How drinking tea earned me $650,000

Updated to Habits, Life on December 19, 2022.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

When I was a young river guide I drank coffee like water.

The blacker the better; the more the better. It was how I got jacked up for another morning hauling around obscenely heavy equipment, stayed awake on long drives to the river and fuelled all-nighters around the campfire entertaining guests with wildly exaggerated tales from past trips.

For fun, I would make “cowboy coffee” by swinging a boiling pot of coffee straight off the fire with an outstretched arm like I was painting a big brown ‘O’.

I carried my coffee habit with me through every job, shared apartment, girlfriend, and remote adventure. It was normal—I didn’t think about it.

And then I visited a financial planner.

My homework

I was shocked at how something that only costs $2-$3 could add up.

It was time – I had a young family, steady income (not much of it, but it was steady) and I wanted to start planning my financial future. My homework was to record everything I spent money on for two weeks – everything.

Every time I pulled into a gas station, picked up groceries, or went out for dinner, out came my notepad and I recording my spending. After two weeks I carefully separated and summarized my spending – going through every receipt and notation, looking for a clue to improve my spending habits. And one item stood out:


I was shocked at how something that only costs $2-$3 (remember, these are prices from 17 years ago) could add up. But add up it did.

Here’s how the numbers worked out:

Four take-out cups at a conservative price of $3 each, in pre-tax dollars, is about $15 a day. Multiply that over the week, with less spending on weekends, and pretty quickly you hit just under $4,800 per year!

As much as I’m talking about coffee and saving a few bucks here and there, this article is really about something much bigger – discipline.

A lesson in discipline

Whenever I ran into cash flow trouble, my first thought was to go out and earn more money.

You see, I had no discipline around money (I had serious discipline deficits in other areas of my life, but that’s for another post.)

As a young man I worked for my brother building an entrepreneurial business and eventually was rewarded with a small windfall when we sold the business. In the following three years I repeated that same cycle: build a profitable business, buying whatever I needed to grow that company (including over $1million on airplanes) and then get a windfall when I sold the business.

Whenever I ran into cash flow troubles, my first thought was to go out and earn more money. In my mind, you saved money by going out to get more.

I never looked at costs.

But, there I was, back in that financial planner’s office, staring at how much I spent on coffee. And because I was basically on a fixed income, my options were limited.

So I decided to go cold turkey.

Going Cold Turkey

Within one year, I was saving almost $4,500 with my new tea drinking habit.

The next day I skipped the morning brew, mid-morning refill, afternoon espresso pick-me-up and commute home take-out.

Instead I drank tea and I made my own (not bought in a café).

On the surface, it seems trivial.

After all, we spend big money on gas, insurance for our cars, mortgage payments, our kids’ education, travel, and appliances. Yes, all of those are there, but most are not variables. Just like in business; you have fixed costs and variable costs.

I was looking at my variable costs.

Within one year, I was saving almost $4,500 (calculated in pre-tax dollars) with my new tea drinking habit. Not a bad start.

I knew I could do better, so I invested that amount in blue-chip stocks.

The stock market made me nervous—I like to invest in things I can touch. So, after only a year, I used that small amount and a bit of savings for a down payment on a rental house. A year later, I sold and bought another rental. Fast forward 17 years and I own a mortgage-free rental house valued at $650,000 with rental income (before taxes) of $26,400 per year.

And it all started with one decision and some discipline.

Small Savings into a Big Future

The second “trick” is to have the savings plan also become automatic.

If you are wondering if you could create the same results with your spending, start with everyday expenses – the kind that are easy to ignore – and track your spending for two weeks. It could be last-minute grabs on the way to the Costco check-out, an online subscription for a service or TV channel you rarely use or money spent on dry cleaning. It adds up, but you won’t know how much until you do a bit of homework.

I know this sounds like advice from your parents: watch your pennies and your future will take care of itself.

But, it works. And not just with money.

Imagine what would happen if every morning you wrote one paragraph of your next book, meditated for 10 minutes or wrote three things you’re grateful for? Just like me investing my tiny daily saving from drinking tea, you would be investing in you and your future.

In a small way every day would be better than the one before.

The trick (if there is one) is to allow one small action to become a habit. Drinking tea became a habit and because I didn’t have to think about it the results became almost automatic. And from that simple habit I gained a new understanding of what was possible in my life.

Where I used to force results with big, exhausting efforts (which often failed to create any lasting change), now I look for small habits I can stack onto existing habits and still get the results I want.


  • drinking water after waking up,
  • walking my dog after my morning writing,
  • start dialing the next prospect immediately after finishing the last call,
  • moving commitments to action plan after meetings, and
  • clearing off my desk before finishing work for the day.

I started this post writing all about money. But, really it’s about human nature, procrastination and how hard it is to create meaningful results in our busy lives of distraction. The good news is that it can all change with one question:

What is one action, that if you made it a habit it would change everything for the better?

I want to know! Tell me in the comments below what the one thing is for you and I’ll write back!

For more articles about money and building wealth:

Why $100,000 a year won’t make you rich

How drinking tea can make you rich (and build willpower)

How to make money NOW as an expert