Growing up, I was a terrible baseball player. Far better with my feet than with my hands -- soccer was my preferred sport -- my Little League career consisted of bunting to get on base.
All of 80 pounds, I'd be lucky to hit a ball into the outfield. Being short, my strike zone went from my ankles to my chin. Knowing that, my coaches insisted I bat first. Bunt to get on base. Then two pitches later I could be on third, fast enough to steal whatever base I wanted, when I wanted.
One wild pitch or a distracted pitcher later, I'd be stealing home. It wasn't pretty, but it worked.
Getting rich the easy way: There are hundreds of baseball players in Major League Baseball. They'll make millions of dollars during their careers for being a one-in-a-million talent, being able to differentiate between a fastball and a curveball in a fraction of a second. They have something that you and I don't -- something that we'll never have, no matter how hard we practice.
And they're going to get rich for honing their skills. Many dream of getting the kind of paychecks MLB players earn for playing a game. What could be better than getting rich playing a sport you love? Not much.
But the truth is they're getting rich the hard way. They're putting in long hours from childhood to college, just hoping that they're the next one-in-a-million person to make it big in pro baseball. It's a small club by design. The odds of getting in are assuredly low -- as low as they could ever be.
These are truly exceptional people who have done truly exceptional things. We should only hope that they get rich for working hard, and working intelligently.
But there is an easier route to getting rich. A much easier route.
The easiest way to be exceptional: In 2014, the American savings rate wavered between 4% and 5% -- roughly equal to one paycheck a year. And although we set aside money for different reasons, be it for a vacation or for an eventual retirement, we're saving less than a nickel of every dollar in income.
But what if I could practically guarantee you'd have more wealth than you'd ever need just by being exceptional in a different way? What if you could do what few can do by saving a slice of your income, and investing it patiently?
In a country where a 4%-5% savings rate is average, 15% to 20% is outstanding. In a stock market where mutual funds are held for an average of 3.3 years, holding for 20 tp 40 years is remarkable.
I'm not talking about making big sacrifices, here, just avoiding missteps where they really matter. Think things like living in a 1,800 square foot home instead of a 2,500 square foot home, or driving a reliable and efficient Japanese car instead of an expensive and less reliable European sports car.
How about firing your expensive financial planner in favor of a simple, do-it-yourself portfolio? Think low-cost index funds that track the market -- I'm not asking you to find the next Amazon (Tech30) or , Apple (Tech30) here. Even shopping around for the best prices on routine monthly expenses like cable or insurance will add up to significant amounts of money. This isn't rocket science. ,
Saving slightly more money and having more patience than the average person is undoubtedly easier than playing professional sports. Yet, for all the millions of people who dream of being a major league sports star for the chance at wealth, just a handful see that saving more money provides the certainty of wealth.
I'll never play a major league sport -- and that's OK. I don't need to. Playing major league personal finance is easier, and it begets a similar result.
Jordan Wathen is a value investor who writes for The Motley Fool.