This article was posted on Friday, Dec 01, 2017

Tom Corley was a broke CPA, wondering why some clients were so much better off. He studied hundreds of wealthy people and more than 100 poor Americans. What he learned made him famous, wealthy, and impactful. This piece summarizes many of the key points of his book, Success Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals.

For five years Corley followed people with at least $160k income and net worth above $3 million and compared them to people who made less than $35k and had less than $5k in liquid assets.

Note differences in the habits of high and low-income people: 

1. Set goals and review them daily. More than 60% of the affluent agree; less than 10% of the poor do this. Priority and “to do” lists matter. Wishes differ from goals. Goals are achievable and you can take action to obtain them. 

2. Watch less than an hour of TV daily. Two thirds of the rich do; less than a quarter of the lower-income people limit TV watching to less than an hour a day.

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3. Read non-fiction, especially self-improvement. More than 75% of high-income people read at least 30 minutes daily compared to less than 10% of those with low incomes.

4. Work more than is required. Four out of five high-income earners work more than 50 hours a week, compared to one in six poor.

5. Save.  Nine of ten rich live below their means and most consider financial habits important. Less than one in ten poor save their money. 

6. Avoid lotteries. Only one in 16 wealthy people buy lottery tickets; three quarters of poor people pay the “stupidity tax.”

7. Take prudent risks. Two of three prosperous people have taken risks in search of wealth. Only one in 16 poor people reported taking on financial risks to improve their lot. 

8. Control your emotions. 15 of 16 wealthy people filter their emotional comments. Two-thirds of those who struggle with money say whatever is on their mind.

9. Avoid toxic people. Five of six successful people associate with other winners. Nine of ten lower-income folks hang around people who hold them back. 

10. Count calories: Two-thirds of wealthy people regulate their caloric intake versus one in 20 of those with low-incomes. Low-income people were more than three times as likely to eat more than 300 junk food calories a day.

11. Good health is critical to financial success, according to six of seven affluent people. Only one in 16 poor agrees.

12. Choose.  Higher income people are more to likely actively influence and less likely to passively accept. The headline promised 12 differences.

Actually, there are many varying habits. Since you and I frequently do more than is required, you can see several other tendencies of the financially successful. Here are some bonus differences. High-income folks are far more likely to:

  • Be optimists
  • Seek out and listen to mentors
  • Enjoy meeting new people
  • Call friends and family on birthdays
  • Exercise weekly,
  • Like their work,
  • Express gratitude and
  • Value creativity over intelligence.

My Summary – Three quick responses to Corley’s principles: 

1.  “We do what we do because we believe what we believe,” claims the only Rhodes Scholar I know. The Bible admonishes the wise to:

  • guard their appetites
  • protect their affections
  • pay attention to what they listen to and
  • consider what they look at.

Corley argues that what we give our time, attention, and selves to affects the outcome of our lives. Striving for excellence means we decline the mediocre to focus on the best.

2.  America is different from two-thirds of the world. In scores of countries if you were born:  into the wrong tribe; in an unfortunate caste, race or gender; in a disadvantaged region, or with some birth defect … you would probably be poor – no matter what. However, for reasons that we can’t control, we are in the USA. We are not better than two-thirds of the globe’s population, but we have more opportunities. Whether we consider ourselves “lucky” or “blessed,” we do have opportunities that most of the planet will never experience. Let’s challenge each other to live to the fullest.

3. Legacy Wealth: “Money is a terrible master, but a great slave.”

I conclude with this quip by P.T. Barnum because there is much more to life than merely building wealth. And yet wealth is powerful. Legacy wealth can enable you to help those who cannot help themselves. A legacy is what others can do because of what you leave behind.


For more than a generation, Terry Moore, CCIM has helped investors make important investment choices. You can reach him at 619-889-1031 or [email protected] or  He is a principal of ACI Apartments, San Diego County’s most active income property brokerage firm.  In 2014 he was selected as San Diego Daily Transcript’s first “Trusted Advisor.”