8 Habits of Self-Made Millionaires

Budgeting, Personal Finance
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Most millionaires weren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth.

A raft of books and studies delve into what makes the nation’s affluent tick. Here are some of the surprising habits of the wealthiest that you can incorporate in your own life.

1. Make a budget and stick to it

Sounds boring, but self-made millionaires yawn their way to the bank by diligently attending to the ebb and flow of their bank accounts, authors Thomas Stanley and William Danko write in “The Millionaire Next Door,” their landmark study of the traits shared by America’s wealthiest people. That habit doesn’t end when the number of zeros in their ledger increases.

2. Pay yourself first

Self-made millionaires don’t see money as something to spend but as a tool for savings or investment. A trick that everyone could emulate: Come rain or shine, put at least 10% of what you earn into your savings account. Just like credit card spending can slowly rise into an ocean of debt, the reverse is true with methodical saving.

The rich just do this better: The average millionaire saves or invests 20% of his or her income. Many experts suggest the 50-30-20 rule — spend 50% of your income for what you need (housing, auto), 30% for what you want (new clothes) and invest or save the remaining 20%. It also helps to start investing when you’re young.

» MORE: How to save money

3. Have a goal

Wealthy people are list-makers. Eighty-one percent of millionaires maintain a to-do list, compared with just 9% of poor people, defined as those earning $30,000 or less a year, according to author Thomas Corley’s research on the daily habits of the very rich.

“They set these huge goals,” says Steve Siebold, author of “How Rich People Think.” “Guys like (Richard) Branson set these outrageous goals and they achieve it, so they do it again. Before they make their first $1 million, they may not believe they can make it. But once they overcome that hurdle, it seems to get easier.” Branson, a British billionaire, is the founder of the Virgin Group.

4. Live below your means

Most self-made millionaires play the game that got them there, even when they can afford to buy more. Legendary investor Warren Buffett lives in the same house in Omaha, Nebraska, that he bought for $31,500 in 1958 before he made his billions. Most of America’s millionaires buy used cars, according to authors Stanley and Danko. The most popular brand? Toyota.

Conspicuous consumption is not a common trait for most of America’s wealthy. “It is seldom luck or inheritance or advanced degrees or even intelligence that enables people to amass fortunes,” they write in “The Millionaire Next Door.” “Wealth is more often the result of a lifestyle of hard work, perseverance, planning and, most of all, self-discipline.”

5. Work for yourself

Worldwide, about half the world’s millionaires own their own businesses, according to the Economist; a scant 16% inherited their cash.

“The really rich never depend on one flow of income but instead create a number of revenue streams,” writes Grant Cardone, author of “The 10X Rule.”

6. Be comfortable with uncertainty

Wealthy people become rich through sensible risk-taking and resilience. “A lot of life is based on uncertainty. The quality of life is the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably live with,” Anthony Robbins told me after I covered one of his “Unleash the Power Within” seminars. Robbins emphasizes the importance of being flexible and open to new life experiences.

7. Hang out with millionaires

Robbins advises that if you want to become successful in business, you should spend time with people who are successful in business. Just as musicians hang out with fellow musicians and authors gravitate to other writers, the wealthy wannabes spend time with the wealthy.

Moreover, they genuinely want to learn from others so they can emulate their success. “You can’t learn how to make money from someone who doesn’t have much,” Cardone says. “You need to know what people are doing to create wealth and follow their example. What do they read? How do they invest? What drives them? How do they stay motivated and excited?”

8. Make money a by-product, not the goal

The wealthy don’t get rich by desiring things but by striving for more intangible gains. The money follows. “For the rich, it’s not about getting more stuff. It’s about having the freedom to make almost any decision you want,” says T. Harv Eker, author of “Secrets of the Millionaire Mind.”

Loving what you do matters. “Oftentimes passion for a career is not love at first sight,” Stanley writes in his book, “The Millionaire Mind.” Just over half of millionaires he surveyed enjoyed their career at the start; but over 80% said caring about their vocation is what ultimately built their wealth.

Kevin Voigt is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: kevin@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @kevinvoigt.

Illustration by Brian Yee

Updated March 17, 2017