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Buy This, Not That: How to Spend Your Way to Wealth and Freedom

Buy This, Not That: How to Spend Your Way to Wealth and Freedom PDF

Author: Sam Dogen

Publisher: Portfolio


Publish Date: July 19, 2022

ISBN-10: 0593328779

Pages: 336

File Type: Epub

Language: English

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Book Preface

tarting in 1999, my alarm clock began going off at 4:30 a.m. so I could get to work by 5:30 a.m. For someone who had dropped calculus because he had difficulty thinking straight at 8:00 a.m., sitting at my desk under bright fluorescent lights at 5:30 a.m. felt like a special type of torture.

Not only did I have to get to work while it was still dark, but I often had to stay until after sunset to connect with my colleagues in Asia. Over the next two years, I gained twenty pounds, I developed plantar fasciitis, sciatica, allergies, and chronic back pain, and my scalp started creating daily snowstorms because I was incessantly scratching my head due to stress.

Working in international equities at Goldman Sachs in New York City was supposed to be my dream job, but I quickly realized that if I made a career out of banking, I would probably die prematurely.

So I came up with an escape plan. Like Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption, I knew I would have to crawl through a tunnel of excrement to achieve freedom. But unlike Andy, who was trapped in prison for nineteen years until he escaped at fifty-eight, my plan was to escape by age forty.

I figured hustling for eighteen years after college was about as much work stress as I could handle. If I saved and invested aggressively, eighteen years would also be a long enough runway to build a passive-income portfolio that could pay for all my living expenses. With potentially forty years left to live after age forty, I would have time enough to heal and enjoy life to its fullest.

In the end, I was able to leave banking in 2012 at the age of thirty-four, partially thanks to negotiating a severance package that paid for about six years of living expenses. In other words, the severance package bought me the most precious commodity of all: time.

Life is both long and short, fast and slow. We must try to make the most of each day so we can minimize looking back with regret. “Financial freedom, sooner than later” is a personal mantra and the guiding theme of Financial Samurai, the website and community I have been running since July 2009.

It is also at the heart of this book.

Financial Freedom Means Something Different for Everyone

Ultimately, financial freedom means you get to do what you want when you want.

Financial freedom is also a defensive and offensive position at the exact same time.

Defensive because when the shiitake mushroom hits the fan in ways that are completely out of your control (hello, 2008–9 financial crisis; hello, 2020–21 pandemic; hello, never-ending geopolitical risks), you and your family will still be okay. Your finances are strong enough that you get to live your life mostly unimpeded.

Life is hard, and we all experience significant stress at times. None of us are immune. So hopefully this book, among other things, will be able to make a strong contribution toward reducing that kind of emotional upheaval and contributing to your peace of mind.

Just as important as living life on your own terms, financial freedom is also an offensive position. This is the mental difference between playing to win and playing not to lose. Once you nail survival mode, you can level up to win mode.

When you’re free to play offense, you can make new investments, spin up cool projects, and work on crazy entrepreneurial ideas that you’d never have tried otherwise. Some of the wealthiest people in the world owe their wealth to being able to afford to take tremendous risks.

Success is often a numbers game, and money itself is just a means to an end. But money, applied, can open doors to things you want to do with your finite time. Understand how you ultimately want to spend your time each day and use money to achieve your goals.

For now, as a father with two young children, having financial freedom for me looks like this: spending as much time as possible with my family, writing, playing tennis and softball, and constantly looking for new ways to learn from and connect with people.

The Motivation to Keep Going

Figuring out how to best apply (grow, spend, save, invest, give) your money, at whatever age and stage of life you’re in, is what I have been writing about at Financial Samurai since 2009.

As of this writing, more than ninety million people have stopped by Financial Samurai, most of them looking for a change. I’ve been privileged to hear from readers around the world who have eradicated their debt, fixed their spending habits, bought their first homes, left toxic environments, created thriving side hustles, built substantial retirement portfolios, and so much more.

Success stories like these are what drive me to keep writing about money issues that impact real life, and I make it a point to write directly from personal experience. Money matters are just too important to be left to guesswork. In the pages that follow, I’ll take the mystery out of achieving financial independence so you can take the necessary steps to get there yourself.

Taking the Fear Out of Financial Decision-Making

I wrote Buy This, Not That because I know, from my own experience and hearing from thousands of my readers, how hard it can be to take action with your money. The breadth of choices is intimidating. The fear of making a wrong move is paralyzing. On a very basic level, this book will help make your financial decisions simple, or at least simpler, in this chaotic world.

A big challenge holding folks back is the fact that most of us grew up on financial advice centered around saving. We’re urged to budget, avoid consumer debt, stash an emergency fund—and it’s all solid advice. But the truth is, it’s difficult to become financially independent by simply putting money in the bank. To achieve financial freedom, we need to know how to spend our money in ways that will build wealth now, and in the long run. The spending piece is where most financial advice falls flat, and where the most opportunity lies. It’s also where most people panic because they’re scared of making the wrong move with their money.

Here’s another truth: there are no “perfect choices” when it comes to making financial decisions. Let’s get that common misconception out of the way. The best we can do is make optimal financial decisions using logic, clear reasoning, and an understanding of how things worked in the past. Every money decision I discuss in this book is rooted in those three factors.

My first hope with Buy This, Not That is to help you let go of the fear of making a wrong financial choice. Let that sink in: there are no wrong money choices, just as there are no perfect choices, only optimal or suboptimal. That fear of making a wrong move stops too many people from spending in ways that will build wealth. Fear keeps us clinging to safety (and cash). It’s easier to do nothing when the fear of failure and embarrassment has such a strong hold on us. It’s the same fear that prevents us from asking someone out, asking for a promotion, or starting that new project. Fear stops us from taking chances that can change our lives.

But even when we set fear aside, figuring out the optimal choices can be overwhelming. For many Americans, financial decision-making feels like a never-ending trade-off between now and later. How can we make sense of the yin and yang of finances? Spend or save? Save or invest? Invest here or there? Rent or buy? Stay at the job or quit? Kids or travel? Big city or little city? Private or public school? Go corporate or go start-up? Invest in 401(k) or pay off debt? Organic or conventional? The list goes on and on.

That’s why the title of this book is Buy This, Not That. There is an avalanche of decisions rushing down at you every day. More choices often create more stress, anxiety, and confusion. Amid skyrocketing costs, debt out of control, jobs in constant flux, and decreased spending power, I will help you tune out the noise. Step by step, chapter by chapter, I will show you how to make optimal money choices that focus on wealth building—not saving for saving’s sake—in order to live your best life now while also ensuring a financially independent future.

Buy This: You Have the Power to Become Financially Independent

The title of this book is a bit of a sleight of hand, for two reasons. First, because financial decisions are never quite that binary. There are always many nuances, sacrifices, and cross-category effects. “This or that” is rarely the full expression of your options.

For example, sure, you could decide to buy the Honda Fit over the Porsche 911, but that’s not going to help you accumulate any wealth if you are also afraid to put money in the stock market, or you’re sitting complacently in a low-paying job, or you go and blow it all at the craps table. That’s why the “this or that” method challenges you to look at your complete financial picture as you gauge money choices in any area of your life.

Yes, you will eventually need to choose this or that. If you don’t, you’re sitting idle and accomplishing nothing. Taking action is the way. But backing those choices with a full understanding of your money situation will get you closer to the optimal move.

The second trick of the Buy This, Not That title is more cultural. Society at large paints a certain picture about wealth. It’s flashy. It’s rude. It’s a winner-takes-all, get-ahead-at-all-costs story.

At the same time, there’s also a long history of sucking it up in a single career—a kind of “live with the cards you’re dealt” industrial mentality. Sure, there’s a noble work ethic in this attitude, but not a lot of creative thinking about how to achieve financial independence.

The punch line is don’t buy it. Buy this, not that. Buy your new mindset. Buy this idea that you are in control of your path to financial freedom. Don’t buy the old story that you are stuck.

My goal for this book is to provide you with at least a hundred times more value in the short term than what you paid for it. In other words, if you bought this book for $30, I want you to come away with at least $3,000 in value through the knowledge you will accumulate and the actions you will subsequently take. In the long term, I want this book to create at least one thousand times more value for you, thanks to making optimal financial moves that will compound over time.

Each chapter will provide you the tools you need to make optimal choices in some of life’s most common and biggest decisions.

My Method for Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries

Back in 2009, the world was falling apart and my net worth declined by roughly 35% in six short months. I had been putting off starting Financial Samurai since 2006. But once the financial crisis hit, I decided to finally launch the site. If I got laid off, I needed a backup plan.

I also thought it would be a good idea to start writing to help myself and others make sense of chaos. After all, by that point I had spent ten years working in the finance industry, studied economics at William & Mary, gotten my MBA from UC Berkeley, saved aggressively, diversified my investments, and . . .

I still got financially rocked.

I wanted to help others learn from my experience and from my mistakes. And, to be frank, I also needed some therapy to cope with all the fear and uncertainty. Chaos is a great motivator to change. The pain and suffering you feel today might be the best thing that could ever happen to you. Still, wouldn’t it be much better if you could make some changes before the pain happens?

For example, instead of waiting for a heart attack to force us to eat better and exercise more, why not start now? Instead of getting a divorce because we neglected to work on our communication skills, why not actively work on listening better today?

As I started writing, I created a methodology for developing the advice and conclusions I’d share with my readers. It’s the same methodology I bring to this book, and it comes in four parts:

  1. I draw from my education, experience, and writing. I worked in finance for thirteen years, and have published two thousand–plus personal finance–related articles.

  2. I spend the bulk of my time on research and rigorous analysis. I put days into researching minutiae and always “show my work” in the analysis. I’ve never met an Excel sheet I didn’t love. Real numbers tell real stories.

  3. All analysis is paired with firsthand experience because money is too important to be left up to pontification. This is my favorite part of what I do, and I sometimes get weird looks for it. For example, a few years back I decided to become an Uber driver. I set a goal of five hundred rides, not the three or four I saw some others do before writing their story. My friends called me crazy, but firsthand learning is what makes Financial Samurai special, and it’s a big part of my approach.

  4. I incorporate as many viewpoints as possible to provide well-rounded perspectives. Given that there are no perfect choices, only optimal and suboptimal ones, it’s important to listen to other people’s experiences, especially divergent ones. So many times I’ve dogmatically believed one point of view, only to see the other side of the story once I’ve taken time to listen.

The chapters ahead are driven by this methodology.

Part 1 starts with a personal reality check so you can figure out what financial freedom looks like to you. It lays out the math required to achieve your goals, the hard questions you need to answer on your journey to building wealth, and smart changes you can make right now to improve your outcomes.

Part 2 shows you where to put your money to maximize your wealth potential. I’ll help you design an investment strategy that will generate passive income to cover your best life’s expenses sooner than later. We’ll cover stock market investing, along with my favorite way for everyday people to build wealth: real estate.

Part 3 helps you optimize your career. You’ll see why everyone has the ability to earn more money, and I’ll show those on the lookout how to target high-paying industries and get paid and promoted quickly once you’re hired. We’ll also explore side hustles so you can have multiple income streams contributing to your wealth.

And finally, part 4 helps ensure that your money choices are contributing to a lifestyle that keeps you fulfilled and at peace today. Not when you retire “someday.” Yes, you’ll need to work hard and sacrifice in your early days, but even those sacrifices should put your wellness first. If your grind has you running on three hours of sleep and a diet of Spam and Cheerios, you won’t be here long enough to enjoy the fruits of your sacrifices. I’ll help you see where to set boundaries as you make lifestyle choices that influence your bottom line.

In the end, Buy This, Not That will give you an approach to your finances that will bring you peace of mind and financial freedom sooner than you ever thought possible.

Making Decisions Using the 70/30 Philosophy

In Buy This, Not That, I hope to give you a new framework for decision-making across all of life’s big buckets. Because while life is rarely black-and-white, we need to make definitive choices all the time. Rent this house or buy that apartment? Invest in a growth stock or an index fund? Live in San Francisco, California, or Raleigh, North Carolina? Order sushi delivery or suck it up and cook?

These choices all involve an expense of time and capital and bring risk and reward. I will help you navigate each with a focus on smarter spending for building wealth. We will go through the reasons why the optimal choices vary for each person based on their specific circumstances as we develop the habits that will kill the self-doubt that stops many people from making even the first steps to financial freedom.

You see, the problem, most of the time, is that we don’t have enough information to confidently choose this or that. My approach helps you overcome that information gap. And you’ll do this by thinking in probabilities instead of in binary terms, where it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. If you start thinking in probabilities instead of absolutes, you will develop a stronger analytical mindset to make more winning decisions over time. You will also likely be able to make more winning decisions on risks that others never dare take.

One of the biggest decision-making fallacies people fall victim to is thinking they must take action only when there is 100% certainty. Here are three examples.

  1. Only if you are certain someone likes you—because they told their friend, who told you—do you feel confident asking them out. But you might find out years in the future that they liked you as well and were just waiting on you to make the first move. What a shame to miss out on love due to the desire for absolute certainty.

  2. Most people put in an offer on a house only once it’s listed for sale. But at any given moment, there may be several homeowners in your neighborhood looking to sell, unsure whether they want to go through the hassle of listing their property. By sending out friendly letters of interest, you could very well start a dialogue and end up buying one of the most coveted houses on the block for a good price.

  3. Or consider that the typical job seeker applies to jobs only once they are posted online—a 100% probability that a company is hiring. However, there are always plenty of job openings that are not publicized. If you take the initiative to inquire with your manager or a hiring manager at another firm, you just might get a coveted job because you decided to take initiative on imperfect information.

Your goal is to constantly make positive-expected-value decisions in everything you do. A positive-expected-value decision is when you have a greater than 50% probability of your desired outcome coming true.

Some decisions have higher expected values than others, such as accepting a job offer with a guaranteed raise and promotion with a growing company rather than staying at a place that just got acquired by a company known to cut costs. Some decisions, on the other hand, have murkier expected values due to an overwhelming amount of incomplete information.

It is up to you to do your due diligence to bring your probability of success as close to 100% as possible (while also accepting that very few decisions ever have 100% positive outcomes).

There are few sure things in life. So think in probabilities.

When you go to a casino, the house always has an edge. The edge ranges from as low as 0.5% in blackjack and 0.8% in craps to 17% for slot machines and 25%+ for keno. In the long run, the house always wins. Therefore, if you must gamble, you should gamble at games where the house’s edge is the lowest. But an even better scenario is gambling on only those decisions where the odds are in your favor.

The more important the decision you need to make, the higher the edge or positive expected value you should have.

The 70/30 Philosophy

Now that you understand the importance of making positive-expected-value decisions, let me introduce you to my 70/30 philosophy in decision-making.

The 70/30 philosophy states that you should seek to make a decision only if you have at least a 70% probability of making an optimal decision. At the same time, you have the humility to understand that 30% of the time, you will make a suboptimal decision and have to live with the consequences and adapt.

With more than a two-to-one reward-to-risk ratio, over the long run you will become very profitable with your overall decision-making philosophy. You will most certainly have regrets where you will wish for do-overs. However, you will also constantly be learning from your mistakes so that you can make even higher positive-expected-value decisions in the future.

Just be careful not to get too cocky. That’s when you run the risk of financial and personal ruin. There’s a classic saying on Wall Street: “Bulls make money, bears make money, pigs get slaughtered.” Being overconfident and not properly recognizing risks will be your downfall. The worst mistake you can make is not realizing when a good decision was mostly due to luck, not skill. Proper risk management is paramount.

Expert marketing has also made so many things seem like attractive products, experiences, or investments. But of course, not everything you spend money on or invest in turns out to be as great as expected. Therefore, it’s up to you to continually hone the accuracy of your predictions so that they aren’t too far off from reality. If your predictions are way off, it’s imperative that you study why—and make adjustments.


Introduction: Financial Freedom, Sooner Than Later


Adopt the Right Money Mindset to Get Rich

1. Find Your Happiness Equation

2. Do the Math and the Plan Will Come

3. Get the Cash, Put It to Work

4. Master Your Debt


Put Your Money to Work

5. Follow a Proper Allocation Model

6. Optimize Your Investments

7. Understand Real Estate Fundamentals

8. Choose Where to Live for Maximum Wealth Potential

9. Go Long on Real Estate


Work While Maximizing Your Wealth

10. Think Strategically About Your Career

11. Make Your Money and Then Make Your Exit

12. Get Your Side Hustle On


Focus on the Most Important Things in Life

13. Invest in Education

14. Nurture Your Love

15. Live Like a Financial Samurai

Take Your Shot


Further Reading



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