The Charles Dickens Guide to Becoming a Self-Made Millionaire

12 years old.

That’s when Charles Dickens started working. Not just light work, mind you, like sweeping the floors at his uncle’s bar; he toiled at a shoe polish factory, spending 10 hours a day pasting labels on jars.

Why? A pair of rotten parents.

His father was vain, holding extravagant parties and purchasing all sorts of finery, in every way possible living beyond his means. Eventually, he was thrown into debtor’s prison.

His mother was just cruel. Despite receiving some money from her husband’s family, she sent her children to work. Dickens never forgave her for it.

But did he whine? No, he transformed that experience into some of the greatest novels to ever grace the English language.

A Christmas Carol, The Adventures of Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, and David Copperfield all address aspects of wealth, especially the relationship between the rich and the poor. You could say it’s the defining theme of Dickens’s work.

And it made him rich.

Unlike so many other authors, Charles Dickens became a legend during his own lifetime. His books sold in droves, both in Britain and the US. They were turned into plays, and he traveled around the world doing readings and lectures.

He also left behind some of my favorite personal finance quotes. I’ve put together a small collection of them here, along with a brief commentary on each.

Reflect on your present blessings, of which every man has many; not on your past misfortunes, of which every man has some.

When I was a kid, I had a Yorkshire terrier named Oliver. He was a walk fanatic. Mention the word “walk,” and he’d start running around you in circles, barking his head off.

One day though, my neighbor’s Great Dane had somehow escaped his fence. He grabbed poor Oliver by the neck and shook him around like a rag doll. We managed to separate them, and Oliver eventually recovered, but he never wanted to go on a walk again. He would just stand that the threshold to the door, looking terrified.

It’s easy to feel the same way about your finances. You’ve had a bad experience with stocks, real estate, or entrepreneurship in the past, and the fear of going through it again clouds your to opportunities that are right in front of you.

Well, I have news for you. There’s no rabid dog of personal finance out there, waiting to eat you up the moment you try to pursue a new opportunity. Enjoy the sunny day, and stop worrying.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…

Kind of describes our present economy, doesn’t it?

Depending on who you ask, it’s either the best time to invest or the worst time to invest. You’re either wise for having the courage to buy real estate, or you’re an idiot for risking your wealth. The economy is either improving, or the country is going bankrupt.

Who is right? Everyone, and no one.

There’s no such thing as a “good” or “bad” time to invest. A competent investor can make money in any market. They just change their approach to suit the conditions. The only people you hear whining are amateurs.

Train up a fig tree in the way it should go, and when you are old sit under the shade of it.

A fig tree begins as nothing more than a seed, but it can grow to 30 feet tall, providing ample shade and fruit for anyone. To reach that height though, it needs lots of care in the beginning. You might have to spend several months fertilizing the soil and watering it. Eventually though, it reaches a height where it can sustain itself, and instead of providing for it, it begins providing for you.

For most people, becoming wealthy is the same process. The greatest of fortunes start with the smallest of “seeds” — saving a few dollars, buying a stock, starting a business. In the beginning, it takes years of consistent effort for saving, investing, and working in your own business to see benefits. Stick with it though, and it’ll eventually start growing and bearing “fruit.” Then, when you’re old, you can rest in the “shade” of your finances and enjoy a regular “crop” of passive income.

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.

Why are so many rich people unhappy?

A common reason is they’re still spending more than they make. It seems impossible, but someone making $500,000 or more per year can easily spend more than that, lavishing their family with comforts and trying to impress their friends. The result is they live in a state of constant scarcity, and it drives them nuts.

Similarly, lots of people may make $40,000 per year, but they’re able to live quite nicely on only $35,000. It buys everything they really need, and they even have some left over to invest. As a result, these people live in a state of relative abundance, and they’re perfectly content.

The bottom line? If you want to be happy, a good first step is learning to spend less than you earn, no matter how much that is.

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.

The nonprofit world has taught me that there is such a thing as “useless rich people.” They enjoy their money, make whatever maneuvers are necessary to maintain their social position, and do absolutely nothing of benefit for anyone else. I think it’s disgusting.

One of the chief joys of having money is lighting the burdens of another. To me, donating $100 to any of my favorite charities is immensely more gratifying than any meal at a five-star restaurant.

Donating time is even better. Having become somewhat competent at online marketing, I offered to help my favorite charity do an online fundraising campaign this past Christmas. They’d never done anything like it before, but they were open to it. So a designer and I spent a couple of weeks putting the whole thing together.

It raised $127,000.

Those are the kinds of things that make you immortal. Nobody remembers Charles Dickens for the number of books he sold or how much money he made. They remember him for constructing a lens through which the poor could finally be seen, and for doing it with the genius of one of the world’s greatest authors.

So, if you find yourself sitting on a big pile of money one day, don’t just give a few percent to charity and excuse yourself from any further involvement. Somewhere in your life, there’s been an evil that you had to endure because you lacked the funds to fight it. Find it, and it will give you passion. Then use your newfound freedom to crusade and lobby as few others can.

It’ll do more good than all the money in the world.