Episode 257 – Happy Ever After with the $7 Millionaire

The $7 MillionaireFor most of the guests on this show, writing a business book is part of building a personal and professional brand. This week I talk to someone who has no interest in having his name on the book he’s written: he just wants to get the concept out there.

When his teenage daughter asked him ‘Dad, what’s the smallest amount of money you would have to put aside each day to become a millionaire?’ he sat down and did the maths with her. And then he did it again, and one more time, because he couldn’t believe the answer.

Discover how the $7 Millionaire concept has grown from there, the difference it’s making to lives, how a talking frog helps overcome people’s fear of finance, and how the author tricked his inner critic into allowing him to get the book written.

Happy Ever After on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HappyEverAfter.FinancialFreedom

The Thousand Dollar Journal on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/the-thousand-dollar-journal/

Alison on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alison-jones-9b09893/

Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/

The Extraordinary Business Book Club bookshop: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/extraordinarybusinessbooks

My K-day countdown for the National Literacy Trust: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/alison-jones1000

Alison Jones: I’m here today with the $7 Millionaire who has worked in finance for more than 20 years, selling billion-dollar deals and managing the assets of some of the world’s smartest investors. The $7 Millionaire concept was born when his teenage daughter asked him a question he didn’t know the answer to: what is the smallest amount of money you can save and invest every day to become a millionaire in your lifetime?

And he was staggered to realize when he did the sums just how low that figure was, and equally staggered that nobody else seemed to know this either. Of course, most of us are functionally illiterate, financially speaking. And for many of us, the result is debt, borrowing and a dangerous lack of saving that has made the pandemic of 2020 so disastrous for so many.

So he wrote a book for his daughter and that book is now available to everyone, Happy Ever After: Financial freedom doesn’t have to be a fairy tale. So, hello… I’m not saying your name.

The $7 Millionaire: Hello, how are you?

Alison Jones: Really well. Should we start with that elephant in the room? I’m carefully calling you $7 Millionaire. Why am I not calling you by your name?

The $7 Millionaire: Well, there’s a few reasons really, and thank you for doing that. The big reason for me is actually that $7 millionaire means something. It did come from that conversation with my daughter and you know, the idea that you can be a millionaire saving $7 per day, or in England seven pounds, or in Indonesia seven rupiah, whatever you, wherever you are seven turns into a million saved every day between the age of 20 and 70.

So 50 years of saving that and then investing it to get 7% returns, which aren’t impossible. They’re very possible. And so that $7 at a time and going to be a millionaire, it gives you two things it gives you a, a near term goal, $7, that’s something that can be achieved every day, and the big long-term dream, which is millionaire. So for me, it’s like there’s not a lot of space on the cover of a book and on anything you do, and $7 Millionaire communicates something so quickly. So that’s why I use the pseudonym, but it’s also because my day job is working in finance, and I don’t want to confuse what I do in my day job or for other people, to confuse what I do in my day job with the kind of financial literacy I talk about.

What I do in my day job is very, very specialized, it’s working in fund management on very specialized things, and it has nothing to do with the kind of financial literacy I talk about. And I don’t want the conversation to particularly go there.

So I think keeping it separate, but also providing a good message. I like the fact that the name isn’t, you know, Joe Bloggs or something super cool like Tom Cruise. $7 Millionaire just means something to anyone who reads the book and they know immediately when they read it what it means and potentially even gives them a set of goals to aim for.

Alison Jones: It’s very interesting as well, and quite refreshing for me because obviously when people write books very often, it is about building a personal brand, and this is very much about building a movement, isn’t it?

The $7 Millionaire: It is. Yes. I mean, it started for me when I actually joined finance because before I was in finance, I was a writer. I was a freelance journalist, a copywriter and kind of got into finance by accident. Possibly another reason why I shouldn’t have my name on this because I shouldn’t admit that. But I was asked to do a job of editing at an investment bank.

And I said, well, while I’m editing, can I actually analyze some companies? And I thought they were going to say, yeah, okay, start doing that in three months. And they said, start on Monday. So I really tried to deep download into finance and I’d never been looking at it very closely before, and I had the same fears, you know the same insecurity about finance that most of us do have, and very quickly realized two super important things.

One was that actually a lot of it wasn’t too hard, a lot of really important financial concepts are quite simple, but secondly, they are unbelievably important. And that really became a driving force at the very beginning to think, you know what, this is something that we should all know. I remember even at the time that, I can bring it out even now as I remember, I feel the same way. I feel quite angry that we’re not taught this, and that we’re not taught this by schools or other organizations, the really simple, important things about how do we manage our money the moment we leave school aren’t being taught. So that’s really why it’s more important as a movement rather than, you know, my name on a book.

Alison Jones: And it’s interesting you say about the emotional component as well. Where do you think that comes from? Because I think you’re right, I think most of us who aren’t in the world of finance, see it as something completely different and something scary and inaccessible, and we’d rather not go there. What’s that all about?

The $7 Millionaire: Well, I think it’s just because it’s avoided. I think it’s because we’re not taught about it. I think there are things in finance that can sound quite complicated. And it’s a big subject. It’s a little bit like, say, something like wine, you know, you’ve learned a little bit about wine. It’s a Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc.

And then all of a sudden you realize, Oh my God, there’s so much to learn. I’ll never learn all of this. And, the point is you don’t have to. You really only have to learn what you like and what you need to know. And sometimes from the outside, when you haven’t been taught anything, you can hear people talking about derivatives. You can hear them talk about shorting, Gamestop and think, I don’t know what any of that means, and it keeps you out. And because we’re not taught the very, very basic steps of, you know, zero, one, two, this is what money is. This is how you get it, this is what you should do with it, it’s all too complicated and we stay away.

Alison Jones: I have another theory as well, which is that if you’re trained in finance, you don’t go into teaching because it’s too poorly paid. So that’s one of the reasons for our financial illiteracy. There you are, that’s just my personal theory.

And what you’ve done in writing this book is take a very, very different approach – you almost can’t help but find it accessible because you’ve written it as a fairy tale.

Was that a deliberate way of saying, do you know what, we’re going to just step away completely from talking about derivatives and commodities. We can approach this from the happy ever after kind of really familiar, safe genre of fairytales? That was a very leading question. Sorry.

The $7 Millionaire: Yes. Well, yes, obviously the answer, but it really was because it was about my daughter and it really was written for my daughter. And there was a conversation that we were having, when we’re talking about things, and I realized that before I worked in finance, I said I was a writer and I always thought, you know, I’ll write stories for her. I’ll write fairytales for her. That’ll be something fun that I can do with her. And I never did because I was working. And I was always too busy. I was coming home late. I switched from using Microsoft Word to Excel to model all the companies I was looking at.

And so I never got around to writing the fairytale. So it occurred to me that as I was looking at this, a fairy tale would be a nice introduction for her. And she really doesn’t like maths. She doesn’t like finance. So I needed that gentle but also, you know, she was 16, 17, she’s not the target market for a typical fairytale. So it needed to be slightly sardonic, a little bit sarcastic, a little bit knowing, like a teenager. And so that was really how I sort of structured that fairytale for her, but it also plays into the fact that we kind of believe in fairy tales about money. You know, we believe that someone’s going to win the lottery.

You know, we won’t, you know – we won’t win the pools. It doesn’t happen. It’s such a rare thing and most of the money goes somewhere else.  So many fairytales are believed and bad ones and equally there’s other fairytales that, you know, the market is just a casino and people who know nothing about it should stay out.

And I think it’s really important to address all of these things and say, these are the real fairytales, and have that approach of softening the whole thing so that my daughter could get into it and then her sister could get into it. And then, you know, and hopefully other people like it in the same way.

Alison Jones: And presumably she was your first beta reader. How did it go down?

The $7 Millionaire: It was okay. She’s very kind, she is incredibly kind.

Alison Jones: Well, I have to say I enjoyed it, so I very much enjoyed the frog who’s as you say, quite sardonic. And I always imagine has a Brooklyn accent. I don’t know if you read it like that.

The $7 Millionaire: I don’t, he has a Cockney accent for me because he’s named after Michael Caine’s character in the Italian job, who’s Charlie Croker. So he sounds to me exactly like Michael Caine.

Alison Jones: Oh, that’s just destroyed my Brooklyn frog now, never mind I can read it again with a different accent. Tell me more about the movement, will you? The stuff that goes on as well as the book, because it’s not in isolation. I think this is what is always fascinating about the best business books, is that they’ve got other moving parts.

So tell me about the sort of the education piece and the other pieces that you’re putting out into the world.

The $7 Millionaire: Yeah. So when I started talking to my daughter about this, I’d actually already started working on financial literacy. There’s a number of groups that I work with work with finance, with migrant workers and financial literacy is really important to migrant workers. They are, in some ways, it’s the most valuable financial literacy lesson you can give anyone because they’ve left their home countries, they’ve left their families behind very often to make more money. And yet they often don’t go home with the money they hope to. There’s actually a horrible survey, which said that only 6% of migrant workers go home with the money they’d hoped they’d get while they’re away.

And the main reason is because they don’t know how to manage their money. They’re scammed. They go into bad investments, they get money taken away while they’re trying to route it home. So there’s groups that work on financial literacy with migrant workers. So I did a lot of work with them and I came in at that level initially, before even working with my daughter on this.

And that’s how we sort of built up some of the most important elements that I could then talk to my daughter about.  When I then wrote the book for my daughter, I looked at it and realized this isn’t ideal for a migrant worker.  Although I kept it simple, it’s still a book, it’s still quite wordy, and the migrant worker doesn’t want a wordy book in English, particularly. So I looked at what I could do once we’d done the book to remove or take the most interesting parts from that and create something just for them and also for other students and make something slightly different. So we worked on a product called the Thousand Dollar journal, and the reason it’s called that is because if we take again, we go back to $7 millionaire, you need to save $7 a day.

If you do that for 21 weeks, you actually save a thousand dollars and the thousand dollars is a great starting point for your first savings. It’s, you know, it’s the beginnings of an emergency fund. It’s the money that will stop you dropping into expensive debt. And it develops the practice of actually saving regularly.

And that’s really what a lot of the groups that we work with and the people and the products we work on, we’re trying to change the way financial literacy is done, because we think that very often financial literacy thinks about numeracy, and it talks about financial theory, but the real importance isn’t there, the real importance is in practice. The getting people to actually do something, put the money to one side.

It’s also in psychology of talking to people in the right way so that they understand why they’re doing this and have the goals to do it. And then also there’s an enormous part of marketing. A lot of financial literacy, it’s very old school in the way it markets itself, it says, I am financial literacy. Come here. You can learn it.

Whereas marketing, all marketing people know that you don’t sell what you’ve got, you sell what people want, and what people want is security or financial freedom or wealth. And you sell that to them. And you tell them the way through there and on the way through there you teach them some financial theory and some financial literacy and they come out being able to achieve financial security.

So that’s what the movement is all around, is really trying to do that for as many groups as we can. And we look around the world, you know, even just on the target groups, we think there’s maybe 800 to 900 million people that need this information. So it’s an enormous group of people that we can work on with this.

Alison Jones: Yes. I don’t think you’d have had any problem selling that target market. I think it’s a well acknowledged hole in most people’s education. So tell me a little bit about that process of taking it from concept through to published book. What surprised you about that? What did you enjoy? What was perhaps frustrating?

The $7 Millionaire: I think the thing that was most interesting was the discovering when my inner critic wakes up. And because I’d been a writer before I knew I wrote better in the mornings than in the evenings, but I didn’t know really why. And what I discovered, particularly as I wrote this book every morning before going to work.

And so I was getting up sort of 5:30 and writing from 6 till seven o’clock most mornings. And what I found was it’s the perfect time for me to write a first draft. Because my inner critic, it appears, it wakes up sometime around nine o’clock and starts telling me that what I’ve written is rubbish.

But at between six and seven, but I’ve already written it. I’m already in work and that’s fine. So between six and seven, he’s still very sleepy and has no interest in telling me that I need to go back and change something. And, so I really did, once I had, you know, I knew the chapters and I’d sort of highlighted, and you know, your advice on this with your book as well was wonderful in doing this, really identifying what your key themes are and within the chapters what the subheadings are and where you go within each one of those, because I could get up and just look at a sub heading chapter and go, Oh yeah, I know what that is. And 700 words, 800 words later, go shower and get ready for work and the critic hadn’t even seen it yet.

And then there’s this whole other part of the day, once your first draft is done, that you can go back and say, Oh, that wasn’t very good, was it, that’s coming out. But at least then it’s done and you can move forward with it.

Alison Jones: That’s hilarious. I just love the idea of tricking your critic, like creeping downstairs before it wakes up. And then once you’ve got the whole manuscript and obviously your daughter’s read it and a few people have read it. Maybe you’ve tried out within people on the courses, and so on. That process of turning it into a book, how was that?

Because that’s the thing that a journalist of course hasn’t particularly experienced before.

The $7 Millionaire: Yes. So that was, I mean, it was fun. It was a lot of fun because it was, I think once I’d written the first draft I switched heads, switched hats and really used that inner critic, but also listened to other people about it and had… became a publisher more than a writer. So whenever anyone said to me that this bit, I can’t finish this bit, and that was one of the tests I would do with people was on to give it to people.

I said, one of the favours with this is do not come back and say to me, Oh, it’s wonderful. Tell me where you stopped. Tell me where you got bogged down, where it was boring. Because I knew that, because I’ve been doing this decades, I do have a facility with numbers that not everyone has. So I’ll just look at a page of numbers and go, uh huh Yeah.

And other people go, no, I’m not reading that. And then stop. And so it was very important to remove all those sections and try and find ways of explaining them that didn’t bog them down in their tracks. So we did that with as many people as we could. And with designers and people that weren’t in finance, I gave it to very few people in finance at all.

It was really to give it to people who weren’t and to give it to their kids. So we got that feedback and then all the time say, okay, where were people stopping? You know, where do we need to revise and take this out? Where does the flow lead? And that was a lot of fun. Looking at it as a whole product and saying, this is how it flows here.

Okay. Why is it stopping? Let’s get it to do something else here. That was a lot of fun.

Alison Jones: I love that distinction you make about you’re taking off the writer head and putting on the publisher head on because that helps dissociate you a little bit from the kind of the ego bruising that goes with negative feedback or critical feedback. Doesn’t it?

The $7 Millionaire: It does. I mean, you have to care enough that it hurts when someone criticizes it, but you also have to go, okay. But now I’m the publisher and if they criticize it, then maybe it’s wrong. And you also have to separate the criticism into the criticism that is not going to help you and the criticism that is.

So, you know, every now and then someone will say, Oh, but you use this percentage rate here and this and this and this reason that you shouldn’t be doing that. And I said, you know what? You aren’t part of the problem. You’re not who I’m addressing. We can have that argument and we can agree to differ because that’s what you do in markets, you bet one side and I bet the other.

But the problem is people who aren’t at the very basic stage of this, and we need to get them through there. And that’s the important argument. So anyone that came back and said, look, I just stopped reading because I thought it was dull, I listened to them more than people that wanted to get into a discussion on financial theory.

And that’s quite important to separate those two I found.

Alison Jones: Yes, that’s terrific advice. And I’m going to ask you for your best piece of advice for a novice writer. What would you say to somebody who’s just starting out?

The $7 Millionaire: Well, I think because the most important thing, as we all know, is to get that first draft done. I would go back to tricking your inner critic and finding a way of writing where you don’t get in your own way. And that was how I did it. I just almost didn’t look at the drafts until I had a bigger collection of them done, because I didn’t want to edit until later.

I’d also say that this working on the second book, The Thousand Dollar Journal, there was quite a lot of that as well. And I looked at, and it’s a more graphic book and it’s for a much lower reading age. And what we did there was I spent quite a lot of time looking at what’s called human-centered design.

And they teach you how to do proper brainstorming. And proper brainstorming is very similar to that – leave your critic behind, come in, and just all ideas are good and just get them down. And then, Oh, let’s actually work through which one of those were good, later. We worry about that later. And I think separating those two is really important as a beginner writer. Because you’ve got to get to that first draft.

Alison Jones: That’s excellent advice. And, it’s also separating the private and the public, isn’t it? Because ultimately this book is going to be read by other people, but you can’t, you almost can’t think about that too much at the beginning. You’ve got to just sit and write it in a private kind of exploratory way, I think, and as you say, silence the inner critic, but just get it out because once you’ve got something out, you can work with it.

The $7 Millionaire: Exactly. There’s a wonderful book about, my other daughter, they’ve both read it now so I don’t need to say other daughter, but my younger daughter is a film student and she’s got this wonderful book called The Conversations, which is between Walter Murch, who’s one of the world’s greatest ever film editors, and Michael Ondaatje who wrote The English Patient and Walter Murch edited it.

And Walter Murch talks about how, they both basically talk about how everything is editing. First draft is first draft, but everything is editing and it’s great to get to that editing stage. And once you’ve got that first draft, you can throw away your writer hat and say, now I’m an editor, now I’m a publisher, and I’m going to have a look at this in a totally different way.

Alison Jones: But if you try and put those hats on too soon, it’s really going to kill the writer stone dead, isn’t it?

The $7 Millionaire: It is. It absolutely is. Well, not for me because you know, the critic doesn’t wake up till later.

Alison Jones: Yeah, that’s really handy. My critic never sleeps, but you know, good for you.

And I’m going to ask you for a business book recommendation as well, which – obviously apart from $7 Millionaire – which book do you think would be your recommendation for somebody to read for any reason actually, I’m not going to limit you at all. Just give us a book that you love.

The $7 Millionaire: Oh, wonderful, in which case it’s easy for me because the one I go back to and read most often is The Empty Raincoat by Charles Handy.

Alison Jones: I love the cover of that.

The $7 Millionaire: It’s great, isn’t it?  Because Charles Handy was the man who was one of the founders of London Business School. And so you expect him to write in a very business-schooly way, but he really doesn’t.

He just questions everything. And so often points out, you know, those big questions, it points out an example that is the total opposite of what you think has to be the way. And so, I mean, The Empty Raincoat is all about that. It’s all about, I mean, anyone who thinks that millennials were the first people to invent capitalism with a heart, you should read this book.

I mean Charles Handy is 94 or 95, he is still alive today, still writing. And The Empty Raincoat is all about how businesses need to find a purpose. If they don’t find a purpose, they won’t be valued by society. A really powerful book.

Alison Jones: It is funny – there’s no new ideas under the sun, Charles Handy obviously was a pioneer. And suddenly you find that a book resonates with the new readership who thought they had invented the idea. So, yes, it is interesting about how purpose has been there a lot longer than perhaps millennials might like to think.

The $7 Millionaire: But you’re right. I mean, and sometimes things just need to be a bit repackaged and they can be repackaged in the way, you know, I don’t think, other than the actual $7 equation, I wouldn’t say there’s anything enormously new in the book. I shouldn’t say that, should I? But the reason I’m saying it is because what’s gone before hasn’t been packaged in the way that people want to read.

If it had, we’d all be financially literate. And that’s really what I’m aiming at, is say look, I think things have just been packaged wrong, psychologically, marketing wise, practice wise. And if we package them differently we can all get to that point because it’s not beyond any of us. Really good, basic financial literacy isn’t beyond any of us.

I mean, in reality, there’s not even an enormous amount of maths in it. And we, you know, we didn’t have to strip a lot out for the book that we did because there isn’t really very much necessary.

Alison Jones: Hmm. And it’s interesting, actually, you just remind me of a point I was going to raise before, and then the moment went, which was about the figures. So $7 Millionaire, a Thousand Dollar Journal, there’s something really powerful and intriguing and precise about the figures that invites you to read doesn’t it? Somehow quantifying it makes it more attractive.

And I don’t quite know how that works, but presumably you thought that through as well…

The $7 Millionaire: Well, I did. I think that yes, numbers and precise numbers are, they’re an old marketing trick. I think that, you know, you look at one of the biggest, best sellers of the last 20 years which probably is The Four-Hour Work Week. And even though in the book he immediately says, I don’t really only work four hours a week, you know, that number was really powerful in helping people get there.

 But the $7, I mean, I would never encourage anyone to, actually if you want to you can rebuild the spreadsheet that I did to make the calculation of $7. It’s a long, not particularly messy spreadsheet, but yes, it is an exact number.

 It was such a great conversation with my daughter, because I literally had to go back and redo the maths again and again and again, because I didn’t believe that it could just be seven. Or £7 or $7. It’s like that’s… And then when you go back through the maths, the reason I didn’t think that is because very few of us carry in our heads, the power of what compounding can, because actually £7 a day will actually only add up to £125,000 over your lifetime, but the compounding effect of investing right from the very beginning, from the age of 20 will turn it into a million, £875,000 of a million just comes from the investing, only 125 comes from the saving.

And that was why it was so interesting, with her sitting next to me on the sofa as she’d asked that question, we worked it all out and I had to go back and check and check.  And yes, those numbers are powerful. The $7 one, £7 one is powerful I think just because it’s so small and you get to see what compounding does.

Alison Jones: And psychologically, I think that gives you a way in, doesn’t it, because suddenly you’re talking about something that you can comprehend, that feels completely manageable and that’s psychologically important because of all the baggage that goes with the finance. Really interesting.

The $7 Millionaire: I think so. I think so for many of us and I try and make it clear in the book and in the journal that even for people that, £7 and $7 is too much for, you know, and there are those people and, you know, hopefully that won’t always be the way, but even for those people just learning the habits of maybe trying to get a pound away , even 50p,  just whatever it is, the habit becomes the really, really powerful part, because then when you do get an extra couple of pounds and you can save that , it can turn into very, very quickly, it can start becoming the seven pounds and then even more.

It’s the habit that’s really important. That’s where, again, when we look at financial literacy in theory, it’s not as important as the psychology of learning that habit and understanding that you can do it.

Alison Jones: Yes. And you have such a calming way of explaining it. I think that that’s really helpful as well.

Where do people go to find out more about what you’re doing, more about the programmes, the book and the journal?

The $7 Millionaire: So, yes, we’re on LinkedIn. Please just find me on LinkedIn. If you look for The Thousand Dollar Journal, you’ll find that on LinkedIn. It’s also on Facebook, Thousand Dollar Journal and Happy Ever After: Financial freedom isn’t a fairy tale is also on Facebook. And those are probably the two best ones.

I’m sure we’ll have some Instagram and Twitter once I work out to do it. I’m probably going to get my daughter to do that.

Alison Jones: I was going to say, I think your daughter owes you…

The $7 Millionaire: I think she does. Right. And so I think she might become my social media campaigner. But yeah, those would be the two best places, I think. And there’s also, we have a website which is sevendollarmillionaire.com and you can reach us on there too.

Fantastic. And I shall put those

Alison Jones: links of course, upon the show notes at extraordinarybusinessbooks.com, along with the transcript of today’s conversation. But thank you so much… I’m so desperately trying not to say your name. Thank you so much. Absolutely fascinating.

The $7 Millionaire: Thank you very much. It’s absolute pleasure. Thank you.

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