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The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko

Ok, guys. Seriously now. What’s with all the hype about this book? I have been hearing about it for years as a “must read” for finance nerds like me. It’s frequently referenced and people talk about it like it’s a bible for everyday folks aspiring to financial independence. My take? This is one of the worst books I have ever read. Like worst worst. Certainly worst in the financial nerd sphere. Has anyone actually read this book, or you just hear about it and like the message?

The message is a good one: most people with a million-dollar or more net worth are ordinary folks just like you and me. Frugality trumps excessive spending every time … start a business, invest in rental properties, save your pennies, and don’t be the guy who lives in a McMansion and drives a Cadillac Escalade. This is a good message, no question. And now that you’ve read it here, you don’t need to read the book.

So what irked me so much? So many things …

Firstly, it’s sorely outdated. It was written in the 1990s and, while the overall message is still true, the supposedly-interesting statistics about who millionaires in the U.S. are is not. I’d be very curious to know how the numbers have changed since the ensuing (multiple) tech booms, the Great Recession, and economic shifts in manufacturing, employment, and the “sharing” (cough cough, monetizing) economy. The supposed “updates” are occasionally noticeable but don’t solve the underlying problem.

Secondly, it didn’t give me any advice that isn’t already common sense to us frugal-minded folks, and anything that would have been “news” to the non-frugal-minded was not written in a way to be helpful. Coupons? Don’t buy a fancy car? Be an entrepreneur instead of a lawyer or doctor or consultant or teacher? Come on. We can do better … we do do better. (Do do! At least I can get a potty joke out of this one …)

Thirdly and by far most irksomely, this book is incredibly sexist. I am sure this also has something to do with the outdatediness (that’s a word) of it, but come on … every millionaire is a man who is supported by a stay-at-home, coupon-clipping, soup-freezing wife who leads the shame-driven frugal charge with a home-cooked mix of granny charm and schoolmarm wrath?  No thank you.

Finally, there’s the question of what it really means to be a millionaire these days … between inflation, wage stagnation, and everything else that’s happened in the last 20 years, is a millionaire really the metric we’re measuring against? This isn’t a criticism of the book so much as a question for the world (you). A million dollar net worth is still a lot, no question, but it doesn’t have quite the same clout as it once did — living off the 4% rule would net you $40,000/year. Nothing to sneeze at, but still well below the U.S. median household income. “Millionaire” does not mean “I don’t have to work anymore” in the same way it once did. What thinks you? What are your favorite books that address this topic in a more useful and less offensive way?


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