Friday, March 27, 2015

Paul Sullivan's "The Thin Green Line"

Paul Sullivan writes the Wealth Matters column for The New York Times.

From 2000 to 2006, he was a reporter, editor and columnist at the Financial Times. His first big story for the FT was a profile of the author Kurt Vonnegut based on a train ride they took from Springfield, Massachusetts to New York City. His last piece for the FT was Vonnegut’s obituary.

His first book was Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Others Don’t.

Sullivan applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Thin Green Line: The Money Secrets of The Super Wealthy, his second book, and reported the following:
I’m not sure if you get the quality of the whole book by reading page 99 of The Thin Green Line: The Money Secrets of the Super Wealthy. But you certainly get a good feel for what my closet looks like.

Page 99 is a few pages into the first chapter in the book’s Spend It section. I’m writing about some pants that do not fit me and are no longer in style. The waist is three inches too small, which makes the out-of-style pleats billow like a coffee filter. Yet these pants hang in my closet because I bought them at Burberry nearly 20 years ago. It was a time when their price, which I can no longer remember, was astonishingly high. I loved those trousers, but then my post-college waist gave way to the stomach of a man with a desk job, and I haven’t been able to force the button closed since my 30s. If you turn the page, you’ll get to the very expensive Ferragamo shoes that cut up my feet whenever I wear them, which I haven’t in years. These, too, I can’t part with. Same reason. The price.

Why does any of this matter in a book with a subtitle that promises money secrets revealed? Because understanding how we spend money on individual things is essential to determining whether we’ll be wealthy – and be able to make the decisions we want to make no matter how much money we earn – or rich or poor, when decisions get made for us. In my book, I use the image of the thin green line – think a 50-year chart of stock returns, rising and falling and rising some more – to delineate the difference, between those comfortably on top and those barely hanging on to the line.

Those pants in my 20s and those shoes in my 30s were choices. They remind me of decisions I made that I shouldn’t have made with the salary I had. Both were beyond my budget, way beyond. And that is why they take up space in my closet to this day. Now that I earn more I could afford a new pair of Burberry trousers and a more comfortable pair of fancy shoes. But they sit there to remind me of the importance of small decisions and overall behavior to being wealthy. And when I think about those pants and shoes, I chose not to stretch myself to buy something I want but don’t need.
Visit Paul Sullivan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue