The days of easy money—like the 15,000 point rise in the Dow Jones Industrial Average from March 2020 to December 2021 and the incredible rise in home prices from August 2021 to June 2022 that put thousands of dollars (or more!) into investors’ and homeowners’ pockets—are fading.
Today, markets are in disarray and investors are seeing their portfolios decline; interest rates are rising, increasing consumer debt outlay; and household assets are declining due to housing prices going down. Consequently, this triple threat is creating serious challenges to growing wealth.
Fed Fund Rates Over Time
You see, the problem is that the majority of us—throughout most of our lives—find ourselves on a financial pendulum—swinging low when our financial situations are stressed and high when they feel a little richer.
It’s really easy when things are going well and we have a little extra money in our pockets to pick up some bad financial habits—buying things we don’t need, splurging on an exotic vacation, buying a new car, etc. And financial planning and goal-setting discipline usually takes a vacation, too. Unfortunately, those bad habits and lack of planning can often lead to a dire financial situation—again and again.
The good news is there is really no reason that you have to continually swing on that pendulum, flitting from one extreme to the other. Instead, you can change your mindset and learn to moderate those hills and valleys, while continually growing your assets into real wealth.
I’m talking about making some small changes that will add up to a lifetime of accumulating real wealth. These changes will not happen overnight; they’ll require your work, thought, and patience; but they aren’t difficult.
You simply need to adopt the beliefs, habits, and behaviors that 21,951,000 people in the U.S. have already mastered. That figure equals the number of millionaires in our country, according to the 2021 Global Wealth Report by Credit Suisse.
But before you say, “sure, it’s easy when you have rich parents,” consider this. According to the National Study of Millionaires:
- Only 21% of millionaires received any inheritance at all
- Just 16% inherited more than $100,000
- And just 3% received an inheritance at or above $1 million!
If you want to move up to this level—the millionaire class—here’s the key: All it really takes is a change in mindset to get to the next financial level, and then the next, and the next! Of course, it’s not easy; it’s going to require planning, discipline, and most importantly—a brutal self-analysis!
I’ve read lots of books about growing wealth, including:
- Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals, by Tom Corley
- The Millionaire Next Door, by Dr. Thomas Stanley and William Danko
- Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert T. Kiyosaki
- Baby Steps Millionaires, by Dave Ramsey
And I’ve studied the paths of successful, rich people since I was in elementary school searching for biographies and aggravating the librarians!
Bottom line, here’s what I’ve found out: Essentially, every successful person I’ve studied shares many of the same basic traits.
Let’s explore them, one by one, and you’ll see that none of these characteristics includes depending on inheritances or winning the lottery. You don’t have to have an IQ of 132 or more (the primary qualification for membership in Mensa). And you don’t need to start with a fortune. Instead, each step is a building block that, if followed, will put you on the path to gathering and keeping real wealth.
Are you ready to change your future? Then, let’s get started!
Develop an Ownership Mentality
The wealthy have an ownership mentality. They think like an owner, not an employee (even if they start out as employees). As an employee, your income is fairly limited. Sure, you can make a lot of money working for someone else, but if you own a business, your income is pretty much on an infinite scale. And if business goes down, as an owner, if you’re smart and lucky and disciplined, you will still keep your business. But if you are an employee in difficult times, you may lose your job (like 44,000 tech employees have so far in 2022).
Consider this idea in terms of buying something that has a bigger payback than you’ve spent. For example, a business owner will pay a good employee, based not just on market rates, but on how much income they generate, while leaving enough of that income in the kitty for the owner’s use. Good commissioned salespeople thrive in this environment, and so do business owners.
A survey in The Millionaire Next Door reported that more than two-thirds of affluent households in America are headed by a business owner.
And millionaires don’t just own their own businesses; they invest in other businesses also. That’s how Warren Buffett got so rich. His Berkshire Hathaway outright owns 65 other businesses, including GEICO, Acme Brick, Benjamin Moore, and Dairy Queen. Plus, his company owns significant stakes in 20 other businesses, including Pilot Travel Centers, Kraft Heinz, U.S. Bancorp, and Apple.
Likewise, millionaires invest. They put their money into a stock, bond, or fund, expecting to get a greater return than what they have initially invested. And they tend to hold their investments for the long term instead of trading frequently. For example, Warren Buffett has held 30% of his stocks for decades!
They also invest in real estate. Collegeinvestor.com says more than 80% of millionaires invest in real property, so they can benefit from appreciation as well as rental income. And most big real estate investors hold their real property for 5-10 years, happily collecting all those beautiful rents!
One thought regarding real estate investing—this does not include your personal home. In a typical housing market (not like the one in the past year!), home prices averaged 4.53% growth from 1992 until 2022. With minimal returns like that, it’s best to think of your home as a nice place to live, not an investment.
Alternatively, not-so-enlightened folks put their money in bank accounts, certificates of deposit, or other low-earning accounts, if they save or invest at all. With an average nationwide CD rate of 0.7%, you can imagine how difficult it would be to get ahead!
Think Wealth vs. Scarcity
A wealth mindset is simply abundant thinking—what we believe is available to us, as explained by Kristen Euretig, CFP, founder and CEO of Brooklyn Plans, LLC. She adds, “wealth mindset is the idea that the universe is plentiful, and our potential is unlimited. It involves defeating self-limiting beliefs that come up around money or life goals, in general, to break past self-imposed barriers to a better way of living.”
The opposite, scarcity mindset, is negative and defeatist. Euretig says, “Scarcity mindset tells us there will never be enough—even if our bank account is stable and our bills are paid. This ‘not enough’ feeling can result in toxic money habits or spending to feel good.”
It can lead to impulse buying, the feeling that you need to buy now to get the best deal. We can blame a lot of that thinking on the clever marketing in our society, including these tag lines:
- Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.
- Definitely, You Can Buy it!
- The Joy of Getting Your Best
- It’s a Sale You Can’t Resist!
- Best Sale of the Season!
- Hurry Before the Stock Runs Out
- Limited Time, Blow Out Sale
- Store Closing—Everything Must Go!
Marketers want to make you believe that you have to buy this good deal right now! But millionaires spend a lot of time before purchasing almost anything. You know that I own a real estate company. I have lots of high-end buyers, and this is true: luxury buyers spend a lot more time looking and making a purchasing decision than regular folks. It’s true in houses, cars, even television sets. They research, shop around, and think about whether or not they truly need the item before plunking down their money.
And you can do the same. Take it down to the lowest level. We all know it’s not a good idea to shop for groceries when you’re hungry. It’s also not smart to shop when you’re depressed, bored, sad, or even happy. Turn that activity into one that you only do when you have thoroughly researched and considered a product that you really need to buy. You’ll be amazed at how much more money you will have to save and invest. This is what wealthy people do.
I have a friend who is worth millions. She did inherit a little money, but she started investing in real estate at a very young age. She was a single mom at the time, so you know finances were a challenge. But she saved a little out of every check, began investing in real estate, then stocks, and I’ve rarely seen her buy anything on impulse. Listen, she won’t even buy an iced tea in a restaurant, as she visualizes that $3 going into her investment account!
So, don’t get taken in by the “have to buy it now” mentality. It’s a baby step, but if you begin thinking about each purchase you make, you will soon be on your way to accumulating wealth, not spending it.
Get Over the “Shame” of Wealth
If I had a dollar for every time my grandmother said, “Money is the root of all evil,” I would have a good start on my wealth goals. And she didn’t even have the quote right!
The phrase is from the Bible. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy (6:10) that “the love of money” is the root of all evil.
Many folks misquote Paul, and society has set up an “us vs. them” (rich vs. poor) mentality, blaming rich folks for all the ills in the world. The truth is that without the rich folks, many social services would go unfunded. According to a study from Bank of America and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, 88% of affluent families (with net worth greater than a million dollars) donated to charities in 2020. In fact, in that same year, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the fifty biggest donors in the United States gave $24.7 billion to charity, topped by Jeff Bezos, who gave $10.5 billion.
You see, growing your wealth is not a singular goal of “loving money” for money’s sake. It’s what you do with it. And if you take a logical, planned, disciplined approach to making money and enhancing your financial position, you can also do a lot of good for society, your neighbors, your church, or whomever you want to help.
So, don’t feel guilty about wanting to thrive; instead, think about all the ways you can use your increased wealth as a tool to help others, also.
The 7 Levels of Wealth
Ask yourself, “How much money do I need to be happy?” Everyone’s answer will be different. But according to a study by Angus Deaton, the 2015 Nobel laureate in economics, he reported that the correlation between emotional well-being and annual income tops out at $75,000 for the average citizen of the U.S.—as of 2009. At that time, $75,000 was more than double the U.S. annual median income. Today, the annual median income in the U.S. is $44,225, so all things being equal, the happiness quotient should be about $88,450.
But those numbers are sort of “pie in the sky.” If you asked me the question, I’d say $5 million. But I have friends who have relatively low-paying jobs, are pretty good financial managers, and they’d probably say $1 million.
It’s all relative. But what is true is that many money experts agree that there are actually seven levels of wealth, and you can ascend them until you reach the level that makes you the happiest. Keep in mind that the more levels you climb, the more autonomy you’ll have, and that seems to be associated with financial happiness.
Here are the seven levels:
- This would be the level for children, dependent on their parents. However, it also includes folks who are medically dependent on others, or even older people who have become financially dependent upon their children. This is not a happy level.
- You can just about make ends meet at this level. You can pay your bills, but can’t save. We’ve all been at this level in our first jobs. But some folks remain here all their lives, due to unexpected hardships or bad financial management. People who like the flash—fancy cars or houses, with no substance (income and assets) to afford them—often live their lives this way. A very bad idea! Millionaires have learned to always live below, not above, their means.
- Many folks are happy at this level—able to cover their expenses and save a bit. They generally have tucked away at least six months’ worth of living expenses in an emergency fund; they keep debt at a reasonable level that they can afford. And money stress has begun to ease.
- This is where the growing of wealth begins. The stable folks from the previous level begin investing, using a carefully constructed investing plan based on their long-term goals and risk profile. You’re getting pretty happy at this level.
- Here, you’ve been investing for a while and have accumulated a nice portfolio that has created an income that can cover your living expenses for the rest of your life. You can retire, if you want to do so. At last!
- Now, you have accumulated enough wealth and income to put you to the next level—maybe a more luxurious lifestyle, world travel, providing education for your grandchildren, or any number of exciting ventures. For most of us, this level of wealth is but a dream. But it can be yours if you want it.
- Very few people reach this level. It requires luck, determination, discipline, and smart investing. There are some 720 billionaires in the U.S., and 2,700 around the world. Most of them would be at this level. They have more money than they will ever need. This is the level where these lucky folks begin to contemplate their legacy and ensure that their heirs keep up the good work and their good works!
Bottom line, it’s up to you to decide which level of wealth is your personal happy place. And then create a plan to reach it.
Investing: The Key to Real Wealth
The biggest key to reaching these successive levels of wealth, as you may have noticed, involves investing. It’s great to save but if you don’t put those dollars in a well-thought-out investing plan, you will never accumulate real wealth. Investing creates passive income that compounds.
There are two rules to follow here to reach your maximum wealth:
- Start investing early. In this case, it is true that “the early bird gets the worm!”
- Don’t stop investing
Let’s take a look at this scenario that exemplifies both rules. From ramseysolutions.com, the example features Jack and Blake, who are both getting average annual gains of 11.6% from their investments:
- Starts investing at age 21
- Invests $2,400 every year
- Stops contributing money at age 30
- Total amount contributed: $21,600
- Starts investing at age 30
- Invests $2,400 every year
- Contributes money until age 67 (a total of 37 years!)
- Total amount contributed: $91,200
At age 67, Jack’s investment has grown to $2,547,150, and Blake’s has grown to $1,483,033! Nine years made a difference of over one million dollars.
That’s significant—especially since both investors invested a reasonable $200 per month. Compounding is one of the single most effective methods to reaching your wealth goals.
Risk (Calculated) and You Shall Receive
There is no “sure thing.” To get ahead in life, you have to take risks. That includes risks such as starting a new career, buying a home, getting married, and creating your own financial wealth.
Playing it safe won’t do it. But that’s exactly how many of us live our lives, mostly out of fear. I can give you many more examples of failures from not taking risks than the successes that resulted by forging ahead into unknown territories.
Years ago, the father of a friend shared a story with me. He was one of the engineers involved with creating the first computer—a true genius. But he married a woman with a lot of fears. When he was approached by IBM with a job offer in the company’s very early days, his wife convinced him to bypass it. He had a good career, and most folks would consider him well-off, but his close friend from the computer days who was also offered a position at IBM, jumped at the offer, spent his career there, and became extremely wealthy.
Another friend’s brother had a genius-level IQ. His elementary school wanted to promote him two grades ahead, but his mother was afraid that he would miss out on the social aspects of kids his age, so she nixed the idea. This child never lived up to his potential. School was too easy, so he didn’t learn good study habits. By the time he got to college, his goals were very watered down. He made a living, but never achieved the career or wealth goals that he could have easily mastered.
I come from a blue-collar family, where many of my relatives never completed high school. It’s sad, but out of 100 or so cousins, only four of us graduated from college. We really didn’t have much encouragement or even a role model, but somehow, we had the drive to live a different life than the one in which we were reared.
But it wasn’t easy. My dad and most of my uncles thought women should—guess what—stay home and raise a family. My mother and many of my aunts wanted more for their children, but were so frightened of the unknown that they often discouraged us. We were questioned, “do you think you can do that,” “isn’t that going to be too hard,” and “how will you support yourself?”
My point is this: You just can’t stay with the status quo and succeed. You have to take risks. You better believe I was scared to go to college. I was also frightened every time I took a new job. And I was pretty scared when I jumped out of a plane. My mother’s voice was always in my head, asking “do you think you can do that?”
But if you want something bad enough—and I did—it’s worth the risk. And I’ve found out that the more risks I’ve taken, the happier I am.
However, you should feel some comfort knowing that risks can be calculated. I always ask myself when embarking on a new venture, “what’s the worst that could happen?”
Risks are part of living, whether it’s starting a new job or career or even a business, retiring at the right time, asking for a raise, or investing in a new company.
The key is to develop a strategy to take calculated risks. Every time I have a big decision to make, I do two things: 1) Make a list of the pros and cons, and 2) do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threads) analysis.
These two steps will help you define your decision options and determine which ones to make and which ones to pass up.
Additionally, you might enjoy Ray Dalio’s book, Principles: Life and Work. Dalio lists five steps in helping you determine the risks worth taking in his 5 Principles of Life:
Embrace reality & deal with it.
Use the 5-Step Process to get what you want in life:
- Set clear, audacious goals => (2) Don’t tolerate problems => (3) Diagnose the root causes => (4) Design a plan before you act => (5) Execute to completion.
Be radically open-minded.
Understand how people are wired differently.
Learn to make decisions effectively.
You do this by having facts/knowledge about the situation, visualize possible paths forward, then choose the best path.
Can I just tell you that most people hate confrontation? The very definition of confrontation is unsettling:
According to Wikipedia, “confrontation is an element of conflict wherein parties confront one another, directly engaging one another in the course of a dispute between them. A confrontation can be at any scale, between any number of people, between entire nations or cultures, or between living things other than humans.”
That words, “conflict” and “dispute” are enough to get anyone’s hackles up, aren’t they?
But confrontation can actually be empowering, especially when dealing with your finances. Listen, most of us are ostrich-like, sticking our heads in the sand when confronting the true state of our finances. But confronting and overcoming financial difficulties can really boost your confidence. And when that happens a few times, you will automatically begin to welcome those confrontations so that you can build on your success.
Just start with the basics.
- Know your financial situation at all times. That means creating a budget and sticking to it.
- Organize your finances and pay your bills on time.
- Eliminate unnecessary expenses, like credit card fees, daily Starbucks fixes, or unused subscriptions.
- Automate as much of your financial life as you can. For expenses, sign up for auto debits on your mortgage and utility bills. And automate your savings and investing, contributing to your 401k plan or IRA on a monthly basis. These are time-savers, money-savers, and money-growers.
Develop a Backbone—Know When to Say Yes or No
There are hordes of people wanting your time and/or money. Every day in my real estate business, I get requests from local schools, golf leagues, and charities who want me to volunteer my time or give them money.
I’ve learned that I can’t be all things to all people, so have set some very clear rules on how I spend my money and my time. If the organization doesn’t fit in with my personal and business goals, I just say “no.” I don’t explain myself. I just say “no.”
I’m a big believer in charity and spend a lot of time and money helping Habitat for Humanity, the United Way, and my local Chamber of Commerce. Anything else usually gets a thumbs-down from me. But it’s up to you to determine which organizations merit your time and money. Go for it, and no apologies needed!
If you want to get to the next level, spend your time and money in a manner that will bring positive things to your life, and ignore the rest.
Focus on Your Path: Set Goals and Become Results-Oriented
What are your goals? Are they financial, event- or person-oriented? I’ve learned through the years that men are pretty darn good at setting financial goals. You ask virtually any man you know, and they’ll tell you how much money they want to accumulate before leaving this world.
We women are a bit different. We think more along the lines of what we are saving and investing for: a retirement home, a second or vacation home, an investment rental, an around-the-world cruise, college investments for our grandchildren, etc.
The key is it doesn’t matter. It’s your goal. You just need to set one, or a few!
But be aware that goals aren’t achieved overnight. They are reached through a series of baby steps, determination, and patience. Hardly anyone gets rich overnight (unless they win the lottery!).
Bill Gates created Microsoft over a period of years. And that’s after he was kicked out of the computer club (for being too bossy), taken to a psychiatrist because he wouldn’t take out the trash, and failed spectacularly at his first company, a traffic monitoring business. He achieved his goals, and now he’s using his fortune to make the world a better place. What a great evolution!
Before he came up with Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney was rejected by the Army, fired from a number of jobs, stripped of his intellectual property, and filed bankruptcy.
James Dyson created 5,127 different prototypes over 15 years before he made a vacuum cleaner he could pitch to British retailers, which they rejected. Today Dyson is worth $7.2 billion. He used some of his fortune during the pandemic to design a new ventilator to fight COVID-19 and donated 5,000 of them.
The guiding principle is planning and developing healthy routines. It is said that the average wealthy person spends 10 times more time planning his finances than the average middle-class individual.
That means starting with your ultimate goal, then planning the steps it will take to reach it. Make sure your goal is reasonable so that it is achievable. And start small. When I got my first job, I made $84 a week, and I intentionally saved $50 a month. That was a large proportion of my income, but it put me on the right path.
And take advantage of all the “free money” you can get via your employer’s 401k or pension plans. If they match a certain percentage of your contributions, make sure you contribute the maximum. Not only will your investments grow from your own contributions, but they will really accelerate from the monies your employer matches.
And while you’re planning your finances, don’t neglect your intellectual and physical wellbeing. Instead of wasting time watching mindless TV, watch a documentary or read a good book. And treat your body wisely; exercise regularly and feed it healthy food. Focusing on mental activities and physical health will keep your mind operating at maximum effect.
Practical Wealth Growing—and Keeping—Steps
Here are a few more suggestions on the practical side of becoming wealthy:
Practice Tax Efficiency. You don’t want to give Uncle Sam any more than you owe. The old saying, “It’s not about what you make, it’s about what you keep” is appropriate here. Make sure that you are maximizing your tax deductions by contributing to your retirement plans, funding health savings accounts, and taking advantage of every tax deduction and credit that you can.
It’s difficult to keep up with all those tax rules, so to be the most tax-efficient, make sure to consult with your tax accountant or attorney.
Use Debt Wisely. Corporations employ debt as leverage to expand. All debt is not bad. Personally, most people borrow to buy automobiles, homes, and to educate themselves or their families.
The key is to use it wisely and keep your credit rating strong. The stronger your rating, the less you will generally have to pay for debt service. Borrow just what you need, and only go into debt for important purchases. That means no vacation or wedding loans. If you can’t save enough for those two events, they should be postponed until you have the cash. In today’s society, getting overburdened with debt is the norm, but it’s just not smart. It will impair your long-term financial goals.
Negotiate Everything. And I do mean everything—your salary, a raise, a vacation, your internet and streaming bills, your satellite radio subscription, a new car, credit card interest; even the shirt you want to buy that has a loose button. Listen, if you don’t ask, you won’t receive.
Save and Invest Consistently. No matter how hard it may be, this commitment will be the one that pushes you into successively higher financial levels. Don’t let one month go by when you haven’t saved part of your income. And keep increasing what you save and invest. When you get a raise, don’t spend it, save it!
Diversify Your Investments. That means as my mom would say, “Don’t put all your eggs in the same basket.”
Consider Using Insurance to Protect Your Wealth. This will, of course, depend on your personal financial and family situation. Don’t hesitate to consult your financial advisor as to whether life insurance, disability insurance, long-term care, or a hybrid insurance/investment product would be beneficial to you.
Protect Your Heirs. Make sure you have, at the very least, a will. A trust is better. And don’t forget your living will so your spouse, children, and grandchildren are not burdened by making some important decisions for you.
Count on Inflation. Inflation can hurt you on the expense side, but as an investor, you can increase your wealth by investing in growing arenas.
Jump on Opportunities. Forget fear and take those calculated risks! I love that show, Shark Tank. I’m constantly amazed at the inventions that people come up with, and routinely ask myself, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Just consider all those folks, putting themselves and their ideas out in front of not just a few people but millions, on national television! Talk about calculated risks, huh? Who would have thought a sponge with a happy face, a wearable blanket with a hood, or a squatty potty would sell millions? Their inventors—and investors—of course!
Find a Mentor. Over the years of my career, I have been very fortunate to have several generous, successful mentors. Every time you meet a new person, consider if they might serve as a mentor for you. As you get to know them, you can just ask them if they will do so. It doesn’t have to be anything formal—a mentor can just be a sounding board for new ideas or tough decisions you may need to make. And don’t forget to mentor those coming up behind you!
Learn, Learn, Learn! (Especially from Your Mistakes)! Become an expert in your field and read everything you can get your hands on that will make you a smarter, more interesting person, investor, business owner, or friend. Education and expertise will set you apart from others and bring more opportunities your way. And don’t get derailed by your mistakes; we all make them. Learn from them, and then get over them!
Stop Procrastinating and Making Excuses! Don’t waste another moment. I don’t care how old you are; it is never too late to begin a financial program that will accelerate you to the next level.
If Possible, Love What You Do for a Living
Each of the above ideas can get you on the path to success and wealth. But one last one—my favorite is this: Love what you do.
Listen, most of us work 40 or more years. That time can seem endless if you don’t love—or at least like—what you do.
If you’re young and just starting out, this may not be an easy question to answer. But if you have had several jobs, it becomes easier. Just make a list of all the things you love and hate about the jobs you have had. Then think about all the activities that you do, and make the same list. Add to the list the things you think you do well and not so well.
For example, I know that I could never have worked in a factory; I absolutely hate routine tasks. Give me something new to do every day and you will find a happy girl! But I absolutely love trying new things, which is why I love to cook. But don’t ask me to make the same meatloaf recipe every time!
I’m sure you can come up with plenty of examples like those.
Then, once you have the “love” section finished, start thinking about and searching for jobs or businesses that can fulfill your basic desires.
That’s what I did in the early 90s when I and 35 other bank managers were laid off when our bank was merged into a bigger financial institution. When I looked over that list of my daily tasks, they were mostly in the “I hate” section. I knew, then and there, that I would have to be dragged kicking and screaming into another banking job. Fortunately, my list set me on a new path—in the investment arena—and I’ve never looked back.
I hope you will be that fortunate.
As you can see, nothing I’ve said is too costly in terms of money or time. A millionaire mindset is achievable. It simply comes down to spending less and doing so wisely, investing for the long term, taking calculated risks, and constantly monitoring how you can do better.
When you master this strategy, you will have more money and more control over your finances. And that wealth-building will bring you even more opportunities to improve your financial wellbeing.
I wish you the very best.