How To Become A Millionaire and Get Rich In 10 Steps
Published 10/13/08 (Modified 3/8/11)
So you want to be a millionaire? Well you know what? Me too - and I'm determined to get there in the near future. At this very moment, despite the current state of the economy and the deteriorated condition of the credit markets, instead of just sitting on my hands and wishing upon a star, I'm taking active steps right now to make it all possible someday. While having a financial net worth of a million dollars isn't what it used to be because of the negative effects of inflation, it's still the measuring stick we use today to delineate the dreamers from the ones who have financially made it.
I know it's not an unfathomable dream to have because I've seen the system work firsthand. The possibility is not just reserved for celebrities or the elite, but is very real and plausible for ordinary people as well. One of my close childhood friends is a multi-millionaire. And he's only 30 years old. He's not a self made millionaire as he inherited the vast bulk of his fortune from his parents, but it was his parents who put forth the gears of financial practice many years ago that brought their finances to what it is today. From the time my friend's parents married, they lived a very frugal life. While they were by no means cheap, they avoided the peer pressures and temptations of living lavishly, opting instead for a humble home they could afford and limiting pricey expenditures like dining out to only rare occasions. They drove affordable American made cars and stayed away from buying expensive electronics and gadgets. However, at the same time, they by no means avoided the use of debt financing. Instead, they embraced its responsible use, viewing credit cards and balance transfer offers as the means to generate free credit card arbitrage income. Through the use of airline credit cards, they were able to finance family vacations and trips with free frequent flyer mile bonuses, and with business credit cards, they took advantage of high credit limit card financing and business spending rewards to earn cash back income. Quite a few years ago, the American Automobile Association (AAA) permitted its AAA credit card holders to enjoy interest and transaction free traveler's checks charged as purchases to their credit cards. My friend's parents frequently took advantage of this perk by depositing those checks into high interest money market accounts and high yield savings to earn free money - the early beginnings of what many now today call 0% balance transfer arbitrage (the ability to make money and generate net profit from a temporary price differential between two markets). However, despite their frequent strategic use of credit, they always made sure that they paid off their non-0% balances every month, thus avoiding high interest payments and late fees.
From their humble dual income paycheck beginnings, my friend's parents loyally and consistently squirreled away the bulk of their wages into their high yield savings accounts, while always making sure they took full advantage of their respective employer's tax deferred 401K retirement plans and matching programs. Every year, they maxed out their Roth IRA's and their traditional IRA accounts as needed, while steadily plowing money into their stock market portfolio. Over the years and through the decades, in good times and in bad, they continued to invest, dollar cost averaging down as the markets dipped but continuing to strategically seek attractive investment opportunities as the markets rose. Their stock and bond portfolio consisted primarily of long horizon mutual funds and index funds, but they also purchased large positions in individual stocks as well. Instead of chasing performance or trying to time the volatility of stock prices, they patiently and wisely sought out long term positions in blue chip, value brands like Coca Cola, McDonalds, Disney, and even Berkshire Hathaway.
With their excess money, they purchased real estate. What started out as a single home, eventually blossomed into a housing portfolio comprised of several million dollar houses and a few very valuable condominium properties. As home values ebbed and flowed with the real estate market over the decades, they rented them out to help pay for their multiple mortgages. With the luxury of time and fiscal discipline, all of their multiple home mortgages have now been fully paid off.
While my friend clearly benefited from the wise financial decisions his parents made, he has also learned to embrace their frugal financial practices for himself. Today, despite his tremendous wealth, my long time friend remains one of the most frugal and unassuming people I know. I often joke that he is the "poorest rich person I know" due to his incredible frugality and disdain for excessive spending. He truly is the millionaire next door as one can't possibly guess simply by looking at him that he has such vast wealth at his disposal. Meanwhile, though he lives a life of comparative comfort today, he continues to actively practice the financial wisdom of his parents - always looking for ways to broaden his income streams and constantly trying to find new and improved ways to invest his savings.
The Process Of Becoming A Millionaire Is Not A Get Rich Quick Scheme, But A Patient and Systematic Approach To Earning, Saving, and Investing Money
The whole point of this long story about my friend and his parents is to show that with some concerted fiscal discipline through personal finance education and a dedication towards building long term investment positions, anyone can truly become a millionaire. Given enough time, and in his parent's case - several decades, the amazing power of compound interest can grow any small sum of money and turn it into a significant amount. It is a grossly overstated myth and fallacy that only those who inherited their money, won the lottery, or developed a successful small business can acquire wealth and become a millionaire. While having a very high income, striking it big in the stock market, riding the housing boom to the top, or acquiring riches through the passing of wealthy relatives can certainly speed up the process, even for the rest of us white collar or even blue collar workers who collect weekly paychecks have the potential to reach the promised land of financial independence.
Becoming a millionaire is not an overnight process and there are no gimmicks, scams, get rich quick secrets, or infomercial packages you can buy or learn to turn you into an overnight millionaire. Please stay away from those trashy midnight get rich quick TV commercials. With their flashy salesman approaches to convince you to part with your money, all they will do is lead you further into debt as you spend large sums of money buying their pointless tapes and useless DVD's. While a tiny portion do manage to offer some substance with their flair, the vast majority of these televised get rich quick programs are basically scams and repackaged junk. There are occasional real money making, wealth building secrets out there in the market, but chances are you won't find much information when these temporary arbitrage opportunities do crop up. Remember the old adage - "those who can, do - and those who can't, teach." It is very true. I personally invest and dabble in several very lucrative income generating businesses, both online and through my legal practice. However I would never reveal the secret and crux of my approaches and methods, at least while the going remains good. Only after I have personally tapped out the financial gold mine opportunities would I contemplate sharing those supposed secrets with others. And only then would I start writing and selling how-to guidebooks to supposedly sell my secret method.
The 10 Automatic Steps To Becoming A Millionaire
Below are the basic ten steps to start you down the road to becoming a millionaire. Every journey begins with a series of fundamental steps. If you truly want to become financially liberated one day, it's time to start making the commitment to educate yourself and start thinking like a millionaire. Remember, there is no gimmick and it's a long, steady process, but these steps will put you towards reaching that goal someday.
Earn Money and Seek Out Opportunities To Save:
The 10 basic steps to becoming a millionaire are broken down into two primary categories. The first main series of steps (1 thru 5) involve making money and preserving it. The second series of steps (6 thru 10) involve pursuing income producing investment opportunities:
1) Educate Yourself In Personal Finance, and Develop The Drive To Learn - A few common traits that are almost universally found in full fledge billionaires, and bona fide millionaires is that they are all driven to learn and succeed, and are willing to put their ambitions into action to make things happen. Border line cocky and very confident, self made millionaires operate with a plan and are highly motivated. Most are extremely pro-active and driven to constantly improve their financial lives and earning potential, whether it be through the pursuit of advanced degrees or the taking on of a calculated business venture risk. In my case, I graduated from law school and worked as an attorney for numerous years before I eventually made the decision to get out of that profession. The work was terribly unsatisfying and so I made the affirmative decision to become self employed and start my own online business. The decision was�� fraught with greater risk, but the move ultimately reaped much greater rewards.
Aspiring millionaires need to take it upon themselves to fully educate themselves on the nuances of personal finance and strategic financial planning. Even those who ultimately deem it more cost and time efficient to outsource their tax preparation and financial planning work to a so-called expert, it's still very important to develop a personal groundwork in finance and business concepts. Without a fundamental grasp of how compound interest works or an understanding of investment terminology like stocks, bonds, Roth IRA's, and short selling, aspiring millionaires may never reach their full potential. As an aspiring millionaire myself, while I can currently afford to hire a tax accountant, I still choose to file my own taxes every year. Eventually as my tax situation grows more complex I may choose to hire a tax preparation expert to make better use of my limited time, but at least I will have already developed a good grasp of basic tax law and the the nuances of capital gain taxation and business deductions. When it comes to personal finance, always learn to do it yourself before hiring someone else to do it for you.
2) Invest In Higher Education, and Pursue Jobs and Professions With High Incomes - Certainly when it comes to becoming a millionaire, the most important entry level step is to develop a steady and predictable stream of income. Unless you have a fixed injection of fresh income on a continuous basis for a good period of time, you won't have any investment capital to work with. While it has been shown on blogs and websites like CNN's Millionaire in the Making series that reaching the one million dollar networth mark doesn't require individuals or families to rake in a high 6 figure salary annually, it certainly doesn't hurt. Clearly, the more money you make and the higher your annual salary, the sooner you are likely to reach your goal of becoming a millionaire.
When it comes to making more money, proper higher education is key. It's no longer possible to get by in this ultra competitive world on a college degree alone. In almost all cases of professional advancement, a graduate or professional degree is paramount to future financial success. While a small portion strike it rich without the benefit of advanced degrees, the vast majority of successful millionaires have post graduate degrees. But it's not just any random degree in higher education either. Certain advanced degrees simply have greater potential to lead to higher income jobs than others - professional graduate degrees like MBA's, JD's, MD's, and advanced certifications in engineering just to name a few.
While it's true that some jobs and professions are overrated with financial rewards that have been greatly exaggerated, on the whole, certain majors and professions simply have it easier than others when it comes to future income prospects. While many teachers, nurses, administrative assistants, and paralegals have the potential to make good money and live a decent life, their road to millionaire status, with all other things being equal, is significantly more difficult than that of big firm lawyers, doctors, financial planners, and successful small business owners. While I'm sure areas of study like English, music, theater, and history are incredibly rewarding in their own personal ways, the reality is that they aren't the best majors to have when you have your sights set on becoming a millionaire someday. The professions that they lead to simply aren't as lucrative as those related to business, health sciences, or computers. Probably the most financially lucrative fields of study can be found in finance and business, advanced health care, and engineering. Those who want to vastly jump start their road to millionaire-hood ought to pursue these specific types of study during their college and graduate school years. It's where all the high income producing jobs ultimately are.
3) Save Money By Making Financial Sacrifices When It Comes To Small Daily Expenses - An important tenant of becoming wealthy is not only the ability to make money, but the ability to save money by cutting expenses as well. Even those with substantial streams of income can quickly waste away their money through shoddy investments and lack of proper saving habits. Just look at all the formerly wealthy celebrities with money troubles. An important step to becoming a millionaire is to simply spend less than you earn. The less you spend, the more you have to save, and the more money you save, the more money you have to invest and make your money work for you. Aspiring millionaires understood fully, that an affordable sacrifice today will ultimately pay off in the future through the power of compound interest and the passage of time. Along with putting your money towards the building of an emergency fund, there has to be a systematic habit of saving and investing. For some, this requires setting up an automated savings plan that automatically transfers money from your primary checking account into a high interest savings account or makes regular contributions to a mutual fund. For others it means learning to save by cutting back on common expenses - swapping that manicure or new video game, for more interest generating money in your bank account.
Of course, this doesn't mean you ought to sell your beautiful home or car, and start living in a canvas tent or resort to eating just one meal a day to save money, but you should most definitely live within your means and learn to make some sacrifices in your life. It's important to recognize that the vast majority of your income is probably discretionary and non essential - probably more than 50%. If you are like most people, you enjoy spending your hard earned money by treating yourself to dinners at fancy restaurants, going to the movie theater, enjoying that daily Starbucks coffee, buying the latest expensive designer clothes, or constantly upgrading your cars and electronic gadgets for the latest model. But by choosing to spend and waste your money on such frivolous and fleeting common luxuries, you are taking money away from your future. There is no need to incessantly pinch pennies like a miser, but try cutting some of these non essential perks and you'll be amazed at the amount of money saved. That $5 cup of premium coffee everyday may not seem like a lot, but multiply that by 365 days a year and multiply that by the frequency of other luxuries in your life and the amount quickly adds up into the thousands of dollars. Remember, because money saved has already been taxed, money saved is worth much more than money earned, which has yet to be taxed.
As a naturally frugal person, I refrain from chasing after the newest gadget releases. While fancy LCD and plasma high definition televisions have already come out for some time and prices have dropped significantly, I'm perfectly happy with my old bulky CRT television set. Unless my television set gets damaged in the near future, I don't see the pressing need to upgrade to a flat screen anytime soon. Like TV sets, cars also have a tendency to rapidly depreciate in value within a short period of time. While I can easily afford to buy a fancy, expensive sports car or luxury performance vehicle, I'm quite happy with my modest fuel efficient Honda Accord. I just don't see the need to upgrade. It's just a frugal, cost savings mentality that I've always had, and a positive trait that I believe will one day help turn me into a millionaire.
4) Seek Out Free Money Offers, Sales, Discounts, and the Highest Interest Earning Opportunities - Aspiring millionaires ought to constantly hunger for savings and finding cheaper and more cost efficient ways of doing things. After all, a fundamental trait of becoming rich is the ability to make and save more than you ultimately spend. Even when you spend money, oftentimes there are ways to structure your actions to end up with a significantly lower net loss. For example, why pay full price for a pair of nice jeans or a new pair of shoes when you can order the exact same item online at a discounted price by using promotional discount codes and by shopping through an online cash back shopping site like Ebates or Fatwallet? Why not stop by your local mall or visit the desired store to try out the product you want, but order the item from your home computer to take advantage of online promo codes and Internet discounts when it comes time to buying. Surely you can wait a few days for shipping and handling for such non essential items. One time savings may not seem like much, but multiply that a few hundred times or even a few thousand times over multiple years, and the money rapidly adds up. These days, it's significantly cheaper to order most things online, especially when it comes to electronics.
For those with good credit and the ability to properly manage debt obligations, I recommend the use of cashback credit cards to make all of your purchases. By using your reward credit cards as you would otherwise use cash to make purchases, you are able to earn free rewards and cashback savings that you would otherwise not enjoy. So long as your credit cards don't unnecessarily encourage you to shell out more money than you would ordinarily spend, you'll accrue attractive rewards and free money in the process. By ensuring that you always pay off your credit card balances every month, you'll avoid any extraneous finance charges as well.
Savings should never be left idling in a low interest checking account. When not invested, excess money should always be placed into a high yield savings account or CD ladder to garner the highest annual percentage yield possible. While you don't necessarily have to be a rabid bank interest rate chaser like yours truly, it doesn't hurt to know where to find the best online savings banks and where to find the top high interest rate offers.
5) Become An Entrepreneur and Run Your Own Small Business - Many millionaires are both entrepreneurs and owners of their own small business. These days, small businesses are the primary drivers of wealth in the United States, and not inheritance. Oftentimes, great financial success comes from the effort and financial gamble of starting one's own business. While the risks are very real and the stresses of managing your own business operations can be daunting, the financial payoff is potentially much greater than that of working for someone else for the rest of your life. When you work for someone else, you are at the whim of another person's directive, and as such the fruits of your own labor are not truly your own. Your efforts and talents are used to benefit the company, which is owned and controlled by another, and thus the bulk of the financial rewards do not fully trickle down to you. However, when you run your own business, while the risks are fully attributed to you and your partners, the full tally of benefits are delivered as well. In most cases, becoming a self made entrepreneur requires the assumption of a calculated risk or initial upfront financial investment. However, success sometimes graces people who are simply able to find new and improved way of doing things.
Oftentimes, the best way to become a self made entrepreneur is to take whatever you are good at in your current job and turn it into a self run business. For example, I have a friend who used to work at a landscape company as a manual laborer. After receiving significant exposure to the business of landscaping and the administrative aspects of running such an operation, he ultimately chose to start up his own landscaping company, eventually earning decent profits in the process. As the Internet expands and online commerce grows in popularity, many entrepreneurs such as myself are turning to the web to find ways to make money online. Whether it's making money on eBay, or generating pay per click and affiliate income with my personal finance or health and fitness blog, aspiring millionaires ought to find ways to break the traditional 9-5 cycle of forever working for someone else. The key to expedited financial independence is to someday get out of the perpetual trading hours for dollars cycle - through self employment and the diversification of alternative income streams.
Make Your Money Work For You:
After generating income and making smart financial decisions based on frugality, the second main series of steps to becoming a millionaire is to take your savings and make them work for you:
6) Start Saving and Investing As Early As Possible - When it comes to saving, the best time to start was yesterday. The second best time to start saving is today. For those set on starting down the path of becoming a wealthy millionaire one day, not only must you continuously enhance and refine your money making potential, you must also find better ways to save that money. Those that want to become rich must make saving money an extremely important priority in their lives and not allow the saving mentality to drift into an afterthought.
As is often mentioned in the lingo of personal finance writers, aspiring millionaires must always "pay themselves first". Instead of paying down the daily and monthly expenses, and then somehow scrounge up whatever income is left to put into savings, savvy savers must approach savings the right way. The designated amount that you plan to save up each month must be thought of as an expense or bill that must be paid off first. If you wish to save $1,00, $1000, or even $10,000 a month, you must shift those amounts from your daily checking account into your high yield savings bank or your CD ladder savings account immediately before you start withdrawing money to pay off bills or use the money on discretionary expenses like trips to the hairstylist, shopping sprees, or family vacations.
If you can afford to purchase material things and spend your money on life's little luxuries like your daily coffee or after-work trip to the bar, you most certainly can afford to pay yourself first and save a planned chunk of money as soon as you receive that regular pay check. The key to saving is to make it a systematic practice based on your understanding that delayed material gratification today will beget greater riches in the future as your saved income grows through the magic of compound interest. Remember, frugality and the saving spirit are two lifelong traits of a savvy aspiring millionaire and should never be abandoned.
7) Learn To Manage Debt Responsibly, and Don't Be Afraid Of Credit - If you genuinely aspire to become a millionaire, you must learn to handle debt instruments responsibly, both long term loans like home mortgages and revolving debt like credit cards. Those who are millionaires are almost always proven users of credit cards and home mortgages - with excellent FICO credit scores to match.
It's very important to adopt good credit usage habits early on before the bad habits set in. Oftentimes, initial exposure to debt for most people occurs during the early college years in the form of student credit card usage or the taking on of student loans. While these early years are often precarious times for most young people as credit card temptations abound, these are also critical times in a young person's life when the seeds of fiscal responsibility towards credit and debt are sown. Adults and college students alike, especially those that aspire to become millionaires, must learn to habitually pay off their credit cards in full every month and avoid carrying high interest balances.
Only after you have developed the ability to manage your debt obligations and handle basic credit card usage should you engage in more advanced money making strategies - like the arbitrage use of credit card rewards and cashback programs. Those that know how to use credit cards responsibility should learn to use high reward earning credit cards for all of their purchases, like using a designated grocery credit card at the supermarket, a designated dining out credit card for restaurants and coffee shops, and travel reward credit cards for hotel and airline expenses. Those of you who are able to properly manage your use of credit cards and aspire for millionaire status must develop the continuous and active drive to seek out the best deals and highest free money savings in whatever you do. Millionaires are frequently good negotiators and have developed skills for getting the most bang for their buck. Instead of paying cash for everything and not receiving a single cash back reward or discount in the process, why not use credit cards to make your purchases and earn free cashback bonuses, frequent flyer miles, and reward points without any real significant effort? While it may not make you rich, the credit card rewards can be tremendous - in my case, it's almost $2,000-$3,000 a year.
The added benefit of active credit card usage is the extra boost it can potentially give to your FICO credit score when used properly. With a higher credit score, you'll be able to qualify for significantly lower interest rates should you ever decide to take on home mortgage loans or apply for additional credit card offers. While I'm an active participant of balance transfer credit card arbitrage, and have applied for a tremendous number of credit cards over the years, my current FICO credit score is absolutely pristine at 802 (the FICO credit score officially ranges from 300 to a high of 850). This was made possible due to my perfect credit card payment history and my strategic understanding of how credit scores are calculated, as well as my knowledge of what it takes to keep my FICO permanently high.
8) Take Full Advantage Of Tax Deferred Retirement Accounts - If your current employer or employment organization offers employees like you a 401K or 403(b) retirement plan with contribution matching up to a certain percentage of your income, you absolutely must take full advantage. Tax deferred retirement plans like the 401K allow employees to make pre-tax contributions to their special retirement accounts by taking portions of their wages and deferring them into their 401K investments. The great benefit of such retirement accounts is that oftentimes contributions are itself tax deferred as the amounts are taken from your wages pre-tax, and the earnings from your 401K account over its long life are completely tax free when held for the proper period of time.
Within the tax deferred retirement account, participants usually have the ability to invest their account money into a variety of designated stocks, bonds, and mutual fund investments until the time of their retirement. Especially if your employer has a matching 401K where your contributions are equally matched to certain levels by your employer, not taking advantage or making regular contributions to your plan is essentially giving up free money. For typical working class folks, the matching 401K plan is how many of them save and invest significant amounts of money for their retirement. Your goal should be to save up and contribute as much as reasonably possible to such accounts. While retirement may seem so far away in the minds of many young people, the earlier that one starts to save and invest, the better.
Those who are self employed or who do not have 401K's through their employer but who still want to take full advantage of tax deferred retirement plans should invest in a Traditional IRA (Investment Retirement Account) or open a Roth IRA. These plans enjoy very similar tax benefits as 401K accounts but usually with lower annual contribution limits. In certain cases, those who contribute to a traditional IRA can even enjoy special tax breaks and tax deductions for their contributions, thus lowering their overall tax liability. For most people, the Roth IRA is most advantageous as withdraws in retirement along with the decades of compounded earnings are tax free.
9) Invest in The Stock Market - The stock market is how many people generate significant amounts of money by making wise investment picks and holding for the long haul. In the short run, stock market prices can be volatile and totally unpredictable, but over the span of years and decades (with emphasis on decades), the stock market has historically brought about average annual returns of 8%. Of course, there are bound to be significant stock market crashes and unexpected bull and bear markets during the course of many years, but over a significant amount of time, the vast majority of long term investors have made money. During economic recessions, such as the current credit crisis and housing depression we are undergoing right now, stock prices will inevitably face retrenchment and huge dips. But as billionaire Warren Buffet once remarked, success in the stock market over the very long haul requires an understanding of the interplay between investment fear and greed. As such, it's very important to continuously seek out bargains and investment opportunities even during the worst of times. It's how many aspiring millionaires make their riches, by being greedy when the whole world is fearful, and making strategic long term bets during the absolute worst of times.
While stock market investors can participate in the purchase of stocks and options through their own low cost brokerage firms (view my list of the best discount online brokers), a great majority of investors get their primary exposure to stocks through their employer sponsored 401K retirement plans. Whatever the method of exposure, it's important to invest for the long term. For those of you worried about unpredictable dips and spikes in the stock market, automatic investment plans, whether through your employer's retirement plan or through automated bank to broker deposits into a mutual or index fund, the key is to keep investing continuously. Automatic investment plans have the added advantage of avoiding the mistakes of buying too much when stock market prices are high and not taking advantage of cheap prices when prices are low. Those that don't want to deal with the hassle and risk of individual stocks should highly consider low cost no-load mutual funds or broadly diversified index funds that track major stock market indexes. As always, one should always adopt a diversified investment approach and never put all of one's stock market investment eggs into one basket or company stock.
10) Buy A Home and Invest in Real Estate - While the housing market has been volatile lately, valuations have plummeted, and interest in real estate has waned as evidenced by the drop in house flipping shows on TV, in the long run, home prices have great potential to see positive returns. It's during those gloomy housing depressions when opportunities and discounted bargains abound. Those that have wisely saved up their money will have the great opportunity to take advantage of such investments during down times through cheaper home prices and home foreclosure bargains. In such down times, it's even more important to exercise your aspiring millionaire negotiation skills and work out real estate deals that provide for maximum gain. In addition to demanding low ball prices from home sellers, savvy buyers ought to demand significant financial concessions as well, so long as housing supply and demand permit. As always, your home will likely serve the dual purpose of shelter and investment, so you should still make sure you buy a home that fits your lifestyle. Buying too much home may result in the danger of payments that ultimately exceed your ability to pay depending on your mortgage plan.
While the financial and tax saving benefits of the home mortgage interest tax deduction have been greatly exaggerated and blown out of proportion over the years, it's still an important way for high net worth investors and taxpayers to decrease their overall tax liability. You're unlikely to find a millionaire who does not own his or her own home. Owning a condominium or a house has traditionally been one of the most proven ways for long term investors to increase their net worth. While in the short term of 10 years or so, home prices can rise and fall like the stock market, in the span of decades due to the finite supply nature of land, home prices inevitably will rise. Of course, the specifics of your real estate purchase strategy should depend on the length of your investment horizon and the remaining time you have left until retirement age.