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Talking Shop: Why the Rich Are Different

Steve Siebold, 46, author of How Rich People Think, is a former professional tennis player who now coaches Fortune 500 executives on mental toughness and has been interviewing multi-millionaires and billionaires since college. He says the super-wealthy think differently to the rest of us. They trade ideas, he says, while nine-to-fivers spend more of their time consuming and talking about entertainment.

Steve Siebold

His definition of multi-millionaires as “world class” – and his opinions about the poor spending habits of the middle class – may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But Siebold says all we need to do is learn the habits of the super-rich rather than poor college professors who give business classes. That’s what he did. Are we a nation of couch potatoes who clip coupons and watch Dancing with the Stars?

Pay Dirt went head-to-head with Siebold.

How did you start interviewing the rich?

I started when I was in college at the University of South Alabama. I met a guy who was a local millionaire and I interviewed him and what I heard was almost the completely opposite of what I was learning in college. I asked him if I could interview some of his friends, and so began the odyssey I’m still on today.

You say the middle class make spending decisions based on fear in times of economic stress.

It’s almost a joke that gold and silver are being sold to the masses through blanket fear, as are these dried food products being sold, especially in the mid-west. All this nonsense is being sold through fear. They sell to the masses because they respond to fear. The world class are the ones selling it, probably.

The middle class see being rich as a privilege, you write, but the “world class” see it as a right.

You have the right to be rich in a free market economy. Most people don’t think of it that way. They think the rich are just lucky or just given the money. People say about Donald Trump, that his father was wealthy. Donald Trump is not my favorite person in the world, but you’ve got to give him some credit. He’s succeeded in a major way whether you like it or not. There’s a lot of disdain for wealthy people out there.

You say the masses are so focused on living frugally, that they miss major opportunities. But some people have a better start in life than others and have greater expectations instilled in them by their parents.

It’s not about criticizing. There are differences in thinking. All you have to do is adopt the differences. A lot of the rich don’t even have high school degrees, while the masses are struggling. My dad was a brick layer. Could there be a harder job? Right now there’s a guy killing himself picking weeds in my backyard for $15 an hour. If hard work is the answer, he should be rich and I should be poor.

It’s good, honest work.

Many of these people worked hard their whole lives. Suddenly their 401(k) got cut in half because of the recession and people end up working in Wal-Mart at 85-years-old greeting people.

Some people might enjoy being out there meeting the public.

Sure. Maybe. I don’t know about that one. Maybe.

The middle class gets a bad rap in your book.

I’m not trying to be absolute. I came from the middle class world. I’m not saying it’s wrong. But if you’re broke and you can’t pay your mortgage in most cases you really have yourself to blame in the wealthiest country in the world. I hate to be harsh about it, but that’s pretty close to accurate. The wealthy are scorned all the time. They’re really discriminated against. Being wealthy must be bad because we keep punishing them by increasing their taxes.

You seem to prefer hanging out with the super-rich?

When I go to a party with millionaires I don’t hear people talking about who won American Idol. The middle class focus is on entertainment. The world class focus is on success. At their parties they talk about ideas and business and philanthropy and investing in art.

Pay Dirt readers, franchising superstars and coupon-clippers, what do you think?


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Comments (5 of 31)

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    • It seems as if its got something to do with the “hierarchy of needs”. If you’re not worried about putting food on the table or having a roof over your head, you are in a much better position to do self-actualization and as a corollary, you can discuss things like ideas, art, philanthropy, etc. Watching “American Idol” or any form of entertainment becomes an inexpensive way of escaping from the stress of trying to make ends meet. I think his ideas are fine but I think the perspective he’s using might be a bit off.

    • Reminds me of a seminar I want to offer – ”Achieving Mediocrity”.
      It would be for those of us who don’t aim for the sky – but are satisfied with ‘middle class’ success, and a good retirement plan. Being happy with ‘enough’ instead of MUCH. I agree w much of the article, but sometimes hard work, and focusing on goals/success DOESN’T pay off. Deals can fall thru, goals can fail, and you have to be prepared to get back up and start over.

    • I am one of those middle class Americans in dire financial debt. And I blame only myself. So in that sense I do agree with the author. However he makes it seem that only the guy pulling weeds is working hard. It’s hard to believe that people in the top income bracket don’t work hard. And I can honestly say that I have never seen 1 episode of American Idol. Maybe that’s why I don’t get invited to very many parties.

    • I agree with this article. I talk to people all the time and all I hear from them is the latest on whatever “reality” tv was on last night. I don’t understand it because I don’t watch it (I don’t even have cable, I’d rather save more). I’m too busy trying to build my financial future. I believe in capitalism and the great opportunities this country has to offer. I work lots of hours so I can have the choice to retire when I want to not when I “have to”. It’s all about making the right choices for ourselves. Still a free country, if you don’t agree with Steve Siebold, and remember, you are what you think. I don’t want to say “welcome to Walmart” when I’m 80…Not my dream!

    • Steve completely forgets about middle class people who spend a lot of time volunteering or who work long hours in nonprofits, academia, or some government jobs like teaching. These people certainly don’t spend all their time consuming or talking about entertainment.

      Then again, I guess I can’t expect anything different from the Wall Street Journal opinion section.

About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.