Managing Finances

How to become a millionaire: Part 1

There’s something magical about the word ‘millionaire.’ To most young adults it seems unattainable but I don’t think that needs to be the case. I’ve written a 3-part series exploring millionaires: who they are, how they act, and how they became millionaires. Please share this with the college students in your world and start some fun conversations. If they don’t know who Thurston Howell III was, then you can enlighten them!

-Judy McNary, creator of

How many millionaires are there and how did they get to be millionaires?

Remember when you were a kid and all your friends talked about becoming millionaires some day? We may have argued over who we liked better: Mary Ann or Ginger, but when it came to money, we all wanted to be wealthy like Thurston Howell III. After all, he and his wife had all those clothes for a three hour tour. A three hour tour. Now, that was rich.

Then you grew up and everyone started telling you money can’t buy happiness and being part of the 1% was bad and things got confusing. The truth is money can buy happiness; it just can’t guarantee happiness. A healthy way to look at it is as a tool that enables you to do things that make you happy. Things like traveling, buying a home, going to the beach, or donating to worthwhile causes.

So let’s just assume that if you become a millionaire, you’ll be a good one and focus on showing you how to make that happen. In this first article, we’ll start by taking a look at millionaires: who they are, where they are, and how they got be millionaires. In the second, we’ll give you ways to be a smart spender and super saver. Finally, in the third we’ll show you how to build your own wealth.

According to an LA Times article on millionaires in the United States, there are 9.63 million households with a net worth, not including their homes, of at least a million dollars. This is that infamous 1% number. Ah, yes, that 1%.

So, who are these millionaires? For starters, just over a quarter of them inherited the money. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? However, if you’re not in line to inherit beans then this isn’t going to land you in the 1%.

What about lottery winners? Lottery tickets are an option but as the fine print says, odds of winning are one in infinity. If you’re at the Wawa and you’re feeling lucky, maybe buy one or two but don’t count on it. You have the same long odds reaching millionairedom by being a pro athlete or a megastar rapper. Ditto for taking companies public à la Mark Zuckerberg or Drew Houston. These are what Malcom Gladwell calls outliers — they exist, it happens, but entire galaxies need to align to achieve that kind of success. Altogether these make up a teensy weensy portion of our millionaires. It doesn’t hurt to fantasize about achieving wealth that way but we definitely need to have Plan B.

The vast majority of millionaires in the US are business owners or professionals just quietly going about their business. Nearly 100% of them have high school diplomas, over 90% have college degrees, and 30% have graduate degrees, too.

To what do these garden-variety millionaires attribute their wealth? Apparently it’s not good jeans and not even good genes. They chock it up to hard work. Yep, most millionaires put in over 40 hour work weeks — not every week — but they definitely put in the time to make the money happen. This puts them in position to take advantage of opportunities that come their way. At the same time, while building their wealth, they’re pretty darn frugal. They do things like hold onto their cars as long as possible, they are really good savers, and they’re smart spenders.

The good news is that the American Dream is alive and well. Most millionaires are nothing like the goofy, yet likable, Thurston Howell III. By adopting a good work ethic and living within your means anyone can achieve financial success. Take time this week to think about how you can adopt some of these millionaire habits.

In the second article in this series, I will share specific way you can be both a smart spender and a good saver and still enjoy life!

Judy McNary


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