70. The Secret to Wealth

Imagine one evening a man knocks on your door. You open the door and you see a very distinguished looking gentleman. He tells you he’s here from Tzefas, he’s a Rosh Kollel (dean of an institution for advanced Talmudic learning), collecting. And you don’t know what it is, but there’s something about him that looks regal. Very unusual. You welcome him in, you offer him something to eat, something to drink. He tells you what his reason for being here is, and you write him a check far more substantial than you normally do. And then you say something out of character. You say, you know, it’s raining out, it’s cold, I know you have many more stops. Why don’t I drive you? And in fact you drive him.

And you’re not sure why, but every time he gets in and out of the car there’s something very unusual. He just seems to know too much. He tells you that this one has kids who are sick before he even walks into the house. He tells you that this one is going to have a simchah (happy event) coming up in a few months even though he never met the person before. And after a little while you begin to realize something is very strange. Oh my goodness, this man is a real kabbalist, and you begin to feel a sense of tremendous awe and respect.

And after dragging you around for three hours, he finally says to you and now I want to repay you. You’ve been very kind. You took me to all these places. I want to repay you. I’m going to tell you the secret — the secret to wealth. Oh my goodness, a kabbalist himself, he’s going to tell me the secret. You bend your ear down, you listen with everything you possibly can, and he says the words “The secret to wealth is to spend less than you earn.” And he walks out the door. Ah, this is what I need, I need a great kabbalist, I need a wise man to tell me spend less than I earn? But my friends, that is the secret to wealth. It’s not dependent on how much money you make whether you’re wealthy. It’s dependent on how much you spend. And if you make a reasonable amount of money, but you spend less than you make, you put it away, you acquire more, you acquire more, and you become a wealthy individual.

But it doesn’t matter how much money you make. If you’re making $500,000, a million dollars, if you’re spending more money than you make, you will be forever poor. And that is one of the great traps of the American society. We make a lot of money. The vast majority of Americans make more money than people generations ago could have ever dreamt of. Yet people have so little in savings. Why is it? Because we make a little more, and we spend a little more. We finally get that long-awaited pay raise, and no sooner do we get it than we loosen the belt a little bit and we begin spending more. And if you spend your life constantly making more but spending more, making more but spending more, well, guess what, you won’t be any wealthier after 20 years or 30 years. And the vast majority of Americans have very little in savings.

Understanding this principle, the road to wealth is to spend less than I make, is one of the great secrets of life and one of the way that a Jew should be living a Torah lifestyle.