It turns out millionaires are just like us—but they have a lot more money. When asked about their secrets to success, they don't cite anything magical or rare, but rather the steady application of wise investing strategies, hard work, and, believe it or not, a degree of frugality. Here are 10 secrets of millionaires' money management:
Start early to avoid financial pitfalls. Adrian Cartwood, 49, author of the blog How to Make 7 Million in 7 Years, made his fortune by living frugally while he built his technology-related business. People often get into trouble, he says, by racking up personal debt early on, which acts as a big drag on their earnings. "Learn how to live within your means and how to delay gratification; these are the habits that you need to maintain on the way up, so you can keep your millions when you get there," he says.
Believe that you can do it. Before investing in real estate and becoming a millionaire, Alan Corey, author of A Million Bucks by 30, read as many biographies and autobiographies of millionaires as he could find. He says he was searching for a common characteristic that could help him in his own quest. "What I found was they all had an incredible self-belief that they would be financially successful," he says. Corey says that embracing that level of self-confidence helped him get to the top.
Articulate your vision for success. Jen Smith, author of the Millionaire Mommy Next Door blog, says that the saying, "I want to be rich," is too vague. Instead, she recommends imagining what your ideal life as a millionaire will look like. Smith offers this example: “I want to have $2,000,000 invested so that I can live off of the interest. Then I will quit my job so that I can volunteer, travel, learn to play tennis and watercolor, and enjoy picnics at the beach with my family.”
Smith's vision involved becoming financially-free before becoming a parent. She cut out images from magazines of beautiful places she wanted to visit and people doing fun things and put them near her desk to help her keep that vision in mind.
Insure against life's risks. Bankruptcy is often caused by divorce, a death in the family, or a disability that renders someone unable to work. Conversely, protecting against those risks through insurance protects wealth. In The Quiet Millionaire, financial planner Brett Wilder writes that many people either fail to get adequate insurance or pay too much for it because they don’t understand it.
[For more, read: "7 Killer Insurance Mistakes You're Probably Making."]
Work hard—and you'll get lucky. In his new book, Think Like a Champion, Donald Trump attributes his success to his hard work, which to outsiders often appears to be luck. But Trump says luck only comes from working hard. "If your work pays off, which it most likely will, people might say you're just lucky. Maybe so, because you're lucky enough to have the brains to work hard!" he says. That same concept, of course, was advocated by Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century. He said, "The harder I work, the luckier I get."
Practice smart budgeting. Smith recommends tracking how much you spend each month, something she does religiously. Every month, she downloads her transactions into a spreadsheet to keep her spending on track. Smith also says that, as prosaic as it sounds, maintaining a good credit score is essential to becoming and staying a millionaire. "A good credit score can save you thousands of dollars over the course of your lifetime," she says.
Do what you love. Sure, a career in finance might come with a hefty annual salary, but you probably won't excel at something you don't enjoy. That's why Corey recommends going into the field that you find yourself reading about in your spare time. He asks, "Do you read fashion magazines? Get a job in fashion. Do you read gossip blogs? Get a job in celebrity-based enterprises. Do you read Car & Driver? ESPN.com? Yahoo Pets Forum?" Even if the field doesn't seem lucrative, there are ways to make it to the top—something that's more likely to happen if you love it.
[For more, read: "Juggling Your Money in the Recession."]
Decide how much money you really want. For many people, $1 million won't be enough. "For most Gen-X and Gen-Yers, retiring with a couple million when they are 65 won't be anywhere near enough to maintain even an average lifestyle, because that little pup called inflation is constantly nipping at your heels as you try to run towards building your own retirement nest-egg," says Cartwood. A more reasonable goal might be $3 million— an amount that Cartwood considers the minimum to be a "bare bones millionaire" these days. Consider your ideal lifestyle and what you would like to be able to fund. A mortgage of a certain size? Exotic vacations? College tuition for your children? Having a concrete goal in mind makes it easier to get there, says Cartwood.
Invest against the grain. Corey recommends making investment decisions based on the exact opposite of what everyone else is doing. Right now, for example, stocks are relatively cheap because so many people have sold off shares, which means anyone buying can get them at a discount to their values from a year ago. Corey's rule of thumb doesn't just apply to stocks. "Buy a foreclosed house, fill it up with roommates, and you can get a pretty good passive income," he suggests.
Live below your means. Even Eminem, a celebrity and millionaire, scales back his purchases out of concern for frugality. In February, London's Independent newspaper reported that as Eminem considered buying a $15,000 watch he liked, he started worrying that he should save his money instead. Eminem reportedly said, "I don't want to run out of money; I want my daughter to be able to go to college." And so far, at least, Eminem hasn't fallen victim to the financial challenges so many other stars, from Aretha Franklin to Annie Leibovitz, have faced.
[For more, read: "How to Go Broke Like a Rock Star."]
On the same note, Smith says that even though she's a millionaire, no one would know it—and that's the point. She recommends saving at least 10 to 25 percent of your income. She also suggests avoiding buying "status" items, such as fancy sports cars or mansions. After all, bling doesn't make a millionaire—and in fact, too much of it can prevent you from ever becoming one.