Ever since I was little I've been curious about the idea of having one million dollars. My mom told me to marry a rich man (!), but as an eight-year-old who didn't like boys I said, “I want to do it myself!”
I'm not a millionaire. In fact, I wrote a post for Get Rich Slowly about paying off $70,000 dollars of debt a few years ago, and I'm slowly climbing my way up. During the journey, I also read numerous books about millionaires, but I decided I wanted to learn directly from the millionaires themselves.
Last year I started a podcast series of interviews with millionaires to find out what their pivotal moments were, how they did it, and what advice they had to offer. I concentrate on business building, but I also ask about how they handle their personal finances.
To date, I've interviewed more than 50 millionaires. Most of them started with very little money (like $50 in their pocket, or they were living with their mom at age 25) and were able to establish and keep up frugal habits once they learned how to make more money. I'd like to share with you some of their direct stories and advice.
Millionaire Derek Sivers sold his company, CD Baby for $22 million in 2008. But even when he paid the bills as a professional musician and circus clown, he avoided debt. He says:
“I've always been very debt-averse. I don't like being in debt at all, even on the small level. I never bought anything with a credit card unless I had that much money in the bank. The credit card was just a convenience. I never went into negative debt on a credit card, even as a teenager because I just hated that feeling. They say that there are two ways to be rich: one is getting more money, and the other one is lowering your expectations, lowering your needs.”
Derek says that when he was in his 20s he lived off of $12,000 in savings for a few years. Then he got a job with the circus making about $12,000 a year, and he felt rich.
Derek also gave the proceeds from selling CD Baby to a charitable trust for music education, and he continues to Financial Mentor, made most of his money through smart investments. He got the seed money to make those investments by saving almost 70% of his income. I asked Todd how he saved so much money. Todd said:
“I think…it comes back to values. You just have to not have an interest in buying lots of stuff…I was a single, young man, not too far out of college and my mom would get on me. She'd say, ‘Todd, you're making all this money, why don't you go buy yourself a Corvette? Go get yourself a flashy car.' But I lived in Lake Tahoe. I'm an outdoor recreation buff…I'd play volleyball down on the beach; mountain bike in the hills. I run.”
By holding on to what he valued (time spent outdoors), Todd avoided expenses like a big monthly payment on a car he didn't need (or want).
Buy used and share (and help the environment, too!)
I asked comedian Dan Nainan for one action tip that you can implement this week to move toward your goal, and Dan said the following:
“…figure out how you can save money. Don't spend as much. Don't go to Best Buy — get it off of eBay because sometimes it's a tenth of the cost of retail. Go to Craigslist. I use Craigslist and eBay a lot. You can save a tremendous amount of money because people buy stuff and they don't need it anymore, and it's cheaper than buying retail. You're not only saving money, but you're buying something from someone so they're not throwing it out. That's helping the environment a lot. I mean there are countless ways you can save a lot of money and not consume a lot…it's a win-win for everyone.”
Dan also says that folks in neighborhoods or townhouses could a lot of things with neighbors to save money, such as a barbeque grill or even a video camera. He also loves the library, of course!
Do what works for you
Matthew Tuttle, owner of Tuttle Wealth Management, a financial management company, had a lot of great information gleaned from working with clients (and their money). Matthew offered the following advice:
“I'm not a big fan of budgets. I'm not a big fan of trying to impose that discipline on someone who just can't do it. I also find a lot of times spouses vehemently disagree when it comes to budgeting. What I am much more a fan of is, save as much as you can and if you're saving as much as you can, as long as you're not going into debt, then I don't necessarily care where you're spending your money.
So if I go to someone who is not saving anything and say, ‘I need you to start putting away 20% of your income every year,' it's not going to happen. It's like the idea of boiling a frog. You dump a frog in boiling water it's going to jump out. So I like to start slow. ‘This month let's put away 1%.' Then next month we're going to bump it up to 2%. Then we're going to bump it up to 3%, and we're going to slowly get you used to living on less and less and less and get to a point where you're saving as much as you possibly can.”
We've heard it over and over a thousand times: spend less than you earn. The millionaires I interview look for ways to increase the earnings and decrease the valueless spending.
For instance, Todd values outdoor recreation. He's not looking to cut his ski trips, but he is willing to cut in other areas he doesn't value as highly.
Many millionaires became millionaires because they don't spend, they invest:
- Spending: To pay money for goods and services
- Investing: To spend money with the expectation to gain profitable returns
They look at each purchase, even personal things, as an investment. Of course most personal expenses don't yield a profitable return in terms of more money in the bank account, but they can offer good value. The self-made millionaires I interview make conscious decisions about what they want and what a purchase will give them in return.
Even though I am fairly frugal I've learned a lot from the suggestions of millionaires. I've learned a lot from their attitudes about money. One of the reasons I started doing the podcast series was because I used to put millionaires on a pedestal. Now I realize, they are just people like you and me. They have made good and bad decisions in their lives. They learn from their mistakes and try to make better decisions. They even make spelling mistakes, just like me! And these people I have interviewed are also some of the most generous people I've ever met. The books I've read on millionaires didn't tell me that.