March Madness Reminds There Are No Cinderellas

With NCAA College Basketball’s March Madness in full swing, and Northern Iowa’s ousting of number one seed Kansas over the weekend, I thought a post about “Cinderellas” would be particularly appropriate. I’m not referring to the Cinderella, the step-daughter turned Disney princess. I am referring to a dark-horse team, usually from a small conference, that knocks off the top seeds to make a run at the Final Four.

Photo by Stu Seeger

There are No Cinderellas

I would argue that there is no such thing as a Cinderella team. The label is frequently used to slight their accomplishments by insinuating “they got lucky.” Sometimes luck plays a part in it, but most Cinderellas pull off the upset because they out-worked, out-hustled, out-coached, and out-played their opponent. The pinnacle moment in their sports careers comes as a result of hours of preparation, workouts, practice, and film study.

How does this apply to finances? Many of the wealthiest people in our country are also some of the most envied. Sure, we all would like to be Bill Gates for a day, but why do so many people speak ill of successful people like Gates? Is it jealousy? Or is it the realization that they don’t have the fortitude, the work ethic, the determination to be as successful as those in the wealthy class.

“Well it is easy to build wealth if you receive an inheritance.” Believe it or not, most millionaires are self-made, first-generation rich. They do not stand to inherit a large sum of money like Paris Hilton. They did not strike it rich in the lottery, or win a giant lawsuit. They worked every single day for many, many years at their craft. They built multi-million dollar businesses from card tables in their garages or dorm rooms.

They led large corporations of hundreds of employees. They spent hundreds of hours writing, editing and marketing their book ideas to anyone who would listen. These self-made millionaires did not become overnight successes.

How to Become a Financial “Cinderella?”

  • Get out of debt. Carrying around debt is like trying to climb Mt. Everest with a hundred pound weight tied to your back. It is just impossible to become a financial success while carrying around debt.
  • Don’t mortgage away your future. When you get pre-approved for a mortgage your lender will likely provide a maximum mortgage that’s way out of your price range. Ignore their number. I personally wouldn’t tie up more than 20% of my take-home pay in housing. Doing so would mean less to save and invest, and that’s a trade off I’m not willing to make to enjoy a little extra square footage.
  • Stop trying to impress strangers at a red light. The average new car payment in America is approaching $500 a month. Sell that sporty new car, buy an older, reliable, used car with cash and drive it until the wheels fall off. Keep driving used cars the remainder of your life and deposit that $500 into a mutual fund every single month. In thirty years you will become a millionaire.
  • Turn off the television and read to learn something. Knowing the last five winners of American Idol won’t make you a success. Studying the habits of highly successful people will.
  • Practice frugality in all areas of your life. Buy clothes on sale; and only when you need them. Avoid paying for name brands when quality alternatives, or homemade solutions, exist. Be a frugal grocery shopper. Eat at home; it is healthier and less expensive. Invest in yourself; you will live longer and pay less for it in medical bills and insurance premiums.

Finally, after a couple decades of sacrifice, determination, and dedication you could become an overnight success, and be called a financial “Cinderella” yourself.

*This post appeared in the Carnival of Personal Finance – Relaunch Edition


  1. I have a “Cinderella” friend who left the workplace to pursue a wealth-enhancing career. He was about 35 at the time. People at work said “he probably won the lottery…”

  2. “Success is the result of small efforts repeated day in and day out,” Robert Collier.

    Even now, my friends view me as a Cinderalla because I’m able to finance my lifestyle with cash and generally enjoy my job and career trajectory. The stark truth is that I started working for this in high school, doing well in school and broadening my horizons through extracurriculars, mentors, internships, . . . . I still do all those things.

    The more interesting part is that some of my family members consider view me as Cinderlla. For the most part, we all started with similar reousrces. Now, they see the result of my hard work, but forget to connect the dots about how I got here. If people close to me cannot see the string of hardwork, it’s no suprise that others cannot.

    As a society, we want successful people to be Cinderalla’s, to avoid questioning why we aren’t succussful.

  3. Some nice motivational-style thinking for a Monday.

    When I think of Cinderella, I think of the very cream of the crop, top-notch financial success. Per the wikipedia article “millionaire”, there are around 840,000 households in the USA that meet this criterion (fewer than 1% of US households). Factoring inflation over 30 years (let’s pray it stays at 3% average), you’d need a little more than double that balance if you’re starting today. That means you will need at least one of the following: a very high income (mid six figures, I’d guess) combined with frugal living and aggressive investments or open a very successful business and grow it beyond a “mom and pop” shop. To become a Bill Gates requires something beyond the tried and true basics of living below your means, debt-free, and dollar-cost averaging your mutual funds for 30 years. Though these practices will certainly put you in a better position than 90% of people, it’s still not exactly a fairy-tale princess lifestyle.

    I’m not aiming for Cinderella: I want to generate enough “passive” income to completely replace my salary and benefits package. I do this through a combination of investing 15% of my pre-tax income, owning rental property, and being completely debt free. If everything goes as planned (always uncertain to a degree) I should achieve my goal in about 14 years.

  4. Good points for growing wealth!

    We’re working on being completely debt free right now by overpaying our car loan (we just started paying $500 instead of $330) and our mortgage (we have been paying $900 instead of $730 since we bought our home and will increase that when the car is paid off).

    The car note that will be paid off in 2011 (2 years earlier than the scheduled 5 years) and our mortgage is currently on track to be paid off by the end of 2017 or earlier (4 years or more earlier than the scheduled 15 years).

    We have problems turning off the tv, but we have other hobbies too. We also don’t live as frugally as we could, but we do take our discretionary expenses seriously…we think it out and decide whether it’s worth it for us before we spend.

    I need to start paying attention to exercise…

    Anyway, great points!

  5. Building on the comment about TV: Don’t forget that time is money. Be frugal with your time as with your money. Time could be spent to learn something new, start a side business, etc.

    And relatedly, one secret to living on a small income is that it takes time to spend money

  6. Does anyone else find it odd that a post telling us to turn off the TV also assumes that readers are following college basketball? Just a random observation.

  7. Great posts! You made some wonderful points, I should take some of my TV time and use it towards something more useful, though you can learn things on TV as well depending on the shows you are watching.

    Meg – funny observation!

  8. @Meg: Ha! You got me! Actually, I do watch the occasional game. It’s the only other thing I watch on television other than the news.

  9. Did i just see “Paris Hilton” mentioned here?? haha… is it bad that THAT was the only thing I saw when I was skimming this? 😉

  10. Good article! I follow your website on and off. I am not big fan of basket ball but I can relate your cinderalla thing in other areas. There is surely nothing like Financial cinderallas.

    If you take the 2010 forbes world billionaires, most of them are self made billionaires except few. Their is a saying, “YOu can get rich in two ways, either by birth or by marriage”. These are easy ways to get rich but whther they can be rich depends on their ability to work hard to keep the money. Thats the tough part.

    Your hardcore 5 tips are great, it helps to grow your money you earn and takes long time but to become a millionaire before your life time ends. You can invest on your ideas like others who made it and never quit on them. Thats the key part.