There are lots of things in life more important than money. Still, I'm guessing that when you hear names like Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffet, you perk up and wonder how in the world to think more like a rich person and reproduce their "luck". A story from the New York Times published this Sunday suggests it all might boil down to a handful of points.

As Corey Kilgannon reports, Sylvia Bloom worked as a legal secretary in Brooklyn for almost seven decades. By the time she passed away, she'd quietly gathered more than $9 million. Here's what she did that you need to mimic:

1. Observe what others are doing.

Bloom didn't have a spectacular title or corporate position. But she made a habit of watching the investments the lawyers she served made. While she couldn't invest to the scale they did on a smaller salary, she trusted the insights and knowledge they had and learned from what they chose to do. You might not help control the investments of others like Bloom did, but you still can

  • read investment journals or social media feeds to better understand and respond to market trends
  • ask experts in your company why certain investments were favored over others based on readily available public information
  • look for headlines in print and digital news about investments from business heavyweights (e.g., Marissa Mayer, Peter Lynch, Abigail Johnson, David Lee or Jeff Clavier).

2. Live below your means.

As Bloom grew her wealth, she could have invested in plenty of luxuries that would have simplified and taken the ouch out of life. But time and time again, she opted for economy, such as choosing rent-controlled housing and using the subway to get around. That's a huge deal because it means you have more money saved to put into investments that can work for you.

3. Stay hush-hush about what you're doing.

This isn't to say you shouldn't talk to people who know about money and investing, or that you can't give occasionally as you grow rich. Rather, it's to say that, when you keep your financial activity private, you have a better chance of staying true to your heart and original goals. People can't try to convince you to shift the money elsewhere if they don't know you've got it, and without unsolicited advice or requests, you have more time to really consider what you should do. In Bloom's case, she stayed so mum about her assets that it's suspected that not even her husband knew what she was worth.

4. Identify your motivator.

As someone who experienced the Depression, Bloom knew what it was like to go without. That allowed her to empathize with the less fortunate. She took that empathy and let it drive her to keep saving and investing so that, at the end, she was able to give to schools and organizations that specifically target problems of social and economic inequality. In fact, she was so focused that, while friends and relatives got some money from her estate, more than $8 million of her $9 million fortune went to scholarships. The clearer your motivator is, the less likely it will be that you act in haste with your money and get sidetracked.

5. Embrace the work and stay the course even in adversity.

You don't necessarily have to pull an Elon Musk and work 100 hour weeks. But to get her footing, Bloom went to school at night while working days. (I'm betting that sounds awfully familiar to a good number of employees and entrepreneurs about now, given current wage stagnation.) And once she had her job at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton--which probably wasn't a small feat, given that so many people still thought women belonged in the home--she didn't just expect money to rain down in minutes. She was in it for the long haul. She patiently listened and learned over decades, likely never behaving as though her secretarial work was beneath her.

Getting rich can happen through a range of different paths and financial strategies, and admittedly, not everyone sees Bloom as a financial hero. But as Kilgannon points out, Bloom is only one of a many people who, over their lifetimes, built fortunes others had no clue about. Each of these successful individuals seem to operate under the same principles outlined above. The ideas are not complex, but because they run so contradictory to the spend-now, pleasure-principled, egocentric, distracted world we live in, they require fierce commitment.

Are you going to give yours?

Published on: May 8, 2018
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