Avoid the game show mentality - make your own millions.

It's a national obsession. Tonight's contestant, Mr. Guy-Next-Door, sits across from Regis Philbin. Regis pauses long enough for a plane to fly from one coast to the other.

He asks, "Mötley Crüe? That's your final answer?"

The contestant hesitates, and then replies in a quavering voice. "It is, Regis. Ex-con Tommy Lee plays drums for Mötley Crüe. It's my final answer."

Regis pauses again. The background music heats up. The TV camera flashes to the contestant's wife, seated in the third row. She's down on her knees, praying that Mötley Crüe is the right answer.

Regis takes a deep breath. Lets it out. He smiles coyly, and then shouts, "YOU'RE RIGHT! It's Mötley Crüe! You've won A MILLION DOLLARS!"

Mr. Guy-Next-Door is hugging Regis, sobbing hysterically. His wife is being escorted to center stage, crying, "Thank you, dear God, thank you!" for this miracle of ONE MILLION DOLLARS that has just fallen like manna from heaven.

Money Talks

Tomorrow morning, Mr. Guy-Next-Door will be on "The Today Show," "Maury Povich" and "Sally Jesse Raphael." His face will appear on the covers of People magazine, Time and The National Enquirer. People across America will recognize him and ask for his autograph. He'll sell the rights to his life story for a made-for-TV movie. He'll be invited to the White House for dinner. He'll be asked to speak at the Democratic National Convention. He'll be a national hero. Isn't that disturbing?

As a society, we are concluding that the only way to move up the ladder, to improve one's lot in life, is to win a game show. Or the McDonald's Monopoly Challenge. Or the lottery. Last year, Missouri alone sold $248 million worth of scratch-off lottery tickets. The chance of winning more than $20 from a scratch-off ticket is about one in a million. But, if you are that one-in-a-million, you'll be instantly rich, famous and respected.

Isn't that weird?

Weirder still, let's suppose you generate a million dollars in yearly income as the owner of a plumbing company. You would be called a cheat, a gouger and a rip-off artist. You would be dragged into the Attorney General's office to defend your exorbitant pricing. Making money in a legitimate business is dirty and greedy. Winning millions in a game show is heroic.

Don't think I'm not guilty of this obsession. I've whispered, "Oh please, let it be Boardwalk," as I peeled the sticker off my Super Size fries. I like contests! Particularly contests that demonstrate some skill or require some effort. But as contests approach critical mass, I'm starting to get scared. It's not just a harmless game anymore.

Our national obsession with prime-time game shows is a symptom of our country's illiteracy epidemic. We're business illiterate, and it's a dangerous problem. We have given up hope of making our own fortune.

Make Your Own Million

As a small shop owner, you can help turn around this terrible condition of business illiteracy. First, commit to your own financial education. Second, teach what you learn to a young person.

There is no shortage of money on this planet. There are rules that apply to money. Those who learn the rules learn to make money, keep it and use it to make more. You can make a million dollars. Or $10 million. Or $100 million. Interested? (Of course you are. You've been watching the game shows!)

As you learn the rules, you can teach the rules to someone else. Pick someone young. One rule of money - TIME is the most important factor in making a fortune. Investing $10,000 with an average return will be a fortune in 50 years. You don't have that long. But a young person does. Find a protégée - your son, daughter or a friend - and learn the ropes together.

At the top of my business book list is "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter. In this book, and the terrific sequel "The Cash Quadrant," Robert shares the story of his financial education. Like many of us, he learned what he knows about business and finance from his dad. He was fortunate, however, to have two dads to help him.

His real dad is the one he calls Poor Dad. Poor Dad taught Robert to get a good education, so he could get a secure job. He told him a good job would take care of everything. But, in reality that is terrible advice.

When Robert was nine, he and his best buddy Mike experienced the isolation of being 'poor' kids at a wealthy school. But they were determined to make money. They sought out Mike's dad, at the time a struggling businessman, to teach them about making money. Mike's dad agreed to mentor the boys, and became the Rich Dad in Robert's life.

Rich Dad explained the four ways to create income in your life. He calls this The Cash Flow Quadrant:

  • As an employee.

  • Self-employment.

  • Business ownership.

  • Investments.

There are advantages to each quadrant. You can be rich or poor in all four areas. And true happiness comes from doing exactly what you want to do and living life on your own terms. It isn't a matter of right or wrong, it's a matter of choosing the income quadrants that will get you where you want to go. Let's take a closer look.

Cash Flow

As an employee you don't have much risk. Unfortunately, you have no real tax advantages, and you are dependent on your employer's good or bad business sense.

Self-employment puts you in charge - you are now dependent on your own good or bad business sense. As a self-employed plumbing contractor, you could make a good living if you are willing to charge a reasonable selling price for your services. By reasonable, I mean a price that covers all your costs of doing business, real benefits and a professional's salary for you and your family, and significant contributions to your retirement fund. However, if you get hurt or sick, the game's over.

Business ownership offers another means of income. How do you decide if you are either self-employed or a business owner? If you can leave your business for a year or more, and find it more profitable and running better than when you left it, you are a business owner. If the business would fall to pieces without you, you are self-employed.

Success as a business owner comes from your ability to develop systems and lead people.

The last quadrant is income from investments. Investors make money with money. They don't have to work because their money works for them.

The real difference between the first two quadrants (employee, self-employed) and the third and fourth quadrants (ownership, investing) is the time factor. With the first two, to make more, you gotta work more. With ownership and investing, the better you are, the less time it takes to make money.

Robert's Poor Dad would say, "Money isn't that important." But he spent his whole life struggling to support his family, pay bills and maintain his lifestyle. He worked long hours, and rarely spent time with his family. Rich Dad said, "Money is important, but I don't want to spend my life working for it." Rich Dad felt it was important to have lots of time to raise his kids, have lots of money to donate to good causes, and bring jobs and financial stability to the community. And those things take money.

Financial Education

Employee? Self-employed? Business owner? Investor? You can operate in any of the quadrants, or just one. But, if you want to be a millionaire, you aren't going to get there from the "E" quadrant - not unless you win the lottery. Does that mean you should NEVER be an employee? Not at all. Just counsel your young friend that he can get the most out of his employee stints by:

  • Developing and demonstrating an incredible work ethic. Think of every job as an audition for the next job, or the next quadrant. What can you learn? Who can you meet?

  • Learn the systems of the company you work for. Are they good or bad? How could they be better? What is the competition doing? Employment is getting paid to get educated.

For some, self-employment is the best scenario. For most, self-employment is a 24-hour a day job that eats you alive. You may get to millionaire status from this quadrant, but you will probably run out of time. There are not enough hours in the day.

If you are ready to make the leap to business owner, you'll need to steer your energy to the development of your systems and people. Train, streamline, systematize. If you have no interest in business ownership, that's fine. You may not want to have employees. Then, you can learn about the fourth quadrant: investing. Investing includes real estate, stocks, other businesses, commodities, bonds, treasury bills - there are lots of options.

You can be a millionaire, if you want to. Follow Rich Dad's lead and learn the skills it takes to succeed in the business and investing quadrants. Once upon a time, you didn't know how to plumb, but you learned. You found some good books and better teachers and you figured it out. You can do the same with your financial education.

Start by reading Robert Kiyosaki's books. Add Michael Gerber's "E-Myth" to the list - you can buy them easily through www.PMmag.com's online bookstore. Visit www.motleyfool.com. Read Frank Blau's column right now. And don't forget my books, great beginning information for keeping track of the money in your business. And as you learn, you can teach another. You can give hope and direction for a brilliant, creative affluent life to someone with plenty of time in front of them.

Go ahead and buy the occasional lottery ticket. But you don't need it. You can learn to be a millionaire.