An old formula for making money

I picked up a copy of a financial classic today: How to Make a Fortune Today, Starting From Scratch by William Nickerson. In it, he presents a proven, old formula for making money.

While I don’t necessarily agree with everything Nickerson says, I’m not a millionaire and Nickerson was by the time he was my age (or well on his way at least). And his tactics are far, far safer than anyone writing about money today.

Nickerson stumbled upon his wealth by accident. In the early 1930s, he and his wife got married and he put them through school working in sales. When he got a job at the old Bell System for $15 a week, they started saving $3 per week because they were used to living on $12. They lived in a run down apartment and they managed to talk their landlady into letting them do some simple improvements. She liked it and fixed all of her apartments up like theirs. Then she raised the rent, including theirs.

They decided that if a few dollars’ worth of cheap, fast improvements could raise the value of an apartment by 25%, they should try it themselves. So once they had enough money for a downpayment, they went and found a house with potential. That means it would have been the house they wanted, if it weren’t so run down. They bought it, fixed it up, and saved until they could afford another downpayment.

After 17 years, he quit his job at Bell. I’m not sure if he was a millionaire at that point, or if he was merely making more off his real estate than he was selling phones.

But along the way, he published his formula in book form and for a time gave seminars as well. By the time he revised the book that made him famous for the last time, he was worth more than $5 million. Unlike many financial authors, he died an old man and free of scandal, aged 91 in 1999.

Nickerson wasn’t a debt-free advocate, and that’s the main place I disagree with him. But Nickerson wasn’t a no-money-down guy either. He said to put 25% down, which is much more than most modern real estate authors say. But it seems many of those modern authors die young and broke.

I’m going to finish reading Nickerson and give him a chance. After all, he was a multimillionaire and I’m not. And he’s a financial legend and I’m not. So he must have known some things I don’t.

Nickerson’s books tend to be expensive, because they work. But for whatever reason How to Make a Fortune Today doesn’t cost a lot right now. Maybe the economic downturn soured people’s interest in him. If you’ve read Rich Dad, Poor Dad and didn’t like its lack of specifics, try Nickerson. Nickerson stated over and over that people tried his formula in good times and bad, and in every part of the United States. It worked for them in all cases.

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