Over the course of my five-year "Rich Habits" study, I got to know 233 millionaires, who had an average net worth of $4.3 million, and learned about their origin stories, their value systems, their career trajectories, and how they approach their money.
Even though many of them had different backgrounds and experiences, and started from a variety of places with their finances — for example, 24% had inherited wealth, while 76% were self-made — I was surprised to find how much they all had in common, particularly the self-made millionaires.
One of the biggest traits they all shared was a positive outlook on life. The majority of the millionaires in my study describe themselves as optimists and have a deeply held belief that anything is possible.
And looking at their overall success as a group, I was struck by how accessible their habits are for lots of people who want to build their wealth.
Here are some of the most valuable takeaways I learned from my research.
I found that the millionaires fell into four different categories when it came to their approach to their money: Saver-Investors, Big Company Climbers, Virtuosos, and Entrepreneurs. More than three-quarters, 80%, of the participants in my study were 50 or older, and they accumulated their wealth over time.
For Saver-Investors, it took them an average of 32 years to become millionaires. For the Big Company Climbers, it took them 22 years. And it took 21 years for Virtuosos and 12 years for the Entrepreneurs.
Most of the millionaires, 86% of my study subjects, reported that they enjoyed what they did for a living. About 6 in 10 pursued what they described as a dream or passion for their work.
Those entrepreneurs who channeled that passion into a successful business idea had an average net worth of $7.4 million.
Video by Courtney Stith
Overall, the majority of the millionaires expressed a goal to never stop learning, growing, and improving. Almost 9 out of 10, 88%, shared that they read every day to increase their knowledge about their job and their industry. More than three-quarters, 85%, reported that they read a minimum of two books a month, and 63% reported that they enjoyed listening to audiobooks or podcasts while commuting to work, exercising, or doing housework.
This mindset comes from a long-held value of education, even if they weren't necessarily the strongest of students early on. Over three-quarters, 77%, of the millionaires said they were B or C students in school, while 68% went to college and 25% went to graduate school. Over half, 56%, worked their way through school.
Many of the millionaires expressed a love of athletic pursuits: More than half, 63%, reported that they played sports in high school and continued playing competitive sports as adults. Over three-quarters, 76%, shared that they exercised at least 30 minutes a day, four days a week. Jogging, running, and biking were popular among all the study participants.
And 93% shared that they slept at least seven hours a night.
Video by Courtney Stith
Philanthropy was a big focus for the millionaires in my study: Almost three-quarters, 72%, reported that they volunteered five hours or more a month at local nonprofits. And 27% of them were on the board of directors of local, community-based charities, helping them run their organizations.
Another way the millionaires got involved in their communities is through taking part in the electoral process. Fully 83% shared that they voted regularly in federal, state, and local elections.
The majority of the self-made millionaires were passionate about mentoring others. About three-quarters, 73%, said they wanted to pay it forward and be mentors, inspired by the people who championed and supported them in their wealth building and career goals.
A big part of building wealth is focusing on frugality and avoiding lifestyle creep. To that end, 64% of the millionaires described the homes they own as "modest." All of the millionaires I interviewed owned their homes, and 56% owned their homes for at least 20 years. Over half, 55%, buy used cars.
And this frugal mindset also extends to their off time. Nearly all, 96%, said they spent less than $6,000 a year on vacations, and 41% spent less than $3,000 a year. And 84% shared that they never gamble.
The study participants all shared a dedication to their work. About three-quarters, 73%, of the millionaires reported that they work an average of 58 hours a week. And 44% reported that they wake up at least three hours before their work day begins.
Once that day starts, it's often organized: More than three-quarters, 81%, shared that they keep a to-do list. About a quarter, 24%, of self-made millionaires kept a to-don't list, too, to help them avoid time-wasters and focus on the things that matter most to them.
Video by Stephen Parkhurst
The majority of the millionaires in my study shared with me that creating a community of positive, goal-oriented people was a big part of their success. Over 8 in 10 shared that they had hired a team of smart, dedicated individuals that they relied on to help achieve their visions, including attorneys, CPAs, marketing professionals, and financial advisors.
Nearly half, 49%, of the self-made millionaires were saver-investors who saved 20% or more of their income from the first day they started working. All of the millionaires I interviewed have some form of retirement savings.
Most of the millionaires have more than one source of income: Almost two-thirds, 65%, have three streams of income, 45% have four streams, and 29% have five streams.
Almost two-thirds, 63%, of the millionaires in my study shared with me that they took calculated risks as they built their wealth. And 27% said that they had failed at least once in business.
They didn't let that deter them: More than three-quarters, 80%, reported that they are actively working toward one major goal at any given time, and nearly all of them attributed their success to staying positive and having a clear vision of their future, especially when times are tough.
Tom Corley is a CPA and a certified financial planner who holds a master's degree in taxation. He is the bestselling and award-winning author of "Rich Kids: How to Raise Our Children to Be Happy and Successful in Life" and "Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals."
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