Even though the whole world seems to be going back to school, it’s still summer for us. We don’t start school and stop school because that would send the message to my kids that learning is something you start and stop. The whole back-to-school hoopla is for people who teach their kids to be poor.

Steve Siebold, author of How Rich People Think, spent nearly three decades interviewing millionaires around the world to find out what separates them from everyone else. It turns out it has little to do with money itself. Rich kids have a different mindset. (via Business Insider). And, it looks to me like the whole back-to-school ritual embodies what Siebold identifies as a middle-class mentality.

1. Rich people don’t let school run their life.
Siebold writes, “Many world-class performers have little formal education, and have amassed their wealth through the acquisition and subsequent sale of specific knowledge.”  Rich people acquire specific knowledge. They feel no need to be well rounded.

Also, Siebold found that while average people do things they don’t love, those with a rich-person mindset do only things they love. Which means, of course, that there is no career value in teaching kids to do the things in school that don’t interest them.

2. Rich kids don’t take a summer break.
Siebold found that average people like to be entertained. People with a rich-kid mindset would rather be educated than entertained. Which means that summer vacation makes no sense for a rich-kid in the same way that school being boring makes no sense to a rich kid.

3. Doing what everyone else is doing is for poor kids.
It’s back to school time because that’s what’s easy. It’s easier to send your kids to our national babysitting service than it is to keep your kids home with you and try something new. But here’s the rub: kids who are trained to be average are taught to do what’s mainstream, comfortable, and easy. Kids who are taught to think like rich-kids are taught to get used to uncertainty. Seibold writes:  “Physical, psychological, and emotional comfort is the primary goal of the middle class mindset.”

4. Rich people think big; poor people think small. 
Going to school, year after year, is thinking small. It’s thinking there is one track in life, it’s thinking we need approval before we take each step forward (what is, for example, graduation?) Going to school is also about letting life happen to you rather than making things happen, which Siebold also says is a big difference between rich and poor people. Once kids get to school, whatever the school decides is right for the kid and the family is what happens. If you don’t like it, you take the kid out of the school. But only to bring them to another school. Deciding you can figure out a better way to do your family life is teaching your kid to think like a rich kid.

5. Rich people think about money logically, rather than emotionally. 
Before you get up in arms that rich people are not people to emulate, Siebold has that covered: Kids who are taught to be average are taught that rich people are indulgent and lazy, which is which is an illogical reaction to other people’s money. Kid who are taught to be rich look at money in a logical way. And logically, there are steps you can take to give your kids the mentality to make themselves rich.

Also, you probably do not set out to teach your kids how to be rich, but look, you have to teach them something about how to relate to money because they are watching you. They are learning from you whether you like it or not. So you have a choice to teach your kids to be average or teach your kids to be rich. We make so many deliberate parenting choices about stuff much less important than earning power, so we should be deliberate about this: you can choose to teach your kid to be average or you can choose to teach your kid to be rich.


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30 replies
  1. Rachel D.
    Rachel D. says:

    The one question I’ve always had is how is it possible that so many wealthy people lose all of their money. They have assets they can sell after they go broke, which is the safety net, but how do so many people lose it all?

    I know celebrities are a bad example, but they had the mindset to become rich, and then they lose it all and are auctioning off their art collections.

    It seems getting rich is one thing and staying rich is another. I’m buying that book just out of curiosity to see if he addresses this.

    • Paul
      Paul says:

      It’s just a wild-ass guess, but I suspect that most wealth is stored in relatively illiquid assets. So, in order to manage taxes and have liquid funds, they borrow against those assets instead of just selling them. Kinda like continually refinancing your house as long as the price keeps going up. But when the price keeps going up, the game ends and you wind up owing a lot of money that you can’t ever hope to repay.

  2. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    This quote taken from the Business Insider article – “Many world-class performers have little formal education, and have amassed their wealth through the acquisition and subsequent sale of specific knowledge,” he writes. “Meanwhile, the masses are convinced that master’s degrees and doctorates are the way to wealth, mostly because they are trapped in the linear line of thought that holds them back from higher levels of consciousness…The wealthy aren’t interested in the means, only the end.” – reminded me of Sir Richard Branson.
    I heard him speak at Colgate University this year – http://blogs.colgate.edu/2012/04/sir-richard-branson-tells-colgate-the-world-needs-entrepreneurs.html . I remember someone (either the President of the University or one of the students during Q & A) suggesting that it would be nice if Sir Richard would sponsor an entrepreneurial program at Colgate. It doesn’t hurt to ask but I couldn’t really envision him embracing this idea. He sort of hemmed and hawed his way through it saying maybe such a program could last for a year or so. Anyways he already has his own entrepreneurial program set up.

    • Crimson Wife
      Crimson Wife says:

      I’m not buying the claim that rich people have little formal education. The wealthy people I know are very highly educated- they have MBA’s, JD’s, MD’s., D.D.S.’s, etc. The handful of exceptions are entrepreneurs who attended a top college but dropped out to start their companies (a la Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, though I don’t know either personally).

  3. redrock
    redrock says:

    ok, I will bite: why is then the majority of scientists, engineers, and creative people in the physical, biological and chemical sciences firmly rooted financially in the middle class? Aren’t those the ones who live on their acquisition and use of knowledge directly?

    P.S. Just using the science example for convenience….

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Most of those people are academics rather than inventors. Inventors follow almost all the rules in the how to think rich book. Academics follow very few of them just by dint of choosing life in academia.

      The guy who invented gun powder made a lot of money.


      • redrock
        redrock says:

        isn’t is more the question of what one values more in life? Being rich or learning, exploring and (in the case of academia) teaching? Only a small fraction of scientists are actually in academia, and I don’t think that invention and science can be firmly dissociated. There a many rather poor inventors out there….

        P.S. are you sure you meant the invention of gunpowder as an example? Maybe it was a typo?

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          Oh. Dynamite. I meant dynamite. Alfred Nobel invented dynamite and made so much money from it that he set up the Nobel Prize.


      • Gregory
        Gregory says:

        Becoming a professional or an academic is ok. The problem with school is that it makes other paths seem terrifying.

  4. CJ
    CJ says:

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this piece.

    I feel like I am constantly droning on to traditional schoolers when I am asked about why I believe in homeschooling…..how rich, worldly, successful families have always been homeschoolers throughout history. They knew they didn’t want to raise factory workers, they were raising the runners of the the future, the owners, the entrepreneurs. Schools, factories, field work, etc. etc. etc. was meant for the “other” people. It is cool though, that lately I feel a sort of shift happening. Even a lot of reg schoolers are coming around to the idea that schools often are not a good place. I.e. last week, on the first day of public and private schools here on my area, I got the kids up early to go for a “not first day of school” celebratory day of shopping and eating out. We were in IKEA locked in elevator with a handful of Moms and Grandmas…all asked the kids if their school started later/why not in school today? I thought, uh oh, I am way outnumbered and trapped. I turned to the group as cheerily as i could, and said, “we are unschoolers and we are here to get some glow lights to celebrate not school.” seriously, the group began congratulating me, telling the kids how lucky they are, they walked us out down some isles asking Qs. We were like celebrities! Sort of bazaar, yet nice, “way to go!” “stay strong” comments. But, more to your great points, I think schools teach clicks and fads rather than independent thinking and career and or financial planning. The competition garnered is who has the hottest new sneakers or electronic device rather than real life challenges of competition and coping. Also, one more note, the truly financially successful people I know today have zero trouble telling their children and friends the reality of the competitive world. Sometimes maybe a little harsh, yet They are honest with their kids about their struggles and lessons and their kids benefit inestimably from this wisdom. **Their children are not raised with the USA cultural lottery winning dreams** Schools, SATs, the system is such that kids are prepped for the next level of school, rather than LIFE. People that have made their own wealth exist in life rather than boxed in (lower class)rooms.

  5. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    This post reminds me of my nephew’s 13th birthday. All he wanted was cash so he could get a “bigger” TV for his bedroom, because his parents refused to buy him one (laying down the law there, right.)

    And all I could think during his party was every 13 year old boy on welfare probably has a big screen TV in his bedroom.

    From where I sit, I see a very divided society in the future. I love Penelope’s blog – all parts of it – because I do believe she has a way of seeing trends. But it also scares me, because I have a family that has no clue, that doesn’t even graduate from high school, and is in love with every government entitlement program out there. I am always preaching that the neices and nephews should do good in school (like just meeting basic attendance requirements would be a start) and go to college. And when I read Penelope’s blog I feel like maybe I am preaching the wrong things to them. But what can you do when you are starting out with such a deficit of imagination? Or any clue about how hard their life is going to be in the future? I know if I could get just one of them to go to college it would blow them away….even to see the other kids and understand just how motiviated, wealthy, looked-after and hard-working other kids are. After the first 2 didn’t even graduate from high school, and the 3rd enlisted in the military. I’m worried about the 4th (Mr. bigger TV for his bedroom aforementioned).

    It’s going to kill me if not one of my neices or nephews goes to college. And I see college as the only way out for them, the only way for them to even coming close to not living as poor people. I don’t know, I read this post I just get even more worried for them, they are so far behind. And many many kids are in the same boat.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Jenn, thanks for this comment. So much of it was eye-opening to me. But what really strikes me is “deficit of imagination”. Really, that’s the difference between rich kids and poor kids. You need to be able to see where you can go in order to get yourself there. The rules for rich kids are about breaking open possibilities.


      • liz
        liz says:

        I don’t know. I grew up pretty lower middle class but surrounded by a lot of rich kids (as well as academics). I think rich kids are deeply stupid in a lot of ways, they don’t get it about how the world functions & who suffers for their total freedom, and are often taught (passively) to be rather inhumane. Cf Mitt Romney.

        • liz
          liz says:

          Also, the rich are more tied to the status quo, so perhaps less imaginative about alternative systems…of anything.

  6. Suzie Bee
    Suzie Bee says:

    Hm. I wonder whether the things like doing things you don’t love are true only for average people not for poor people, and the “do only things you love” is true for the extremes: very rich and very poor.

    Very poor people bunk school and drop out and don’t get anywhere. Very rich people bunk school, drop out and get lucky. This is not a recipe for success, but rather an acknowledgement that if one is extreme in some way, one will be extreme in another (either good or bad).

    I have no data to back this up – it’s just a hunch. But I’d love to see some data.

    • Hazel
      Hazel says:

      My view is that rich kids can do things they want and blow off conventional expectations because they have the resources to live without having to get a job to support themselves. They can take risks in non-remunerative fields and some will succeed. Others will just live off their inherited wealth. People who don’t start off rich can also take risks but there is no safety net for them when they fail.

  7. min
    min says:

    Just watched a series of documentaries of England’s youths (ages 7 and up) onto adulthood. It’s called “7 Up”, “14 Up”, “21 Up”, etc. Would love to hear your perspective.

  8. Eileen
    Eileen says:

    I read this and it reminded me of some of your other posts that are about leading an interesting life vs a happy one.

    rich= interesting vs average=happy

    Do you think raising your children to be “rich” is really just another way of raising them to be interesting?

    Just a thought. Love this blog!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s a great point. I do think that you do not get rich from leading a happy life. Because you get rich from doing something that is risky and therefore feels uncomfortable. If it were easy to do everyone would do it and financial reward is not high for stuff everyone would do.

      For those of you who are unfamiliar with my obsession of an interesting life vs a happy life, my latest book is a compendium of my posts on the topic – organized in a useful way to think about the topic for yourself and your kids. Here’s the link:



  9. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    It seems being rich is about being “idea people.” To do all the work for oneself is limiting. One can only do so much. To sell the idea is vast, though.

    Not all work that is gratifying is idea work. Gardening and preserving one’s harvest is not “idea work” (Unless you’re Shannon Hayes, who promotes homemaking notions in her books).

    To be well off, even when one’s passions and pursuits are not “big ideas” we must find a way to make it mass produced or salable to the masses. You don’t just paint your pictures–you sell them to Hallmark or start a card company. You don’t just clean the houses, you start a cleaning company.

    To start those businesses sounds heads and shoulders above overwhelming to me, though. Managing people, hedging and strategizing, outsourcing. I know someone who started a business, similar to mine, and the advertising focuses on making people feel inferior. It reeks of manipulation. I don’t B.S. well. Also, she does not home school as all her time is spent in the business. So she’s making an investment of one kind, but losing an investment in her child.

    Maybe I need to lose a conscience to gain the world.

    • Crimson Wife
      Crimson Wife says:

      Shannon Hayes advocates mooching off the hard work of others so that the individual can play gentleman/lady farmer. I’m sorry, but if you cannot support your family without relying on government handouts, then it’s time to suck it up and get a real job!

  10. Ben
    Ben says:

    I think the difference isn’t so much between rich and poor, it’s differences between class. A book that explores this is “Class Matters” by Bill Keller.
    “Wealth” is how much money you have, “class” is how you were raised to think about money, status, and stuff. People in America get upset when you talk about class differences, but they do exist. The difference is that with all the information we can access, we can identify our class, learn how other classes think, and then change our strategies for ourselves and our kids.

  11. Amanda Tinney
    Amanda Tinney says:

    Thanks for the ammunition P! Great piece!

    On the subject of “Back to School”… While everyone was posting pictures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram of how sad it was that their baby was heading off to pre-school or whining about the summer being over and how they were going to miss their kids. I posted a “non-back-to-school” pic of my kid blissfully sleeping in her bed.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Amanda, this is such a great image! I love it. After having to wake my kids up to go to school for three years, I am thankful every day that I don’t have to deal with that.


  12. Nd
    Nd says:

    Great article. Was just talking to friend today. He was lamenting how fourth grade school math had become touchy feely. His kids still go to school, but he also gives them extra homework.

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  1. Is Your Mindset Keeping Your Poor? | | says:

    […] Over the weekend I was poking around on Penelope Trunk’s wonderful homeschooling blog when I came across one of her posts from September titled, “Back-to-school time is for poor kids.” […]

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