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The Ethics of Becoming Wealthy

   Posted On: September 18, 2013  |    Posted In: Millennials  |     Posted by: Broke Millennial®

During college, I spent three years working for “the man.” I counseled and policed my peers in exchange for not just thousands of dollars from the university, but my first experience with corruption. In my rookie year on the force, I mean as an RA, our policy with alcohol was to confiscate it from a dorm room, bring the offending beverages down to our office and call security at the end of the night to pick it up. Suddenly, the policy changed. Instead of bringing the full containers down to our office we had to escort under-aged students to the bathroom where they were required to dump all their booze. Naturally, students were inclined to be total sweethearts while we forced them to literally dump their money down the drain.

The sight of Mr. Boston still activates my gag reflex.

After a few weekends of verbal abuse, and a few attempts at physical, from our sober and disgruntled residents, the RAs began to ask why the sudden policy change? After some stealthy digging I learned a few RAs had taken advantage of our old system and started sneaking confiscated alcohol back into their rooms at the end of the night. Once our superiors caught wind of this practice, the offenders were fired and the rest of us had to deal with forcing freshmen to dump 30-racks of Natty Light into the bathroom sink.

The story is silly, but was my first innocent experience with a person in power abusing their privilege to better his or her own situation. In this case, to get drunk at the expensive of doe-eyed freshmen. But say these same people had the opportunity to skim a little money off the top, perhaps they would’ve seen that as no more harmful than pocketing cheap booze. There are a set of ethics for becoming wealthy,  but are we all operating with the same rules?

There are plenty of legal ways to earn money in addition to a base salary, especially if you’re in a financial bind.
Here a few ideas and my take on them:

  • Sell blood or plasma (I prefer to donate, but I understand selling if you need money.)
  • Babysit, housesit, petsit (Absolutely!)
  • Sell things unused items (Obviously)
  • Yard Sale (If I had a yard and more possessions I would have a yard sale.)
  • Medical tests (Really depends on the type of testing…50/50 on this one.)
  • Go Scavenging (Been there done that.)
  • Create a side hustle (my roommate and I had the brilliant idea of renting out our empty front room as storage and call our business A-STORE-IA. Then a friend mentioned the likelihood of getting bedbugs…)
  • Donate eggs (NO!)
  • Be a surrogate (For money, no. For a dear friend or relative, ehhh maybe?)

But those aren’t likely to make you wealthy. Temporarily they’ll increase your bank account, but they aren’t a long-term solution.

A few friends and I tried to have a yard sale in Shanghai before we left for college. People didn’t really understand the concept.

In order to amass wealth, I truly believe you need to invest , save and live below your means. Otherwise, you better be invent an extremely profitable product, create a powerhouse business or be heir to a large inheritance. The ethics of investing are obviously fluid to some people. Embezzlement, insider trading and Ponzi schemes all can make the average-Joes wary about parting with their hard-earned money. The only way to counteract these fears is to educate yourself and thoroughly vet anyone, or any institution, you plan to entrust with your money. This way you can also be sure your money is being handled ethically and even invested in companies you believe behave ethically.

What would you deem as ethical ways to become wealthy or earn money? Would you do something legal, but possibly unethical?

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35 responses to “The Ethics of Becoming Wealthy

  1. “The only way to counteract these fears is to educate yourself and thoroughly vet anyone, or any institution, you plan to entrust with your money.” This is such an important point. It doesn’t make sense to assume that people have your best interests at heart, and doing so certainly doesn’t give you the right to complain when you find out they don’t. There are plenty of legal, ethical ways to build wealth but you have to take charge and actually do them yourself.

    1. Thanks, Matt! It’s a shame how many people don’t uphold ethical standards when it comes to handling money. There are good ones out there though!

  2. I work really hard to do things ethically, even if it’s easy to do the wrong thing to save money — e.g. I don’t take discounts meant for active military even though I still hold the ID, don’t download music illegally, etc. — because it’s the right thing to do… And in some karmic way, believe it would come back to haunt me.

    As for building wealth, I agree with you. There are several boring ways too — become an energy engineer (petroleum, nuclear, whatever…), work for the man, and quietly max every possible retirement vehicle out there into boring old index funds.

    But even this, obviously, would take a lot of effort, and a lot of initiative to learn a profession and learn your options.

    1. Even working for the man is often not enough. If you aren’t investing you won’t accumulate enough for wealth. It astounds me when people don’t take advantage of 401k options (especially employer matched). And really great for you to only take discounts you qualify for. I do still flash my student ID on occasion.

  3. My father taught me that money should be used to create joy for myself and others and I can’t do that if I earned my money illegally or unethically. Plus, I want to be a good role model for the girls. 🙂 So I work hard, invest my money, live within my means and spend my money on what matters most to me and my family.

  4. Great post. I do agree that “earning extra income” is good in the short-term, but won’t make you wealthy in the long-term.

    I also try to live my life by ethics, rather only by legal restrictions alone.

    1. It is great for short-term, but few side-hustles will make you rich. I also like your point about living by ethics as well as legal restrictions.

  5. I agree with you. There is no get rich quick shortcut.

    For me ethics also extends to the kinds of industries I would be willing to work in (thought of course in dire straits beggars can’t be choosers). I wouldn’t be interested in working in tobacco or gambling, or possibly even oil/mining.

    1. Absolutely, people do (and should) care about the ethics of the companies they’re investing in. That’s why it’s also important to know where your money is going if you “blindly” open up an index or mutual fund.

  6. FInding side-jobs related to your career could also help in providing a small revenue source while also building up your career network. Ask professors and colleagues about options. Just make sure you don’t take on small jobs that will conflict with current job. Always good to get the go-ahead from your employer.

  7. I worked as an RA and remember forcing freshmen to dump their booze down the drain. I remember one occurrence where a student decided to start slamming cans of beer rather than waste their money. It was not a fun night. Of course, I remember being very laid back that only the obnoxious idiots got caught. I didn’t check in on residents unless the noise was blatantly obvious.

    1. We had to do rounds and I’d only knock if the noise could be heard down the hall or we got called with a noise complaint. It always cracked me up how people tried to hide their booze. We would hear drawers and fridge doors slammed and people whisper-yelling to each other. I’d have to try to crack up when the door finally got opened 3 minutes after we knocked.

  8. When I was in grad school I worked for my university as an “alcohol proctor”. It was a pretty sweet gig. I got paid $20 an hour to monitor drinking at university sanctioned events. My favorite “event” to watch? The university bartending course. We checked IDs then watched the instructors and their friends get sloshed while the “students” made drinks for their final exam.

  9. Sadly, it doesn’t surprise me that the RA’s were abusing the former policy. I always try to make ethical choices. I believe working harder creates a bigger sense of accomplishment and is more rewarding, as opposed to “cheating” and cutting corners. So I’ll be taking the old fashioned route to wealth – working a lot, saving, investing, and generally making smart choices where money is concerned.

    1. Smart choices are the often neglected way to get rich! Long-term smart choices that is. I also try to make ethical choices too. It wouldn’t feel rewarding if I didn’t.

  10. I am not a seller but I consider ethical to sell something to people who are fully informed and prepared to pay for it, like selling a piece of clothing 1,000 times the price because it says Dior on it, and unethical if you hide information, even if you give a “good price”.

    1. I think it would be hard to work in the financial industry if you’re required to peddle a product you don’t believe in just to make a commission.

    1. There absolutely are a ton of side hustles that are ethical. But I don’t think side hustles are the way to wealth either. They help, but you need more than some money coming in on the side.

  11. Great post here Erin! I donated plasma for a bit and it was just too horrible on my body. I have small veins and the needle would always get screwy and I’d end up having horrible bruises on my arm.

    Interesting story about you having to dump alcohol down the toilet. Sad that people were abusing the power.

  12. Why I would do something legal, albeit unethical would mean I was at a very desperate place in life where I knew I had to take care of my family or something like that. Other than that, I would just try my best at as many legal and ethical side hustles as possible.

  13. It’s impossible to become wealthy without being unethical. Every business, every person that does so does it at the expense of killing or making others very poor. And don’t fool yourself for one second thinking you’ll get rich with a job. Reality check: massive immigration, taxes, and inflation to come in the next 20 years. 200k is chump change. If you’re in your 20s, you better be making 1 million or more annually if you ever hope to get there.

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