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Updated Jan 09, 2024

How Most Millionaires Got Rich

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Stella Morrison, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Writer

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Most of today’s millionaires weren’t born into their wealth, research shows. A study published by Wealth-X found that around 68 percent of those with a net worth of $30 million or more made it themselves. Further, a second study by Fidelity Investments found that 88 percent of all millionaires are self-made, meaning they did not inherit their wealth.

For self-made millionaires, coming into wealth isn’t always a simple process — many of them worked hard to achieve financial success and then used their smarts and savviness to put their new wealth in the right places. What do some of these self-made millionaires have in common, and what lessons can you learn for your own investment strategy?

How millionaires get rich

The Fidelity study showed that when considering their financial future, 30 percent of the millionaires surveyed said they were concerned with preserving their wealth, while 20 percent said they were focused on growing their fortune. This forms the basis of some basic strategies if you’re hoping to join the millionaire ranks.

“Today’s millionaires are multidimensional, and to really understand them, you need to look not only at their outlook but also at their path to wealth and their financial goals for the future,” said Sanjiv Mirchandani, former president of National Financial, a Fidelity Investments company.

Millionaires suggest several paths to building your wealth. Here are a few that you can learn for yourself:

Invest in different places and avenues

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Diversifying your investments helps manage risk by ensuring all your money is not at risk if a particular investment goes south.

Have multiple streams of income

Many self-made millionaires have money coming in from several places, including their salaries, dividends from investments, income from rental properties and investments they have made in other business enterprises, to name a few examples. If one income stream slows down, there’s another that can take its place. Much of this is called passive income, or money being earned without actively spending time and effort in the enterprise.

Reduce expenses

Before becoming wealthy, many millionaires created a habit of limiting spending. They devised a plan for the money they earned and strategically evaluated every aspect of their finances. Such an approach should start with cutting costs and eliminating any unnecessary debt that drains income and prevents accounts from growing.

Save, save, save

One common theme you’ll hear from self-made millionaires is to hold on to your money. Put your money in investment accounts where it can sit and earn interest over time.

FYIDid you know
Surveys show that millionaires share many traits in common, including ambition, the value of time, not being afraid of failure and knowing when to ask experts for help.

What traits do millionaires have in common?

The Fidelity study’s results showed that even though millionaires have different ways of making money, they often share these traits:

  • They set ambitious goals and act on them. Self-made millionaires put their ideas and dreams into action, whether that’s starting a business or achieving other professional or personal pursuits. This determination is a common driver among many who made their millions without an inheritance.
  • They have mentors. Many self-made millionaires are quick to admit they cannot possibly know how to do everything. They reach out to others who know the ins and outs of different types of saving and investing, tapping into the best minds on each subject for perspective and insight. That certainly pays off.
  • They look for feedback. For a self-made millionaire, self-improvement never stops. Self-made millionaires look for critique and feedback on their ideas and business practices, ensuring that they can better identify blind spots and guarantee that their ventures will succeed.
  • They aren’t afraid of failure. Millionaires understand the benefits of learning lessons through failure. However, the risks they take are thoroughly calculated, and each scenario is played out. Once they commit to something, they give their all.
  • They understand the value of time. Time is money, and millionaires know this all too well. They quickly learn how to manage their time and know there’s no reason to trade time for money.

What do millionaires do with their money?

When it comes to investment strategies, self-made millionaires were more likely to add equity investments, while those who were born wealthy typically had more real estate investments, according to the study. Diversifying those investments is key among many millionaires.

Millionaires put their money in a variety of places, including their primary residence, mutual funds, stocks and retirement accounts. Millionaires focus on putting their money where it is going to grow. They are careful not to invest large sums into items that will depreciate. A car for everyday driving, for example, will most likely lose value over time.

The key for most millionaires is to save money before spending it. No matter how much their annual salary may be, most millionaires put their money where it can grow, usually in stocks, bonds and other types of stable investments. 

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Millionaires put their money into places where it can grow, such as mutual funds, stocks and retirement accounts.

Examples of self-made millionaires

According to the same Wealth-X study discussed earlier in this article, as of 2018, a little over 265,000 individuals are considered ultra-wealthy, meaning they have a net worth of $30 million or more. Moreover, more than two-thirds of ultra-wealthy people are self-made. Here are five famous examples:

  • Barbara Corcoran. The real estate mogul turned Shark Tank investor started her eponymous brokerage business with a $1,000 loan. Under her supervision, the business grew into a multimillion-dollar empire that she sold for $66 million in 2001.
  • Janice Bryant Howroyd. The founder and CEO of ActOne Group started her staffing agency with $1,500 ($900 of which she borrowed from her mother), a fax machine and a phone. She is now one of the richest self-made Black women millionaires in the U.S., with an estimated net worth of $285 million.
  • Warren Buffet. Perhaps one of the most famous and richest people in the world — and technically a billionaire and not a millionaire — Buffett still merits a mention in this list because he is well known for being self-made. The Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO made his first millions by running a hedge fund and is known for his principled and sensible approach to investing.
  • John Mackey. One of the founders of Whole Foods Market, Mackey started his dream $5,000 short of the $50,000 he wanted to save to start his business. He turned the first floor of an old house into a small grocery store that specialized in natural foods. After two years of running the store, Mackey partnered with the owners of another natural grocery store to found Whole Foods Market. In August 2017, Amazon purchased Whole Foods for $13.7 billion.
  • Whitney Wolfe Herd. At the age of 25, Wolfe Herd founded Bumble and carved a unique space in the world of online dating. She leveraged her experience from working at another dating app toward designing a dating app where women initiated conversations. Wolfe Herd became the youngest woman to take a U.S. company public. As of 2023, her net worth was more than $500 million. Wolfe Herd stepped down as Bumble CEO, becoming executive chair in early 2024 so she could explore other opportunities. 

Creating your path to financial success

Becoming a millionaire requires a combination of financial discipline, strategic planning and a commitment to continuous self-improvement. Where possible, allocating a portion of your income toward your long-term goals can act as a great foundation. Focus on saving and investing wisely to give your money the potential for exponential growth. As the individuals above have shown, the journey to becoming a millionaire is about more than accumulating wealth — cultivating a productive mindset matters, too.

Shayna Waltower contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Stella Morrison, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Writer
Stella Morrison is an award-winning small business owner who has founded multiple businesses. She leads operations for two companies, overseeing staffing, financing and day-to-day responsibilities. Her wide range of expertise also includes brand management, marketing and web development. As a thought leader, Morrison provides consultative services to other companies on a diverse group of business topics. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Morrison produced community affairs programming and trained aspiring broadcast journalists in radio communication. She was also a columnist for the Chicago Tribune's TribLocal product and reported for Greater Media Newspapers. Today she also lends her skills to the American Marketing Association.
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