When it comes to the blogs and other tracts providing information on building wealth, frugality carries most of the weight. And it makes sense. The greater the difference of income over spending is a strong determinant of the level of wealth an individual will achieve during their lifetime as compared to their income level.
As important as frugality is, spending is even more important, even if it doesn’t garner the column inches the matter deserves. Spending less than you earn is the seed money for investments and without investments it is impossible to build significant wealth.
As an accountant I see people from all spectrums of income. Frugality, even hyper-frugality, is the hallmark of those with modest levels of wealth. Even the lowest income earners can amass a half million or more in a working career when frugality is taken to religious levels, with the excess invested in equities like index funds.
Mid-levels of income also do well with only the single tool of frugality. As their wealth grows they sometimes seek out professionals to help them. These clients tend to want short consulting sessions once a year with a review at tax time.
Then come the serious achievers. These people sometimes have modest incomes, sometimes large incomes. Regardless their income level, these people smack it out of the park. Their level of wealth is well beyond what would be expected for their income level or level of frugality (the excess of income above spending).
Super-achievers in wealth building focus on spending rather than frugality. They know spending is more important. And they know most spending drains their energy and wealth while proper spending can actually make them richer!
They also know that wealth is fleeting. The highway is littered with the corpses of wealthy people of yesteryear. A lifetime of building wealth can be lost in less time than it takes to snap your fingers. That is today’s topic. Wealthy people that keep it long enough to leave a legacy spend on the 5 things listed below in a disproportionate amount compared to the general population. As you flex your frugality muscles you want to consider spending some of that excess on these things to grow and preserve your wealth. Because, remember, when you have money there are always those looking to separate you from it.
Millionaires and Health
How wealthy can you really be if you are chronically sick? In pain? Or dead!
If you have your health you are already wealthy and rich people know it and take steps to keep it that way. Eating quality food and exercise are primary. Proper medical care also plays a key role.
I see poor people and those looking to super-charge their frugality, to achieve goals like early retirement, refuse to pay for quality food or a gym membership or a piece of exercise equipment. It is counter-productive behavior.
I have a membership at Lake Park Swim & Fitness. Mrs. Accountant attends two or three exercise groups per week and I hit the floor (where the weights are) three times per week. This is a part of our routine! Physical activity is a priority in our life. Mrs. Accountant loves it so much she took a part-time job their working two nights per week cleaning up a bit (and for a free membership).
Outside the gym I also remain active. I walk an hour each day and sometimes jog. My sneakers see at least 3 miles of travel daily above and beyond normal movements (walking to the water cooler, et cetera). I chop wood on my farm, plant trees and work the garden. I recently bought a step meter to see how I’m doing. Rare is the day with fewer than 10,000 steps and many days are well above 20,000. Mrs. Accountant has similar numbers.
Lake Park isn’t the cheapest gym, but they also are not the cheapest gym. (Yes, you read that right.) It is the cleanest gym (and friendliest) gym I’ve ever been a member of. I want a clean environment and working equipment. My workouts are serious business and I want a gym that feels the same way.
Food is another important expenditure for the wealthy. I grow much of my own food, but nutritious food can be had from the grocery store and it doesn’t require the “organic” label. Processed foods are limited in my household. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a common sight. We freeze and can lots of homegrown produce. Home prepared meals are the best so we do it a lot.
Health includes medical services. I see many poor people (and even some earning a reasonable wage) foregoing medical care and recommended treatments. Modern technology has given us the longest lifespan in human history, but it does no good if you don’t use the technology.
Reasonable medical insurance to deal with a big medical issues is a must in the U.S where there is limited national healthcare for people under age 65. Regular checkups and taking required medications are all part of the program. Wealthy people know it is easier to stay healthy than to regain health. And as a reminder, without health, financial wealth has far less meaning.
Millionaires and Legal
Most people know they need to take care of their health. Fewer understand the importance of legal protection.
What takes a lifetime to build can be sued away in a fraction of a moment. Wealthy people know it, too. Keeping wealth already accumulated is vital to keeping wealth all the way to the finish line.
It blows this accountant’s mind when people set up their own business entity. They have no experience (in most cases) in how to do this correctly, but they do it anyway. These hard working people put in the hours for years and even decades. Yet, their first step is to take a shortcut, the cheaper way. (Notice I said cheaper, not frugal. Frugal doesn’t take shortcuts; cheapskates do.)
The same applies to wills and other legal documents. Of course, if you do it wrong you will not be around to clean up the mess; your friends and family will. (Nice memory you left the kids.)
In all my 37 years in practice I’ve never seen a truly wealthy person take legal shortcuts. I have seen many people lose a lifetime of work, sometimes while in retirement, over not using a qualified professional to handle their legal needs.
I keep a law firm on speed dial for legal questions and other legal services. They have my retainer. When in doubt I go to the professionals to help me make quality decisions. I understand tax laws well (and still rely on other tax professionals for research all the time), but legal matters not so much. Attorneys sometimes have a bad reputation. It should not be that way. My legal team is a vital part of my financial plan. Their advice is always welcome. Attorneys can save you a massive amount of money and grief when planning ahead, or, they can cost even more trying to fix a mess that might end up with a settlement costing you decades of your invested savings (work or lifeforce, as some say).
Millionaires and Tax and Accounting
I’ll admit this part is self-serving. It is also a vital part of wealth creation and retention.
When you add up all the taxes you pay (income, property, excise, gift, sales and more) it is the biggest single expense in your life. Even your home doesn’t cost as much as all taxes combined are pealing from your wallet. Even a modest income can see half or more lost to the litany of taxes the government has devised to separate you from your hard-earned money.
In my office the tax professionals sometimes laugh when people say they prepare their own tax return. “We always enjoy summer work,” is their response. There is some truth to that.
But it gets worse. To this day I have never had a consulting session with a client or someone from this blog where I didn’t save that client several times in taxes what they paid me. There have been cases where a $1,000 consulting fee yielded 6-figures in additional wealth, much of it from tax savings.
I have no problem with people preparing their own return when it is very simple. However, a tax professional is worth her weight in gold if she works with you! Rare is the non tax professional that knows when it is best to elect to treat their side hustle or business as an S-corp over a sole proprietorship. If you own income properties do you understand the mechanics of a cost-segregation study? If you own any investments are you aware of tools to defer and eliminate taxes on the profits? Like-kind exchanges? Opportunity funds? Delaware Statutory Trusts?
Even something as simple as professional bookkeeping can send your net worth skyward faster. One of my accountants just helped an investment property owner from Mississippi clean up his books. Now he knows where he is financially at all times. He can make better decisions; I can give him better advice. Banks loans are easier to get and rates lower. He really has professional looking books! (It would be bragging if I did the work, but Dawn gets all the credit.)
His taxes are also lower because I can help him plan instead of react. He refers to us as his OCD accountant. Yes, we take pride in our work and pay attention to detail. It is never enough to have clean books. We demand we provide guidance to optimize wealth building for every client we serve.
It doesn’t come cheap, of course. But I deliver greater results because I am incentivized to do so and invest in growing my arsenal to better serve clients. The cheapest isn’t always that cheap.
The income property owner discussed above had several accounting firms who could not get his fast growing rental business under control. Dawn even struggled in the beginning. There was, and is, a lot to digest. I kept applying steady, yet firm, pressure. While the client benefited, I was training an accountant on how to handle the difficult cases. Now that the books are clean it isn’t so challenging anymore.
And this brings up another important point. Not every tax and/or accounting professional is cut from the same cloth. Some are better than others and some are outright incompetent. In a previous post I discuss how you can find high quality tax professionals and accountants for your wealth building team. The same applies when looking for a legal professional.
With so much on the line it is worth hiring a competent tax professional. If your return is simple you can prepare it yourself. I have many consulting sessions with people who prepare their own tax return. I review the prior return as part of the consulting session and it is usually okay.
Tax and accounting professionals are worth their most when consulting. Their large reservoir of knowledge and experience can help you make better career and investment choices. It is difficult at best to build serious wealth without a highly qualified tax professional.
Millionaires and Education
Primary and secondary schooling, along with a college, is designed to teach you how to learn. Until you learn how to learn nothing else will matter. Yes, college will educate you on the basics in your field of study, but it is just the basics, as hard as those final exams were.
Nothing prepares you for real world. College textbooks have nice neat questions with exact answers. Real life rarely delivers such a neat package. Thinking on your feet and designing answers on the go is vital to success. That is why doctors spend so much time in college and even more time sharpening their skills as interns and in residency.
Once you learn how to learn the world is at your beck and call. What you learn in college can quickly become dated. Your “real” education begins after graduation!
Many professions require continuing education (CE). Doctors, attorneys, accountants and enrolled agents (a tax professional designation) all are required to take continuing education courses each year. And for good reason. Bad habits can set in and CE can bring behavior back in line. New technologies and changing laws all require more learning, more education.
Application is harder than theory. I see tax professionals and accountants come out of college and struggle when they move from the legal facts to applying those facts in real world situations. Clients don’t always bring in all their paperwork. Some (all too many) are trying to game the system. Your job is to keep clients in line (they didn’t teach you that in college, did they?) and use the material at hand to build the most accurate record.
Doctors face a rude awakening when the classroom makes way for the medical theater. Answers are not always easy to define or find and time is of the essence. It’s an open book test with a human life on the line and the clock speeding forward.
You don’t have to be in a profession to benefit from education. In all facets of my life I have continued learning. Reading is a daily part of life (a big part of life). Every day is a learning experience! Even after all these years of study and thousands of books digested, I still feel like a neophyte most of the time. The more you learn the more you realize there is to learn. It is humbling.
Learning is one of the great pleasures in life, too. Wealthy people find this compelling. They spend a disproportionate amount of their income and wealth on education at all times of their life and enjoy the process. The wonder of discovery never grows old.
Spending on education is a guilty pleasure wealthy people never skimp on. My personal library has pushed past 3,000 volumes and I make prodigious use of several local libraries as well. I am a sponge for knowledge and people pay me a lot of money to see how I put the pieces together as it applies to them. And there is nothing more pleasurable and fun than that.
Millionaires and Insurance
This expenditure of the wealthy might come as a surprise to many. That is because you need to sift the junk insurance from the stuff that matters when it come to building and retaining wealth.
To start, we are not talking about the insurance you purchase for small electronics at retail outlets. If you can’t afford to fix or replace an $86 item you can’t afford the item. This is junk insurance and wealthy people don’t buy it. Besides, most credit cards provide similar insurance for free just for charging the item on their card.
Wealthy people strategically target their insurance spending. It has to protect wealthy adequately or build wealth.
Large assets require coverage. Homeowners should have adequate insurance to protect against large losses. Wealthy people frequently have high deductibles, however. Small losses are easily handler out-of-pocket and insuring for small losses is always a losing game.
Home and auto insurance are more than just protecting the asset’s value. Many wealthy people don’t have collision on their vehicle or have a high deductible. That is because a damaged car is a mild inconvenience when it comes to building serious wealth.
Lawsuits, on the other hand, are a different story. A minor fender-bender might set you back a few thousand; the lawsuit several hundred thousand and a boatload of time, anxiety and stress.
Wealthy people almost always enhance their insurance with an umbrella policy, extending liability coverage beyond the original policy limits. Damage to property almost always is a minor issue when it comes to wealth, but a lawsuit can eliminate all vestiges wealth ever existed in your portfolio. And, as already mentioned, it can happen faster than the snap of the fingers.
Other insurances wealthy people use fund legacy planning and business protection. Protecting a business protects the income stream, an important consideration for the wealthy and those soon to be. Legacy planning frequently includes insurance to deal with tax issues, fund charities of choice and provide long-term for family after our wealthy friend departs this realm. You would be surprised how much income can be generated with a proper insurance policy and it isn’t the insurance policy providing the income, only the protection and/or framework to provide such additional income.
Non-wealthy people fight this expenditure the most. I even saw a popular blogger a few years back claim he forewent homeowner’s insurance. I can only imagine the risk and damage readers taking his advice faced. (The real value of homeowner’s insurance in the liability protection, not the casualty coverage, by the way.)
Wealthy people buy insurance that protects against serious losses to wealth while poor people insure items on Amazon with a sticker price under $100. That one simple fact tells a very large story.
The right insurance is important. The insurance agent might not be the right place to go to find out the best values in insurance (insurance agents don’t always understand legal and tax issues). That is why we consult with educated attorneys and tax/accounting professionals. Your accountant and attorney are a vital part of your plan to build and retain wealth, and frequently have a fundamental understanding of all the wealth issues involved, including insurance.
There are other things wealthy people spend on too. The 5 above are areas wealthy people generally do not skimp on. Too much is at stake if they do.
Thinking like a wealthy person is the first step in building wealth. Keep yourself as healthy as possible, adequately protect yourself with qualified legal professionals, also hire qualified people in the tax and accounting field, never stop learning and protect your current and future assets with proper insurance.
You might have other priorities. Many wealthy people travel more than I do, but it isn’t required. Some buy more home than I would feel comfortable living in. To each their own, I say. But the 5 categories above are where all wealthy people focus their spending if they plan on keeping it. That might be a hint you should, too.
Engage frugality and put the excess monies to work. Learning to save and spend properly is the only way to reach financial goals; to reach true levels of significant wealth.
More Wealth Building Resources
Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?
Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.
QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.
A cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.
Years ago I started a book project called The Zero Percent Tax Bracket. The idea was to write a book with all the ways a person can bring in money and legally not report it as taxable income. As I started pulling information together it became clear marketing such a book would be difficult. Since I was not focusing on tax protesting or other such BS it would not attract the wing nut crowd nor was I interested in becoming the next Charles Givens. A book called The Zero Percent Tax Bracket would probably languish on the back shelf of a bookstore with only modest sales. The idea was sound but I did not like the marketing plan.
Today I am resurrecting the idea. As a book it would need a serious shove to turn a profit for the publisher; as a series of blog posts it is an excellent way to outline all the ways to line your pocket without owing a penny in tax. You will not find all of these tax-free methods listed in the tax code. It is the unusual interpretation of tax law that always appeals to me as long as jail time is not involved. (Jail time might be okay if it is a fairly short stint of three-hots-and-a-cot, plus free healthcare at the expense of the taxpayers. Taxes are no fun, but collecting benefits—even free jail lodging—does.)
- Foster care stipends: When Mrs. Accountant and I first married we sat down and made a list of things we would like to do at least once. Having foster children was on that list. We wanted to have foster kids before we had our own out of concerns it could affect our own children. For three years we accepted high school age foster children. Many foster parents want infants and young children; not us, we wanted the toughest cases. Two foster children were with us a year or more with two more children for a shorter time. The stipend back in 1990 was $1,000 per month, per child and it was tax-free. The stipend is there to defray the costs of having a foster child in your home. There was a shortage of foster homes for high school aged children so the pay was high compared to $300 a month for an infant. It wasn’t about the money; I didn’t want to take care of a crying baby. Our foster children were introduced to Tony Robbins’s Personal Power program and educated in personal finance issues. The goal was to give our foster kids the tools necessary to build a quality life. A few years ago one of our foster kids stopped in the office to show me how he put the knowledge we shared with him to work. He is married, employed, and living the dream.
- Credit card bonuses and rewards: This is one of the best deals going. Credit card companies are killing themselves to get you to open an account. Bonuses are frequently worth $500 or more in cash, plus points on all purchases of up to 5%, redeemable for cash or travel. Points are often more valuable when used toward travel rewards. Personally, I like cash; there are other ways to get cheap or free travel. The high bonus cards generally require $3,000 – $4,000 in spending in the first three months to earn the bonus. Small business owners and landlords should have no problem meeting bonus spending levels. Planning a large purchase with credit card bonuses can get you 20% or more back on your purchase. And it is all tax-free. The IRS considers it a return of your own money, as if it was from a discounted price or rebate. Manufactured spending can turn credit card bonuses and rewards into a modest living. (Manufactured spending will be the discussion of a future post.)
- Disability insurance benefits: For disability insurance benefits to be tax-free you need to pay for the premiums with after-tax dollars. If your employer provides the benefit at no cost to you then the benefits are It might be a good idea to pay your own disability insurance premiums. Worker’s Compensation benefits are always tax-free; so are most benefits from an auto policy covering injury claims. (Punitive damages are taxable.)
- Sale of personal residence: Years ago the tax code allowed gains on the sale of a primary residence to be rolled into the next residence without tax consequences. As long as you kept buying a more expensive home you never paid tax on the gain. At age 55 you could take a one-time $125,000 gain tax-free and keep rolling the rest of the gains to the next home. That and Form 2119 are now gone. (It is bad enough I know so much about tax code the way it is without remembering tax laws from over a decade ago. Senior moments become a blessed relief for old accountants.) Now it is easier to take tax-free gains from your home. The sale of a primary residence gets a $250,000 exclusion ($500,000 for most married couples) if you lived there 2 of the last 5 years. Even though it is possible to have two primary residences qualify in the same tax year, the exclusion can only be taken once per tax year. Planning tip: There is nothing wrong with buying a fixer-upper, moving in, and working on the property for two years and selling it for a sizable tax-free gain. I have a few clients (emphasis on few) who have done just that. They buy a home and work on it as their job. Two or three years later they cash a nice check and repeat. If you don’t mind the lifestyle it is a way to live large while sticking it to Uncle Sam.
- Loans: Loans are not taxable events! Clients always know loan proceeds are never added to income, but sometimes forget the payments are not deductible either (except for interest in certain cases). Because loan proceeds are never included in income the tax code offers ways to put money in your pocket without paying income tax. Loans from 401(k) plans, for example, are tax-free. You do need to pay the loan back and if employment is terminated the loan is due in full at that time or taxable. Insurance companies understand well the value of tax-free loans. I am not a big fan of insurance products, but there are a few select situations where they make sense, even with the high fees. If you own a non-qualified annuity or universal life policy there could be planning opportunities for tax-free money and you never have to pay it back. Talk with a qualified accountant.
- Foreign income exclusion:S. citizens working abroad are allowed to exclude from income up to $100,800 of foreign earned income, including certain foreign housing costs. The rules are complex so I will not take time here to list details. You may still owe tax in the foreign country. I recommend a qualified tax professional help you with filing your tax return if you have foreign income. The biggest problem is finding a qualified tax professional. I get close to 1,000 requests per year for tax services from ex-pats. Unfortunately I no longer accept ex-pats as new clients. My office is small and we don’t have the room. If you are a tax professional looking to grow your business fast and love working with Americans living and/or working abroad and are comfortable with the foreign income exclusion, contact me. We need to build a business relationship where I send you lots of wonderful new clients.
- Life insurance benefits: The death benefit from a life insurance policy is income tax free. There could be estate tax issues to consider.
- Gifts: Gifts from anyone in any amount are tax-free. The person giving the gift may have to file a gift tax return and pay a gift tax, but the receiver of a gift has no reporting requirements and does not report it as income.
- Roth IRA:Roth IRA gains are always tax-free if you follow a few simple rules! There seems to be significant confusion on this issues if people take the money out before age 59 ½. Let me clear it up. You can take money out of your Roth IRA at any age without income tax! If you take money out before age 59 ½ you could face a 10% penalty and tax unless you follow a few simple rules. Your original money (basis) has already been taxed, comes out first, and suffers no additional income tax or Once you have withdrawn your entire basis, the gains are subject to penalty and tax if the withdrawal is before age 59 ½ and it is not for an excluded item. Think about this for a second. You should fill your Roth IRA to the hilt every year regardless your financial or tax situation (there are a few reasons I would not fill a Roth IRA, but I digress). You can take your original money (basis) out at any time. Earnings distributed before age 59 ½ and before the account is five years old are subject to tax and penalty unless you qualify for an exception (used for a first time home purchase ($10,000 lifetime max), for qualifies education expenses, you become disabled or pass away, used for unreimbursed medical expenses or health insurance if unemployed, or part of a substantially equal periodic payments.) The larger the Roth IRA balance the more you can access with a substantially equal periodic payment. I will write a more in-depth post on IRA distributions in the future to flesh out the details.
- Health savings accounts: I call these things super Roth’s. You get a deduction and tax-free gains. Where you going to get a better deal than that? HSAs are not for everyone. People with significant medical issues or high prescription costs will not benefit from an HSA in many cases. As always, talk to a friendly, and I might add competent, tax professional.
The tax-free income ideas here deserve more fleshing out. Rather than provide an info-dump I wanted to share the strategies so you can dig further on your own or at least ask great questions of your accountant. There are hundreds of other ways to load the First National Bank of Wallet with tax-free income. Some of the most common I listed above. I’ll share more ideas in future posts with a full fleshing out of some strategies in separate posts. I get too wordy at times, so I did not want to lose you before I helped you load your pockets before you left the room.