Thomas (Tom) Corley is passionate about helping people become financially independent. The multi-faceted Corley is a best-selling author, international speaker, founder of the Rich Habits Institute, creator of the website RichHabits.Net, President of Cerefice and Company, a CPA firm in New Jersey, and a periodic contributor to CNBC’s Business Insider.
Tom wanted to know why people are rich or poor. So, from March 2004 to March 2007, he interviewed and studied the money habits and behaviors of more than 350 people – 233 wealthy and 128 poor.
He then analyzed the data and recorded the results in his best-selling book, Rich Habits.
His study reveals lots of informative insights and statistics like 85-88% of American millionaires are self-made, first-generation rich!
His researched paid off. Rich Habits has been read, viewed or heard by over 50 million people in 25 countries around the world.
Early Career and Education
Prior to becoming an author and speaker, Tom spent most of his career in tax and finance. He started with now defunct ‘Big Five’ accounting firm Arthur Andersen in 1987. From there he did stints with a variety of companies as well as founding McGuinness, Corley & Hodavance, a CPA firm specializing in large corporate tax compliance and consulting.
Tom holds a Bachelors Degree in Accounting from St. John’s University. And, he has earned a Masters Degree in Taxation from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
More Than Author
In addition to the above Tom is also a member of the American Institute of CPAs, the New York State Society of CPAs, the New Jersey Society of CPAs, the Certified Financial Planning Board and is Certified by the Corporation for Long-Term Care.
Believe It or Not
Corley claims he can tell immediately if someone is rich or poor simply by asking them how many junk food calories they eat each day.
NOW, it is with great pleasure we share some of Thomas Corley’s childhood memories and insights on kids and money.
Dad’s Poor Habit
Sam X Renick: What is the most important money habit you learned as a child? Please share the story behind how you learned the habit and what impact it has had on you throughout your life.
Thomas Corley: It’s not a good habit. In fact, it’s one of the many Poor Habits I uncovered in my Rich Habits research. I learned from my father not to save money. Here’s the story:
From the time I was nine years old, we struggled financially. It’s unfair to say we were poor, because poor to me means not owning any assets. Somehow, my father managed to maintain ownership of our house, despite the fact at least on four occasions I remember, our house was about to be foreclosed on by the state of New York or the bank who held the mortgage.
The first time I learned the lesson not to save from my father was when I was 13 years old and about to graduate grammar school. I had spent about a year saving my earnings from mowing lawns and shoveling snow. I had about $200. I intended on using the money to throw a graduation party for myself. I had even made phone calls to my friends inviting them to the party. Then, as the party date approached, I asked my Mom if it was ok to throw a graduation party. My Mom said no, because we didn’t have any money and could not afford it. I smiled and proudly told my Mom that I had saved $200 over the past year. That night, my father visited me in my room and very painfully asked for the money. He needed to pay a few bills and that was more important than a graduation party.
The second time I learned the lesson not to save from my father was when I was 23 years old. I had paid my way through college, got a job and I was living at home. I had saved $6,000 during the first year of work. My intent was to buy a car and then use the remaining money for an apartment. Just two weeks before I was going to sign the papers to buy my first car, my father said he needed $5,000 in order to pay the delinquent real estate taxes on our home.
After that, the lesson stuck. I never tried to save money again. I spent every penny I made. This ended in 2007 when I was at the tail end of my Rich Habits study and confronted this Poor Habit I had picked up from my father.
Life Changed Overnight
Renick: At around what age did you realize “money was money” or that it had a value? Please share the circumstances or how the realization came about?
Corley: When I was age nine. That is when my father lost his business in a fire and overnight we had no money. Everything came to a stop. Life changed overnight. Not having money forced me to grow up quickly and learn the importance of money. Almost immediately, I began mowing lawns and shoveling snow to earn money.
The Key to Opportunity and Freedom
Renick: If you could only teach a child one money habit, WHAT money habit would you teach them? Please explain why.
Corley: Saving money is the key that unlocks the door to opportunity and, eventually, freedom. Saving money allows you to invest that money and make more money. Having money to invest exposes you to opportunities to make more money.
Elton John Taught Me to Pay My Debts
Renick: What was your biggest money mistake as a child or teenager?
Corley: When I was 15 years old a friend of mine begged me to go with him to an Elton John concert. Although I was working and had some money, I considered those things as reckless spending. I told my friend that I couldn’t afford it. He said he would front the money and I could pay him back. I agreed. Within a month my good friend was hounding me to pay him back the $20 I owed him for the ticket. I dragged my feet for several months because it was a lot of money and I hoped he would forget about it. He didn’t and after several months the parents got involved. I had no choice but to pay him back. I lost that friend. The lesson I learned is that you must always pay your debts and to never borrow money from friends or family.
Winter Gloves Pay Off
Renick: What was one of the smartest money decisions you made as a child or a teenager and why?
Corley: I invested $25 in a pair of high end winter gloves that enabled me to shovel more driveways that winter I made the investment. That $25 paid off tenfold in just one winter. The lesson I learned is there is a difference between spending money and investing money.
Money Is Serious Stuff
Renick: A variety of surveys indicate it is a challenge for parents to talk to kids about money. What would you say are one or two of the primary reasons parents find it difficult to talk personal finance with their children? And, if you have a suggestion on how they can overcome the obstacle, please share that as well.
Corley: Most parents do not like to discuss money because most don’t have money. Also, talking about money is not a happy, nice conversation. It’s a serious conversation. Many parents do not want to burden their kids with serious topics such as money. They want them to be kids as long as they can because childhood is fleeting and adulthood is usually hard living.
Teacher Leave Them Kids Alone
Renick: Why do you believe there is not more personal finance being taught in schools? And, do you think personal finance should be taught in schools? Why or why not?
Corley: It used to be mandatory education, at least for women. Schools used to have a Home Economics course that young woman were required to take. That all changed in the 1960’s with the advent of the women’s rights movement. Why were women relegated to taking care of the home? Why can’t women work, just like men and not have to also carry the burdens of managing the home? The correct solution would have been to mandate both sexes take home economics courses. However, the schools took advantage of the opportunity to eliminate this requirement and do so while appearing to support the women’s rights movement.
Forging the Right Money Habits
Renick: Cambridge University research indicates adult money habits are set by age 7? WHAT IF the research is wrong and adult money habits are formed earlier than age seven – perhaps around the age the “give mes” set in? What would this mean for families, schools, and/or the financial education industry?
Corley: There is a supporting Brown University Study by Dr. Pressman in which 50,000 families were surveyed. That study found that by age nine most of our adult habits are forged. There is also some research done by Nicolas Cristakis, a Yale University Professor relating to this. In his research, he found that habits spread like a virus throughout our social networks. Knowing that money habits are forged though our associations (family/friends, teachers, peers, etc.) makes it important for schools to force the teaching of good money habits. Why? Because the environment a child lives in may be teaching poor money habits. The school system can act as an immune system and destroy the Poor Money Habit viral infection before it has time to root.
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