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Secret to Building Wealth – Buy Assets, Avoid Liabilities

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Wealth SecretHere is the secret to wealth – Buy Assets and Avoid Liabilities. I think the first time this became clear to me was when I read Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. That’s an easy to read book with a strong message and it should be on everyone’s reading list. Check your library if you haven’t read this yet. He has his faults, but I think he helped many people break out of the endless cycle of consumerism. (Don’t go to the seminars, they are pretty sketchy from what I read.) Anyway, what are assets and liabilities?

Assets and Liabilites

Kiyosaki defines ‘asset’ a little bit differently than your usual financial experts. To him, an asset should generates positive cash flow for you. Anything that takes money out of your pocket is a liability. Almost everyone else includes everything in your net worth in the asset column. This was quite a revelation to me and it’s a great way to think about how to spend money. It taught me not to rely on earned income (from a job) and to focus more on investment income instead. Let’s go over some items.

House

I’m sure you’ve heard that your home is your biggest asset. Is this really true? When you buy a house, you’ll have to pay mortgage, property tax, HOA, insurance, utilities, repair and maintenance, yard work, not to mention having to furnish it. That’s a lot of money going out of your pocket every month. Sure, the house can appreciate, but would the appreciation be enough to surpass all the expenses? We all need a place to live and a house is great, but it’s not really an asset.

A house is good because it forces people to save. A portion of the mortgage payment goes to the principal and you’ll get that back when you sell. Appreciation is nice, but it’s not much more than inflation in the long haul.

There is one way to generate some money from your house – rent out the extra rooms! Not many people are willing to do that, though. It’s best to buy the right size house for your family. Don’t get something more than you really need. It would be better to spend the money on income generating assets instead.

Car

For many people, their car is the 2nd most valuable thing they own (next to the house). A car is a necessity to most people and it can cost a lot of money. However, it’s not an asset. It’s even worse than your house because the value depreciates every day. A car is basically a money pit. How much money do you spend on your car every month? Can you imagine investing that money instead?

Most of us need a car to go work and run errands. It’s an unavoidable expense for most of us. However, I don’t think anyone should buy a luxury car unless they are already wealthy.

Everything else you own

Pretty much everything you own is sitting around depreciating. Furniture, TV, gadgets, kitchenware, clothes, and everything around you are bleeding money. It’s kind of funny way to look at your possessions. You can see dollars signs floating away from everything you own. Does this give pause before you buy the next gadget on sale this coming Black Friday? Maybe it’d be better to just kick back and take it easy at home instead.

Let’s look at it from another angle

  1. Good – Income producing assets such as stocks, rental properties, promissory notes, and bonds.
  2. Neutral – Appreciating assets such as your home, gold, artwork, antiques, and collectibles. I’d say these are neutral because you never know if the appreciation will beat inflation and the cost of upkeep.
  3. Liabilities – Depreciating assets like your TV, furniture, and other personal properties. These things are just sitting around leaking money.
  4. Worse Liabilities – Income consuming assets like your car and cell phone. These things need a monthly cash infusion to stay functional.

Of course, most of us need our car and cell phone to function in the 21st century. It’s natural to have more liabilities than good assets when you’re starting out, but you need to accumulate good assets to become wealthy.

Where are you on this table?

  • Poor – Own mostly liabilities and need to keep working to feed your lifestyle.
  • Middle class – Have been investing for a while and own some good assets. I’d say once the value of your good assets surpasses 50% of your net worth, then you’re firmly in this class.
  • Financial Independence – Income from good assets surpass your expense.
  • Wealthy – Having plenty of income from your investment to keep reinvesting. Wealth can be passed on to the next generation.

Most of us start off poor and the progression to the next level is slow. The poor keep spending money on things they don’t really need. The middle class doesn’t invest enough so they are stuck there for decades. It makes sense that the rich get richer. It’s because they reinvest and make more money than they consume.

What about you? Where are you on this table and where will you be in 10 years? Are you accumulating assets or liabilities?

Comment from Charles @ Get A Rich Life

Rich Dad Poor Dad was one of the two most influential books I read. It’s too bad he’s a snake oil salesman, he got greedy. His seminars are useless and preys on people who can least afford it. He could have been a beloved personal finance guy, what a shame.

RB40> I never fell for the seminars. I guess it’s best to just read his first book and then move on. Or just search around YouTube for his talks.

Bonus video from YouTube

Photo credit: flickr rwcox123

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{ 50 comments… add one }

  • Fi Fighter November 22, 2013, 12:46 am

    Great summary Joe. Spending your money on assets as opposed to liabilities is really the “secret” to building wealth.

    Sorry, it isn’t any more exciting or glamorous than that. Right now, all my earned income goes straight into buying more assets. I’m on a mission — an arms race to acquire as many assets as possible in the shortest amount of time with the least amount of my own capital.

    THe sooner you can do that, the sooner you’ll be financially free. Investing isn’t rocket science. Right now, my assets, or cash flow pays for all of my monthly expenses. It works. The proof is in the pudding.

    • The Don November 22, 2013, 9:10 am

      Fi Fighter, curious, but what are some of the assets you’re buying. Stocks, properties, bonds?

      • FI Fighter November 22, 2013, 12:19 pm

        Don,

        Right now my primary focus is on rental property. However, I did start off with dividend investing, and that’s something I still want to continue later.

        Long term, I want to get into commercial real estate.

    • retirebyforty November 22, 2013, 9:53 am

      Yeah, it’s slow going when you’re in the poor to middle class. You just need to keep your head down and keep investing. Great job with your cash flow. You got to FI then!

      • FI Fighter November 22, 2013, 12:21 pm

        Joe,

        Pretty close to getting to FI. On a good month, it’s right about there. I’m pretty conservative though, so need a wide safety margin before feeling comfortable enough to call it quits for good.

        Hope to join you in early FI soon enough! 🙂

  • Pretired Nick November 22, 2013, 4:15 am

    Kiyosaki was probably my biggest influence early-on as well. The missing piece that I didn’t really get at the time was putting frugality to work for me (fortunately I was always relatively frugal). The book largely talks about investing and the big picture, but it didn’t make clear to me how much the mindless spending (eating out, buying toys, etc.) would affect the outcome.
    I like how you broke out liabilities from “worse liabilities”. I feel exactly that way but have never seen that in writing before. Well said!

    • retirebyforty November 22, 2013, 9:56 am

      It’s a great intro to personal finance. I forgot most of it, but it made a good impression back then.

  • Daddy Domestic November 22, 2013, 4:36 am

    Kiyosaki is just a salesman, but the Assets vs Liabilities concept you outlined above is pure gold. Before I read his book, I had never thought about it……but like all great concepts it: 1)was simple and 2)made perfect sense. I also like how you broke down liabilities into better and worse. Nice move.
    -Bryan

    • retirebyforty November 22, 2013, 9:57 am

      I guess it’s best to just read the first book and then move on. Thanks for the compliment.

  • [email protected] November 22, 2013, 4:45 am

    Rich Dad Poor Dad was one of the two most influential books I read. It’s too bad he’s a snake oil salesman, he got greedy. His seminars are useless and preys on people who can least afford it. He could’ve been a beloved personal finance guy, what a shame.

    • retirebyforty November 22, 2013, 9:57 am

      His seminars are quite expensive. Do you get anything more than from his books? Probably not…

  • The Warrior November 22, 2013, 5:04 am

    It’s sad that I have known this since I was probably 18, but I have taken very little action to make it a reality until the last few years.

    Overcoming the consumerism mentality is tough when buying assets is so long term. No excuse, but the reality.

    Now, my wife and I are striving towards as many assets as possible. It’s starting with eliminating the liabilities which we are close to doing besides the home mortgage and moving on towards building retirement accounts. After that, I want to work into real estate but that’s more of a 5-10 year goal at this point.

    Great suggestion of what to focus on today Joe

    The Warrior
    NetWorthWarrior.com

    • retirebyforty November 22, 2013, 9:58 am

      Thanks! At least you are now on the right path. It’s never too late, right?

    • tim September 5, 2014, 7:51 am

      How about buying assets that help you eliminate your liabilities? Instead of being so focused on your bottom line, focus on your top line to shrink it.

  • I would like to think I’m building up assets, not liabilities! And I keep saving and spending a lot less than we earn. That’s all we can do, I suppose!

    • retirebyforty November 22, 2013, 9:59 am

      Just keep investing and you’ll be wealthy in a while. 🙂 Great job so far though.

  • Justin @ RootofGood November 22, 2013, 5:45 am

    From a very abstract level, Kiyosaki has some solid wisdom to share in his books. And what you included in this article is about as far as that wisdom extends (so save yourself $4.95 on the paperback edition and just reread this article!).

    What he misses in the pursuit of “cash flow” is the very real and tangible benefits of a regular 9 to 5 W-2 job. A regular paycheck with benefits and retirement savings options (and often matching contributions). I still think a regular day job is a very easy low risk method of getting wealthy in a relatively short period of time. You’ll never be stinking rich like an entrepreneur. But a steady paycheck and spending well below your means will lead to slow but perpetual growth in wealth over time.

    I love how you break out assets and liabilities in descending order of “goodness”. It’s really important that people focus the most effort on accumulating assets that produce generally high returns (like stocks) and less on assets (in the non-Kiyosaki sense) that might end up costing you money but also provide usefulness (like a house). I often see the 20- or 30-something mindset of “let’s buy all the house we can afford because it’s a great investment”. When in reality, you could save $1000 per month by buying the house that you need, and divert the savings into an investment account and reach FI so much sooner. Or use the money to buy an even larger house down the road (spatially and temporally speaking).

    • retirebyforty November 22, 2013, 10:02 am

      I think his first book was quite entertaining. It’s a fast read anyway. I’d still recommend it for beginners, but avoid the seminars and just ignore what he says about network marketing.
      Being an entrepreneur is risky, but I think it’s way better than working to enrich someone else. A job is great when you start out, but most people rarely get rich working for someone else.

      • Dana B July 7, 2015, 6:53 am

        I agree with everything that you’ve said, except for the part about ignoring what he says about network marketing. Network marketing can be great depending on what company you get into and how much effort you’re willing to put into it, and also if you learn how to work it properly. I’m 21 and am already in a network marketing company (won’t say which one) and plan on making decent money within a few years (note of saying decent, not filthy rich). But I’m not putting all of my eggs into that one basket. I am also starting to look into investing and obtaining assets so that I have other sorts of income. While doing all of this, I am planning on staying with my 9-5 for a few more years until I feel that I have truly obtained financial freedom. Then I will continue to invest and obtain assets.

        • retirebyforty July 7, 2015, 10:11 am

          Okay, thanks for your perspective. I haven’t tried network marketing so I don’t know much about it. If you’re good at it, then keep going. Good luck!

  • Jane Savers @ Solving The Money Puzzle November 22, 2013, 6:17 am

    According to the table I am poor. I have never counted my house or possessions as part of my net worth. My net worth is a negative number and I just financed a new-to-me car so now I am even poorer today than I was yesterday.

    Today I was able to purchase 52 shares of a dividend paying Vanguard ETF. One day my net worth will not be a negative number and I will be able to move to middle class.

    $24,000 in debt and almost $10,000 in assets. A long way to go before I stop being poor.

    • retirebyforty November 22, 2013, 10:02 am

      You just have to keep your head up and keep going. Good luck!

  • Jamie V November 22, 2013, 6:19 am

    I don’t think I’ve yet read that book but the concepts all make perfect sense. Starting out, I have (in order of amount) Worse liabilities (car + cell phone), liabilities (TV, furniture, other crap), then neutral (collectibles). I’m hoping to dip a toe into the “Good” category in 2014 though and I’m so excited! Moving on up from Poor to Middle Class will be a nice change. I’m looking forward to having a positive net worth at some point.

    • retirebyforty November 22, 2013, 10:04 am

      Check your library. It’s a fast read. Good luck next year. There will be ups and downs, but you’ll learn a lot.

  • bill November 22, 2013, 6:28 am

    Was worried when I saw you mention Kiyosaki. What a scammer. But you are
    correct on all other points.

    • retirebyforty November 22, 2013, 10:05 am

      I need to do more research into his scams. I have a pretty opinion of him, but it’s because I only read his book.

  • Chris November 22, 2013, 7:33 am

    I love that you’re getting into the nitty-gritty of breaking down “assets” further. I wholly agree that some assets are actually money sinks and I don’t include them in my net worth calculations: like our cars. The reality is they take money to keep up and are an ongoing expense – and we plan to drive them until they’re worthless.
    I think that (non-investment, primary) homes live in a sort of grey area. Obviously you get the utility of living there, but they also require active maintenance and monthly payments. For most people, I’d say that a home almost acts like a sort of poorly performing forced savings account. You don’t appreciate any gains until you sell it, and the depreciation/maintenance/upkeep probably negates that (plus the cost of real estate transactions take 6%+ off the top anyways). But everyone requires a place to live, and rent just rolls the payments altogether plus a margin for the owner. You’re trading money for time (avoiding maintenance yourself) and flexibility to move.

    • retirebyforty November 22, 2013, 10:07 am

      Yeah, a home isn’t a good investment unless you’re really lucky and purchased at the bottom of the market.
      I think it’s still nicer than renting though. 🙂

    • Anon November 22, 2013, 2:25 pm

      I’ve been thinking about this one a lot lately as mortgage rates rise. I live in a high housing cost area (CA) but rents are still $1,000/month lower than what I can purchase for once I include property taxes and HOAs. They are also building a lot of new buildings so I’m expecting rents to stay flat or even drop in the short term. Once you add closing costs and a good-sized down payment that is a lot of cash. I am making 10-15% in most of my investment accounts so I can’t justify the numbers – even with having to pay rent. If the numbers were closer to the rental market I could possibly think about it as a guarantee of my housing expense as I expect real estate to continue to appreciate long term. I can’t justify it though if I can’t make renting numbers work before adding things like maintenance in there. I’m not comfortable trying to purchase rentals in the rural areas that are within a reasonable drive where land is cheaper because the housing market isn’t stable there. So it looks like I can’t diversify as much as I would like.

      • retirebyforty November 24, 2013, 5:36 pm

        It’s good that the rent is staying flat. 10-15% gain is great. I don’t think real estate can beat that unless you really leverage the heck out of the properties.

  • I read Kiyosaki’s book and it was exciting and inspiring. While the concept of owning assets rather than liability was good, a lot of the concepts he writes about are too general and vague. P.S: Just read your article on US New and World Report: The Fast Track to Retirement. Thought it was excellent!

    • retirebyforty November 22, 2013, 10:07 am

      I probably have to go back and reread the book again at some point. It’s a good intro to personal finance book.
      Thanks!

  • SavvyFinancialLatina November 22, 2013, 9:57 am

    We are in the process of buying an affordable home compared to our income. Sometimes I wonder how people can afford more. I see colleagues buying homes 2x as expensive, and wonder if they are getting paid more than me???How else can they afford new house, new furniture, new car?

  • davidmichael November 22, 2013, 10:03 am

    Another good blog article Joe. What I like in reading several financial blogs showing how people can retire at an early age is a focus on the topic from an average person mindset. It’s so refreshing to see the possibilities and eventual outcomes of our financial behavior. I like how you break it down into its simple components. Great work!

    I must say that I made a huge financial mistake by building a dream house close to our retirement age (3000 sq ft). In fact I had planned to work another ten years to complete our Profit-Sharing Plan in my company that would have resulted in over a million dollars in one of our money buckets. But…cancer changed all of that. Survived the cancer over 20 years ago, but never quite made up for the loss in income upon forced retirement after the company sale. Once my wife lost her annuity due to an insurance company bankruptcy, we realized our mistake of not paying for our new home with cash, which we could have done at the time. So, in hindsight, we should have built a small home (1200 sq ft max) for retirement and payed for it by cash and invested the difference. Another reason to focus on diversification and treat a house as a liability. Such is life!

  • Mr. Roboto November 22, 2013, 12:01 pm

    I have read the “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” book, and I agree, it has a strong message. A little bit of it was lost on me when I discovered it wasn’t true, but I guess that is my own fault for believing it was. I still agree that as a metaphor for consumption and breaking the cycle of debt and consumerism.

    My Wife and I purchased a fixer-upper home from HUD, with about as much square footage as we used to have in our studio apartment, and I couldn’t be happier. The mortgage is smaller, utilities are smaller, and we are forced to consume less. I highly recommend it!

  • EL @ MoneyWatch101 November 22, 2013, 3:27 pm

    Great post Joe, I did a similar one about Assets vs. Liabilities, many people still do not understand the concept behind purchasing a car and or purchasing a stock. They see buying a car as less risky and a thing that can improve their net worth. Which is the wrong way to think because the stock puts money in your pocket and a car takes away.

  • krantcents November 22, 2013, 4:38 pm

    Most income generating assets usually have some debt associated with it. A rental usually needs a mortgage. It is okay to have a mortgage if the loan to value (LTV) is no more than 80%. In some cases lower to create a positive cash flow. A mortgage is a great device at a low interest rate to leverage your down payment.

  • Derek November 22, 2013, 5:50 pm

    I just finished Rich Dad Poor Dad.
    Highly recommended.

    Thanks for this post!

    -Derek

  • Micro November 23, 2013, 7:11 am

    I always liked his analysis about a house not being an asset. There are costs and maintanence associated with it but to me there is another important factor. You have to live somewhere. If you sell the house, you will get a good amount of money (hopefully more than you originally paid). That money will have to go towards the purchase of a new house or towards renting one.

    • retirebyforty November 24, 2013, 5:37 pm

      Yeah, you do have to live somewhere. I also think buying a house is a great first step. It will force people to save and living in your own home is so much more comfortable than renting.

  • Martin November 23, 2013, 11:30 am

    I like Kiyosaki’s view on assets and liabilities. He puts things together in a simple way so everybody understands it. Unfortunately it is easy to understand, but difficult to implement (in many cases).

  • The Passive Income Earner November 23, 2013, 2:56 pm

    That’s what I remember from Rich Dad Poor Dad too, assets should generate income otherwise it’s a liability. Turn your home into a rental income and voila!

    I am currently in the Middle Class working towards Financial Independence. My goals are to have income streams to rely upon rather than simply have a large retirement fund to withdraw from. That’s why my investments are all generating income.

  • ResilientMan November 24, 2013, 2:14 am

    Kiyosaki has recently also been talking about gold and silver as genuine investments. This article correctly classified such investments as Neutral. The big disadvatange with these investments is that they do not generate yield.
    Kiyosaki on Silver : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msw73t9G38E
    ResilientMan.com

  • MoneySheep November 24, 2013, 1:50 pm

    Kiyosaki is a pitchman and a good spinner. He refuses to identify Rich Dad. Any honorable writer would have named him, if only out of gratitude.

    In my view, his idea of creating a “Rich Dad” to portray a concept of personal finance is a good one. (The theme of ficticous guru advisers was popular at that time, several personal finance books were published with similar theme). If he had continued to write about financial literacy for people he could have been a good “asset” to general public. Instead the snake oil salesman (as mentioned by several readers above) took over. His subsequent books spin around a topic, running circle around it, but never state what that topic is.

    Kiyosaki was sued by co-author Sharon Lechter. Sharon Lechter, Kiyosaki’s co-author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, sued him in Clark County, NV (Civil Case #07-A-549886-C). It was filed on 10/12/07.

    Lechter had alleged that the Kiyosakis had enriched themselves, diverted assets and wasted money in a business that she claimed to have helped build from scratch. Lechter also had claimed that she “often rewrote large sections” of books she and Robert Kiyosaki co-authored.

    http://www.azcentral.com/business/articles/2008/09/04/20080904biz-richdad0904.html

    • retirebyforty November 24, 2013, 5:40 pm

      Ahh… Thanks for that info. I didn’t know that “Rich Dad” might be fictitious. It’s a good concept though.

  • On_A_Mission April 30, 2014, 10:08 pm

    Great article. I read Rich Dad Poor Dad about 10 years ago and it really opened my eyes about assets and liabilities and I really liked it when he gave the example treating yourself to a nice liability like a fancy car but only if your positive cash flow investment is paying for it and that’s only possible when you finally make it to FI but preferable the Wealthy quadrant.

    I’m also now on a mission to acquire as many assets as I can. I paid off my first house which was a starter home and I rent that out so its positive cash flow. I made a huge mistake right after I got married and the new wife she of course wanted a big fancy house (4000 sq ft) hence I was trapped in a $425K mortgage now with no light at the end of the tunnel. 5 years after we bought the house we got a divorce and I know the person who keeps the house usually ends up in great shape financially especially since we bought when the market was really down and now just 5 years after being divorced the house has appreciated 20% (since its a sellers market here) and I also paid off my primary home so now I am mortgage free.

    I recently paid cash for a single family rental home ($130,000) which is nice since there are no closing costs and no interest to make the fat cat bankers richer!! Since my primary home is paid for I just took a HELOC loan out for $200,000 and I bought another single family rental property for $156,000. The HELOC loan is also like an all cash deal since you pay no closing costs and other fees related to a conventional mortgage. I now have all 3 of my rental homes rented for $1400 month x 3 so my positive cash flow per month is almost $4200 per month – taxes,insurance and expenses. My goal is to pay off the HELOC loan at the end of the year then use the same HELOC to buy one house with it or maybe leverage myself and purchase two or three more rental property’s using the HELOC money and conventional mortgages.

    I’m 38 with no wife or kids, I paid cash for my last car which is new and I have zero debt, so I think I will be FI when I have 5 rental property’s that are all paid for. Most people don’t realize that a wife and kids are both huge liabilities. LOL!!

    Anyway, I posting all this because I would like your opinion on what you think I’m doing right, could be doing better and what I’m doing wrong and what traps I need to be watch out for. For example, a lot of people say I should never pay cash for homes and I should leverage myself more, but every time I see a mortgage P&I statement it makes me think I making the fat cat bankers rich again!! I was also told that I need to go with an S corp next since I now have 3 rental properties and some have said I need to also do an LLC. I need help on what you think my next steps should be and which are the best legal tools to protect my assets and reduce my taxes are. Thanks for all the help!

  • John June 24, 2014, 12:17 pm

    Oh god. You’re one of those. His seminars are NOT worthless. His advanced training is also REALLY good if you follow what you’re taught and are not afraid of taking that extra big 4,000 leaps. As a Kiyosaki reader, you should understand the differences between the E’s and S’s vs. the B’s and I’s. The training teaches you to be a B and I and do things that the E’s and S’s are afraid of. Looks like you will be an E or S since you bash RDE programs by just watching Youtube videos which ultimately means you fail in the following of Rich Dad Poor Dad.

    (HINT: Kiyosaki managed to un-do his former business partners’ mistake and broke ties with Russ Whitney. So the Tigrent name is no longer attached to Rich Dad Education.)

  • James July 27, 2014, 8:02 pm

    Core insight – don’t forget that investing in common stocks can yield compound effects that assets like gold or savings bond can’t.

  • Adam February 15, 2016, 2:43 pm

    You said you had two most influential books you’ve read, one being Rich dad Poor dad. What is the second on?

    • retirebyforty February 15, 2016, 5:33 pm

      That was Charles. If you’re looking for beginning personal finance books, I’d recommend the Millionaire Next Door and Your Money or Your Life.

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