Look to your good things

Your Money

September 10, 2006|By Carolyn Bigda | Carolyn Bigda,Tribune Media Services

Feel as if your paycheck isn't growing fast enough? Turns out you've got company.

The median inflation-adjusted earnings for men dropped 1.8 percent between 2004 and last year, according to a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau. For women, the decline was 1.3 percent.

Even though household income was up 1.1 percent over the same period because the number of workers per household increased, household wealth still lags behind pre-2001 recession levels. And wages have been falling over the past few years.

So to cheer us all up, I interviewed Robert Sullivan, author of How Not to Get Rich: Or Why Being Bad Off Isn't So Bad (Bloomsbury USA, $9.95).

A self-described expert when it comes to avoiding Rockefeller-like status (or anything close to it), Sullivan tries to make the point that you can be happy with what you have.

What inspired you to write this book?

The book publishing business sets you up to think that you can write something that people would want to buy. And then you realize, no, it really doesn't work that way.

You kind of just have to be happy with what you're doing. If you can get anything at all to survive on while doing what you want to do, then you really should be happy. That's kind of what got me thinking.

You write with a lot of sarcasm. In one example, you say that an investment strategy for not getting rich is to have "absolutely no investment strategy." Do you follow your own advice?

When I wrote the book, I thought I was just kidding about the value of not getting financially rich. But I think, in a way, I'm more serious than I even thought I was. Since the book, I've gotten more serious about my accordion playing, and I'm even thinking about taking lessons in the tin whistle. "What am I thinking?" It's a good question except that I'm so happy the better I get on the accordion.

Was this book a reaction to a personal belief that there's too much focus today on getting rich?

Yeah, I was just looking at films from the '60s of wealthy-looking homes, and you notice how much less stuff they had in them. What, were people less happy then? I don't get. The whole self-help culture, so much of it is telling us how to make money, beat the system. But the real way to beat the system is to stop and look at all the great things you have without spending a dollar.

What tips would you give to someone just starting out?

Obviously, there are financial imperatives you need to deal with such as rent and food. But it's such a luxury to be able to do something you're really interested in. That in and of itself ought to be a huge gain for you.

If you scale down your needs initially, then you'll never have to face the pain of moving out of a 40-bedroom mansion, not knowing how to live your life in a studio apartment.

If you see that the studio rental can give you as much happiness as the waterfront home, you'll be so happy if you ever do get to live on the beach. Because that's the thing: A lot of people have waterfront homes, and they're bored out of their minds - because they don't know how to play accordion.

Did you get rich off writing this book?

No. The answer to that is definitely no.


Carolyn Bigda writes for Tribune Media Services.

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