How do ‘ordinary’ people become millionaires — and is it even possible?
By ‘ordinary’, let’s agree that we mean people who haven’t been born into money, who don’t possess off-the-charts genius, or who haven’t enjoyed the colossal stroke of luck of a lottery win. Yet, mainly due to popular media, we have this idea that those are the only kind of people who become wealthy.
Let’s start with the fact that this is actually a big myth. And it’s a dangerous myth as it can make us feel as if the wealthy are intrinsically different from us, perched on some high plateau that we can never reach.
Here is a stat that might surprise you — in the USA alone, around 88% of millionaires are self-made, a number that has been rising in recent decades. This means they didn’t get a leg up from a rich uncle or hit the right row of numbers in the lottery. And while they’re most likely pretty smart, they might not necessarily be geniuses. So what’s their secret — how do everyday people from ordinary backgrounds manage to acquire substantial wealth?
The key, according to Dr. Thomas J. Stanley, author of The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy, is that they commit to one core value — living simply and modestly.
Granted, it doesn’t sound too exciting — it’s not some magic stock formula or positive thinking exercise. But it’s well worth knowing about because if you can adopt the same value, then you could put yourself on the road to being a millionaire, too.
This is not to say that other factors don’t play a part in the prosperity of ‘everyday millionaires’ — for instance, hard work, focus, goals, smart planning, good advisors, and savvy wealth-growing strategies. All of these things matter. What’s all too often overlooked is the strategy of avoiding conspicuous or excessive consumption, including eschewing any ‘fake it till you make it’ lifestyle choices.
By learning about how these under-the-radar millionaires think and act, you can get to know the practical steps to begin your own journey towards financial independence.You can start to spot the common pitfalls that might be holding you back.
How do ordinary people become rich? Sticking to the right values
Does adopting a modest lifestyle sound dull and uninspiring to you? Then it might help to reflect on why you want to acquire wealth in the first place. If it’s for glamour, glitz, and pricey gadgets, there’s nothing wrong with that — you do you. However, if you’re attracted to that lifestyle, the risk is that you might consistently burn up your cash long before you reach millionaire status. In other words, you might never give your wealth a chance to grow.
When it comes to prosperity, step one can often be deciding on your values.
For instance, the values of ‘everyday millionaires’ aren’t centred around impressing others, being the envy of their friends, or having the latest tech device. Instead, on their journey to wealth, they prioritize other values — modest living, safety, security, hard work, determination, restraint, deferred gratification, careful planning, and self-denial. These values might not sound exciting, but by adopting them over glamour or instant gratification, you are much more likely to put yourself on the path to wealth.
This could include driving a mid-range car (and not renewing it annually either), living in a relatively modest neighborhood, and/or choosing off-the-rack clothes over designer labels. It could also mean looking for quality products that last — while not being too proud to haggle the price of things or hunt down bargains. While these aren’t the habits that we typically associate with millionaires, they can, in time, lead to an accumulation of wealth.
How does it all begin? With a mindset shift
However, be warned — it’s not as simple as ‘spend less now, grow your money, and reap the rewards later’.
Sure, that’s part of it. But it’s crucial also to understand that this is a mindset shift first and foremost — it’s all about getting clear on your values and goals. Until you do that, you might find yourself vulnerable to the temptation of spending sprees and status items. So it’s essential to start with a change in your thinking, which might include examining your emotional relationship with money and possessions. If you find that you can’t help spending as fast as you earn, deeper issues might be at work. You might even need to do some self-examination, for instance, exploring the beliefs that you developed about money during childhood.
So if you grew up believing that money was a way of displaying affluence via material items, that might be your weakness, too. Or if you grew up seeing your parents burn a hole in their wallets, you might not have internalised the principles of saving and careful investing. Or if your family lived beyond their means and got into credit card debt, that may have become normalized for you. So ask yourself: ‘What unhelpful messages did I learn about money growing up? And how can I unlearn them and have a better relationship with it?’
It’s well worth doing the deep dive. If there’s a ‘secret’ route to wealth, it’s getting clear on what matters, including values like modest living. It’s being unconcerned about ‘keeping up appearances’ because you’re focused on the bigger picture instead — growing your money and creating a deep-rooted security that can last a lifetime. Everyday people who acquire wealth do so, in part, by prioritizing this.
In short, to become prosperous, you have to give up on the idea of ‘looking the part’ before you actually are. You have to let go of the need to drive the flash car or be the envy of your friends. Instead, you have to commit to the kind of principles that actually make people rich. They might not be thrilling or glitzy, but they’re a much firmer grounding to build wealth on in the long term.