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Although a million dollars won’t buy you what it used to, becoming a millionaire is still the gold standard of financial success in America. Once you’ve crossed the million dollar barrier, you have officially entered into the land of the wealthy. For most Americans, a million dollars in net worth seems like it is out of reach – but it doesn’t have to be.
According to the Spectrum Group, a market research and consulting firm based in the D.C. area, more U.S. households than ever before have a net worth of over one million dollars. In 2014, this demographic included 10.1 million households, an increase of almost 500,000 from the previous year.
How do they do it? The answers may not be as difficult – or as complicated – as you might think.
Building wealth is often the result of creating good habits and dedicating yourself to accomplishing individual tasks. Sure, it helps if you’ve learned the basics of how to start investing, but that is often just one piece of the puzzle.
If you’ve ever wanted to know how to become a millionaire, now is the time to start learning. Use these 7 (not so secret) secrets to start building your fortune today.
Have a Plan (and Implement It)
One of the most overlooked pieces to building wealth is the need to create a plan. You’ll never understand how to become a millionaire if you don’t know where you are going and how you’re going to get there.
“One of the biggest mistakes that I see people make with their money is not taking the time to map out their goals,” says Certified Financial Planner® Katie Brewer. At her practice, Your Richest Life, Brewer encourages her clients to take action with their personal savings goals. “You have to know where your money is going, and you have to set an action plan to get there.”
Heading into unknown territory can be frightening and overwhelming. As with every good quest, your journey to millions must begin by creating your very own wealth building road map. “You have to start with the big picture,” states Brewer. Contemplate what your goals are and write them down. Then create actionable steps to accomplish them.
Brewer, suggests that you focus on implementing the steps rather than focusing on the larger goal. If you are able to digest your quest in smaller chunks, the entire journey seems much more manageable.
Pay Yourself First
You may have heard this one before, but do you know what “paying yourself first” really means. In his book The Automatic Millionaire, David Bach outlines this premise in great detail. Boiled down to its essence, Bach argues that you need to set aside money for your own savings each month before you spend anything else. You put your own savings ahead of your bills, your monthly spending, and anything else you may want to do. Ideally, you’ll have this automatically deducted from your paycheck so you can set it and forget it.
Those who have learned how to become rich have mastered the art of saving, and they always pay themselves first.
“It’s really important to establish regular savings habits, and then use extra income to reach your goals even faster,” claims Sophia Bera, also a Certified Financial Planner® and founder of Gen Y Planning. “The wealthy save a significant amount of their income each month.”
Of course, saving money becomes a heck of a lot easier when you decrease your monthly expenses. Speaking of which…
Avoid Debt Like the Plague
If you want to learn how to become a millionaire, you have to let go of your addiction to debt. Wealthy people understand that consumer debt is a fast track to the poor house. Racking up huge amounts of consumer debt makes it difficult to pay yourself first, and it’s nearly impossible to save significant amounts of money when you are paying out substantial portions of your income each month to lenders. Worse yet, it’s an addictive carousel ride that is hard to jump off of once you’ve started.
However, not all debt has to be bad. Many business owners need to leverage debt in order to operate their businesses. If you’re looking to start a business, chances are you may need to get a loan to fund your new endeavor.
In her book, What You Should Have Learned About Money, But Never Did, Sophia Bera writes, “Debt can be good, but only if it helps you leverage your assets to build wealth. Every good debt has the potential to turn bad, so do your research and due diligence.”
“Wealthy people use debt strategically,” continues Bera, “but they tend to avoid excess consumer debt.”
Create Separate Savings Goals, Starting With Your Emergency Fund
Creating separate accounts for your savings goals is a great way to track your progress and save for specific items. Using separate accounts to save for retirement, college, or a new car helps to earmark the purpose for each dollar saved. However, when you are starting out, your most important savings goal should be the creation of an emergency fund. We come back to this topic time and time again, but the truth is that you need to have a fully funded emergency account if you ever want to build real wealth.
Emergencies are bound to happen. What you don’t want is for an unexpected expense to derail your entire savings plan.
Unforeseen expenses aren’t just a problem for those who are struggling. Emergency expenditures happen to rich people too. The difference is that wealthy people know they have to prepare for it. Instead of sending their financial world spiraling into tailspin, rich people simply dip into their emergency fund when the need arises. They are able to shrug it off and move on with their life.
If you don’t already know, an emergency fund is exactly what it sounds like – an account that you set aside to use for emergencies only. If your water heater breaks, you use money from your emergency fund to fix it. Did a softball fly through your window? Fix it with money from the emergency fund. Lose your job? Use your emergency fund to help you pay the rent and keep the lights on.
When I work with my financial coaching clients, building a starter emergency fund of $1,000 is always the first step I recommend. From there, you should work your way up. Ideally, you’ll want to have at least 3-6 months of expenses socked away for emergencies, depending on your income situation. Personally, I like to keep 6-9 months stashed away, just in case.
An emergency fund should not be used as an investment. The money should be kept in a separate, liquid savings account that you can access quickly. Also, you should only be tapping into this fund in the case of an emergency! And, no…that does not include getting tickets to the Maroon 5 concert. That goes in your monthly budget, smartypants.
Provide Something of Value…Other than Your Time
The value of time is a concept that most of the world fails to grasp. Your time is the most valuable asset that you have. Most people are so eager to sell their time in order to make a quick buck. In our economic system, it is not only encouraged, but it is the norm. Those that have cracked the time/value code really understand what their time is worth. That is why the majority of the wealthiest people in the world are entrepreneurs.
Rich people don’t sell their time. They buy your time and sell it to others so that they can continue to search for ways to provide more value – and make more money. Additionally, working for somebody else means giving up control of your income and your job stability.
“I truly believe that entrepreneurship is the new job security for our generation,” claims Bera. “The wealthy people I know run their own companies and view risk differently than the typical American.”
If you really want to know how to become a millionaire, you need to find a way to provide value to other people. You must create a product or a service that others will pay for. Ideally, you should create a system where – once the value is created – you can continue to sell it over and over again. This is what is known as a passive income stream.
Too many of us see risk as something to be avoided. Entrepreneurs and millionaires view carefully analyzed risk as an opportunity to create value and make money. Don’t let the risk of failure paralyze you. Be bold. Create something of value and turn it into your own business.
Create Multiple Streams of Income
One of the best kept secrets about building wealth is the ability of the wealthy to create and manage multiple streams of income. The saying goes that the “average millionaire has 7 different streams of income.” Compare that to the average American, who’s income is completely reliant on their one and only job, and you can see why wealthy individuals are able to build wealth faster than the average person.
Having multiple streams of income serves several different purposes. First, and most obviously, it allows you the opportunity to make more money. In theory, the more ways you have to make money, the greater your chances for creating increased cash flow.
For example, the only opportunity you have to increase your income at your job is through a raise – which is controlled by they company that you work for. By creating another source of income, you effectively give yourself your own raise. This is why developing side jobs can be so effective when you are trying to earn more money build wealth.
In the event that one of your income streams suddenly dries up, additional income streams also allow you some financial flexibility. If you depend entirely upon your job as your only source of income, you will be are thrust into financial crisis mode if you ever lose that job. Multiple streams of income allow you to stem the tide of panic. Losing one source of income simply means that you still have multiple other sources from which to draw. Several streams gives you multiple options, which translates into increased financial freedom.
Harness the Power of Tax-Advantaged Accounts and Compound Interest
Now that you’ve created your plan and started building wealth, you should look for ways to protect it. Wealthy people are always looking for ways to make their money work for them while sheltering it from the greedy hand of the IRS – and so should you. Decreasing your tax liability isn’t just something for rich people. You should actively seek ways to reduce your taxes and create more wealth through the power of compound interest. For most people, the best solution is using tax-advantanged retirement accounts.
Essentially, tax-advantaged retirement accounts are investment accounts in which your taxes are either tax-deferred or tax-exempt. These types of accounts include qualified plans like IRA’s and 401k plans. Self-employed people can also take advatange of SEP-IRA’s and other tax-advantaged retirement accounts.
“It’s important to start saving for retirement with your first job and slowly increase your contributions each year,” says Bera. The earlier you start, the more effect compounding interest can have on the growth of your account.
In addition, employees should take advantage of their company’s retirement programs. Many employer sponsored programs offer to match a certain percentage of the contributions made by their employees. Thus, if an employee commits 4% of their salary into a company sponsored 401k plan, the company may match it – effectively doubling the employee’s contribution. Not only will it help your account’s bottom line, but this extra money can have a huge effect on the amount of interest that you earn over time. Besides, it’s free money…and who doesn’t love that?
Bonus: Live Within Your Means and Spend Money on Assets
By the look of it, you probably couldn’t tell the difference between your average millionaire and a your child’s high school math teacher. They look like everybody else. Your average millionaire doesn’t flaunt their wealth through material goods. They know how to save money and have learned to spend it sparingly. Rather than buying consumer goods, like fancy cars and designer clothes, millionaires have learned to spend their money where it counts. They use their resources to buy things that either appreciate in value or create additional income.
The key to living within your means lies in your ability to budget. Each month, you should assign a specific task to every dollar that you make. Whether that is for your savings, electric bill, or entertainment, “spend” each dollar on paper before you spend it in practice. In this way, you’ll never be left wondering where all your money wandered off to…and you’ll learn to live within your means.
Crossing the Million Dollar Threshold
Becoming a millionaire may seem like a daunting task, but if you follow these tips, it doesn’t have to be. By creating an actionable plan and sticking to it, you are setting yourself up to succeed.
“Financial success isn’t a magic pill or get-rich quick scheme,” says Brewer. “It’s built by consistently implementing good habits and actions to get you closer and closer to your stated goals.”
What steps have you taken toward becoming a millionaire? Have you started? Let us know in the comments below!