The sooner you start your quest to become a millionaire, the cheaper and easier it will be. If you’ve delayed, it’s not too late to start, though.
We’ve got nearly 25 million millionaires in the United States, according to global investment bank Credit Suisse. About eight out of 10 are self-made, Fidelity Investments finds; only around 20% inherited their wealth.
“Anybody can become a millionaire with the right habits,” notes behavioral researcher James Langabeer in a press release announcing the publication of his book “The Quest for Wealth: Six Steps for Making Mindful Money Choices.” “The key is to become mindful, or deliberate and conscious, about your buying, spending, and investing behaviors.”
Millionaires aren’t special or smarter — they just live their lives more strategically, according to Vivian Tu, known as Your Rich BFF on YouTube, where she has nearly half a million subscribers.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a worker with real estate dealings or other money-generating side hustles, or an employee climbing the corporate ladder, adopting millionaires’ common habits could help you achieve this wealth milestone yourself.
Here’s what millionaires do.
1. They set goals
Goals help millionaires stay focused and motivated.
You can start with SMART goals that set you on your path to wealth. These goals are:
- Specific, like paying off your credit card debt
- Measurable, like tracking your monthly payment progress
- Attainable, like how you’re going to do it (Try this.)
- Relevant, like freeing money for investing
- Time-bound, like in six months or a year
Just the act of writing goals down can help you set your actions in motion. Building routines to meet your goals can become the habits that make you a millionaire.
Forming enriching habits requires from 18 to 254 days of following routines, according to the findings of one study. The median time is 66 days, the study authors say.
2. They visualize themselves
Picture your ideal self every day, advises Stacy Johnson, founder of Money Talks News. “We’ve all read about millionaires who lost everything, then somehow made it all back,” he says. “We’ve also read about people who won the lottery, then lost every dime. In both cases, what those people did was adjust their reality to match their self-image.”
You have a mental picture of the person you expect to be, Stacy says. He adds: “Sooner or later, you’re going to become the person in that picture.”
Many people might think luck plays a role in attaining wealth.
“Even if luck or randomness plays a big role, we still are better off if we start with some notion of where we’d like to end up,” author Langabeer says in an article for Psychology Today.
3. They invest
You can only work so many hours in a day, but millionaires know your money can work for you nonstop, Tu says in one of her videos.
Millionaires save about 20% of their income annually, according to William D. Danko and Richard J. Van Ness, who wrote the research-based book “Richer Than a Millionaire ~ A Pathway to True Prosperity.” “Unfortunately, others spend all of their income or more,” they write in an article published by the Coastal Breeze News.
“Saving and investing remain a fundamental practice to reach financial independence,” Danko said in an interview with Breakwater Financial.
The sooner you start investing, the less you need to invest to grow it to $1 million long-term, as this illustration shows.
- If at age 25 you start investing $200 a month in a tax-deferred account such as a 401(k) or IRA and earn 10% compounded annually — the approximate long-term average return on a low-cost S&P 500 Index fund — online calculators indicate you’d have just over $1 million at age 65. During that 40-year period, you would only invest $96,000 but have gains of nearly $1 million.
- If you wait until age 40, you need to put up $850 a month at the same 10% annual growth rate to accumulate $1 million by age 65. Over the course of 25 years, you would invest $255,000 and earn about $750,000. Still not a bad deal, and it indicates it’s never too late to start.
Step up the pace if you want to be a millionaire before you’re 65.
4. They shun debt
Most millionaires have no debt, says a Fidelity study. Just 1 in 4 has a mortgage and even fewer carry credit card balances or are paying off auto loans.
When you’re not spending money on auto loans or credit card charges, you have more to save and invest in building your wealth. That’s not to say don’t use credit cards, especially rewards cards; just pay them off as you go.
Use debt in only two instances, Stacy advises.
- When you have to in order to survive.
- When you earn more on what you’re financing than what you pay to finance it.
“Unless borrowing is ultimately going to make you richer, don’t do it,” Stacy says.
5. They live frugally
Even if they’ve never heard of humorist Robert Quillen, millionaires take heed today of his approximately century-old observation about money habits. In his Quillen’s Quips column from 1928, he wrote:
“Americanism: Using money you haven’t earned to buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like.”
To their credit, most millionaires have avoided this piece of Americana.
Danko and Thomas Stanley authored the 1996 groundbreaking bestseller “The Millionaire Next Door.” They found a lot of millionaires don’t look wealthy. Instead, they work most of their lives, drive average-cost cars rather than luxury models, live below their means, save their money and invest.
“People still need to be frugal, perhaps now more than ever,” Danko said in the Breakwater Financial interview. “They need to make viable family budgets that are adhered to.”
Industrial psychologist Sarah Stanley Fallaw, Stanley’s daughter, worked with her father to study 600 millionaires for “The Next Millionaire Next Door,” a data-driven sequel published in 2018. Fallaw says in a podcast the basic findings in the new book are consistent with her dad’s first book: Be frugal, make sound financial decisions and ignore what your coworkers and friends are driving, buying and wearing.
6. They avoid distractions
Seemingly small decisions can take you off track to reach financial goals, according to Fallaw.
“Distractions are a significant reason why many struggle to become financially independent or achieve other goals,” she tells Business Insider.
Technology places what others are up to at our fingertips, making it harder to ignore their spending, Fallaw explains in a podcast. Distractions like that could lead you to spend unwisely while trying keeping up with the Joneses.
Fallaw founded DataPoints, which offers a free Money Personality test to help you see distractions that could derail your saving, spending and investing decisions. For example:
- Extroverts might place themselves in social situations where they could bust their budgets on dining and entertainment.
- Highly agreeable people could fall prey to dubious financial offers or opportunities they don’t need.
- People with negative emotions can make impulsive spending or investment decisions when faced with stress.
“To build wealth, we must take responsibility for our financial future, even if our past was less than ideal,” Fallaw said in a 2020 interview.
7. They prioritize health
Millionaires spend nearly six hours a week exercising while the average American spends 2½, according to Fallaw’s research as reported in Business Insider.
“You can’t do anything without health, and no matter how much money you have, you can’t enjoy it if you’re dead,” says personal finance educator Rose Han in her millionaire-habits video on YouTube, where her channel has 690,000 subscribers. Letting your health go will reduce your productivity, she cautions.
Another reason millionaires keep up healthy habits: Paying for health care is a top worry for millionaires as well as millionaires-to-be, the Fidelity study found.
8. They keep learning
Education is a lifelong adventure for millionaires.
They spend roughly 5½ hours a week reading, Fallaw says.
Author Tom Corley, who got to know 233 millionaires for his Rich Habits study, says in an Acorns article that 68% of them went to college and 25% to graduate school. More than eight out of 10 say they read daily.
Reading helps them stay relevant in their field, updated on world news and expands their knowledge base to see more opportunities.
Millionaires also learn the language of money so they can make better decisions about their personal finances, says Chelsea Fagan of The Financial Diet in a YouTube video.
9. They persist
Millionaires keep showing up, Stacy says.
“I’ve been at least moderately successful in three businesses: stock broker, TV news guy and website owner,” he explains. Each success took at least five years.
“We live in a society that has the attention span of a gnat,” according to Stacy. “All we ever hear about is someone who got rich overnight.”
If you’re not an immediate success, don’t cut and run, he urges.
“Becoming successful isn’t easy, but it is simple: Find something that provides value to other people, then keep improving and delivering it until you either best your competition or outlast them,” Stacy says.
Other self-made millionaires agree.
“Become someone who can fail forward and you will succeed at everything you do,” says Han in her video.
“If you believe in yourself and are consistent about working hard to achieve whatever goals you set out for yourself, you’re unstoppable,” Steve Adcock, who retired at age 35 in 2016, tells CNBC. Don’t give up, he says. “Success could be just around the corner.”