5 Secrets of Financial Success Hidden Behind the Word Cliché

Cliché: A trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, and impact by long overuse.


Shay Carl was named by Forbes as one of the most successful video entrepreneurs on YouTube. But Shay had a problem. He was badly overweight. Seeing an opportunity to improve his health, his appearance, and tell an interesting story all at the same time, Shay lost 112 pounds in a single year while documenting his journey on his YouTube channel.

On a bike ride during this period of rapid weight loss a thought suddenly popped into Shay’s mind:

“The secrets to life are hidden behind the word cliché.”

He thought of the cliché “eat more vegetables.” He had heard this advice so often that it had lost its impact. Part of his current predicament was due to his failure to follow this advice, but to him the wisdom in this phrase was hidden in plain sight by the very fact that it had been repeated so often that it was a cliché.

This got me thinking. What are the financial equivalents of “eat more vegetables”? What financial advice should we be following but are not because we have heard it so many times it has lost its impact?

I wrote down several of the financial clichés that popped into my head and then looked online for others. I came up with a list of about 20 personal finance clichés that I believe are sound advice.

Then I remembered that Neil Pasricha, in his excellent book The Happiness Equation, pointed out that clichés can’t be trusted as sound advice because so many of them had opposites. Among the examples given by Pasricha were the following:

Defense wins championships The best defense is a good offense
Birds of feather flock together Opposites attract
You’re never too old to learn You can’t teach an old dog new tricks
Clothes make the man You can’t judge a book by its cover
Absence makes the heart grow fonder Out of sight, out of mind
Nothing ventured, nothing gained Better safe than sorry
Good things come to those who wait The early bird gets the worm
The pen is mightier than the sword Actions speak louder than words

I looked through my list, and sure enough it contained competing clichés. For example, I had:

You get what you pay for The best things in life are free
Small leaks sink ships Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish

I eliminated these, along with several others where I could think of plausible arguments for why their opposites might also be good advice. I eliminated others that just didn’t seem to carry the weight in the financial realm as “eat more vegetables” does for health.

This left me with 5 clichés behind which the secrets to financial success are hiding in plain sight. So here they are. 5 financial equivalents of “eat more vegetables”.

  • Live on less than you earn: This is a simple restatement of The Micawber Principle and the fundamental law of personal finance. No other financial advice matters if you can’t or won’t follow this rule.
  • Pay yourself first: Why is this so important? Because if you don’t pay yourself first, you probably won’t pay yourself at all, and saving is the key to financial progress. As Warren Buffett says, “Don’t save what is left after spending; spend what is left after saving.”
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is: Get rich quick schemes are either scams designed to separate you from your money or they are unethical or illegal. Avoid anyone promising you quick and easy riches and stick to growing your wealth the old-fashioned and unexciting way.
  • Where much is given, much is expected: I believe that if you are blessed with more than enough you have a responsibility to give back. This is important for the good that it does for others but also because it is one of the more powerful ways to make yourself happier.
  • You can’t take it with you: Money is a tool that, like other tools, is only useful when used. Financial freedom and security are worthy goals but hoarding more money than you need, or placing more importance on money than it deserves, is a recipe for unhappiness. Instead, use your money to improve the lives of yourselves and others. As the old saying goes, “You never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.”

There you have it. 5 secrets of financial success hidden behind the word cliché. The job each of us has is to not let these powerful words of wisdom lose their impact due to their simplicity and because we hear them so often. They may be clichés, but if you take them seriously and put them into practice the results will be impressive.  

And don’t forget: Eat more vegetables.

What am I missing? What clichés can you think of that are financial equivalents of eat more vegetables?  I would love to hear everyone’s ideas. 

  4 comments for “5 Secrets of Financial Success Hidden Behind the Word Cliché

  1. Master_Duke
    May 25, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    Love how you showed the opposites, never really thought about that piece much. We totally agree spending less than you earn => fundamental! Thanks for sharing.

    • Brent Esplin
      May 25, 2017 at 4:17 pm

      Thanks. I found the opposing clichés interesting as well. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that most advice, even if it is good advice, only applies in some situations. Taking the approach of eliminating financial clichés with good opposing arguments allowed me to focus on just the very most basic rules of finance.

  2. May 26, 2017 at 5:08 am

    The opposites contradicting them were my favorite 🙂

    And actually, i have one for your “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is: ”

    Index investing! I still can’t get over how easy and simple it is, all the time while putting in zero effort and watching the $$$$ climb! A dream if I’ve ever heard of one! 🙂

    • Brent Esplin
      May 26, 2017 at 6:55 am

      I have to agree with you about index funds. In fact, I once wrote a post about index funds called “Investing News That’s Too Good to Be True.” I can’t think of another area of life where the easiest method to what appears to be a complicated problem is also the best method. We all owe John C. Bogle a debt of gratitude for having the foresight and courage to go against conventional wisdom and give us index funds. Thanks for pointing that out.

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