How many different roads lead to a million-dollar net worth? Quite a few, as it turns out. You could get there by earning a sky-high salary (pro athletes, anyone?) inheriting a large windfall or launching and selling a successful business — just be careful not to boost your spending to match.
But some of the most inspiring stories out there are the people who earn their way into the millionaires’ club the old-fashioned way—simply by saving a large portion of their income, investing well and living below their means. Here’s how four people did just that.
Sharon Marchisello, 63, Atlanta, Ga.
“I have always saved. I began when I was about 3 years old,” says Sharon Marchisello, who, along with her husband Michael, now has a net worth of more than $3 million. “My first piggy bank was an oil can my father gave me; he cut a slit in the top so you could put coins in. I saved parts of my allowance, money I earned for chores and good grades.”
Thanks to an early start, saving became second nature for Marchisello—regardless of what she earned. She started her career making $9 an hour at the Western Airlines reservations desk, and ultimately retired from Delta earning about $55,000. Michael, who still works as a Delta flight attendant, earns about $60,000.
“As soon as our companies offered a 401(k), we started contributing,” Marchisello says. “We started at 6 percent to maximize the company match, and worked our way up to 15 percent.” She also maxed out an IRA every year after 1983, and, after paying off their mortgage in 2005, the Marchisellos began maxing out their 401(k) accounts.
Since she retired in 2008, Delta’s called Marchisello back to work on four contract projects. During her last stint, she socked away 50 percent of her income into her 401(k) until it was maxed out.
Marchisello admits that never having children likely enabled her and Michael to save more. However, they also committed to a frugal lifestyle that helped them build more wealth than others in their position. For example, they love to cook at home, planning menus around what’s on sale or in season. They also prioritized paying off their mortgage in 10 years and never carried credit card balances.
These days, Marchisello enjoys sharing her wealth-building strategies with others. She recently published an e-book outlining how she reached a $3 million net worth with a middle-income salary.
Her advice for others: For Marchisello, investing wasn’t just about preparing for the future—it was also her hobby. In the early 2000s, she even joined an investment club, which she highly recommends as a way of learning the ins and outs of investing, as well as having fun in the process.
She also recommends ensuring you have the financial basics covered by opening an emergency fund in a safe place like a savings account or money market fund and focusing on paying off debt. “If you have debt, your best guaranteed return on investment is to pay it down,” she says.
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