The Difference: How Anyone Can Prosper in Even the Toughest Times is not the first book to describe research-based characteristics of the wealthy. Dozens of books about millionaires have been written during the last two decades starting with The Millionaire Next Door in 1996. What sets this book apart is the motivational writing style of its author, financial journalist and speaker Jean Chatzky, and its setting within the context of the aftermath of the financial crisis. It also describes personality traits, as well as financial practices, associated with financial success.

This 255-page book includes 12 chapters that describe differences between four groups of people: Wealthy, Financially Comfortable, Paycheck-to-Paycheck, and Further-In Debtors who, respectfully, comprise 3, 27, 55, and 15 percent of the U.S. population. The Difference is framed around results of the 2008 Merrill Lynch New Retirement Study conducted by Harris Interactive with a sample size of more than 5,000 individuals. At the end of each chapter is an interview-style profile of a financially successful person.

In the Introduction, readers are provided with an overview of the research study and layout of the book. In Chapter 1, Meet the Neighbors, the four groups are described in detail along with 20 key factors that explain “The Difference.” Included are: saving regularly for emergencies, investing for retirement, buying stock, reducing debt, clear financial and career goals, confidence, optimism, happiness, a college degree, socialization with friends, regular exercise, regular newspaper readership, and marriage.

In Chapter 2, Choosing The Difference, Chatzky tells readers they “have to want” The Difference because “it will-in all likelihood- occasionally put up a fight. The Difference is a choice that you make each day.” The chapter also describes research findings about financial goal-setting. In Chapter 3, Do I Have to Be a Rocket Scientist or a Ph.D.? , she discusses linkages between education and income and in Chapter 4, Ding, Dong, Your Passion Is Calling, she describes the impact of one’s job on wealth creation. Chatzky offers readers two options: do what you love or learn to love what you do.

Get Happy (But Not Too Happy) is the title of Chapter 5, which explores relationships between wealth, happiness, and optimism, including a 10-question Life Orientation Test. Chapter 6, In Praise of the Do-Over, explores the concept of resilience and various coping strategies. Chapter 7, Taking Risks That Make Sense, describes how people take risks (or not) in life and Chapter 8, The Kevin Bacon Principle, describes the importance of social ties and selfconfidence.
Chapter 9, Grazie, describes the importance of gratitude, a personality characteristic that can be learned. Chapter 10, Working Hard and Smart, includes a 20 question conscientiousness assessment and discussion of another trait of the financially successful that Chatzky calls “grit.” People with grit work hard and succeed on the job, which leads to financial success.

In Chapter 11, The Healing Power of Savings, Chatzky notes that habitual savings was identified in the study as the most important factor in reaching a financially comfortable status. For wealthy respondents, it ranked #2 after “sound investing.” The chapter includes the Ballpark E$timate retirement savings tool and a discussion of behavioral finance concepts, savings obstacles, compound interest illustrations, and more. Chapter 12, Make Your Money Work For You, describes the wealth-building power of stocks.

The Difference is an enjoyable read and includes stories about the author’s own life. It also includes snippets of dozens of research studies (in addition to the Merrill Lynch study) and interviews with academics. The book proves once again that wealthy people have a set of unique traits and behaviors that others can emulate. While some of these involve financial resources, others involve a person’s mindset and lifestyle choices.


Barbara O’Neill is Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management for Rutgers Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at 848-932-9126 or oneill@aesop.rutgers.edu. She also tweets daily financial education messages on Twitter at http://twitter.com/moneytalk1.

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