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25 Secrets Elon Musk and Every Other Rich Person Knows

·16 min read
Paul Sancya/AP/REX
Paul Sancya/AP/REX

If it seems like the rich know something about money that the rest of us don't, it's probably because they do. There must be some reason the richest 1% of people now hold more than 40% of the world's wealth, according to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report. Maybe the rich have certain secrets to accumulating wealth -- but that doesn't mean what they know has to remain a mystery. Learn about strategies that you can use so you can build your own wealth, too.

Find Out: Here's How Much You Need To Earn To Be 'Rich' in Every State
See: These 15 Billionaires Got Richer During The Pandemic

Last updated: June 22, 2021

Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com
Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com

Spending Must Align With Goals

One of the keys to being rich is having goals, said Michael Kay, president of Financial Life Focus and author of "The Feel Rich Project."

"(The rich) know what they care about," he said. "Maybe it's passing wealth to another generation, maybe it's attaining a particular lifestyle. They are mindful of not wasting resources on things that have no value."

According to Kay, the wealthy tend to spend money only on things they care about. The rest of us can learn from this by setting our own goals and then monitoring our spending to see if it aligns with those goals.

Learn More: Just How Rich Are Oprah, Bill Gates and Other Big Names?

George Rudy / Shutterstock.com
George Rudy / Shutterstock.com

Don’t Waste Money To Impress Others

Most rich people don't spend their time and money trying to impress others, Kay said. "They are not in a race. They know they have made it, so their attention is not on what others think." In fact, many wealthy individuals wouldn't have become rich if they had spent their hard-earned money buying things to keep up with others, he added.

Authors Thomas Stanley and William Danko said much the same thing in their 1996 best-seller, "The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy," writing that a couple of key secrets of the country's richest people are living below their means and rejecting big-spending lifestyles.

Spending money to appear rich before you actually are rich is a surefire way to sabotage your wealth-building goals. So, forget about the Joneses and focus on what matters: accumulating wealth in the coming years.

Watch Out: These Billionaires Could Buy Your City

mongione / Shutterstock.com
mongione / Shutterstock.com

Have Plenty of Liquidity

The rich make sure they have sufficient liquidity, or cash, to cover their short-term needs. They maintain an emergency fund so "they don't have to disrupt their life for an unexpected occurrence," Kay said.

The fact that rich people have money set aside for a rainy day isn't solely a function of their wealth. They have cash reserves because they are disciplined enough to save.

Everyone should aim to build an emergency fund with enough cash to cover six to nine months worth of expenses, Kay said. However, you don't have to set that much aside all at once. You just need to be working toward that goal with every paycheck. With that in mind, arrange to have a set amount automatically transferred from your checking account to savings each month.

"Like anything else, it's a goal," Kay said. "It only makes you a failure if you're not working on it."

Read Next: The World’s 20 Richest Millennials

George Rudy / Shutterstock.com
George Rudy / Shutterstock.com

Avoid Fees at All Costs

Fees can easily eat away at your wealth. Whether it's a late fee on a credit payment, a foreign transaction fee from using a debit card abroad or an overdraft fee on your checking account, it's important to avoid incurring unnecessary fees.

"Wealthy people understand every fee they pay means less money in their pockets," said Taylor Schulte, CEO of Define Financial in San Diego.

Piyato / Shutterstock.com
Piyato / Shutterstock.com

Know What You’re Paying in Investment Fees

The rich also pay attention to investment fees — something many others overlook. For example, more than half of workers don't know they're paying fees on their workplace retirement savings accounts, according to a study by the National Association of Retirement Plan Participants.

Yet those fees can eat away at your returns, Schulte said. "The more you're paying in mutual fund fees or transaction fees means less money in your pocket."

Even small fees can have a big impact. If you invest $100,000 over 20 years and pay a 1% annual fee, your portfolio value will be about $30,000 less than if you had paid a 0.25% annual fee, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission's Office of Investor Education and Advocacy.

Check your account statement to see what fees you're paying. If they seem high, the SEC recommends asking whether the costs can be reduced. You also should shop around for accounts and investment firms with low fees, which can help you keep more of the money you worked hard to save.

kan_chana / Shutterstock.com
kan_chana / Shutterstock.com

Asset Location Is as Important as Asset Allocation

If you've read anything about investing and saving for retirement, you've likely encountered advice about asset allocation. That means having the right mix of investments, rather than putting all of your money in just one asset. However, the rich know that asset location is just as important as asset allocation, Schulte said.

In other words, the rich don't keep all of their assets in one type of account, such as a tax-deferred retirement savings account. Instead, they spread it around. Wealthy people also have investments in brokerage accounts to limit the impact of taxes in retirement, Schulte said.

Rawpixel / Getty Images
Rawpixel / Getty Images

Choose the Right Retirement Savings Account

You can earn tax benefits by contributing to a 401k or similar plan because contributions come out of your paycheck before taxes — lowering your taxable income — and the money grows tax-deferred. When you withdraw that money in retirement, however, it will be taxed at your regular income tax rate, which is currently as high as 37% for the wealthiest taxpayers.

You don't get any tax breaks by investing in stocks, bonds or mutual funds through a brokerage account. But if you hold these investments for more than a year, they'll be taxed at the long-term capital gains rate, which ranges from 0% to 20% but tops out at 15% for most taxpayers.

The types of investments you have in your accounts can have a dramatic effect on your long-term returns, Schulte said. Typically, it's best to keep securities such as bonds, mutual funds and dividend-paying stocks in tax-deferred retirement savings accounts. Then, keep your individual stocks in brokerage accounts.

Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com
Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com

Year-Round Tax Planning Is Crucial

The rich don't wait until April to start thinking about their tax returns, Kay said. They take steps throughout the year to lessen the impact of taxes. With the help of tax professionals, the wealthy also avoid making costly tax mistakes.

If you have the resources, check in regularly with a financial or tax adviser throughout the year. Stay up-to-date on the latest news that can affect your taxes, and keep records or receipts that could help you qualify for various tax deductions.

For Real? Rich People Who Live Like an Average Joe

Rawpixel / Shutterstock.com
Rawpixel / Shutterstock.com

Donate To Charitable Causes

Wealthy individuals know that donating to charity doesn't only help the world at large — it also helps their finances. If you itemize your tax return rather than take the standard deduction, you can deduct charitable contributions to qualified organizations. The more you deduct, the more you reduce your taxable income.

"Charitable giving is an excellent tool to mitigate tax consequences," Schulte said. "The wealthy know this, and you don't have to be wealthy to do it."

Whether you write a check to your favorite charity or donate clothes you no longer wear to Goodwill, hang on to your receipts and claim your charitable deduction.

Or, be more strategic with your giving by setting up a donor-advised fund, Schulte said. These simple, low-cost funds are available through investment firms and let you get a tax deduction at the time you set aside money in the account. You can then make grants by following your own time schedule.

Kinga / Shutterstock.com
Kinga / Shutterstock.com

It’s Important To Hire Advisors

Wealthy people surround themselves with knowledgeable tax, legal and financial professionals. To increase your odds of accumulating wealth, don't assume you need to be rich to hire an advisor. On the contrary, investing in a support system now can help you achieve the wealth you desire down the line.

"If you keep using money as the reason you can't get on the right track, you will keep making the same mistakes," Kay said. "[The wealthy] don't try to do it all themselves."

Rich vs. Wealthy: Learn Which One Can Land You in the Poor House

sirtravelalot / Shutterstock.com
sirtravelalot / Shutterstock.com

But Choose Your Advisor Carefully

Don't skimp by hiring a novice advisor. Kay recommends hiring the best person you can afford so you don't waste money on bad advice. You can locate a fee-only financial planner near you at NAPFA.org, the website of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.

It's important to research advisors before hiring one. This can reduce your chances of losing money because of someone else's inexperience, poor judgment or lack of ethics.

Gage Skidmore  / Flickr.com
Gage Skidmore / Flickr.com

Salary Isn't the Whole Story

Climbing the corporate ladder will only get you so far. At some point, you reach your earning potential and plateau. The rich know that in order to grow wealth, it’s important to make your money work hard for you — not the other way around. In fact, Robert Kiyosaki, author of the No. 1 best-selling personal finance book, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” built his entire money philosophy around this concept.

Generating income from passive rather than active income sources is the best way to do this. Investments that yield passive income include dividend-paying securities, rental properties, profits from a business you do not directly manage on a daily basis, and royalties on creative work or inventions.

katjen / Shutterstock.com
katjen / Shutterstock.com

Take Advantage of Time — Not Timing

No one can predict what the stock market will do tomorrow. The wealthy know this and make no attempt to moonlight as day traders.

“Time is more important to investment success than timing,” said Peter Lazaroff, a certified financial planner for Plancorp, LLC. “Most of the population believes that timing the market’s moves is the key to growing rich through the stock market. The wealthy, however, understand that time and compound returns are the most important factors in growing wealth.”

Though it might seem counterintuitive, getting rich requires investors to adopt an unsexy buy-and-hold strategy, ride out market fluctuations and ignore speculation.

SDI Productions / Getty Images
SDI Productions / Getty Images

Put It in Writing

The difference between having an idea and putting it on paper is often what separates the uber-successful from average folks. If you equate success with wealth, it might be time to start writing down your goals, both large and small, in order to become rich.

Thomas Corley, author of “Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals,” noted that 67% of the wealthy people he surveyed wrote down their goals, while 81% kept a to-do list. If your goal is to become a multimillionaire, write it down — along with an action plan for making it happen.

See: The 16 Craziest Things These Billionaires Spend Their Money on

Chris Ryan / Getty Images
Chris Ryan / Getty Images

Understand Value Over Cost

“The wealthy person has three best friends: her attorney, her accountant and her advisor," said Justin J. Kumar, a senior portfolio manager at Arlington Capital Management. "The wealthy tend to use the law and tax code to their advantage when figuring out how to maximize their wealth, especially over multiple generations, and they are not afraid to spend money up front for counsel to get these answers.”

Kumar explained that it’s common for middle-income Americans to cut corners in order to save money, yet ultimately find the results lacking. “The wealthy look at value over cost, but they are still prudent in their decisions,” he said.

pio3 / Shutterstock.com
pio3 / Shutterstock.com

Eat Out Less

People who are concerned with saving money often skip the daily latte. The rich enjoy small splurges whenever they want and instead look at saving from a broader perspective.

Author Paul Sullivan and colleague Brad Klontz, a clinical psychologist with an academic appointment at Kansas State University, conducted research on the differences in spending habits of the wealthiest 1% and the wealthiest 5%. The 1% spent 30% less on eating out and saved it for retirement instead.

“And that, more than the cost of a Starbucks latte, is what, over time, separates the wealthy from everyone else on the wrong side of the thin green line,” Sullivan wrote in a column for Fortune.

JGalione / Getty Images
JGalione / Getty Images

Be Your Own Boss

Employees work to make their bosses rich. If you aim for true wealth, consider starting your own business. According to Forbes, nearly all of the 2,095 people on its list of 2020 billionaires made their fortunes through businesses, products or investments they or a family member had a hand in creating.

“Many middle-class workers think that starting a business is too risky,” said Robert Wilson, a financial advisor and frequent contributor to CNN, NBC and CBS. “The wealthy understand that what’s risky is allowing your time and earnings to be dictated by a boss who couldn’t care less about whether you get what you want for your life.”

Nikada / Getty Images
Nikada / Getty Images

Use Other People's Money

To the average person, the old saw that "it takes money to make money” might sound like a tired cliche used to justify irrational spending. For the wealthy, however, it’s a golden rule. The key is leveraging other people’s money to increase your own wealth.

“Trading time for dollars is a loser’s game, especially as technology destroys many jobs that don’t require a highly skilled human being,” Wilson said. “Using money from banks or investors and hiring people to work for you is a time-tested formula for building wealth — not to mention the tax laws, which heavily favor businesses.”

Whether you’re fundraising to start a business or flipping real estate for a profit, relying on other people’s money to do the heavy lifting greatly increases the return. Of course, it’s also riskier than relying on your own funds. But as legendary investor Warren Buffett once put it: “Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.”

Rawpixel / Getty Images/iStockphoto
Rawpixel / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Have a Saving Strategy

Everyone knows that saving money is an essential part of being rich, but saving is sometimes easier said than done. While the average person might put aside money here and there, wealthy people decide on a fixed amount they will save from every paycheck and put it directly into a savings account.

“Take a percentage of what you earn, no matter how little you earn or how much you earn,” Tony Robbins, a life and business strategist and author of the book “Unshakeable: Your Financial Freedom Playbook,” said in an interview with GOBankingRates. “A percentage has to be set aside that you’re going to keep for you and your family … When you get a 15% (to) 20% savings rate and you put it in a place where it’s compounding, you’re going to be financially free.”

Check Out: 20 Hobbies of the Rich Only They Can Afford

GaudiLab / Shutterstock.com
GaudiLab / Shutterstock.com

Change Your Thinking

Grant Cardone, an international sales expert, best-selling author and radio show host of The Cardone Zone, said in an Entrepreneur article that "there’s no shortage of money on planet Earth, only a shortage of people who think correctly about it. To become a millionaire, you must end the poverty thinking.”

In addition to banishing fears of scarcity, you have to truly believe you’ll be rich to get rich, Cardone said. “I went from nothing — no money, just ideas and a lot of hard work — to create a net worth that probably cannot be destroyed in my lifetime. The first step was making a decision and setting a target. Every day for years, I wrote down this statement: ‘I am worth over $100 million!'”

Set a goal and focus your thinking on believing that you can achieve it.

Eduard Figueres / Getty Images/iStockphoto
Eduard Figueres / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Invest In Yourself

Successful people know that it’s worth investing time, money and energy to improve yourself. This can entail reading a self-improvement book, taking a class or learning new skills.

“I invested in sales training when I was 25,” Cardone wrote in a column for CNBC. “That made my income-producing ability skyrocket. Investing in yourself is the best investment you can make.”

laflor / Getty Images
laflor / Getty Images

Only Take a Job if There's Potential for Growth

Even if you are not earning a large salary right away, it’s important to be at a company where you can climb the ladder.

“The rich are able to get in with the right company where there is opportunity for growth,” Cardone wrote in CNBC column. “My VP of sales Jarrod Glandt started working for me over seven years ago for $2,500 a month. He wasn’t making anything but he was in the right vehicle. He grew his skillset and was able to multiply his monthly income many times over because he knew I was looking to expand.”

Sebastian Kahnert/Epa/REX/Shutte
Sebastian Kahnert/Epa/REX/Shutte

Don't Pay With Credit Cards

If you want to be wealthy, it’s important to never live above your means. One way to ensure that is to only spend money you actually have, rather than charging purchases on a credit card and getting stuck in a cycle of high interest payments.

“Cut up your credit cards,” billionaire and “Shark Tank” star Mark Cuban wrote in a personal blog post. “If you use a credit card, you don’t want to be rich…Cash is king for those wanting to get rich.”

Advice From a Shark: 20 Things Mark Cuban Says To Do With Your Money

Christof Stache/AP/Shutterstock
Christof Stache/AP/Shutterstock

Pursue Your Passion

Rich people get rich when they do something they are passionate about. If you don’t love what you do, you won’t put in the time and effort needed to become successful.

Jim Koch traded in a stable job at Boston Consulting Group in 1984 to start Boston Beer Co., the business that created Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Koch was driven by his personal love of beer to start the now multi-million-dollar business.

“The most common thing I remind people of is to only pursue something you love, because a small business is going to be very demanding of your time, your energy — it just eats your life," Koch told Business Insider. "And if you’re doing something you love, then you will accept and even enjoy that. If you’re just doing it to get rich, you’re going to lose heart.”

Nati Harnik/AP/REX
Nati Harnik/AP/REX

Buck Trends

When it comes to your investment strategy, don’t be afraid to go against the grain.

Warren Buffet amassed his wealth by investing in companies that he saw potential in — even if they had been overlooked by others. “I will tell you the secret of getting rich on Wall Street. Close the doors,” he said in the book “Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist.” “You try to be greedy when others are fearful, and you try to be very fearful when others are greedy.”

More From GOBankingRates

John Csiszar and Cameron Huddleston contributed to the reporting for this article.

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 25 Secrets Elon Musk and Every Other Rich Person Knows