What George Washington Taught Me About Accumulating WealthBy
“Wealth is largely a result of habit.” – John Jacob Astor
While visiting our daughter in Washington D.C., on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, we drove to Mt. Vernon, home of George Washington. The grounds were spectacular. The house, stately, overlooking the Potomac River. The gardens were laid out magnificently. It testified to the wealth and accomplishments of a remarkable man who lived an amazing life.
Yet George Washington wasn’t born into wealth. His father died when he was young leaving the family destitute. As a boy he worked as a surveyor in the wilderness of Virginia. When he was old enough, he enlisted in the British army and fought in the French and Indian War. Yet he always loved the family home at Mt. Vernon. At the time there was only a small house on the grounds and mostly wilderness surrounding it. But he would go there often for respite.
When he married Martha they moved to Mt. Vernon began to slowly build the farm. Through the years he added to the house and cleared and farmed the land. Eventually they added a second story according to the designs he had drawn. He continued to clear and buy more land bringing it into production.
When the colonies declared independence he became commander of the Continental Army. If they lost the fight he would lose everything including his beloved Mt. Vernon and probably his life. While he was gone his wife along with the servants looked after the farm keeping it producing.
When the war ended he retired to Mt. Vernon again. He continued to study and invent new ways of agriculture to make the farm more productive. He used some of the profits to buy even more land.
Then he was called to be the first president of the United States, leaving his home again for eight years. When he retired once more he continued to build the farm, experimenting with new crops and new methods of farming. He planted experimental varieties of trees and vines. He read voraciously, hungry to learn.
Through the years of his retirement he slept in a bedroom that adjoined his office with windows that let the sun shine in at first light so he would wake and get started on his day. He loved his home and farm. He said when he passed on he simply wanted engraved on his tombstone, “Here lies George Washington, a farmer.”
When he died a few years later he was one of the wealthiest men in the United States having amassed a farm of several thousand acres.
As we walked the grounds I thought about his life and how he continued to live productively. He wasn’t a speculator or a spectator. He just slowly amassed a fortune consistently and constantly.
Most of us today start out with far more than he did and yet so many end up with nothing at the end of their lives. They spend more than they make for things that will only depreciate. When they do invest there’s a panicked frenzy trying to make up for lost time. Many tap into their retirement accounts just to pay off their credit cards. Then they can’t figure out why they never get ahead. Most people today, within a ten years of retirement age, have less than one year’s salary saved up. It doesn’t take higher math to figure things will be a little tight.
Yet it doesn’t need to be that way. But what can we do?
Proverbs says, “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5, NLT)
The difference isn’t luck and finding the right investments. It’s not about trading frantically with a magical system. The difference is consistency. I know you were hoping for something a little more esoteric.
Save consistently. Just keep accumulating.
Requires spending less than we make. Means putting money into our savings every month. A habit of depositing at least ten percent of our income to our retirement savings before it even gets in our check book. Then we can’t spend it and it will be there compounding.
Then invest consistently.
We need to forget about the get-rich-quick schemes. Most of them are get-poor-quick schemes. We need to quit thrashing around trying to find a mythical perfect investment. It doesn’t exist. Find good solid investments then leave them alone and simply add to them. You’ll be amazed, over time, how much your net worth will grow with the power of compounding.
Third, consistently grow in your career.
Keep increasing your value. If our experience and knowledge continues to grow and our focus is on serving in productive ways we’ll always find employment. Think your income might grow too as you become more valuable?
Fourth, we need to change our focus about retirement.
Instead of unplugging, plug into something you’ll enjoy consistently working at. Retirement for most people isn’t healthy. Figure out what you want to do in your “retirement years” that’s productive. Perhaps you’ll change careers, turn a hobby into a job. Maybe you’ll keep going with the job you have because you enjoy it. That’s all good. But continue to give back. Keeps you engaged in life. And takes a huge amount of pressure off your savings.
Will you amass a fortune like George Washington?
Do you really want to? You answer.
What we can have is a growing, productive, satisfying life. One that’s filled with personal and financial abundance.
What more could you want?
George Washington’s example really inspired me. How about you?
If this post has encouraged you please let me know. And share it with a friend and subscribe. I appreciate it.
Douglas Armey, the LPL Financial adviser associated with this website, practices in Fresno, California and may discuss and/or transact business only with residents of the following states: California, Idaho and Oregon.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing. All performance reference is historical and is no guarantee of future results.