Is there a millionaire gene? Some inherent DNA configuration that makes one person more likely to have a higher earning potential than someone else? If only it were that easy. Elle Kaplan, the CEO and founding partner of LexION Capital Management LLC, a wealth-management firm that focuses on empowering women, makes an important distinction about millionaires.
"There’s a difference between people who make millions and people who have millions,” she explains. “Quite often, we’ll read about celebrities who end up filing for bankruptcy — people who made millions but don’t have millions. Additionally, there are many people who don’t make phenomenal sums of money — who will never make millions, but have millions. What one has in terms of their overall net worth is often different than what they make.
Even if we don’t end up falling in the seven-figure financial bracket, there are common traits among millionaires that we can all learn from. Read on to learn the six qualities millionaires — those who as Kaplan explains understand the “slow and steady game” of building wealth — have in common.
They See Opportunities Instead of Obstacles
A specific belief system is at play for people who become millionaires. “There’s a ‘no-excuses approach.’ They’re really good at getting past their excuses and saying ‘Why not me?’ instead,” explains Jaime Tardy, a business coach and author of “The Eventual Millionaire,” a book which includes insights she’s gleaned from interviews she’s done with over 100 millionaires. One of those she interviewed, Amos Winbush III, “wanted to start a software tech company but had no background in tech. He didn’t let the fact that he didn’t know anything about the industry stop him.” Winbush went on to found CyberSynchs, a multi-million dollar technology firm that specializes in universal data transfer and synchronization.
For people who become millionaires, “it’s about seeing opportunity where others see obstacles and knowing that there's always a solution,” says Ann marie Houghtailing, the founder of the Millionaire Girls' Movement, a business development firm whose goal is to create more female millionaires and educate women about earning their worth.
“Mindset is really about disrupting and rearchitecting your beliefs around wealth and your ability to create it,” says Houghtailing, who is also the author of “How I Created a Dollar Out of Thin Air.” “You have to rid yourself of all of the beliefs that are compromising wealth in order to change your behavior to build wealth. Your beliefs inform your behavior.”
They Understand the Power of Investing (Not Just Saving)
Saving might give you money in the bank, but it won’t make you a millionaire. As Kaplan explains about her millionaire clients, the commonality among them is that they invest their money. “When you save you actually lose money relative to inflation. Interest rates don’t meet up with the cost of living,” she says. “You lose purchasing power. But when you invest, you can make money. So you keep up with inflation plus some. There’s a very big difference. That’s another key reason why people who make a nice living, but not an insane living, end up millionaires and multi-millionaires. They invested and they also understood that compounding is incredibly powerful.”
But not only do millionaires invests in stocks, they also invest in key capital: themselves. “They really take the time to invest in themselves personally — most of them are avid learners. They’re continually trying to grow and be better people in all aspects of their lives,” explains Tardy. “Finance is one of them but also stepping outside of their comfort zone. They’re see investing time and money in themselves as an asset.”
They Have a High Tolerance for Risk and Failure
Tardy’s first-ever millionaire interview was with Frank McKinney, a maverick real-estate investor known for building luxury spec homes. His advice: “Exercise risk like a muscle...If you exercise that muscle and you take a calculated risk and then see whether it pays off and then take another calculated risk and see whether it pays off, you start to trust your judgment better and your analysis of what you’re doing.”
Tardy points out that millionaires don’t act on a gamble, putting themselves or their families in harm’s way for a dream. But they will assess a situation and take a chance if it seems like a reasonable risk. There’s a sense of continuous forward motion. Failure and setbacks happen to millionaires all the time, but they’re willing to ride the unpredictable waves of those setbacks without getting discouraged.
"Building wealth or a business requires a tolerance for failure and millionaires understand that risk. Failure is a beginning," Houghtailing adds. "You get up and use what you've learned to be better. If you perceive failure as an ending, there's nowhere to go. You will misstep over and over. What defines you is not how you fall but how you rise. Every failure and rejection brings you closer to success. Lots of people will say no to you — you just have to find those who will say yes."
They Have a Sense of Self-Discipline
In Kaplan’s experience managing the financial assets of millionaires, they’re “often not the ones walking around with the latest high-end label bag and they don’t necessarily have hugely high-paying salaries. What they have is discipline and so they always lived below their means,” she explains. “And when you live below your means, you get to put money away. They started young and they always lived by a very simple outlook: spend less than you earn. That’s simple but it’s really hard.” Typically “scrappy and resourceful,” she adds, they have a clear understanding that high fixed expenses make it difficult to invest for the future.
Though not all millionaires eschew the trappings of wealth — a nice home, a luxury car — they know that wealth isn’t about the accumulation of material things. “If you want to earn more to have more stuff you aren't going to be wealthy,” says Houghtailing. “Wealth is really about purchasing freedom and giving yourself more choices. You sell your future when you buy more than you need or can afford. There are plenty of high earners who have low net worth. People earn well into the high six figures and still live paycheck to paycheck, living beyond their means.”
They Pursue Their Passions
Not all millionaires choose their professions based on how much money it will earn them — it’s more about how passionate they feel about their careers. “Another thing that links my clients, which thrills me to see, is they didn’t go into things that are necessarily lucrative but went into things that they loved. Success followed,” says Kaplan. “One of my clients who is a very successful entrepreneur, would call me and just say, ‘Are you having fun?’ and then it became, ‘Are you still having fun?’ If you are, of course you’re going to be successful because it’s not work — you live it, you breathe it.” Another of Kaplan’s clients left behind a successful career as a high-paying lawyer to pursue television writing and now earns a seven-figure salary writing for a hit TV show.
Briana Borten started her first day spa when she was 23 year old, five years after breaking her neck in a debilitating car accident and experiencing the benefits of massage. Now in her early 30s, the Portland, Oregon-based wellness entrepreneur owns three day spas, created the Imbue Body Pain Relief Patch with her husband and business partner (which is sold in stores like Whole Foods), and is also a mom who prioritizes a work-life balance. “She worked really hard but she’s earning quite a bit so she can enjoy the life that she wants to enjoy,” says Tardy, who has interviewed her. “She gets to make the choice of when she works instead of the other way around.”
They’re Normal People Who Play to Their Strengths
When people think of millionaires, there’s the common perception that they had a huge windfall or earn an enormous paycheck. But Kaplan works with many millionaires “who might make a few hundred thousand per year but they have millions because they understood this is a slow and steady game,” she explains. “They started early and they were disciplined.”
Adds Houghtailing: “It's easy to want to believe that luck and intelligence are the arbiters of wealth, but the fact is ...you create your own luck in life. Luck looks like a lot of work, tenacity and resilience.”
Millionaires are regular, everyday people in all walks of life. One millionaire Tardy interviewed, a small business owner in Hawaii, has never had her business earn more than $60,000 in a single year. “She told me, `We’ve been saving — we don’t spend frivolously. We’ve made some good investments on some land.’ As it all starts to add up, she can be retired and not to have to work,” Tardy recounts. “They’re normal people — there’s no differentiating innate factor. When you play to your strengths and know what those are, the possibilities are limitless.”
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