It’s Not What You Make: It’s what you keep.

John Cousins
February 7, 2023
4 min read
Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

It is not what you make; it’s what you keep.

Then turn what you keep into income-producing assets. That process is practical alchemy.

Owning income-producing assets is the way to wealth.

“Get what you can and what you get hold.”

Ben Franklin

I got taught these lessons the hard way. When we learn by experience, we take the test first and get the lesson afterward. It’s much more efficient, and less costly, to learn from the cautionary tales of others.

I want to help you not to make the same mistakes I made. Make different mistakes. I look back and see how much more relaxed I could have made my life if I had known this stuff early on.

I was lucky early in my career. I worked hard, achieved dreams, and earned what felt like a lot of money. I also played hard and spent recklessly. I was undisciplined in how I managed money.

I pursued this lifestyle with my eyes wide open and chose to spend in search of experiences. I felt like I could make more money.

It’s not what you make. It’s what you keep.

Things changed, and I went through bankruptcy and then divorce. I ended up losing it all. I turned to savings that I shouldn’t have touched to make ends meet. I was the poster child for poor money management habits. It made me feel guilty, embarrassed and messed with my chi.

I wanted to get back on top ASAP and, in the process, took on too much risk and workload.

I scrambled to hit the next home run with entrepreneurship and startups. I stumbled with those trying to do too much too fast.

But I changed it around. I stopped striving on the big home run and started focusing on hitting solid singles. I have achieved financial freedom. I am beholden to no one for a paycheck: not investors, customers, or bosses. I can do what I want when I want. I can pursue my interests where they lead me. That is an incredible feeling.

I saunter to my tasks surrounded by ease and leisure.

To me, that was a primary top-level life goal: to have time to attend to myself and have my mind unperturbed by devotion to the tasks of others, to pass my days as I intend. I read when I want to read and exercise when the mood strikes. I am my own master. It is a sweet life.

It took a long detour of heartaches, worry, and frustration. I could have avoided financial pitfalls, and the attendant anxiety had I known then what I now know. This advice is what I would give my younger self. It’s the advice I currently follow.

You can avoid common pitfalls and get there sooner and easier. Spend less than you make, eliminate high-interest debt like credit cards, save, and invest. Don’t save what’s left after spending. Spend what’s left after saving. Pay yourself first.

Keep your investment strategy simple and straightforward. Don’t get caught up in any convoluted schemes. If you don’t understand it, don’t invest in it. Know the difference between investing and speculating, and in the stock market and real estate.

Have a plan and work that plan. You will feel in control and will be in control.

Your plan will relieve anxiety about the future and replace it with excitement and empowerment. Plan the work and work the plan. Review regularly to see if you are on track and make adjustments along the way toward your now feasible and achievable goals.

Being wealthy is having the financial freedom of not having to rely on a paycheck to meet your monthly obligations. Trim back your overhead expenses and buy income-producing assets like dividend-yielding stocks and rental properties. When that passive income covers your monthly costs, you are officially wealthy.

Financial independence is f-you money. In the book Noble House, the author James Clavell termed it ‘screw you’ money. It is about having enough money to say screw you to anyone or anything you don’t want to do.

It’s the ability to do less meaningless work so that you can focus on pursuits of greater personal importance.

It’s enough money to decline or say no politely. Manners and measured speech are essential now that you are on your way to being wealthy.

Winners act like winners before they’re winners.

If you want to be wealthy, act like it starting now. Winners act like winners before they’re winners. Your plan might take two decades to fulfill. But if you stick to it, your goal is inevitable. So start acting like it now.

As Arnold Schwarzenegger said of his transition to movie star, “The only way you become a leading man is to treat yourself like a leading man, and work you ass off.” It starts with intention.

Be intentional about who you want to become. Have a vision and plan that takes you beyond your current circumstances. Visualize your best future self and begin acting like that person now.

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John Cousins
Author, Entrepreneur, & Teacher

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