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Income-to-expense ratio

Professor Scott Galloway’s recent post called “The Algebra of Wealth” makes the argument that there are four key factors in the creation of wealth: focus, stoicism, time, and diversification. Some of you may argue with his points around diversification. I’ve heard Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger say before that diversification is really just admitting that you have no idea what the hell you’re doing. Because if you did, you wouldn’t need diversification to protect you.

That said, I like a lot of the points that Galloway makes on his blog. For one, he calls bullshit on the age-old advice that you should just “follow your passion.” Finding something you love to do is important and ideal. I feel incredibly fortunate that I found something (there were pivots) that I want to be my life’s work. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t and that I don’t think about money. As I’ve said before, I never understood why money is often a taboo topic in architecture schools.

Galloway also takes a stab at defining, what is rich?

I know a lot of people who make an extraordinary amount of money, but few people who are rich. Rich is having passive income greater than your burn. People on a path to money focus on their earnings; people on a path to wealth also focus on their burn. Joseph Heller said, “It takes brains not to make money.” (Note: I think he was casting a favorable light on his starving artist friends). This may be true, but it definitely takes brains to hold onto it (i.e., money).

My father receives $48,000 per year from Social Security and his Royal Navy pension (he was a frogman). He spends $40,000, and it’s enough to make him happy. He swims every day, watches a shit-ton of hockey (Leafs fan), and on Fridays goes to The Taco Stand (an actual restaurant in La Jolla) where he orders something called a michelada. (Apparently it’s medicine delivered in a chilled salt-rimmed glass — he claims his hair is regrowing and that he’s sleeping better. I believe half of that so … I believe it.) Anyway, it’s not your income, but your income-to-expense ratio, that determines if you’re rich.

When I was growing up, my dad used to always tell me that it doesn’t matter how much money you make, it matters what you do with the money that you make. That is another way of saying, focus on your income-to-expense ratio. Spend less than you make and be strategic with what’s leftover. This is a good principle to follow for real estate as well. As a rule, it’s generally a good thing when your revenue is greater than your operating expenses and your NOI is positive.

But there’s another important message in Galloway’s excerpt: you don’t necessarily need a lot to be happy. (Sign me up for The Taco Stand on Fridays!) And if you’re in position where your passive income is greater than your burn, then you also have something called freedom.

For Scott Galloway’s full post about The Algebra of Wealth, click here.


  1. “never understood why money is often a taboo topic in architecture schools.”

    The problem is that since the split of the architect and builder 100+ years ago, neither are able to do all the functions required to set up a project properly. The architect knows how to design but is not responsible for the cost or execution of their design, while the builder knows costs and scheduling but is not responsible for the design.

    Cost has become a dirty word to the architect, only because they have abandoned control of it. Dare mention this and you will find it construed as a complete and vile focus on how to build cheaply while sacrificing design. This is the same source of the all-too-common critique from a builder on unrealistic designs–having forsaken ownership for their instructions (plans) they can only rail against design as a spectator.

    The solution is to re-unite those that create the built environment.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Earnings-to-expense ratio - Zbout

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