The Quiet Millionaire

Despite what you see in the media, financial success generally doesn't come with a lot of glitz. The wealthiest people I know are the ones you'd least expect. They've built their wealth slowly — and quietly.

Certified financial planner Brett Wilder has observed the same thing, and has written about the phenomenon in his book, The Quiet Millionaire. Along the way, he shares real-life examples of quiet millionaires. These are the same sorts of people who were profiled in Stanley and Danko's The Millionaire Next Door [my review]. They're frugal, hard-working, and sensible.

From the introduction:

Being a millionaire is a realistic aspiration if you are knowledgeable and diligent about becoming one…

Financial miracles do happen, but the quiet millionaire does not wait for a miracle in order to become financially successful. Depending upon what and how much you want, you need to commit to taking action and to making some well-thought-out, informed choices regarding what is really important to you and your financial life. This may require you to throw in some willing sacrifices, steadfast perseverance, and rolled-up-sleeve hard work.

In other words: It is possible to get rich — slowly.

A Textbook for Financial Independence

Wilder begins his book by asking readers to consider what is important to them about both life and money. He urges introspection. In many ways, Wilder's approach reminds me of George Kinder's three questions about life planning. Both men want us to look beyond money to find meaning.

Most of the book is about straight-up financial planning, though. Its content will be familiar to GRS readers. Wilder covers topics like:

  • How to have a positive cash flow
  • How to manage various types of debt (mortgage, credit card, etc.)
  • How to plan for taxes (a topic I don't cover much at GRS)
  • How to choose the right insurance
  • How to make college affordable
  • How to deal with health insurance

The advantage of The Quiet Millionaire over a blog, however, is that all of the information is in one place. Plus it's written by a trained professional.

Unlike most books of this sort, The Quiet Millionaire also features a chapter on entrepreneurship. “Most quiet millionaires are successful business owners,” Wilder writes. “While not all are, statistically, most of them used this path to become one.” You won't learn how to run a business here, but you will be given a sort of rough guide to business ownership.

The book's longest chapter explains “how to be an investment winner”, and stresses the importance of diversification, asset allocation, and risk tolerance. Wilder's goal is to get his readers to take emotion out of their investment decisions.

The Quiet Millionaire is different from most of the other personal-finance books I review. Though Wilder includes behavioral finance and life planning concepts, this is a numbers book. If you're put off by the psychological tomes I usually feature here, consider reading The Quiet Millionaire instead. As one Amazon reviewer noted, “It's like a textbook for financial independence.”

All the same, I often felt like there wasn't enough information about any one subject. It's as if The Quiet Millionaire were the map of an entire country. By looking at it, you can see how major highways connect one city to another, but in order to get detailed directions, you need to pick up a street map. (In this case, the street maps would be other books on specific topics.)

Getting Rich Slowly — and Quietly

The Quiet Millionaire isn't really a book for beginners. It's targeted at folks who, like me, have reached the third stage of personal finance — or beyond. It's for readers who are out of debt and building wealth.

(I think the book is actually targeted at those with high incomes. For example, it touches on Roth IRAs only briefly because: “Unfortunately, the quiet millionaire typically cannot contribute to the Roth IRA because it has…earned income limitations.” In other words, Wilder's target audience is the top 10% of income earners!)

The Quiet Millionaire is a quiet book. Wilder isn't bombastic, and he doesn't tout any gimmicks. In many ways, this book is boring.

But you know what? Smart personal finance is boring, too. Smart personal finance isn't about being flashy or gambling in the stock market. Smart personal finance is about making the right choices day after day, year after year. The Quiet Millionaire may not make any best-seller lists, but I'll bet it makes some of its readers rich.

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Writer's Coin
Writer's Coin
10 years ago

This sounds like my kind of book: no hype, just data. And And I love this line: Smart personal finance is boring, too.

The Boring Challenge, over on Wisebread, is all about saving money and getting results by using dull, “boring” techniques. Like you said, this stuff doesn’t need to be glitzy to work, it just needs to work.

Generation Y Investor
Generation Y Investor
10 years ago

This seems like an interesting book. There’s definitely a big difference between someone with a million dollar net worth vs a flashy person with a high income. It’s probably a degree of quite contentment that enables one to become a millionaire.

-Gen Y Investor

Kat
Kat
10 years ago

The $176g a year limit is for filing joint tax returns, $120g for a single filer. Which is still a lot of money, but if you live in, say, NYC, it’s not “rich” to be earning $90g each, also it’s not really a huge amount if you own your own business, as you also suggest this book targets. To contibute the full amount to a Roth IRA the limits are $105g and $166g.

AD
AD
10 years ago

“Smart personal finance is boring, too.”

To echo Writer’s Coin, I really liked that line. I hear many people talk about what they’d do if they won the lottery–quit the office job, travel, stay home with the kids–and most of these are things they actually could do if they were willing to make sacrifices and work toward it.

I never say a word, but I don’t plan to wait for a winning lotto ticket to realize the dreams that are most important to me.

Anelly
Anelly
10 years ago

This is not yet my type of book as I’m not yet on the third stage. But I’m ambitious and optimistic and i know will soon be the type of my book.

Craig
Craig
10 years ago

Sounds like a lot of the advice you hear from people now about saving money the right way even though it’s slow and not going to make you money over night. It’s more of a safe play but a good one if you want to be more stable. Sounds like a good read, something I am going to have to check out.

Britt
Britt
10 years ago

your link for The Quiet Millionaire points to The Millionaire Next Door on Amazon…just sayin’.

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
10 years ago

A person with a one million dollars in their retirement accounts will be able to take out $40,000 per year to live on at the recommended 4% per year. You wouldn’t really expect an ostentatious lifestyle on that income. It is about the expected social security benefit for a 50 year old making $75,000 per year.

That said, there are a lot of farmers and other business people who are asset rich and cash poor. That million dollars worth of cropland only produces income once a crop is planted on it and the weather cooperates.

Piccola
Piccola
10 years ago

Thanks for this post! This is the kind of thing I love to read about on GRS. I’m very interested in this third stage of financial planning.

emma
emma
10 years ago

I am that Quiet Millionaire. When my husband and I married 27 years ago we had an old car and $200 dollars to our name. We were the last of our friends to have cable, a VCR and a microwave. We slowly and methodically saved and lived well below our means. We still do. In fact, this past year we bought a garbage can when we realized we were paying $3.00 a month to rent one. Is it an exciting story on how to become a millionaire? No. But it is exciting to come to this place in our lives… Read more »

Cindy
Cindy
10 years ago

I have this book and highly recommend it to anyone who wants a rational, intelligent plan for financial security. I particularly liked the chapters where he addressed high income earners who are cash poor and the chapter on planning for college expenses is invaluable. There are no gimmicks here, just sane advice for people who take their security seriously. And, if you are like me and not a millionaire, the advice is just as sound. Prudent money management is a habit and you can’t get there from here without it. Thanks for a great post.

Sandy E.
Sandy E.
10 years ago

Knowing what your values are is key because then you can build your entire budget around those areas, and forget the rest. You can spend extravangantly there, but be frugal everywhere else. Your values are what you value, not what society tells you you should, or what media tells you, or any advertising tells you. (They’re just trying to earn a buck, so I don’t blame them, but thankfully, I’m no longer swayed by them either). Once I ascertained what mine were, and incorporated them into a budget, then wow — I was no longer tempted to spend money randomly… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
10 years ago

@Kat (#3)
Thanks for the correction. I’ve altered the post to be more accurate. The cutoff for Roth IRA contributions affects just the top 10% (or so) of income earners in the U.S. That seems like a fairly narrow group to target. On the other hand, there aren’t a lot of personal-finance books written specifically for these folks…

Des
Des
10 years ago

@ Emma:

“Having money just makes our lives easier not happier.”

I’m putting this quote on my monitor. I love it! I’d like to be in your position 27 years from now, and I want to remember it 🙂

RB @ Financial Samurai
RB @ Financial Samurai
10 years ago

“Quiet” and “Slowly” could be considered synonyms in this topic. Although I firmly believe we can all quietly, or slowly become millionaires over a period of time, our time is just too finite and I’d rather make sure we become millionaires early. The interesting thing about one of my co-writers, is that he has several million in various banks, but he lives very inconspicuously because he’s “only” taking home around $120-160,000/yr in interest income. Yet, he is considered a multi-millionaire based on his cash alone. Being a quiet millionaire is definitely the way to go. It’s generally always good being… Read more »

Sandy E.
Sandy E.
10 years ago

#10 emma — makes a good point with her buying a garbage can after realizing it was costing $3.00 a month to rent one, so that tells me that they watch expenses closely with e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. In other words, they value the all mighty dollar. And people should. I saw I had an erroneous .40 charge on my phone bill, so made the call to correct that. At the time, I was thinking, is this worth my time? But should I give that .40 to the phone company and not to me? Why should they get my money anyway? And then… Read more »

Foxie@CarsxGirl
10 years ago

Well, do you *have* to be in the top 10% of income earners to become a quiet millionaire? I’m going to venture out on a limb and say no. I’m also going to guess that being in the top 10% of income earners doesn’t guarantee a successful journey to becoming a millionaire… Unless you can learn to master your money. My favorite books when it comes to money aren’t really number books, it’s more personal stories. I like reading about real people who get out of debt, raise their income, start a business they love, save millions, etc. Has anyone… Read more »

ackislander1
ackislander1
10 years ago

Three couples had dinner together last night. We are all (barely) senior citizens. We all started poor like Emma above. My wife and I didn’t have a car until we had been married six months. The dinner was not at one of the many local fancy restaurants but had been cooked by one of the husbands. Though we are all very well-off and privileged to live in a very desirable place, we all laughed at how we still use tiny spoons and mini-scrapers to get the last of the mayonnaise out of the jar and are annoyed when any of… Read more »

RB @ Financial Samurai
RB @ Financial Samurai
10 years ago

Foxie – Not at all. A top 10% earner in America needs to earn over $100,000 to qualify. A top 1% earner needs to earn over $350,000/yr. The reason why I love GRS is because the readership is comprised of seemingly average wage earners who care about their finances. By virtue of simple math, 90% of Americans don’t earn more than $100,000. The average 28-29 year old out of a Top 25 business school makes $110,000 his/her first year for example. For folks who are in industries that regularly shell out six figures, GRS is a breath of fresh air.… Read more »

realserendipity
realserendipity
10 years ago

I would like to hope that in my old age that I will be a millionaire. My husband and I are frugal, watch our pennies, spend carefully, and have a plan but neither of us make the type of money that most of the quiet millionaires do. How do people like us get there?

And RB, I am working on an MBA from a top 25 business school but there is no way that I pull $110,000 the year after graduation. Where are you getting those numbers from?

emma
emma
10 years ago

Emma again. I think it is important to distinguish between spending money foolishly and spending money that makes one’s life richer. We just bought a freezer because we realized we could off set the cost of it by taking better advantage of sales and buying in quantity. We watch all of our expenses and cut those that are reasonable. We have yet to turn on our air conditioner this summer. My husband mows our lawn with an old push mower that is slowly dying. All of our neighbors have riding lawn mowers. But we flew across the country last weekend… Read more »

Kevin@OutOfYourRut
10 years ago

“Smart personal finance isn’t about being flashy or gambling in the stock market. Smart personal finance is about making the right choices day after day, year after year.”–HOW TRUE!!! In our culture we live by self serving/justifying mantras like “you have to spend money to make money” or “if you’ve got it, flaunt it”, and that’s how the majority of people function. I’ve known some selfmade millionaires and it really is amazing how flashy they aren’t. And they don’t need to be. Financial strength gives them their sense of worth; they don’t need to buy mcmansions or fleets of high… Read more »

Dorine Tiller
Dorine Tiller
10 years ago

This is so true-people who make money are the people who consistently make smart decisions. There are some overnight success stories, but they’re the exception-not the rule. Thanks for highlighting this. I’ll look forward to checking out the book!

Chandler George
Chandler George
10 years ago

This is exactly the advice I give my clientele. There’s no such thing as an overnight success. Success is something that has to build gradually, quietly, over time through a series of smart decisions rather than just one really lucky one. This looks like a great book.

typome
typome
10 years ago

JD you should interview Emma and ackislander1 =) Very inspirational. I like the reminder that I shouldn’t feel entitled to things I don’t have. For instance, seeing beautiful homes makes me wish I owned one rather than renting an apartment. But then I have to remind myself that I’m still in a great position and that I’m reaching my goals along the way. I also like the idea of valuing what is important to me in my life. Right now I’m about to have a baby and want to raise my kid during the day rather than earning income. That… Read more »

Fat Bob
Fat Bob
10 years ago

I find this objective of becoming a millionaire to be a very odd one – it comes from other people’s expectations just like that flashy car does. Why 1 million?

In my retirement plan, I only really look at inflation-corrected numbers because that allows me to compare my current income with post-retirement income properly. If you just want to become a millionaire, inflation will get you there 🙂 but what kind of an objective is that?

Rick Francis
Rick Francis
10 years ago

@Foxie (#17) I don’t think it is necessary to be in the 10% of income earners either- that would make it easier! Instead if you have time you can just be a top saver! The median US income is ~50K; certainly a good saver could save %10 or $5,000 each year. How long will it take to reach $1M? That depends a LOT on the investments returns; here is a table with a few rates of return: Return: 8% 9% 10% $1M takes: 36 33 31 years If you want to get to $2M it takes longer, but not even… Read more »

Little House
Little House
10 years ago

This book looks interesting. However, I’m curious to the comment in your post:

It’s for readers who are out of debt and building wealth.

Does this mean that the mortgage is paid in full? Or the car is paid in full? For instance, my husband and I are almost finished paying off our last revolving credit, a line of credit, actually. But we’ve started building our wealth through investments. Would this book not be informative to us?

thanks-
Little House

Ben
Ben
10 years ago

Hey, this is really off topic, but I figured these readers would know. Does anyone know any paid survey websites that are not scams? I am hesitant to enter any personal information on a site because I don’t want my bank account cleaned out. Has anyone had any success with this, and could give me the website? Thanks.

Millionaire Mommy Next Door (Jen)
Millionaire Mommy Next Door (Jen)
10 years ago

My husband and I became “quiet” millionaires at 40. Our combined annual income ranged between $35,000 and $125,000; we always qualified to make annual Roth IRA contributions. So yes, it is possible to become a millionaire even when you aren’t in the top tier income levels. As J.D. says, getting rich is usually a slow and steady process. Spend less than you earn, invest your savings for compounding growth. Our neighbors and most of our friends don’t know that our net worth is over a million. They see us driving a reliable 11 yr old car, living in a typical… Read more »

Pirate Jo
Pirate Jo
10 years ago

Well I’ll never become a millionaire because I would quit working long before that! Entrepreneurs work their butts off, and quite frankly I don’t want to work that hard – I am into other things. Also, I don’t see the point in working and slaving away all your life, just so that you have a million dollars when you’re old. I can work when I’m old – it’s now, while I’m young and have things to do – that I want to work less. I can sit at a desk when I’m 60. Isn’t the whole reason you would want… Read more »

Holly Lewis
Holly Lewis
10 years ago

We are also “Quiet Millionaires” rarely earning over $100,000 in a year and on the East Coast. Cars are all old but reliable and paid cash for, kids don’t owe a dime on their college educations although they were required to pay a share of the costs each year (they both had jobs at age 14), house paid for in four years and although we could pay off our mortgage have chosen not to, and yes we could retire now in our early 50’s. We are big fans of The Millionaire Next Door and The Tightwad Gazette. If we can… Read more »

David@DinksFinance
10 years ago

@ #30 Pirate Jo “Isn’t the whole reason you would want to have a million dollars that you would want to spend it on something?” Not necesarily. I want a million dollars so that I can do what I want. Allow me to explain more. Currently I enjoy blogging, reading, politics, poker, and thinking of small biz to launch. If I had a million dollars I could do all these things, and hopefully make money doing them. It is a safety net and a security blanket that gives me time to do what I want without the pressure of bringing… Read more »

E
E
10 years ago

Pirate Jo, why do you think work equals slavery and you can’t get a million dollars before you’re old? No one has said that. Several have said the opposite.

I requested the book from the library, and I’d be interested to read Millionaire Mommy’s interviews too. I’m interested in becoming a quiet millionaire – so that I can enjoy my life now AND later. Why choose one or the other?

Thanks JD! 🙂

Pirate Jo
Pirate Jo
10 years ago

Ah, well these last two comments point to the difference between wanting to be a millionaire and wanting to have a million dollars. If I *had* a million dollars I would get to do what I want, too. But to *earn* a million dollars (in other words, to *be* a millionaire) means spending most of my life having to work instead of being able to do what I want. So I’ve reached a compromise by giving up on the idea of vast wealth accumulation (and hey, why draw attention from the tax man anyway?) and simply working less over my… Read more »

emma
emma
10 years ago

I have to say that our goal in life was not to become a millionaire. Our goal was to get to the place where we would be the masters of our own destiny. No one can take our home away from us because we own it. Our cars belong to us. Everything we have belongs to us. My husband works because ultimately he enjoys his work. Does he work hard? Yes. But he derives satisfaction in running our company and running it well. We are at a place where he could retire if he wanted to but he plans to… Read more »

Pirate Jo
Pirate Jo
10 years ago

“My husband works because ultimately he enjoys his work.” This puts your husband in a distinct minority. There is a reason the old saying is “Thank God It’s Friday” and not “Thank God It’s Monday.” People in jobs they aren’t exactly crazy about (the majority of us) can still achieve financial independence too, that’s largely a matter of living within one’s means. But not many of us, having been exposed to work, are willing to spend so much of our time doing it that we become millionaires. And since most people obviously don’t *need* to become millionaires in order to… Read more »

Pirate Jo
Pirate Jo
10 years ago

I have to say though, emma, I agreed with the majority of your post. Being master of your own destiny – that’s how I define a wealthy person, too. And no, life is certainly not over at 60! That you remember being happy when you had nothing says a lot. I just don’t think you realize how rare your situation is.

Ann
Ann
10 years ago

@ Pirate Jo #37 – You need to update your numbers. The mean household income in 2004 was $60k.

BTW, it’s the TGIF-attitude that holds most people back from becoming quiet millionaires.

For the folks who consider themselves millionaires, does the net worth include real estate? Or is it only cash and other liquid investments? Just curious.

April C. Harris
April C. Harris
10 years ago

I’m actually intrigued and will buy “The Quiet Millionaire” it’s not part of my financial library yet and I think it may have something for me to possibly analyze.

emma
emma
10 years ago

I don’t know what you mean by acting like this is a ridiculous idea. We started at the bottom. His first job out of college paid us 24.000 a year. Well, it did until everyone took a 10 percent pay cut two months later. We had one old car, a very small townhouse that we rented, no cable and rarely ate out. I was pregnant with our daughter and wasn’t working. This is in the early eighties. Was he making minimum wage? No, but it certainly wasn’t a lot of money either. But guess what? We saved money from that… Read more »

Diane
Diane
10 years ago

@Emma, I don’t think that you sound “snotty and rather snug”. I think you sound like someone I’d like to know. I am not as far along in my journey, although I carry no debt other than mortgage and am saving like mad for retirement. You seem like someone I could learn a lot from. I think there is a huge need for so-called “Third Stage” examples. I get bored with people whining about their consumer debt. I think the reason so many people slide back into debt is because they imagine that their lives will be wonderfully perfect once… Read more »

emma
emma
10 years ago

I guess the most the most important piece of advice I could share is you have to live below your means. There is no way around it. My husband works for a private, employee-owned business. We own it and are heavily invested in its success. All profits belong to us the “owners”. Last year was probably the best in history. Because of the economy this year we will be lucky to make 20% of what we made last year. Guess what? Our lifestyle hasn’t changed one bit from last year to this year. Though I have to admit we won’t… Read more »

Kevin@OutOfYourRut
10 years ago

Chandler George (24)–“There’s no such thing as an overnight success.”

This is so true. “Overnight success” is more typically either a) the sudden culmination of factors that have been at play for a long time and are only now paying off, or b) pure luck. The first isn’t overnight, and the second isn’t really success.

The whole overnight success thing is mostly a perception.

Not My Mother
Not My Mother
10 years ago

Emma, I wanted to throw my voice in as well as a thank you for sharing your inspirational story. I think you could sound less ‘smug and snotty’ – it seems to me the person who called you so has her own view of how life is and didn’t like hearing it didn’t have to be so. JD, thanks also for sharing this book. It sounds interesting. However, I don’t think you can say it has a small audience – if you only have to earn $100k to be in the top 10% of earners that is achievable for many… Read more »

traineeinvestor
traineeinvestor
10 years ago

“I have to say that our goal in life was not to become a millionaire. Our goal was to get to the place where we would be the masters of our own destiny. ”

@Emma – that is a great quote and one that echoes the approach we take with our finances. It’s not the number but what it enables you to do with your life. Thanks for sharing.

@ JD – I think I will read this book.

Emtnester
Emtnester
10 years ago

Well it’s hard to be QUIET on this interesting fact: This author obviously got his content from a publication written years ago, called ‘The Quiet Rich’ by Mr. Kevin Palmer. Is that legal to steal someone’s work and then to be so blatantly obvious about it by using the same ‘QUIET’ word? I live in the Phoenix area and there are wonderful ‘Quiet Rich’ segments on television every now and then.

my site
my site
6 years ago

Highly descriptive post, I enjoyed that
bit. Will there be a part 2?

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