The safest way to get what you want is to deserve what you want. -- Charlie Munger

Most of us would like to be rich. We hope for it, we dream of it, we wish for it, and sometimes we even do something to make it happen. Maybe we sign up for our company's 401(k) plan. Maybe we open an IRA account and fund it with $4,000.

But the quotation above from Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett's partner, raises a critical question: Do we deserve to be rich?

I hate to do it, but I'd argue that many, if not most, of us do not. Why? We aren't really focused on maximizing our net worth.

Are you earning as much as you can?
Although investments can compound savings into substantial wealth, those savings come from one place: your paycheck. If you want to get rich, you need to increase the bottom line.

Maybe you can work harder and have your achievements and value be more visible at your company. The promotions that result can increase your base pay substantially. Maybe you need a new job at a different company, or maybe you can take on some extra work on the side -- consulting, editing, building furniture, or teaching Japanese. What's your talent?

But your paycheck is only as good as the savings you can create from it. Are you charging things you can't afford and don't really need on your credit card? Are you failing to carry adequate insurance for your home, your car, your health and your life, therefore risking all of those hard-earned savings?

Make sure you're being tax-smart. Have you been taking advantage of tax benefits offered by 401(k)s and IRAs? Do you take advantage of available tax credits, such as those for parents, students, adoption, disabilities, and the elderly?

Is your money working for you?
You've saved and invested money, but are all your dollars in the best places? If you're investing in stocks, your returns should beat the S&P 500. If they aren't, consider investing in a simple broad-market index fund.

Are you being responsible with your hard-earned dollars? Investing in penny stocks, acting on hot stock tips, trading in and out of stocks rapidly, or frequently falling prey to short-term capital gains taxes will deplete your investments. Buy good companies at good prices and hang on.

If you aren't sure what stocks to pursue, screening for the qualities you're looking for will give you a pool of candidates. For example, a screen at Yahoo! Finance for stocks with net profit margins above 10%, dividend yields above 1.5%, earnings growth over the past five years of at least 10%, and P/E ratios below 20 yielded the companies below, among others.

These are the kinds of companies you might add to your watch list, to research further and perhaps invest in one day. They're growing at a good clip, keep a solid chunk of every dollar they take in as profit, offer respectable dividend yields, and don't appear to be wildly overvalued.


Net Profit Margin

Dividend Yield

Earnings Growth


Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ)





Nokia (NYSE: NOK)










Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS)





Raytheon (NYSE: RTN)





Seagate Technology (NYSE: STX)





Harley-Davidson (NYSE: HOG)





Diligent research will help you determine whether it's better to invest your money in a new prospect or in a company you've already committed to.

Do you have a plan?
While people can become rich by accident, most people become rich through thoughtful planning. Do you have a plan for achieving the retirement you want?

Do you know what your income and expenses are likely to be in retirement? Do you know how much you'll need to have and by when? Do you know how much you need to save and invest each year in order to reach your goal, and are you using a reasonable return rate? (The stock market's historical average annual return over long periods is around 10%; if you're expecting to earn 20%, put down the rose-colored glasses.)

Learn to deserve it
Imagine two people. One person has been socking away 15% of her income for the past 15 years, investing it carefully and expecting to earn at least 10% per year, on average. She's maxed out her annual 401(k) contributions, and she's been regularly contributing to an IRA as well. Her car isn't new, but her home is insured sufficiently for it to be rebuilt in the event of a massive fire.

The other person is you. Which of the two most deserves to end up wealthy?

Fool co-founders David and Tom Gardner have made a career of helping people find promising, market-beating investments. If your money isn't working for you as well as it might, check out the Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter, where David and Tom's recommendations are beating the market by more than 35 percentage points. You can even try it free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Johnson & Johnson and 3M. Johnson & Johnson is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. 3M is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy deserves it all.