3 Steps to Escape Middle-Class Financial Mediocrity

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I needed a new audiobook. In the year and a half since my first daughter had been born, I’d read three or four parenting books. These covered topics like brain development and the traits that will make your child successful. It left me feeling uneasy. I was a smart kid growing up. I did well in school and managed to get an Engineering degree. But I didn’t actually consider myself all that successful, at least not financially. I mean, I made pretty good money compared to the average person, but my wife and I had money concerns like everybody else.

I was out for a long walk to get some exercise, pushing a stroller that now had two tiny little passengers. They were depending upon me. I would be lying if I told you that didn’t weigh heavily on my mind. I decided to listen to another parenting book. This time, I found one called Rich Dad Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! by Robert T. Kiyosaki. “Well,” I thought, “I’d like to teach my kids about money.” The problem was, I didn’t know anything about it. “Maybe this will help.”

Little did I know that the lessons I would find in that book would change my life.

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Denial

The thing is, it hadn’t really occurred to me that my life needed to change. I had a university education, a successful career, and a solid income comfortably above the national median. Based on income alone, we weren’t just middle class — we were upper middle class. Yet when it came to money, things weren’t so stable. We had a house with a mortgage that we were paying off slowly. But one month we would have $20,000 in our bank account, then before I knew it, we’d be struggling to pay for car repairs. What happened? We couldn’t put a finger on where the money had actually gone.

What I didn’t realize then was that I suffered from what I now refer to as “middle class mediocrity.” Like so many others, I was raised to believe that all you needed to do was to be smart and get a career. After that, you were pretty much a success.

Related: 12 Reasons You’re Poor

Except it doesn’t work that way, at least not anymore. These days, people are talking about the inequality gap and the disappearance of the middle class. When I was growing up, the middle class were the people who gained a specialized skill or became managers. This usually required some form of extended study, apprenticeship, or experience. The idea was to get educated, land a job at a good company or government department, contribute that special skill for 40 years, and then have company and government pensions to retire on comfortably. That’s what my dad did. People were looked after. The main thing they usually needed to do financially was pay off their home, something they could generally achieve over the course of a working career.

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Entitlement

Now people are on their own. Company pensions have vanished, and government pensions are below the poverty line in many countries. Unfortunately, most people haven’t figured out what that really means. For those who do not understand personal finance, the education and decent income typical of middle class tend to result in a false sense of prosperity and even entitlement. I get it: I am a computer engineer, and my wife is a veterinarian. Surely that means that we deserve some of the good things in life, right? A co-worker of mine gave voice to this mentality. He said, “I have a good career with a good income in a prosperous nation: It is my right to not have to think about money.”

It is with this mindset that middle-class families spend more and more on their home, cars, vacations, education for their children, nice furniture and electronics, expensive tablets and smartphones, and more. Not actually having the money in the bank to pay for such items is a triviality; financing is available to people with good incomes, so there is no need to go without. Another friend recently asked me, “What is wrong with a car loan and buying stuff on credit cards?” These are well-educated people, some with multiple degrees. But middle-class mindset simply does not understand how money works.

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Shame

In an incredibly brave article published in The Atlantic entitled “The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans,” author Neal Gabler poignantly and convincingly described this condition from firsthand knowledge. I sympathize with his fear, bewilderment, and even anger. After reading Rich Dad Poor Dad for the first time, I felt all of these emotions and more. It was easy, at first, to deflect the blame elsewhere; I blamed my parents and the education system.

I have a good friend who overcame extreme poverty and an upbringing in an environment surrounded by drug abuse to become a very successful entrepreneur. We would be in the middle of a deep discussion, and I’d become agitated and frustrated. Finally one night when we were talking, I put my finger on it: I don’t have the excuse or baggage of a bad start in life. Instead, I had every opportunity to become successful. Yet into my late-30s, my achievements were average at best. The reality is that I was the epitome of mediocrity trying to convince myself of my own success.

Related: The Foolproof Monthly Budget: How to Save Up Money to Buy Investment Properties

Empowerment

Once I realized this, I was free to act. It is very confronting to realize that you are the result of the decisions that you have made in your life. It is so difficult to accept that many refuse to see it. But this realization has an amazingly powerful corollary: If I am responsible for where I am now, then I am also responsible for what I can achieve in the future. This spirit of self-reliance empowers me to redesign my life in accordance with my dreams.

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Action

If you are ready to take charge of your own life, the following three steps will keep you busy for the next few years at least.

  1. Educate yourself on personal finance. Read widely. There are many great books and articles on personal finance, real estate investing, and more. BiggerPockets and other sites often publish lists of the best books. Use them.
  2. Take control of your own finances. Get yourself or your family on a budget and start tracking where your money is going. Without this, you can’t tell your money what to do.
  3. Take action to build a better financial future. It might be through real estate investing, starting your own business, or some other venture. Start the process of building wealth, and you will be thanking yourself before you know it.

The inequality gap is a fissure that runs right through the middle class. It’s not so much that the middle class is disappearing; it’s that it is split on either side of the widening gap. Those who take charge of their financial situations may find themselves among the wealthy. Those who do not will become indistinguishable from the poor. Which side do you want to be on?

About Author

Brad Lohnes

In 2013 Brad awoke from lifelong financial slumber and took responsibility for his family’s financial future. His primary vehicle for wealth-building is buy-and-hold real estate. He is passionate about financial education and helping others learn the tools they need to take control of their money. Brad believes there is nothing more empowering than self-reliance.

35 Comments

  1. Steve Vaughan

    Thank you for the article and sharing a part of your story, Brad.
    An old guy a long time ago told me if he only kept his first (and maybe 2nd) house when he outgrew them and got bigger ones, that his life would have been totally different. SS and pensions wouldn’t limit him. His 1st was in 1956. My uncle said the same thing, although his was in 1979. “I could’ve retired from my metal shop and my wife’s catering business years ago if we only had kept a house or 2 along the way.”
    I went a little crazy with that advice, but it always stuck with me. If more would get informed and take action like you suggest, mediocrity could be defeated. Some could escape. If we would only look passed Friday and sacrifice a little, not worrying about keeping up with the Joneses, our options would be many and our freedom vast. Be different! Normal is broke and in debt. Thanks again for sharing!

    • Brad Lohnes

      Hi, Steve. Thank you for taking the time to read and for providing your thoughts. It’s amazing what kind of effect one interaction or insight along the way can have on our lives. That’s why I like writing – if anything I put out there can help someone else the way those comments affected your life then it will be worth it. Thanks!

  2. Tim Puffer

    Awesome article! I remember my first time reading Rich Dad and felt the same way. It was an instant mindset change.
    The co-workers you described sound like some of my friends. I’ve tried to talk to them about money and wealth – to no avail. It is hard to get some people to open their minds and see things differently.

    • Brad Lohnes

      Hi, Tim. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I think that my Rich Dad experience is, shall we say, not unique. 🙂 I know a lot of people find fault with certain aspects of the book, but it was nothing short of transformational for me.
      The thing is, you can’t really tell anybody anything, if you know what I mean. People have to figure things out for themselves. The best we can do is to make the information available. That’s really what I’m trying to do – show people that I saw the world that way too, but I’ve changed my mind. Thanks again.

  3. Kevin Darrell

    Great article Brad, my wife and I finally took action and purchased 3 rentals this year. Albeit later in life (just turned 50) I do wish I started sooner. I will forward your article to my 2 sons (20 and 28 years old) and know they will find it beneficial also, thanks. (They both read Rich Dad btw. :-).

    • Brad Lohnes

      Hi, Kevin. Thanks for your comment. I would have liked to start sooner too. It is physically painful to think of the money I wasted in my 20’s! Getting married helped in my 30’s, but we nearly let those escape without much progress too. I’m hoping my 40’s are much more productive. So far, so good. I think it doesn’t matter if you start at 50, as long as you got started! And I have big hopes for my kids too. I think starting in your 20’s would have a profound impact on life. All the best to you and your kids! Thanks again.

  4. Thanks for this article. It spoke directly to me, and I mean directly. I am a veterinarian and my husband is a programmer (really?!?). We are both post divorce and supporting our prior family members, through no fault of our own. Doesn’t matter. There is a certain amount of money that HAS to go to them every month, but the rest we can do something about. I feel like we are turning a corner and it is nice to read an article written by someone who has traveled literally in our shoes career-wise. I will be sharing with my husband. Thanks again!

    • Brad Lohnes

      Hi, Catharine. What a crazy coincidence! It does sound like you’ll have some speed bumps to overcome. I highly recommend getting yourselves on a detailed budget if you aren’t already. That’s the best way I know to account for all of the “musts”. From there, you can work with the rest of your money and find ways to set some aside for investing in your future. Thanks for reading!

  5. Love the article! Many people are content with a life of mediocrity. That’s why you have a lot of people renting cheap apartment units. The sad thing is that many generations of families are going to get used to this type of life. The best article I read today! Thanks!

    • Brad Lohnes

      Hi, Michael. I hope it didn’t hurt too much! It can be a bit uncomfortable at first. But I can say that 3 years into our journey, I am more excited and energized than ever. It’s been more than worth it. Thanks for reading.

  6. Calvin Waddy

    This is a great eye opener. I’m an automotive designer and nearly killed myself going back to school later in life(32) thinking that all I needed to do was “catch up” to my peers. Now saddled with a considerable amount of student loan debt, I feel the need to achieve more. I do consider my time in school an investment in myself yet I wish I had done it much sooner. I find myself thinking about retirement more and more and the need to maximize my contributions while still attacking the student loan debt aggressively. It’s a delicate balance.

    • Brad Lohnes

      Hi, Calvin. Thanks for reading. I’m glad it had that eye opening effect. I know that I went through a period where I felt like someone had ripped a band-aid off. It stung. But the best news is that you aren’t in competition with anyone else. You really just need to decide what is best for you. I’m not a financial adviser, but paying down that debt will help tremendously. I recommend Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey as a starting point if you have debt other than your home. Thanks again!

  7. Syed Hussain

    Excellent post Brad. Being a professional myself, I can attest to what you’re feeling. Many of my peers are perfectly okay with their 2 leased luxury cars and “manageable” credit card debt along with their six figure student loans. Most are not willing to reach out of the comfort zone of their own profession by starting a blog or some side hustles.

    I sincerely hope everybody will have a comfortable retirement once they decide to retire or are forced to retire. But that seems more and more unlikely even with a professional degree. You really have to keep close tabs on your money and make sure it is growing over time.

    • Brad Lohnes

      Hi, Syed. Thanks for your comment! I’m a big fan of the side hustle. We’re into real estate investment, obviously, but also looking into other ways to help the world and our bank account at the same time. I don’t know what the future holds, either. But a spreadsheet and some simple projections can paint pretty different pictures of what that future might look like. I’m erring on the side of taking charge of it myself. Thanks for reading.

    • Brad Lohnes

      Hi, NK. Thanks for reading and commenting. Sadly, I didn’t grasp it as early in life as I might have liked. But I think that anytime is a good time. We can’t do anything about yesterday, only today and tomorrow. Did you know that Colonel Sanders started KFC at the age of 62? Just sayin’. 🙂

  8. Charlie DiLisio

    Great article and right to the point. It’s amazing how many people don’t see or even consider doing anything but the status quo. The book that woke me up was the automatic millionaire! Once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down. So simple yet hardly anyone will do it. The author was a financial advisor and had an interview with some folks he didn’t think much of until he heard there story and the results they achieved. He was blown away by it and changed his whole system of advising others including himself. Thank you for sharing. I wish everyone health and prosperity and I know it works because I am doing it myself. All the best to everyone!

  9. Andrew Davis

    Hey Brad,

    Really great stuff, I appreciate your candor and willingness to reflect. I was watching a Tony Robbins video the other day, and he talks about the 3 fundamental steps to make real change in your life, and you’re already intuitively following them:

    1. Identify the thing you’d like to change and describe what it’s like currently.
    2. Identify the rituals that have shaped your current conditions in this area.
    3. Write down what you want, your vision.
    4. Write down (and implement) the rituals that will get you there.

    What sticks out to me about your post is that you are willing to be honest with yourself. A LOT of people say they want to be wealthy, rich, etc… But few are willing to really assess where they are and identify the things that need to change in order to achieve wealth or financial freedom.

    @Steve Vaughan – Thanks for your comment. My wife and I purchased our first home last year, and we’ve already decided that we’re going to hold onto it, we’re calling it our kids education fund.

    Thanks for sharing your experience, it is really never too late to make a change.

    • Brad Lohnes

      Hi, Andrew. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I have developed the skills you’ve described over the past few years, but it’s taken time and repetition. I love goal-setting now. But I somehow had to initially wake up from the stupor. I think that many of us live as though we’re in The Matrix – blissfully unaware of what’s really going on around us. There’s so much we can achieve, but first we have to “take the red pill”. Thanks!

    • Brad Lohnes

      Hi, Nancy. Thanks for your comment. I personally believe that we should constantly re-evaluate our situation and goals. Both can change over time, as can the world in which they exist. I often refer back to my goals, and as I achieve some of them, or advance my understanding in certain areas, I find I have new goals and things that I’d like to challenge myself with. Each time, I find I can push the boat out a little further. Thanks.

  10. When I further delved into this topic and read your article I was reminded of the fact that IMO the middle class mindset essentially lets to a mediocre lifestyle where financial worry looms above. Thanks for the reminder and I am glad there are other people out there that you can discuss these topics with, as many people don’t want to hear what you have to say (family, friends, etc).

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