I Spent 5 Years Studying Rich and Poor People and I Would Like to Share What Separates The Rich From the Poor

Tom Corley boats - crop

When I began my study of the rich and the poor I wanted to know the answer to one question: why are some people rich and other people poor? Five years later and over 350 interviews later, I finished my research. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. I had grouped 144 questions into 20 categories, and asked over 350 millionaires and poor people these questions. It took me five years because this wasn’t a survey I mailed out. I either met with these people or spoke with them over the phone. If you do the math, I asked 51,984 questions of the rich and the poor. That’s a lot of questions!

But it was worth it. What I discovered is beginning to catch the attention of the world and I am confident my discoveries will help change the lives of millions living in poverty and help those stuck in the middle-class improve their financial lives. I’d like to share two ideologies that I uncovered in my research that separate the rich from the poor and which are responsible for creating wealth or causing poverty. I’d like to share those two ideologies with you.

Can-Do Ideology

I uncovered certain attributes that millionaires had. These attributes forged a foundation of success, upon which they built their fortunes. Here they are:

  • Have a Defined Purpose in Life – Eighty percent of the self-made millionaires pursued some major purpose in life. This was some dream or vision they were chasing. They built goals around their dreams and never quit. Many said that they would never quit on their dream even if it meant bankruptcy or divorce. Twenty-seven percent actually failed at least once in pursuing their dream. But they did not quit. They regrouped, got back up and went at it again. Having a main purpose in life, I discovered, creates persistence. Persistence, I found, eventually results in good luck. Good luck usually pays dividends in the form of wealth.
  • Create Multiple Streams of Income – Sixty-five percent of the millionaires in my study had at least three streams of income. This creates a hedge against failure and poverty. When one stream suffers, the others come to the rescue.
  • Be Patient – Eighty percent of the rich in my study did not become rich until age 50. Fifty-two percent did not become rich until age 56. It takes a long time to create wealth.
  • Save Money – Ninety-four percent of the rich saved 20% or more of their income. They began saving long before they became rich. They used their savings to make more money by taking certain calculated risks.
  • Take Calculated Risks – The millionaires took risks with their savings when opportunities came up. Fifty-one percent invested their savings to start or invest in private businesses that they controlled. Ninety-four percent of the rich don’t gamble because gambling is requires random good luck. The rich rely on a different type of good luck – opportunity luck. This is a type of luck they create through their habits, hard work and by pursuing their dreams and goals.
  • Be Optimistic and Enthusiastic About Life – Seventy-one percent of the self-made millionaires in my study were optimistic about life. They believed in themselves. They enthusiastically pursued their dreams and goals. Their optimism infected everyone around them. They became magnets for other success-minded people.
  • Control Your Thoughts and Emotions – Eighty-one percent of the rich made a habit of controlling their thoughts and emotions. Not every thought needs to come out of your mouth and not every emotion needs to be expressed. Doing so damages relationships; relationships that could otherwise open important doors for you and members of your family.
  • Offer Opinions Backed by Facts – Rich people do their homework. When they express an opinion it is usually backed by facts. Facts that they accumulated through years of self-education and experience.
  • Become a Niche Expert – The rich in my study were experts in some niche. This expertise was gained through self-education and the school of hard knocks in a specific area. They were by no means a jack of all trades.
  • You Can’t Succeed on Your Own – The rich build teams. They find apostles for their cause – individuals devoted to them and who share their vision and purpose. Their team players benefited financially from their success. You need the cooperation of others to help you succeed in life. The rich are good at forming teams of people who cooperate together, focused on pursuing a singular dream or purpose. No one does it on their own.
  • Mistakes Have Value – Mistakes are the byproduct of taking calculated risks. The rich see mistakes as nothing other than learning experiences. Mistakes teach you what not to do. They learn from their mistakes and they don’t repeat them.
  • Be Open-Minded – You can’t learn anything if you are closed minded. Being open to new ideas, new ways of doing things and the opinions of others is critical to growth. Success requires growth. You must grow into the person you need to be in order for success to visit you. You must be open and tolerant to the opinions of others.
  • Give First – In order to get you must give. You must give value to others either in the form of service or through some product. Giving comes first. It was no surprise that 79% of the rich in my study volunteered for charities or non-profit groups. They made a habit out of giving their time, money and expertise.
  • Finish What You Start – The rich don’t quit. They stick to something until they succeed, go bankrupt or die. Eighty-percent were focused on achieving some goal and 55% spent one year or more on one goal.
  • You can’t Get Rich if You’re Unhealthy – “You can’t make money from a hospital bed.” That’s what one millionaire told me during my research. The rich exercise every day, they moderate their consumption of junk food, they drink alcohol in moderation, they avoid fast food restaurants, they floss every day and most don’t smoke cigarettes. Consequently, 82% of the rich had no health issues. Zero.
  • Don’t Be Cheap – The rich are generous with their time and money. Because they operate from an abundance mindset they are not afraid to donate their time and money. There is a difference between being cheap and being frugal. Many of the rich in my study were frugal with their money but were still generous to others.
  • Fear Nothing – The rich have made a habit of overcoming their fears. They are not superstitious and believe they can overcome any obstacle that is put in their way.
  • No Excuses – The rich believe they are the architects of their lives. They don’t give excuses, they don’t rationalize failures and they don’t blame anyone but themselves for their circumstances in life. They take individual responsibility for their lives.
  • Don’t Gossip – Most gossip is negative. It damages relationships and keeps doors closed. The rich make a habit of not saying anything behind the backs of others. If they have a problem with someone they go to that person to remove the problem.
  • Encourage Others – Rich, successful people are great cheerleaders. They encourage other success-minded people who are pursuing a dream or some purpose in life. Their own success makes them understand that all things are possible in life.

Can’t-Do Ideology

It was sad to see so many poor individuals in my study who had just given up on life. Their mindsets were so polluted by their upbringing that they could not get out of their own way. I uncovered certain attributes that the poor in my study possessed and which were responsible for forging a life of want and unhappiness. Here they are:

  • Lack of Purpose – The poor had nothing they were pursuing in life. No purpose, no dream, no goals. I should qualify that last sentence. They had dreams but they were not taking any action on their dreams. As a result they felt stuck. Only 3% of the poor in my study were pursuing some dream.
  • Live Beyond Their Means – Most of the self-made millionaires in my study came from poor or middle-class backgrounds. Somehow they were able to overcome adversity in life. One way they did this was they got into the habit of saving money. They were blessed, in a sense, because they had parents who taught them to save 20% of their income when they were very young. The poor in my study were not so lucky. They were never taught by their parents, and never learned in life, the importance of saving money. Ninety-five percent saved less than 10% of their income. Many not only didn’t save, they went into credit card debt just to meet their living expenses. Eighty-eight percent had more than $5,000 in credit card debt.
  • Pessimistic – Another attribute of the poor that really dragged me down was how negative and pessimistic they were. I asked them if they thought optimism was important in life and 78% said no. Seventy-one percent of the self-made millionaires in my study said yes to this question and that optimism was critical to their success. What a world of difference between these two groups in terms of thinking.
  • Negative Emotions Not Controlled – The poor had no control over their emotions. Anger, sadness, worry, fear, unhappiness and mistrust ran rampant in this poor group. They made a habit of expressing every emotion to whoever was in earshot. Anger is perhaps the most costly emotion. Almost half of the poor in my study admitted to getting angry regularly and I believe this was causing them some relationship problems. Who wants to do business with someone who is always pissed off at something? Who wants to do business with someone who is sad or depressed all the time? Who wants to do business with someone who doesn’t trust you?
  • They Have an Opinion About Everything and Everyone – The poor are not afraid to express their opinions, I found. The problem is that, because they don’t read (98% don’t read to learn), they are expressing opinions not based on facts. And when they expressed opinions about others, often it was very negative. “Rich people cause poverty.” “Our politicians don’t do enough for the poor.” “My parents were drunks.” “My kids are lazy.” I heard it all. Ironically, they had a lot to say about the government and politicians not doing enough to get them out of poverty. I say ironically because many were on unemployment, welfare, receiving Social Security disability benefits or just plain old Social Security benefits. The rich in my study, on the other hand, blamed themselves for anything that went wrong in their lives. Not Wall Street, not the government, not the politicians. Themselves!
  • Repeat Mistakes – The poor do not learn from their mistakes. They were too closed minded to listen to others or were simply not aware of the bad habits they had that were dragging them down. Mistakes repeated become habits. Habits are hard to change if you’re not aware of them.
  • Closed-Minded – I think this was perhaps one of the worst attributes of the poor in my study. They just did not want to listen to anyone’s opinion that differed from theirs. As a result there was no way they could learn from others. This keeps you stuck in life. You can’t grow as an individual if you’re closed-minded.
  • Me First – The poor want things given to them first before they reciprocate. This me first attribute gets you nowhere in life. It’s an entitlement attitude that keeps you down. The rich gave first and did not expect anything in return. What a difference in attitudes.
  • Jack of All Trades – Being a jack of all trades really comes in handy when you live in the wilderness but gets you nowhere in today’s society. The poor are average at many things because they can’t afford to pay someone to do it for them. But this is mindset that begins in childhood and carries over into adulthood. When it comes to your career, this mindset is destructive. When you and a million others can do something, what value do you really have? The rich focus on becoming experts in one thing, one niche, and as a result they are of more value to society and can command more money.
  • Bright Shiny Object Syndrome – The poor never complete what they start. I call it bright shiny object syndrome because they are constantly moving from one thing to the next. Ninety-one percent were not focused on any single goal. Ninety-four percent admitted to not setting any goals at all. Unlike the rich, they just don’t stay focused on seeing one thing through to its conclusion. They don’t persist. They move on when the going gets tough. That’s too bad because I found from my study that it is those hurdles and obstacles that force individuals to discover their true genius and creativity. When your back is pushed against the wall, that is when you have breakthroughs and grow as an individual. Desperate times result in discovery. We only uncover our true potential when our backs are against the wall and we are forced to overcome insurmountable obstacles in life. Unsuccessful people quit when the going gets tough. That’s why they never succeed at anything. At the heart of this syndrome is lack of confidence and belief in yourself.
  • Unhealthy Lifestyle – I always get into a lot of trouble when I say the poor don’t eat healthy. The enablers of the poor, and there are many out there, always argue that the poor can’t afford healthy food. There are simply too many articles and studies out there that destroy this argument. As an example, here’s just one: http://greatist.com/health/44-healthy-foods-under-1  If you want to eat healthy you can, at least in America. Worse than poor eating is a lack of exercise. Seventy-seven percent of the poor do not engage in regular cardio exercise. Poor eating and lack of exercise is why we have an obesity and type II diabetes epidemic in America. As that rich person said in my study, “you can’t make money from a hospital bed.”
  • Cheap – Most of the poor in my study were cheap with their time and money. Because of their scarcity mindset they were more interested in what they could get from others than what they could give to others. As a result, when things go wrong in life, as they often do, they’re on their own. The government is their only salvation. If you don’t have money, give your time. But the poor didn’t do this. Only 12% volunteered five or more hours a month. If you look at the data on the rich, 72% of the rich volunteered five hours or more a month. Volunteering puts you in touch with many successful people. Most of the charities and non-profits are run by successful individuals. What better way to build relationships with successful people than volunteering. Successful people have many contacts with other successful people. They can open doors to help you start a business, find working capital, get your kid into a great college and do many other things to help you and your family. The poor were never taught this Rich Habit by their parents, so they don’t engage in this volunteering activity.
  • Gamble Too Much – Seventy-seven percent of the poor in my study gambled every week on the lottery. They are relying on random good luck to bail them out in life rather than the opportunity luck that the rich rely on. Gambling involves risk you have no control over. The rich rely on calculated risk. They take risks they have some measure of control over.
  • Gossip About Others – Seventy-nine percent of the poor gossip about others. Since most gossip is negative, this is a very bad idea. Gossip is talking about others behind their back. What you say almost always gets back to the other person. It damages your relationships, as a result. Many of these relationships could help open doors to you and your family, or bail you out in a time of need. Who wants to help anyone who bad mouth’s them behind their back?
  • Work Hard Not Thinking – The poor go to great lengths to not think. Seventy-seven percent watch more than an hour of TV a day. Seventy-four percent spend more than an hour a day on the Internet. Ninety-eight percent don’t read every day because their time is occupied with TV, the Internet or other time wasters.

If you want to break free of poverty you have to change the ideology you were raised with. You have to embrace the Can-Do ideology. Wealth does not just happen. It takes a lot of time to become rich. But you will never have a chance if you don’t change your ideology from a Can’t-Do to a Can-Do ideology. Everyone has unlimited potential. We are all geniuses at some level. That’s the beauty of being human. We all have the capacity for greatness. The circumstances you were raised in have nothing to do with your current poverty. If 177 individuals can go from poor or middle-class to wealthy, so can you!


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Thomas C. Corley About Thomas C. Corley

Tom Corley understands the difference between being rich and poor: at age nine, his family went from being multi-millionaires to broke in just one night, due to a catastrophic fire that destroyed his Dad's thriving business. For fourteen years they struggled with poverty. There were eleven in Tom's family, and they lived in constant fear of losing their home.

Driven by the desire to unlock the secrets to success and failure, Tom spent five years studying the daily activities of 233 rich people and 128 poor people. He discovered there was an immense difference between the habits of the rich and the poor. During his research he identified over 300 daily activities that separated the “haves” from the “have nots.” Tom decided to write a book to share what he learned. That book, Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals (1st Edition), went on to become an Amazon Bestseller in the United States forty times over a three year period. To give you some perspective, in order to be a true Amazon Bestseller in the United States, where you actually receive a specific Bestseller designation from Amazon, you need to be in the top 100 of all books sold by Amazon in the United States in a given day. Rich Habits did that for nearly thirty straight days, rising as high as #7, eclipsing such Bestselling authors such as Stephen Covey, Robert Kiyosaki and J.K. Rowlings. Imagine that - an unknown, first-time, self-published author selling more books than J.K. Rowlings!

Tom now travels the world, sharing his Rich Habits and motivating audiences at industry conferences, corporate events, universities, multi-level marketing group events, and global sales organizations’ presentations and finance conferences. He has even spoken on the same stage with famous entrepreneurs and personal development experts, such as Sir Richard Branson, Robin Sharma, Dr. Daniel Amen, and many others.

Tom has shared his insights on various national and international network, cable, and Internet television programs such as CBS Evening News, NBC News, Yahoo Financially Fit, Money.com, India TV, News.com Australia, and a host of others. He has been interviewed on many prestigious nationally syndicated radio shows, including the Dave Ramsey Show, Marketplace Money, and WABC.

Tom has been featured in numerous print magazines—such as Money magazine, Inc. Magazine, SUCCESS Magazine, Entrepreneur magazine, Fast Company magazine, More magazine, Epoca Magazine (Brazil’s largest weekly) and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine—and various online publications, including USA Today, CNN, MSN Money, SUCCESS.com, Inc.com, and the Huffington Post. Tom is a frequent contributor to Business Insider, Credit.com, Bankrate.com and a few other media outlets.

National publicity has garnered international media attention for Tom and his Rich Habits research spanning 23 countries. Broadcast media, online publications, and television throughout Asia, the South Pacific, Europe, the United Kingdom, and Central and South America have shared his powerful message.

In an effort to help parents, grandparents, teachers and adults become success mentors to the younger generation, Tom released his second book, Rich Kids: How to Raise Our Children to be Happy and Successful in Life in 2014. This book was the self-help category winner of the 2015 New York Book Festival and Runner-up in the prestigious 2015 Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards Contest. In 2016 Tom released his third book, Change Your Habits, Change Your Life. This book provides the latest science on habit change as well as more of Tom's unique research on the specific habits that helped transform 177 ordinary individuals into self-made millionaires.

Besides being an author, Tom is also a CPA, CFP, and hold a master’s degree in taxation. As president of Cerefice and Company, CPAs, Tom heads one of the premier financial firms in New Jersey.
Phone Number: 732-382-3800 Ext. 103.
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