You may be surprised to learn that certain habits and lifestyle choices can contribute to significant wealth over time.
A few years ago, I had dinner with a hardworking colleague to celebrate his retirement. He had recently sold his busy small animal clinic in rural Pennsylvania to a younger veterinarian, and he and his wife, who had also recently retired, were contemplating a worry-free life.
We talked about the profession, of course, but also about investing, the economy and retirement. Also at the table was a 19-year-old student who looked desperately bored by our conversation.
After dinner, I told the teenager: “You know, the people you met tonight are millionaires.” He was utterly shocked. He could not believe that those humble, down-to-earth people could be so wealthy.
To him, being rich meant driving a sports car, wearing designer clothes and living in a beautiful mansion. His impression of million- aires was dictated by what he saw on TV and in music videos. To him, millionaires were mostly actors, singers and athletes.
We then talked about the classic best-seller “The Millionaire Next Door”1 by Thomas J. Stanley, PhD, and William D. Danko, PhD, and what it revealed about most real-life millionaires as opposed to the rich and famous who are glamorized in tabloids. Although the book was published about 20 years ago, its advice remains relevant.
Millionaire Habits and Behaviors
Millionaires next door don’t behave or look like millionaires. They are frugal, living below their means as opposed to splurging on gold-plated faucets. Ironically, they could buy gold-covered trinkets but choose not to, because they are not focused on what their neighbors and admirers think. They focus on long-term financial goals rather than instant gratification.
They tend to live in modest homes in humble neighborhoods. They emulate Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in the world, who has lived in the same quaint house in Omaha, Nebraska, for decades, even though he could easily afford a 50-bedroom McMansion in a showy community — and pay for it with cash.
Millionaires next door invest their time and money early and wisely. They tend to be compulsive savers. They stick to a strict budget and keep expenses under control. If they take on debt, it is to buy assets that tend to appreciate, as opposed to consumer debt, which is used to buy things that depreciate. And they certainly don’t use debt to purchase items to compete with the Joneses.
Millionaires next door understand the difference between having a high income and being a big spender. They realize that cars, for example, can become a huge expense over the years. Because they prefer financial independence over showing off, they tend to drive modest cars and keep them for a long time rather than trading them in every three years. Similarly, they would rather wear a Seiko watch than a Rolex. This all relates to their attitude toward money. They consciously choose restraint over ostentatiousness.
Many people think that most millionaires inherit their wealth. In fact, more than 80 percent of millionaires next door did not inherit their wealth or receive financial assistance from their parents. Millionaires next door are self-made, thanks to plain old hard work.
Millionaires next door teach their kids to be financially independent. Based on their research, Drs. Stanley and Danko explain that economic support of adult children actually hinders their success. Millionaires know that instructions on financial discipline are far more beneficial than monetary handouts.
Millionaires next door have a knack for spot- ting market opportunities. One reason for this is that they surround themselves with high-end advisers that cater to the rich. Millionaires next door spend money on excellent accountants, estate planners, and tax and legal advisers.
Millionaires next door choose the right occupations, but not in the areas most people would assume. They are not all plastic surgeons in Beverly Hills. They work in dull industries, according to the authors, and specialize in financial services, pest control, dentistry, bowling alleys and construction.
The common denominator is that they tend to own their business. “Self-employed people are four times more likely to be millionaires than those who work for others,” say the authors. Millionaires next door dedicate 45 to 55 hours to their business each week.
More Millionaire Advice
Our young friend was surprised by this description — it was not at all what he thought being a millionaire meant. I made sure he understood that working hard, saving compulsively and investing wisely don’t require living like a scrooge.
And I was surprised — pleasantly — that, instead of running off to chat with his friends on Instagram, he asked me questions about our topic du jour. I shared some advice I heard from a multimillionaire who had recently given a speech locally.
Traditional Versus Residual Income
The jobs described in the book imply trading time for dollars. In the veterinary profession, we use our skills to improve animals’ lives.
In exchange for our knowledge, we receive payment from pet owners. But when we take a vacation, the money stops.
But there is a very different source of income: residual, or passive, income. This applies to veterinary practices with multiple associates. While the owner is away, a whole crew keeps working and generating money. It also applies to rental properties. The owner of an apartment complex receives rent money whether working, sleeping or vacationing.
Like most successful people, this millionaire is an avid reader. In his speech, he strongly recommended reading self-improvement books on a regular basis. If you read 10 pages every day, he said, you will finish 15 to 20 books a year. Consider how much knowledge and wisdom about leadership, management, personal finance, investments, goal setting and so much more you could absorb from 15 books per year. Don’t have time to read? Then get audiobooks and put time spent commuting or working out to even better use.
As best-selling author Jim Rohn says, “If you want to have more, you have to become more.” And, as many have repeated, “The more you learn, the more you earn.” These quotes are good reminders of the importance of always acquiring new skills. That is the reason we attend conferences, but the concept should apply to other areas of our lives, as well.
Another classic quote from Rohn: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” It is important to surround yourself with people who encourage you, motivate you and support you instead of dragging you down, being jealous or crippling your progress.
Thomas Edison once said, “Opportunity is often missed when it knocks on the door, because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” As discussed above, millionaires are hard workers. They don’t spend their day on Facebook. They also spend a lot of time planning, brainstorming and strategizing. Our millionaire joked that most people dedicate more time to planning a weeklong vacation than they do to planning their lives.
Success is an equal opportunity employer. Reaching worthy goals has a lot more to do with your attitude than your background, ethnicity or gender. Our millionaire grew up in a humble family and in a tough neighborhood. Nevertheless, his positive attitude helped him conquer obstacles and make it to the top.
The Bottom Line
Noting that most people hate change, our millionaire reminded listeners of the quote “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to keep getting what you’re getting.” Changing your outcome begins with a strong desire to embrace new habits. The millionaire habits discussed here are a great start.
Dr. Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and serial entrepreneur. His traveling surgery practice takes him all over eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey. You can visit his website at DrPhilZeltzman.com and follow him at facebook.com/DrZeltzman.