Americans: If You Can’t Build Wealth Today, You Should Be Scared. Here’s Why.

I’m not sure I’m convinced by all the naysayers and skeptics out there who point to a declining America. The world, as I see it, indicates an America emerging stronger, on relative terms, than ever before in history. Perhaps never before in peaceful history has it been better to be an American, rather than a resident of the other countries on this planet.
European, Asian, Middle Eastern, South and Central American, African, and Middle Eastern markets are all spiraling downwards as poor decisions of the past few decades finally weaken the bones of their economies. Conflict plagues the Middle East and parts of Europe and Africa. And hostile nations like Russia, Iran, and North Korea loom over the horizon as potential threats.
But, in spite of all this world turmoil, America is great.
The dollar is strong. We’ve only seen a minor blip in economic and stock market growth here in America in the past five years, as once lavishly-spending oil companies cut back and as we begin to get realistic about the once almighty tech industry. Compared to contemporary nations, America is perhaps as great as it has been since the end of the Cold War or World War II.

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The Good Times Are Now — And They Won’t Last Forever

Now, if I believe all of this (which I do), what could possibly be so terrifying about our current situation?
It’s this:
In spite of the fact that things have gone wonderfully well in American for many, many years in a row, and in spite of the fact that America is the wealthiest nation on the planet, with opportunity for everyone, millions of Americans (and the Feds) are STILL struggling to get their act together financially!

Related: A Whopping 62% of Americans Have Less than $1,000 in Savings. Really?!

This isn’t a political article, so I won’t talk more about the government. The point is this: If you are a working adult in America today, NOW is the time when things should be going well for you. If things are going poorly, it’s not because of the economy, Europe, China, the tech industry, the greedy one percent or even (probably) Obama.
It’s you.
We’ve had a heck of a party in America over the past few years, and you’ve been missing out. When the party ends, I’m afraid of the hangover facing those who arrive too late. Now, I’m hoping that things continue to go well, and I bet they do for another year or two. But after that, it’s anyone’s guess on a macro scale.
You know how they say “Let the good times roll”? They’re talking about TODAY. The good times ARE rolling. Some folks can’t see that (or just can’t stand my starry-eyed Millennial optimism) and refuse to refer to the past five years as “the good times” for America. In that case, then perhaps they will at least agree with me that times probably aren’t going to get much better than today in the near future. Can I at least convince everyone of that?

Prepare NOW — And Thank Yourself Later

Whether or not you agree with me that now is a great time to be an American, I think that we can all agree that there is a very real possibility that our economic situation could, in fact, worsen relative to how things are today.
If things aren’t going well for you today, you need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask yourself what’s going on. Is it really something outside your control? Or are you making some bad decisions that have resulted in your current predicament? It doesn’t really matter what your conclusion is because the terrifying, terrible reality of the situation is that if you can’t get by today, then you are likely TOTALLY unprepared for even slightly-less-than-optimal times that might be just around the corner.
If you can’t save your pennies today, what large, macroeconomic conditions could possibly change to make that a possibility for you? I don’t think there are any!
Interest rates are low, the stock market has been booming for years, real estate has made it’s comeback and then some, there are jobs aplenty, and inflation has been almost nonexistent for the past five years. What economic condition are you going to improve to create a situation in which you can begin building wealth?
Literally every box I can think of for creating economic opportunity for the average American is checked, right now. And that’s what makes me so scared for those of you who have been unable to accumulate any wealth thus far. If you can’t do it today, you might never be able to.
What happens if interest rates begin to rise, and wages and job growth suffer? YOU are going to be left out to dry. What happens if your employer folds?
All of these things are unlikely to happen tomorrow, but may be quite likely in the next five years. When the good times end and the next wave of economic problems comes, you have two choices, made TODAY:
  1. Be prepared
  2. Be unprepared
Up to you. I know my choice.

Related: How to Get Out of Debt: 5 Steps Toward Healthier Money Habits


It’s precisely because economic conditions are so favorable right now that today is the time to start voraciously attacking your financial situation and making sure that you can withstand a serious beating.
If you have been unable to build wealth in recent history (and you are an adult over the age of 23 years old), then you should be scared. It’s time to throw out your excuses and focus in on yourself. The outside world is not going to be more forgiving than it is today. It’s time to buckle down and get serious about protecting yourself, your family, and your legacy financially.
Save your pennies, set up emergency funds, get insured, and start investing in stable assets that you understand and feel comfortable with. Today’s the day.
Don’t wait until the party’s over.
*Note: By the way, wealth building applies to people on all rungs of the financial ladder. Some people should be buying investments; others should be climbing out of debt like student loans. The point is that everyone across the spectrum should be prospering and thriving financially, relative to their financial backgrounds. If this is you, then good job! Keep up the good work!
Now it’s your turn to weigh in: Do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not?
Be sure to leave your comments below!

About Author

Scott Trench

A longtime fan of BiggerPockets and a Real Estate Investor managing his first property, Scott is the company’s Director of Operations. BiggerPockets is a BIG website, and Scott’s background in finance and big data analysis will be instrumental in the next phases of company growth and in helping to bring the resources of BiggerPockets to more investors worldwide. Scott is passionate about helping others build wealth and serving his community in whatever ways he can. In his spare time, Scott enjoys skiing, biking, and cooking, and he is a lifelong rugger.


  1. Rick Grubbs

    Our government has printed way too much money for a long time now. This is bound to catch up to us eventually in the form of inflation as the value of each of those dollars decreases. Buying an asset like RE that will hold its value in times of inflation is a smart move for long term thinkers. Getting more fixed rate mortgages as opposed to variable ones will give a good hedge as well.

    • Kyle Hipp

      The Federal government is the monopoly supplier of the US Dollar so naturally it has created every single US dollar ever in existence. The problem is that most people do not understand the operational realities of our monetary system. Too many believe that the federal government operates like a household but it does not…

      • Robert Easter

        Umm I hate to point out something but…the US Government doesn’t supply any USD Currency. The Federal Reserve does this…and the Fed isn’t a part of the US Government. Created by Congress yes….but is independent of the federal government and is the soul supplier of US Currency.

        Monetary policy and government budgets are in no way comparable. Nor are household budgets and government budgets.

        Just sayin

        • If you count that the Federal reserve purchases government bonds (lowering interest rates) to finance govt spending, I would say you are correct they are not the same, but you can’t exactly separate the two either.

      • Will property be a great investment when real estate values drop due to rising interest rates (i.e. no one can afford to buy our property without an affordable loan) and when renters lose their jobs, but can’t be evicted? I would love to start earning income from RE to help hedge against economic difficulties, but I think RE investments will suffer as much, if not more than, the rest of the economy if/when the US debt bubble bursts.

        I am keen to find safe investments to supplement my retirement accounts, but there seem to be few true safe havens.

      • William McGowen

        The US will not default on it’s debt. Anytime the US needs money beyond what is collected by taxes, (always,) they sell that debt in the form of bonds. And once they have sold all the bonds they can, the rest is bought by the FED everyone is talking about. They buy it though the “printing” (usually just digital) of money equal to whatever was not bought.

        This is the main driver of inflation. Technically inflation is the “secret tax” on everyone.

        The value that money has lost has appeared in the government’s bank.

        This is one of the reasons having assets is better than having money. The value of the money has gone down, but your house or apartment building was not affected, and maintains it’s value. But the debt you owe on that property has declined in value to the bank, while the rents increased to keep up with inflation. You are now benefiting from inflation.

    • Ethan Hamilton

      Couldn’t agree more, things aren’t as rosy as they seem right now. If you can still find deals in your market, scoop them up and watch the values rise with inflation. Imagine if $15/hour minimum wage is adopted by more states?

  2. Steve Vaughan

    Refreshing to hear a young person owning up to their own success or failure, Scott. Thank you! It is up to us- the person in our mirror!
    Making excuses about the cost of college, student loan debt, QE and the money supply, the 1%, wall street corruption, political this or global that has and always will be just that – an excuse.
    Never a better time than now to improve yourself and your situation. Have a business idea? Want to learn about something new? Used to have to trot down to the library or book store, mail a letter to some company for marketing help, etc. Now we have social media, BP and youtube. C’mon!
    Thank you for reminding us of self-responsibility. Have a plan. Sacrifice. Reap what you sow!

  3. One…

    Our government doesn’t print money.


    The fed does


    The fed isn’t a part of the US Government

    Basic facts every American should understand about their own country….

    • Kyle Hipp

      The federal government has the ultimate authority as the monopoly supplier of the US Dollar. The Federal Reserve is independent however it also returns 95% of its profits to the US Treasury so it operates for the benefit of the US.

    • Ivan Paxton


      For every dollar of printed money a bank holds it can lend up to $15.


      The ratio of $ held to $ lent is regulated by the US Government.


      The government controls the money supply. The Fed merely prints a small proportion of the total.

      Basic facts every American should understand about their own country…

      Brought to you by an Englishman.

      • Susan Maneck

        How much money is really ‘printed’ anymore?

        At any given time if I have $200 it is a lot. My tenants have cash, I don’t. My paycheck is put in the bank electronically. The only time I deposit cash is when i collect my rents. When I pay bills I pay electronically or by cash.

    • Scott Trench

      I don’t know if this particular discussion is relevant to the point of the article, but it is an interesting one nonetheless. I feel that both of you are pretty correct on this point, and that whether the Federal Reserve can be classified as a part of the government is a matter of opinion. Technically, there’s one answer, and in practical terms, there’s another.

      More important than how we classify the fed, is how their actions impact monetary policy and what actions we should take as private citizens to protect our interests in response.

      In the current times, I believe the correct course of action is to thank them for the increased money supply and low interest rates, save your pennies, and take advantage of the current good times with leverage on excellent, conservative, stable cash flowing assets, and prepare for a period of high inflation, in which the assets we are leveraged on increase in value rapidly…

      The wrong course of action is to NOT save your pennies, and put yourself in a position of vulnerability when inflation rises and your purchasing power declines…

    • Scott Trench

      Thanks Andrew! I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that, but I’d rather America “decline less rapidly” than “get surpassed.” It looks like the latter is increasingly less likely in the short to medium term. That outlook was not the same a few short years ago.

  4. Robert Easter

    You can make it easier today than at anytime in the past of this country…
    1. Telecommunications make every transaction simpler and faster and easier than ever before

    2. Banking….no more do you have to waste time with slow manual deposits or waiting on Friday afternoons to get your check cashed.

    3. Property sales can be research generally for free online at your local municipal website…making what was once arduous painstaking time consuming visits to the county offices pretty much in nesscary now.

    4. Ease of corporate formation…online formation of llc, llp, partnerships or S & C corps, have quickened the business setup process and streamlined costs..

    5. Every statistic needed to evaluate and project business decisions for nearly any business is at your fingertips through the various federal or state government agencies …usually for free.

    Just these improvements over the last three decades have increased productivity and unleashed the power of the individual in America to take greater control of their personal lives.

    All this naysaying by certain would be politicians about how America isn’t great any more is moronic … Frankly I think that most people in america realize this at least our female Americans do since they are responsible for the formation of 3 out of 5 companies in this country now. No wonder Warren Buffet says women are the greatest American resource.

  5. Russell Sharif

    Thanks for the thought provoking article. While I do agree on some of the points but would like to mention the flip side so that potential/existing investors don’t go full force w/o realizing them:

    1. The RE market growth last few years were fueled by loose Fed monetary policies of bond buying and IOUs. Not much structural improvement to the overall economy.
    2. The stock market growth is mainly by few high tech companies. So try to not to judge the overall stock market condition w/ only few companies (i.e the commodities, staples etc. are not doing much better and in fact going down).
    3. The upward mobility index, a measurement of how an individual has a chance to move up in the upper economic ladder, is one of the lowest of the industrial nations and lot of folks has been left-out from the recent boom in the economic cycle.
    4. The baby boomers are starting to retire and they will have take the minimum distributions from their 401K plans and to pay their taxes on them. Hence stock market will take a hit going forward..
    5. Lot of the state govt and municipals financial situation (i.e. Pension obligations, retiree healthcare funds etc.) is worse today that before even with this recent stock market run-ups.
    6. More and more young and older Millenniums are happy to rent than buy a home due to what they saw in the last RE crash or they can’t make enough down payment or credit it shot etc. etc.
    7. Last few years, big hedge funds (KKR, Blackstone etc.) and Hotel chains (i.e. Starwood) have been buying large pools of SFRs in billion dollars transactions and reducing the # of available homes. So, even though the interest rates might be low, middle/lower income people can’t buy home due to this low inventory (Feds action contributed to this partially) and making the affordability index very low in lot of the Metro areas. The Coastal markets went up quite a bit due to foreign investments. But now there a lot of MFH is being built in those areas and foreign money is slowing..
    etc. etc.
    So, it is likely the opposite might become true as to what you are predicting (i.e. things might go downhill in near future).

    • Scott Trench

      Russell – I think that you and I are not in disagreement. While our timing may be slightly different (I can see another year or two of good times before these problems come to pass), I think we take away the same conclusion – prepare like mad today, because the rocky times might be coming sooner than you think.

      It’s not going to be easier to build wealth in the next few years than it is today – how could it possibly IMPROVE!?

  6. Chad Carson

    I like the premise of this article. I’m also long on America (an optimist), and I agree with smart people like Warren Buffett that our best years are ahead.

    I tend to think we real estate investors can make money in any cycle of our economy. But we have to take advantage of what we’ve got – like today we have ultra low interest rates to acquire property.

    While I don’t welcome inflation, higher interest rates in the future could help get some of the lazy money out of the real estate game and back into CD’s, bonds, and other traditional vehicles. It could make prices a little more rational based upon the risk. Cap rates are getting pretty low these days.

    • Scott Trench

      Great points Chad – I think that commercial real estate is particularly absurd today as well.

      One interesting thing to think about – ten years ago was 2006. We were in the middle of an unprecedented real estate bubble the likes of which we had never seen.

      Come the great recession, many people, including many COMMERCIAL properties defaulted on their debts. Most of the time, commercial banks lend on balloon payment terms. Balloons last 10 years typically. Guess which years are going to see a HUGE drop off in balloon refinancing? 2008, 2009, 2010.

      I bet we see a tailspin in the commercial real estate sector, spurred by this combination of 1) lack of business (due to a lack of refinancing) and 2) high interest rates.


  7. Brock Adams

    Not enough good jobs out there for everyone so you better develop and conquer a skill quick even if it is growing a garden in your back yard. Teaching is the best gig in town. Colleges figured that out and monopolized it well for a long time. Too bad for some students they will have nothing to show for it except a piece of paper. Start that small business part time and get a job full time until part time goes to full time. Technology is a great tool. Now everyone can make a pitch on some level and build a business platform. After all, the real name of the game is sell, sell, sell. It always has been.

  8. Jerry W.

    I also think the economy has been artificially propped up by the government spending frenzy. I know our local markets are getting hit hard and housing prices will undoubtedly be coming down. I have gone from expanding at 7 houses in 2014 to only 1 house in 2015. I am going to close on a 4 plex this year with a marginal cash flow, but other than that I plan to only buy amazing deals. One of the better managed apartment units in town is only slightly about 50% and a very nice 4 plex in town is currently completely empty. I plan to just fix up properties and pay down the balance of my smallest mortgages to improve my cash flow for hard times. I expect to see much harder times for the next few years in my area as we are so heavily oil dependent for jobs. Even 73% of our tax revenue is oil based so we will see a 30% to 40% in tax revenue which will lead to job losses. Of course I hope to add a few houses when the market bottoms out in 2 to 5 years.

  9. Bill Briscoe

    “Is it really something outside your control? Or are you making some bad decisions that have resulted in your current predicament?”

    I slightly disagree.

    “Predicaments” can come from many sources. One can simply be having kids. They can be extremely costly (especially when they have some medical issues) and once the source of the “predicament” is permanently “fixed”, it still takes 18 years or more to work one’s way thru the associated costs.

    So my point is, that it CAN be reasonable to have optimism that even though you can’t seem to save up, or save up rapidly in the current economy, that your personal conditions may still improve in the future, especially if you are in a costly life phase and can identify a definite point in the future where many of those current obligations expire.

    • Scott Trench

      Bill – thanks for this comment. I think that the point of my article isn’t to talk about the fact that people might have personal issues that are specific to them tying them down. A loved one or child with special needs or the like, for example.

      The point is that from a macro perspective, if one is incapable of building wealth, then one cannot blame the economy, the business environment, etc. One must instead look to the personal problems unique to their situation. It is the personal, rather than the high level factors that are impeding folks ability to to improve their economic conditions.

  10. Toi H.

    Scott I really enjoyed reading the article. You made several good points about the status of the economy and where many see America going. The main point you’ve made clear is, with so much advancement we have more opportunities to improve our financial security than ever before. Now is a great time for us to take advantage no matter what our circumstances may be.

    I also agree with a few of the respondents that sometimes predicaments are not based on something you did wrong (i.e. having children, being laid off, having children with birth defects, sick parents and etc.). Bill Briscoe made a very good point in saying, ” ….. it CAN be reasonable to have optimism that even though you can’t seem to save up, or save up rapidly in the current economy, that your personal conditions may still improve in the future, especially if you are in a costly life phase and can identify a definite point in the future where many of those current obligations expire.”

    It is indeed always necessary to have a plan for the future and an optimistic outlook on life in order to improve oneself.

    • Scott Trench

      Toi – thank you for this comment. I too believe that personal circumstances can impact one’s wealth building situation and understand that optimism is important. I just hope that folks can realize that they should not blame macro forces for their current predicaments, and instead look to things in their own lives. And, regardless of the fact that some have unfair, or difficult personal situations, they need to recognize that unless those personal situations change, things may get worse on a top down level and make things even harder going forward.

  11. Bill Schrimpf

    Thanks for the article! You make an excellent point, if a person is stuck on negative today, when most macro conditions are favorable, good luck, cuz your gonna need it, when macro conditions change. Another great point is fretting about what things you cannot control is of no use. Look in the mirror, change and improve what you can.

  12. Tiffany Alexy

    Great article Scott and I completely agree! This is the exact reason why I’m front-loading my life and hustling so hard now. I know that in 5-10 years I’ll want a family and the American “dream,” and I REFUSE to go into debt to buy those dreams, so right now it’s all about the hustle. It’s why I’m 25 and still live in “university” housing (that I own hehe) and why everybody is getting a new car or a nicer apartment and I’m STILL here. Because my roommates cover all the housing expenses and that enables me to dump a bigger portion of my income into more investments and properties.

    Unfortunately not many in our generation share our mindset… I wish everyone did, I think they’d be in a much better position down the road!

  13. Bill Baldwin

    Kind of a weak article. While the right intentions are there, I think it’s really easy to write a “now is the time to invest, America! Especially when you’re young!” article at the end of a 7 year bull market cycle for stocks, real estate, and private equity ventures. Also pigeon-holes all “Americans” into one group regardless of their age or opportunities. Telling people they “should be prospering and thriving financially” isn’t going to help them, but telling people in different situations how they can might.

    • Scott Trench

      Yep – this was definitely not a challenging article to write. I think that it is challenging, however, for people to accept the fact that we have just had a 7 year bull market, and that circumstances could hardly improve to put Americans, regardless of age or opportunity, in a position to build wealth.

      Too many Americans blame the economy and the jobs market for their lack of opportunity. That’s simply not the case, and even if it was, it’s not worth talking about, because it is hard to imagine a scenario where wealth building will be more favorable to the average person in the near future.

      Yes, people should be prospering, if they are Americans, right now! If they aren’t it’s time to ask the hard questions about their life choices, and look inwards at personal and familial problems, not to the government.

  14. George Gammon

    Great article Scott. It’s awesome to hear young guys think about macro when structuring their real estate investment strategy. Or just using it as motivation to take action before the unintended consequences of 7 years of zero percent interest rates show up.

    If I may make a suggestion. I think it would be enormously valuable to many BP investors to write a blog post outlining how price deflation or price inflation affects debt. For most, it’s obvious how these two forces would affect the nominal value of their properties, but I’m afraid very few understand how deflation/inflation affect the “real” value of their debt.

    I hate to see investors ignore how much money they can make on fixed rate debt in times of high inflation (real value of debt decreasing) and how quickly they could go cash flow negative in a period of high deflation (real value of debt increasing). Also, so many people on BP only started investing within the last 7 years, all they know is zero percent interest rates. They’ve never experienced a tightening cycle with adjustable rate debt and how devastating that can be. They don’t realize that if interest rates even normalize, their 5% loan could go to 10% and how that affects their monthly loan payments/cash flow. I cringe when I see investors take on adjustable debt at 1.25 DSCR.

    Anyway, thanks again for a great blog post…

  15. Diedrick Nagle

    “It’s time to throw out your excuses and focus in on yourself. The outside world is not going to be more forgiving than it is today. It’s time to buckle down and get serious about protecting yourself, your family, and your legacy financially.”

    Needed this. Thank you.

  16. Ricardo Cortes

    Scott you just scared me man, I find my self ‘between the wall and sword’ (Mexican saying)

    I work for a commercial real estate broker, i dont work full time for him, though i feel i can learn much from him. I’ve been with the broker 4 months, i am getting an idea how to market properties. I am troubled because i want a proper paying job, but want to stay in the real estate realm. With all this said, i am having trouble financialy, so i have been making efforts to find 3rd job. My second job, i freelance graphic design, and the 3 i am still looking. I am desperate to get out of the rut i feel i am in.

    Exchanging time for money is the only way i know how to earn money, i need to read more on Real Estate

    Wish me luck!

  17. David Ferrette

    Great article Scott. The political statement about “Making America Great Again” blows my mind. I agree with you. We are great now and have had a tremendous run since the great recession. Almost everyone is in their current situation because of the choices they made. Nobody made you get a degree in a worthless major or take that crummy job. America IS great now and the best part of America everyone gets a chance to be great themselves. They just have to work for it.

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