How not to get super-rich: the passive income scam

Scroll down ↓


You’ve heard it hocked by every “get rich quick” speaker and author for decades. Forget about passion, meaning, significance and just devote all your time to creating passive streams of income. You know, start a franchise, rent properties, write a book, create a viral information concept, rent billboards.

Easy schmeezy! Just buy it, build it, get it going, then let it run itself and throw off millions while you to just kick back on the beach and watch your bank account soar.

Problem is…the “passive income” approach to wealth is largely a big, fat scam!

I could rant for hours on this, but, instead, I’ve always found the best way to get somewhere is to look at people who are already there and see what commonalities arise in the methods they used to get where you’re thinking of going.

So, for those of you who aspire to fabulous wealth, here are some eye-opening facts about the richest 1% of people in the U.S….and how they got there. According to a recent SmartMoney report of The Harrison Group’s latest wealth survey:

  • The number of pentamillionaires, people worth more than $5 million dollars (excluding home value), in the U.S. has quadrupled in 10 years to 930,000
  • Only 10% inherited their wealth
  • 70% of big-family fortunes are less than 13 years old…it’s mostly new money created by entrepreneurs.
  • 80% started their own businesses or worked for a small-business that exploded.
  • Most did not accumulate the bulk of their fortunes over time, but rather in a fairly short burst after years of hard work.
  • Most of this new money is generated by risk-takers for whom “wealth is a byproduct of pursuing their passion.”
  • For most, money was not much of a motivator. Solving a problem or improving on something that existed was.
  • Only 10% of their wealth was attributed to passive investments.

What does all this tell you about acquiring super-wealth?

You’ve got to work at it…really, really hard, often for years. It may not come until you’re on the verge of giving up. And, the prime motivator is rarely the desire to get rich or retire early, but rather the mad-passion to solve a problem, make a difference or do something better.

Of course, this is a bit funny, too, in light of the recent rambling I’ve been hearing about blogging being an amazing way to generate passive income…oh, sorry, I think I just gave myself a hernia laughing.

Maybe, for a cadre of bloggers I can count on one hand who’ve accumulated a massive enough library of evergeen content to generate attention and revenue for years to come, this is true. But, guess what, it took them years of hard work to amass this “passive-income generating asset.

Are there quirky exceptions, especially in the tech-world? Sure. But, I wouldn’t hang your uber-wealth hat on being one of them.

Does this all mean I don’t wanna be rich?

Um, no! I do. I want to live a nice life and give my family what they need to be comfortable. But, I will create this as a by-product of loving what I do and who I do it with, adding meaning to the world and and living a significant life. Not, as the result of a quest to create passive income devoid of passionate genesis.

Honestly, the real reason I want to be rich is to be in a position, after taking care of my family, to be able to give it all away…to be a conduit!

Food for thought.

So, what do you guys think? Share your thoughts in the comments…

Join our Email List for Weekly Updates

And join this amazing community of makers and doers. You know you wanna...

54 responses

54 responses to “How not to get super-rich: the passive income scam”

  1. I think passive income, like most financial information on the internet, is aimed at keeping middle class people more comfortably middle class.

    This blew my mind when I started looking at the financial section of It looked NOTHING like AOL’s money or MSN finance. The subject matter was totally different.

    I suspect that most finance blogs that make money off of passive income (aka point-and-click advertising) are blogs that other finance bloggers read. I could be wrong, though, but it does seem like a self-contained circle of finance bloggerhood with everyone saying just about the same thing.

  2. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Hayden – I think the “lure” of being able to just kick back and your magic money-machine take care of you if huge, so it’s an easy thing to peddle. It also preys on the fact that most people do not love what they do and would love to find a way to stop doing it sooner, rather than later. BUt, you are definitely right, when you look at the people who’ve a substantial living, like the study revealed, the way they go about making it usually very “active.”

  3. Evan Burton says:

    I think that the key to wealth is to focus all of your efforts into doing what you think will offer the most to the world. If you just focus all of your passion into offering your talent to the world then the money will come. I believe it works in terms of Karma in the fact that the more peoples lives you help change for the better then the more you will be rewarded. The second we take our minds off of the money aspect is when it starts to happen effortlessly for us. Share your love with the world and it will share it back, this is a universal law that we cannot escape!

    As far as these get rich quick programs go, most of the money being made in those businesses is from poor suckers signing up and paying the $200 sign up fees. You can always tell this is the case when the recruiters talk more about the money to be made and not about the product you will be selling. In order for it to be legitimate, there has to be a good product or service backing it and that should be at the forefront of their business pitch.

    Amazing article as always Jonathan

  4. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Evan – I agree that doing something meaningful is optimal. And, that’s not too hard to do when you are younger and don’t have a lot on the line.

    But, also, being of an age where I have some pretty substantial financial responsibilities, I think the process needs to be different. If you want to transition to a meaning/passion-driven career later in life, rather than trusting whatever you need will come, you need to be seriously proactive and think outside the box to “make” what you need to live on come from doing something that also delivers great meaning, both to you and to the greater community.

    This is a tall order and it’s something I’ll be writing about in a lot more detail over the coming months.

  5. Cathy says:

    I’m not sure where to start; I’m of two minds. The first is that I’ve looked into making a living from doing something that I love (teaching at a local zoo for instance) and I just don’t see that it’s possible to pay the bills this way. Quitting my obligations to follow my bliss will make me broke.

    On the other hand, I’ve spent more years than I would have liked working just to make someone else loads of money and me not that much money.

    There must be a middle ground – a place where we can make enough money to pay the bills and give some away, while at the same time still working hard at tasks we enjoy and that also give back in some way.

    Perhaps that’s the secret. It’s certainly not an out of the box passive income website.

  6. Adeline says:

    I am at a point in my life where following my passion and helping others live their best life is a win-win and I am sure that it will provide enough income to allow me to continue to do what I love for many years to come. Living your life in a way that is true to your intentions is much more than living a certain “lifestyle” that often is dictated by others around you. If you can’t quit a job that is not satisfying (although I did with a financial downside at the moment); then make a commitment to spend some time each day in an area of interest that has meaning to you and day by day you will be directed in the path you are meant to go.

  7. Lisa says:

    I love the way you write. I love how practical and useful all your articles are. I love what you wrote:
    “You’ve got to work at it…really, really hard, often for years. It may not come until you’re on the verge of giving up. And, the prime motivator is rarely the desire to get rich or retire early, but rather the mad-passion to solve a problem, make a difference or do something better.”
    That is so awesome. And true. Thank you.

  8. Evan Burton says:

    I agree Jonathan. That is what I have done in my young age. I think pretty much everybody has to go out and do a rinky dink job in the beginning just to survive but its the light at the end of the tunnel that will give you the motivation. You need to use your normal everyday job to fund your dream job into actuality. And for those people who think “I love my job and it helps people but there is no way I can make good money from it”, it’s always going to be hard to do that as long as you work for somebody else. While you work for them you are realizing THEIR dreams, not yours. If you look inside yourself, there is something that you were born to do waiting to break out and change the world for the better. It’s just a matter of finding that one thing and turning it into your reality.

  9. Cathy says:

    Wow, I realize after coming back to read my comment and the others after mine that I must have been in a down mood yesterday. 🙂

    @Adeline – I love what you said “Make a commitment to spend some time each day in an area of interest that has meaning to you and day by day you will be directed in the path you are meant to go.” I am doing that, but failed to mention it. Thank you for the reminder that following your dreams is a process and it may take some time.

    @Lisa – Thank you for pointing out that sentence from the post, and thank you Jonathan for writing it. Even though I’m in my early 30s, which is young in the span of things, I have felt lately like I’ve been working really hard and ready to give up. But, I’m not giving up. I’m doing little things every day to get me closer to my goal of being a full time activist.

    @Evan – Thank you for the reminder that working for someone else is helping me live their dreams, not mine. It does help me to put my employment in a different light. While I do need that income for now, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and working for someone else won’t last forever.

    I’m so glad I found this blog – Jonathan, your posts are inspiring to me. And the comments are inspiring as well. Thanks everyone!

  10. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Cathy – Love your insights (in both comments, heehee!). It actually just reinforces how tied our actions and inspiration our current state of being is. I’ll be writing lot’s more on this topic, so stay tuned..

    @Adeline – totally agree, sometimes you can’t just make a jump, so an incremental approach lets to “dip your toes” a bit and begin to add a bit of passion to various areas of your life!

    @ Evan – I agree that, very often, entrepreneurship holds a lot of the answers, but not always. I love it, but a lot of people also aren’t best served by it. You can, though, become more entrepreneurial within your current field or job in an effort to bring more meaning to what you do. I think where I differ, though, is in the paying your dues area. In some field, like medicine, I agree, it’s a must, but in many others, boldness and visionary thinking can allow you to leapfrog a lot of the dues-paying drudgery that keeps a lot of people locked into doing something they don’t enjoy for years. It’s not easy, but it is very doable.

  11. Evan Burton says:

    I’m only 23 years old so my knowledge may be limited on the subject but I thought the same thing as you when I was first coming out into the working world. What I wanted to to with my life was be a musician and spread my message through music to the world. I would laugh at the idea of having to pay your dues (so prevalent in the music industry) because I thought “if you are good, you are good and people will notice you and you will make it. The people who whine about paying your dues are just not good enough to make it and are denying that fact”. So about a year went by since the forming of our band and KABOOM, we got signed to a major production contract. We were recording our album in a multi million dollar studio with a world renowned producer who was promising us famous guest musicians on our first record and shows with huge bands. “Pay your dues my ass!” we would joke.

    About a month into it, our producer went bankrupt.
    It all went away and we were back at square one. Now almost 2 years later, we are still paying our dues and playing shows and touring around the country in a van and lugging our heavy equipment while hoping for our next big break.

    Like it said in your article, most of these pentamillionairs became rich in one big burst after years of hard work. This shows the there was a point at which their hard work paid off for than and a long time before that in which they were paying their dues. I can see that today’s technology/internet age has the potential to make people rich quick when they have the right idea, but most of us are faced with the reality of having to start our own business which takes a lot of money and a lot of patience and time!

    The harder the battle, the sweater the victory!

  12. […] Jonathan Fields over at Awake at the Wheel wrote a great blog post yesterday about how many people nowadays are trying to blog because they want to quit their day jobs and make money easily. He says “passive income” is a big scam, and he’s absolutely right. […]

  13. Seorsa says:

    I have some friends who work to well paying jobs (manager and pilot), own 2 business (tanning salons) that they both put lots of hours into. They also own rental properties in 2 parts of the country.

    Is this a good income? Who knows. they only check the account once or twice a year (one of their family mebers stays on top of the finances).

    Because they ignore it, it probably will be a great passive strem one day. But they put tons of research and analysis before picking a part of the country to invest in, they didn’t just “buy forclosures,” or dillapidated rentals in their town.

    I regret spending so much time focused on earning money, rather than saving it. I took my Social Secyurity report and recently figured what my wife and I have earned in our 30 years of working (we are 46): $1.5 Million!!!

    ALthough I have about 150K in retirement savings, 3 pensions, 40K in home equity, I spend everything else.

    Our incomes are so high right now that we really need to save or it will be embarassing.

  14. […] How not to get super-rich- the passive income scam – Learn what the super-rich do and copy their […]

  15. […] Okay, so I pretty much called the whole “get rich from passive-income” thing a big, fat scam! […]

  16. […] How not to get super-rich: the passive income scam Some harsh words for the idea of passive income. I think part of the challenge is how to define passive income. One of the commenters offered a pretty good insight, too: “I think passive income, like most financial information on the internet, is aimed at keeping middle class people more comfortably middle class.” I could write a whole post on that idea alone… in fact… be patient! (@ jonathan fields / awake at the wheel) […]

  17. […] In my morning roundup today, I made an offhand reference to a comment from Hayden Tompkins about passive income: I think passive income, like most financial information on the internet, is aimed at keeping […]

  18. nelika says:

    The fact that by far and large most millionaires worked extremely hard is reassuring because it means if I choose to work hard and make the sacrifices of time, sleep sometimes even family, solve a problem or follow my passion, all of which require “a great deal” of effort on my part effort I can use far less constructively but is by far the less stressful – to watch television,laze around or even sleep………..choosing to stretch myself is most likely to lead to wealth……and if I choose not to do these things because it seems as too much effort ………I can’t really complain if I am not rich.

  19. […] A recent blog conversation mentioned on The Simple Dollar started me thinking about wealth and quality of life. One of the participants wrote I think passive income, like most financial information on the internet, is aimed at keeping middle class people more comfortably middle class. (comment on this post) […]

  20. natasha says:

    Money comes easily and frequently. Money comes easily and frequently. Money comes easily and frequently.


  21. I don’t think anyone ever said you can get super-rich from passive income.

    however, you can generate some passive income that over time will become enough to live off of.

  22. Frank Marais says:

    Those who preach the gospel of “get rich quick via passive income!” are false ‘profits’!
    However, those who preach the gospel of “creating a passive income rather than leaving your money in a fruitless bank account” or as an “umbrella for a rainy day” deserve an offering!
    Job security is a myth!
    Can I pass the offering basket!
    Thank God for passive income.

  23. You’re right, passive income does take effort to make it happen, and in the online world it is possible, provided the entrepreneur has the commitment to make it work. Of course ‘passive’ is probably not correct for the majority of people, but it is certainly possible, after a few months of preparation, to reduce the number of hours normally worked through normal employment and enjoy a 5 or 6 figure income from a few hours a week of online activity.

  24. getitornot says:

    I am very suprised at the statistic that only “Only 10% inherited their wealth”

    I always thought thatw ould be alot higher as the generakl saying is you need money to make money. But then thats where the ‘risk takers’ come into things…

  25. Dudley says:

    I think the definition of passive income needs some visiting. Large passive incomes are not truely passive. Income streams need constant tweaking and monitoring as they will not self maintain. They would most like deteriorate over time.

  26. Donna says:

    I don’t want to get rich or quit my job. Just need to make $300 – $400 a month on the side and still meet my single Mom responsibilities. Is it too much to ask?

  27. Antonio says:

    Just don’t put all your eggs in one basket you know…the truth is often times somewhere between the extremes. There are too many people out there thinking they can solely rely on an Internet based blog which offers no real value but an empty promise of making people tons of money to make their dreams come true. And these people, with time, will find out that their dreams are, well, still in their minds. I do think that the desire to hear the promise of making lots of money is so huge that in a numbers game like the Internet is, it will indeed generate some money from newcomers.

    I agree with the fact that if passive income is to be sustainable there should be some product or service with real value behind it or else it is just destined to fade away. But for those passive income ideas which do offer real value for the buck there is hope. I have found GDI to be a value driven system and I invite you to explore it before you give up on passive income all in all. Visit http:\\\viejonono to find out about a legitimate way to make passive income. Good luck!

  28. […] of his passive income and outsourcing in the favor of traditional hard work. I also came across an article (from Awake at the Wheel) making the argument that this is not the way a person can really become […]

  29. Evan says:

    Hi, I haven’t had time to read all of the comments, but i have read your post. I think you are looking at passive income the wrong way. Passive income isn’t some get rich quick scheme in anyway. It is merely a tool, teaching people that there are business’s out there such as storage units which often require little to no maintenance, with merely no employees which can be incredibly profitable. Again this is to help you reach a better lifestyle than those who simply ignore it.

    Again there are many who claim it will make you rich, but in the long run it may or may not, either way renting property out can be profitable there is no argument there, its all on how you manage it. There are those that are and those that never will be, you need to be determined, ambitious, and undetered because failure makes us smarter as we can learn from thos mistakes.

    There are many other forms of passive income which no one can deny are profitable, its all a matter of how you choose to go about it. As i always say you never get rich by how much you make, but by how you invest it.

  30. Ah, Jonathan. You are my idol and mentor, without even knowing it. I have a fear and that is that the Internet marketing craze (and the shallow use of social networking) will spoil the experience for so many that we may never see the potential for self-actualization and community that lies there.

    No one says there is a damned thing wrong with making money, even passively, but you’d better CARE about how to do it. The world (and consumers) need stuff and services that fill a relevant need, not another useless plastic widget (or supplement).

    I think the Internet marketing guys (mostly) are making more money off of people buying their poorly produced dvds and attending their expensive workshops than they EVER did selling something online.

    Authentic. Relevant. Organic networking and business. That’s what we need from everyone.


  31. Catherine says:

    I agree that you do not get something for nothing.I have fallen for so many scams and am finally waking up to the fact that I need to work hard to get somewhere. The trouble with all of these passive income schemes is that they prey on people when they are at thir lowest and most desperate for money. I ended up getting into debt in pursuit of a better life and now I am still struggling to get out of it. These are more like ways to passively lose your money.

  32. Johannes says:

    I´m in this “income industry” since about one year, in the beginning it´s really hard to learn all the things you need, this is the time many people give up – most of them are speaking about scam; ok there is really much scam in this section, but also really fine opportunities to build some second income.

    And there will not be any passive income in the beginning (you are right in this point), to come there much work and much more learning is necessary!

    Rolf Sorg, one of the really successful networkers here in Germany said this in one wise sentence:

    “Network marketing only works if you know how it works – not, because one needs urgently money.”

    If someone is´nt willing to learn – he will fail!

    All my Best

  33. Steve says:

    Since 2005, I have purchased 3 multifamily properties that generate over $20,000 of monthly passive income. I just oversee the management.

    Prior to that I was just a realtor that skied and rode bikes alot. I just made multi-family properties my passion, took a few calculated risks, and it worked out.

    I had to comment because I disagree with your philosophy at the top of the page.


  34. Karen says:

    I’m sorry but I beg to differ also. I think you can set things up to generate passive income. It does exist. But it does take something kind of action: like investing such as Steve did above, working “smart” (I hate the phrase “work hard”),driving traffic to a website…etc…

    I still make money on products/services I promoted last year or even the year before. I did some work initially, and that is all it takes…work smart, put a system in place, promote, and earn passive income.

    The challenge is to ignore the hype. Most of the information you seek can be obtained for free or low-cost. You just have to do your research and think outside of the box.

  35. […] Jonathan Fields says he would be a conduit. He would give it all away, after taking care of his family and needs. Of course he would pick the places where it went, but basically he would send it off to the causes or places he believes in. […]

  36. Ellen says:

    The only passive income method I know of is online advertising for other advertisers. Although initially it certainly is not passive, a lot of work has to go into a website before it gets enough visitors to make advertisers interested in your site.

    You need to be committed and educated on a number of things such as SEO, html and webdesign.

  37. Jacob says:

    That is certainly true, although it would be wise to not rely solely on programs such as Google’s Adsense, but to have affiliates as your main revenue stream.

  38. Jeremy Hill says:

    The other source that’s being forgotten about is donations. If you run some kind of research or charity site that has facilities for users, then I’m sure donations are a viable option.

  39. While not truly being passive income, affiliate marketing has now become the online income method of choice. It is not difficult to see why, when people are making thousands of dollars a month.

  40. HGH says:

    On the other hand, I’ve spent more years than I would have liked working just to make someone else loads of money and me not that much money.

  41. […] streams of income.” Before you dive headlong into that pursuit, you might want to explore the truth about passive income, especially as it relates to making passive income from […]

  42. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by TheFunkyAgency: RT @jonathanfields How not to get super-rich: the passive income scam | Awake At The Wheel | Crossroads of Work & Play

  43. Janet says:

    I personally know several people who make thousands of dollars per month in “passive” income, but it took them 3-5 years (on average) of extremely active work to build the income-generating asset. And most of them worked full-time at a day job during those 3-5 years, so it took tremendous energy, persistence, willingness to forego sleep and a social life, etc. Now after all that work, they aren’t super-rich, just comfortable, but I think they would say it was worth it because the income is sufficient to skip the day job now and they can be very selective about how they spend their time.

  44. […] streams of income.” Before you dive headlong into that pursuit, you might want to explore the truth about passive income, especially as it relates to making passive income from […]

  45. Orlando says:

    @Jonathan I’m totally digging this site. This is the first time I read a full article that spoke nothing but truth and didn’t try to keep my attention with ongoing blabber.

    The only passive income that I can see anyone participating in and earning right away is putting money into an online savings and receiving interest payments. Online banks are offering as much as 1.49% these days. Other than this a person has to have a job to invest in real estate and any other investments.

    Unless you have $1 Million Dollars to store in an online savings account (to live off of interest) or find some way to get others to do work and share profits with you, passive income is not a great desire.

    I recommend staying focused and continue to push for success.

  46. […] money is the overwhelming objective.There’s got to be a deeper motivator. In fact, a recent Harrison Group survery of the richest 1% in the U.S. revealed a staggering number of pentamillionaires and…80% started their own businesses or […]

  47. […] have to love what you do.  If you don’t, why wouldn’t you just go get a regular job?  Sure, the money might be better when you own the business, but there’s no guarantee with entrepreneurship.  In fact, the only way to get a decent return […]

  48. I find most home owners can learn an easy lesson about building wealth passively by looking at their own home. If you’ve owned a home for a few years you’ll notice your mortgage owing is substantially lower than when you bought. Hopefully you’ll also notice that houses in your neighbourhood are selling for more than you purchased your home. If the reduction in your mortgage is $15,000 and if your home is worth $10,000 more than you paid for it, then that is $25,000 that you earned passively. You realize this wealth by refinancing or selling the property. To earn more passive wealth (leveraged wealth may be the better term) you can build a portfolio of rental properties where the monthly rents cover the monthly expenses. After 5 or 10 years, take a look at the mortgage paydown and equity appreciation… you’ll enjoy the mortgage paydown even if you don’t get appreciation.

  49. Gel Pen says:

    well of course, everyone loves to get rich but not everyone would love to do hard work ,*.

  50. […] enough to rekindle the fires.  They say persistence pays off, and in many cases they are right.  Most millionaires didn’t inherit their fortunes or make money in the sports of entertainment industries — they just kept plugging away at […]

  51. Adam J Lewis says:

    Most people are unfortunately chasing the quick low effort dollars.
    Passive income for money down and no effort is the white elephant of the business world.
    Most people earn their income in the form of wages traded for time and effort.
    If we have learned , due to hundreds of years of financial evolution, to trade our time and effort for money, why do people entertain the idea that suddenly they can subvert this paradigm.

    There is passive income to be had but most people miss it. Passive income is a by-product of years of value and hard work.
    My first real passive income came as the result of 4 years, 60 hour weeks. That’s the foundation required for passive success.
    When I was 27 I bought an old truck. I went into partnership with a friend who drove the truck.
    1 year later we bought another truck. In 4 years we had grown to 5 trucks.
    We worked long hours hauling anything we could.
    We built the business up from a 35 year old truck that we did all the maintenance on to new trucks and a transport yard.
    My partner offered me a large sum to take a backseat. I sold my financial share down from 50% to 20% with the option of a 40% voting strength and the option to be the bank on any business loans as long as my interest rates were competitive.
    Now this business share generates cash flow every month. The day to day is handled by my partner and his new partners.
    I still vote on important issues.
    My time input is now phone calls and meeting accountants once a year.
    This is how you generate passive income.
    Not on a computer searching the latest MLM scam.
    “where ever man exerts energy, value is created”
    Is the maxim I do business by. To create value you have to be there, exerting energy and effort, that is the only way to create value.

    People spend their money on value. You do not buy the business, you do not buy the customer service or the advertising. You buy value. People forget this.
    They search hours and hours for these latest marketing/tutoring/drop shipping etc. things to sell with no effort. If you create value that people want to buy, business will come naturally. If you have great value, a business, money comes as a by-product.

    Adam J. Lewis

  52. […] that Lis or Pat are there (they are obviously rooting for this keyword) but the fact that the Jonathon Fields listing is, which is not anywhere to be found in the search results other than in my search.  My […]

  53. Micaela says:

    It always amazes me to see the stunned look on peoples’ faces when they find out about how excited I am to be getting downsized (t-minus 12 days and can’t wait!!). The fact is, I’ve been earning passive income for nearly a year, and the efforts spent generating it have taken up quite a bit of valuable time. Fortunately, it’s also had a greater yield than what my full-time job may offer if the same amount of time were equivalized (i.e. 4 hours of full-time work is not match for 4 hours spent making things happen on the passive income front).

    Perhaps the notion of not having a job is frightening in and of itself to many in the corporate world, but I’m more afraid of the passive streams that I’ve been cultivating being starved for my attention. I agree, “passive” is quite a misnomer for blogging and other said forms mentioned above. Trust, a greater amount of brain power flows while strategizing over new ideas and opportunities on the passive income front than in the corporate realm any day of the week.

    Great post, btw, I was driven here from Chris Gillebeau’s UGWY, which by the way rocks!!

  54. Kevin says:

    Passive income exists and yeah it does take hard work put I think it will be worth it