Growing up in a privileged family, I should have learned a few things about money.

Sadly, there was so much shame and secrecy around money that I went out into the world knowing nothing.

No one taught me how to open a bank account, pay a bill or balance a checkbook. My dad was a CEO, and my mom was a certified financial planner, so the irony is palpable.

My story highlights a crucial problem — finance is a foreign language. We send young adults out into the world financially illiterate, and then they fall into terrible predicaments because they’ve never learned the tools for success.

Here are two key terms that will help you master the art of wealth accumulation: capitalist and consumer. The wealth-generating mindset of the capitalist builds wealth. The wealth-destroying attitude of the consumer decimates it.

Before we dig further, please try to disregard any preconceived notions you have about the words “capitalist” and “consumer.” I’m reappropriating them for my purposes.

When I talk about consumers, I am referring to people who spend all their income on stuff.

We all need to buy stuff and are technically consumers with most purchases, but the wealth-destroying consumer works and earns an income, wrongly assuming that everything they earn is available to spend. They give up their hard-earned money for stuff that has no lasting value or declines in value over time.

How much is that new pair of jeans worth after you’ve worn them? Unless you are Mick Jagger, not much.

Most consumer goods, such as clothing, cars and electronics, depreciate over time, meaning they are worth less the longer you own them. The result is that consumers are always broke, in debt and never accumulate wealth.

Life for a consumer can also feel like a treadmill: Work to make money, spend money, work some more, repeat ad nauseam. The consumer treadmill makes corporations and capitalists rich — and consumers broke.

There is nothing wrong with stuff, but it is empirically obvious that just having stuff doesn’t make people happy. My parents struggled to find happiness, and they had lots of stuff.

If you want to get off the treadmill of working to live and living just to work, you’ll need a way out of the consumer trap. For that, you must become a capitalist.

But what is a capitalist?

If a consumer is someone who buys stuff that depreciates over time, a capitalist is someone who works to save and invest, buying as many assets as they can — hopefully, environmentally and socially responsible ones.

Those investments grow and are worth more over time. That new money is reinvested to purchase more assets, which steadily compounds until you are financially independent.

That’s wealth. Wealth isn’t about how big your paycheck is or isn’t; it’s about how you use what money you have to create a lasting pot of cash that you can live off of indefinitely.

And here’s the bonus round: If you avoid unnecessary consumer goods that depreciate and focus on sustainable investments, then you automatically reduce your consumption of disposable goods.

Everything you buy that depreciates will, eventually, depreciate to nothing. Then it needs to be recycled, burned or put in a trash heap. Usually, it just ends in a landfill.

It also takes energy and pollution to produce every consumer good. Our hyperconsumption of disposable goods doesn’t just destroy our wealth — it destroys the planet. On this point, our financial best interest and the Earth’s best interest are perfectly aligned.

To retire comfortably around age 65, you’ll need to save and invest at least five to 10 times your annual income.

For a median household with an income of $57,000, they’ll need around $570,000 in wealth to retire comfortably. That’s a big number. If you are retiring sooner, you’ll need much more.

The great news is that technology makes it amazingly easy to buy sustainable investments. You can get started with just a few bucks in your pocket.

Start small and with diligent effort, your investments will grow. Anyone can do it.

You don’t need to be a CEO to become a capitalist. A teacher, a janitor and even a monk can do it.

Doug Lynam is a partner at LongView Asset Management in Santa Fe and a former monk. He is the author of From Monk to Money Manager: A Former Monk’s Financial Guide to Becoming A Little Bit Wealthy — And Why That’s Okay. Contact him at douglas@longviewasset.com

(3) comments

Paul Davis

So about 25% of the way into this piece, Lynam says "Before we dig further, please try to disregard any preconceived notions you have about the words “capitalist” and “consumer.” I’m reappropriating them for my purposes."

And yet by the end of the piece, his definition of capitalist is identical to the standard one: someone who takes excess earnings, invests them in some asset they believe will appreciate in value, and sells it at some point in the future.

I thought that perhaps he would differentiate between capital expenditure and consumable expenditure, the former meaning things that enhance your life in the long term, either by increasing your range of choices, or by reducing your long term costs so that in theory one's income could drop without impacting lifestyle.

Stuff *does* make people happy when it allows them to do things they couldn't do before, just as education does, and as do social connections with other people. Yes, your new fishing rod or tent or ATV or bicycle will depreciate in its actual utility to you over time, but meanwhile, you're able to do something you (hopefully) wanted to do, which for most of us is a solid investment in our life and happiness.

If you want to write an article saying "spend less of cheap, rapidly depreciating stuff, and more on things that provide long term value", please, go ahead. Or one that says "remmeber to save for later in life rather than spending it all now". Sure, that would be great.

But why appropriate a perfectly well understood term like "capitalist" as part of that process, when "capitalism" has nothing inherently to do with this at all ?

Doug Lynam

Wow, Paul! That is a brilliant critique and I LOVE IT!

My only rebuttal is that I was a middle school and high school teacher for 18 years while in the monastery. One key lesson I learned is that you have to meet your students where they are at, and many kids with crazy Santa Fe parents would enter my classroom with a definition of capitalist that was synonymous with Hitler. I’m asking not for a new, redefinition of capitalist, I’m asking for a reasonably accurate definition of what a capitalist actually is without the political strings attached.

Also, I’ve started my next book. Any interest in trying to rip the ideas apart prior to publication?

doug@douglynam.com

David Romero

It is true if you spend more than you make, you will never accumulate wealth. One has to make enough money to pay the bills and have enough money left over to invest. In todays world wages aren't keeping up with the rate of inflation which makes it even more difficult. The real wealth killer is going be Biden's promise to raise taxes, implement the green new deal, and allow millions of illegal immigrants to flood the borders with the promise to give them all free health care ect. The consumer is the catalyst that drives the economy. The more they spend, the more goods and services are needed to keep up with demand. Then you have MLG and others like her who want to shut the economy down, destroy businesses, and put people out of work putting them and their families through extreme hardship. It's not the consumer that destroys wealth creation, its politicians with their asinine policies and mandates.

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