual harassment, so how does that affect an employee’s motivation to stay with an work for a Company and advance with them? It’s huge.

“All animals are equal, some are more equal than others” must have a corollary involving luck.

I don’t know how Companies get the people they need. At some point, it becomes an existential threat, right? Not enough people with the right skills, you can’t have an on-going business. It’ll have to be offshored or something. Engineering center in Pune or Beijing.

I think that’s probably less true now than when I was getting my EE degree in the 80’s, and I’m sure we all have different experiences. I think there were three women in the EE program where I was at, versus 100 or so guys. My daughter got a Chem E degree 7 years ago and there were many more women in the engineering programs at her school. For some reason, there seemed to be fewer women in the Mechanical Engineering program than the others, and the Chem E program had many women.

I’ve worked with many female engineers over the years. My current group is about 40% women. I’ve had several women managers over the years. However, at my last company, we had a hard time finding software engineers in general. Many of the schools now have “Computer Science” degrees that teach kids how to create web pages. Not very useful in a company that does embedded firmware work.

Hi Robert,
A Female friend went to GA Tech and majored in Mechanical Engineering. She switched to Electrical, saying she could not compete with the guys who had been working on their cars for years.

Very true for decades. But today’s cars are overly complex for the average “shade tree” mechanic. In my mfg world, the ME’s task is figuring out the best way [cheapest, most effective] to assemble and test components ranging in size from a loaf of bread to railroad cars.

That certainly doesn’t match what I observed at the Arizona State University School of Engineering Convocation this past May. Looked to be pretty much 50/50. What was definitely skewed was the percentage of students not from the US…especially for graduate degrees.

Part of the battle is being in a position to observe what success looks like. Once you can do that you are in a position to make much better decisions about how to maximize your earing ability. and you realize that “Hey I do that!” After that you just have to decide is when, where and how to go for it.

You can’t emulate what you can’t see.

Grand daughter has mentioned this many times

Why do you think that is the case?

It may have to do with the linguistic advantage that people have when it comes to thinking in numerical terms. People who are fluent in some Asian languages and use that language in their cognitive thought process have an edge over English speakers.

I’m sure part of the reason is financial. Tuition for international students in our state schools is much higher and scholarships are not available.