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The Simple Trick That Makes Millionaires

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Want some insight on building wealth? Just look to Detroit.

Bear with me for a minute, I'm serious. One company I follow closely, for the Fool as well as for my own account, is Ford (NYSE: F  ) , the iconic American automaker. A few years back, Ford famously mortgaged everything it had, including the famous blue oval trademark, in a long-shot attempt to survive until it could return its business to profitability.

If you follow the business news at all, you know how that turned out: very well. Ford's not only solidly profitable now, thanks to a slew of acclaimed new products, but the auto division's cash now exceeds its remaining debt.

How did Ford manage that? For that matter, how did cash-rich technology companies like Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO  ) , which recently announced that it would pay its first-ever dividend in 2011, or Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) , which has more than $20 billion in the bank and has recently been buying back its own stock, accumulate their impressive hoards?

The same way most millionaires do: They spent less than they earned.

Think that's over-simplistic? It's not. Read on.

Want wealth? Here's the way.
Think building wealth is complicated? Think there's some "secret" (or "Secret") to becoming rich? It's not, and there isn't. Spending less than you earn is the key -- the key -- to accumulating wealth.

One of the best insights into America's real wealth-builders is The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy, the 1996 best-seller by marketing professors William Danko and Thomas Stanley. If you've read it, you know that:

  • Wealthy folks in America are often not the people who look wealthy (because looking wealthy is expensive);
  • A high income isn't the same thing as wealth (and conversely, a modest income doesn't mean you can't become wealthy);
  • One becomes wealthy -- to paraphrase Dr. Stanley -- by being investment-oriented, not consumption-oriented. In other words, by spending less than you earn and by investing the difference wisely.

"Sounds easy but isn't," you say? I hear that. But going from being a spender to being a wealth accumulator is like the proverbial journey of a thousand miles: You do it step by step.

Walking the path to real financial freedom
Robert Brokamp, the Fool's resident retirement guru and lead advisor of the Rule Your Retirement service, has spent a lot of time distilling Danko and Stanley's conclusions into an actionable approach. In fact, much of the newest issue of Rule Your Retirement, available online at 4 p.m. ET today, is devoted to a long look at the lessons ordinary investors can draw from The Millionaire Next Door.

It's true that if you're starting from a place of high debt and high expectations, shifting to a more frugal approach will probably seem daunting. And there's no getting around it -- it will take effort and commitment. But as Dr. Stanley told Robert in a recent interview, the insights in his book have spurred lots of folks to change their financial habits for the better.

It's easier than you might think
Here's one insight that I found particularly telling: According to Danko and Stanley's research, the folks who are good at accumulating wealth are much more likely than others to have short- and long-term financial goals, and on average they spend nearly twice as many hours per month planning their investments.

Given that most folks don't spend much time at all, it's clear that it doesn't take that much time to get a lot better at managing your finances. And the payoff -- whether you're seeking a more lavish retirement, an earlier one, or just the ability to sleep a bit more soundly knowing your finances are under control -- is available to nearly anyone with an income.

Ready to get started? Set aside a little time to have a look at the new issue of Rule Your Retirement. It includes Robert's (excellent) review of the nine most important lessons from The Millionaire Next Door, the interview with Dr. Stanley I mentioned before, and a revealing account of a man who put these lessons to work in his own life and now has a seven-figure net worth as a result.

Rule Your Retirement is a paid service, but (speaking of frugality) you can get full access for 30 days absolutely free with no obligation to purchase -- just click here to get started.

Fool contributor John Rosevear owns shares of Ford, which is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. The Fool owns shares of and has bought calls on Intel and has created a bull call spread position on Cisco Systems. Motley Fool Options has recommended buying calls on Intel, which is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Motley Fool Alpha owns shares of Cisco Systems. You can try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days, with no obligation.

We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (20) | Recommend This Article (77)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2011, at 5:27 PM, prginww wrote:

    I cant stand this stuff. This is the sort of Suze Orzman financial janitor crud that shows up in People magazine. This article is worth the CAPS rating of its author, >20.

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2011, at 6:34 PM, prginww wrote:

    Good article.

    Getting caught up in the trappings of appearing successful cost people a lot of time and money.

    I would add two points to the above recommendations.

    One, individuals should focus on investing their capital in appreciating assets. Avoid depreciating assets or spending money on things with no potential for return.

    Two, those that fail to plan, plan to fail. When defining objectives, be as specific and detailed as is possible. Always put your plan in writing, with milestones along the path. Having your plan in writing can make it more firm, not something that can easily be changed. And with intermediate benchmarks, you can focus on shorter term goals that may seem more attainable than something 5 or more years in the future. Plus achieving intermediate goals will provide motivation to continue on to your ultimate objective.

    For more information on investing and personal wealth management, please check out

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2011, at 7:08 PM, prginww wrote:


    Unfortunately, the article is painfully true.

    I own 54% of my $225,000 home, watched my equity portfolio appreciate by more than 7,000 dollars this week alone, and yet, here I am, eating a homemade turkey sandwich, drinking a can of coca cola and typing on a six year old computer.

    Earlier, i was going to go get a bite at a local place and see a movie, but decided instead to save the 40 bucks.

    I drive a 2009 GMC Sierra. Nothing fancy except the extended 100,000 mile warranty.

    I am 44 years old.

    Call me crazy, but I am perfectly comfortable with my one and only thirteen year old, 32 inch outdated TV. Flat screens are nice, but I'd rather read a book.

    I don't why I am this way, but it's nice to know I am not the only one.

    I always thought when I had "X" amount of dollars that I would do this and I would buy that only to discover that a Saturday afternoon IU-Iowa basketball game with my 4 year old son suits me just fine. I don't mind splurging for that.

    As the song says...."there's no dollar sign on a peace of mind, this I've come to know"

    Thomas Edmonds

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2011, at 8:12 PM, prginww wrote:

    Delay of gratification

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2011, at 9:23 PM, prginww wrote:

    Good article. +1 rec

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2011, at 2:05 AM, prginww wrote:

    Jaketen2001 - you might hate this stuff but I works just as well know as ever.

    This quote was written in 1850

    "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

    (Then there were 20 shillings in a pound & 12 pence in a shilling, 'six' refers to a single sixpence coin.)

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2011, at 12:46 PM, prginww wrote:

    Good article, definitely holds true for my father. Here is another quote that is in line with the theme.

    "The rich stay rich by living poor, the poor stay poor by living rich"

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2011, at 1:43 PM, prginww wrote:

    I like most articles I read here and I get something from most. I also subscribe to 3 premium services from you guys. However, I really don't like bait and switch tactics . You title your article "The Simple Trick That Makes Millionaires" but you don't mention the simple trick. Instead you hawk one of your premium services. Not nice, not helpful and not professional. Frankly, this article tells you nothing except to go to a premium service. That's not an article - that's a sales pitch. I'd be ashamed to bait & switch in a professional article and you should be too!

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2011, at 2:02 PM, prginww wrote:

    @sept2749: With all due respect, you might want to reread the article a bit more carefully. The "simple trick" is spending less than you earn, period, full stop. It's stated clearly in the 4th paragraph (and again, repeatedly, in the several hundred words that follow.)

    John Rosevear

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2011, at 2:03 PM, prginww wrote:

    Sorry, 5th paragraph. I clearly need more coffee.


  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2011, at 9:31 PM, prginww wrote:

    jaketen2001 wrote:

    I cant stand this stuff. This is the sort of Suze Orzman financial janitor crud that shows up in People magazine. This article is worth the CAPS rating of its author, >20.


    Did you mean "<20"?

  • Report this Comment On February 05, 2011, at 12:38 AM, prginww wrote:

    What could possibly be wrong with this article? It's the truth.


  • Report this Comment On February 05, 2011, at 12:38 PM, prginww wrote:

    Great article. It always amazes me how many people live beyond their means.

  • Report this Comment On February 07, 2011, at 12:31 PM, prginww wrote:

    Make a millionaire by obeying this one weird old trick!!!

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2011, at 12:55 PM, prginww wrote:

    It took me 50+ years to learn frugality. I once spent $1000 to learn to invest better. One thing I took away from that was to only invest 50% of cash. I decided to apply this to my expenses. It is not exact each month, but I am closer to 50% than the 150% (read: heavy credit) I was living on. It is easy for me not to spend now, but it feels great to decide (ala daveandrae) without impulse and without need. HotPicks101 stated the bottom line: ""The rich stay rich by living poor, the poor stay poor by living rich"!. JakeTen2001, I wonder why you were tempted to read the article. It is very difficult at first, but slowly changing [spending] habits makes it easier, exponentially, I might add. I recommend Dave Ramsey to you. You don't have to like the pundits, but it is impossible not to take at least one good thing from them (even the not so pundit) that will change your life!

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2011, at 2:32 PM, prginww wrote:

    Good article. Another quote on the subject, can not remember author:

    "The Joneses (sp?) can kiss my assets."

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2011, at 5:23 PM, prginww wrote:

    Good article, excellent examples, and contrary to some of our members' opinions, it's far from "financial-janitor crud."

    I don't understand the criticism. Certainly, not all advice printed here applies to everyone, but judging by publicly-available statistics of the net worth of average Americans, and their lack of financial independence, it's intuitively obvious a lot of people need information like this.

    Nice work and article, John!

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2011, at 8:30 PM, prginww wrote:

    I, for one, need reminders on the very basic thought and philosophy that make sense throughout time at TMF.

    Mr.Rosevear can plug away for "Rule Your Retirement" as much as he likes when he brings a short ,to the point, piece along which invariably spurs further commentary from the masses.

    As to the noise from "jaketen2001" early on I'll offer this brief piece of advice ......Don't Read It !

    Thank you for article.


  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2011, at 5:33 PM, prginww wrote:

    One other thing: Do it early enough in life to let the miracle of compound interest do its thing. I've always saved / invested at least 15% of my earnings over the last 30+ years, and while I haven't always made the best investment decisions, I've made enough of them and learned along the way, so that my investments have grown and compounded, and yes, millionaire status is pretty automatic if you start early enough. Slow and steady does win the race in the end - but it's hard to make up for the lost time if you wait until you are 45 or 50 to begin.

  • Report this Comment On March 17, 2011, at 1:44 AM, prginww wrote:

    To have 1000 when you are young, it's like having 1000000 when you are old. And I'm not talking about inflation. You're saving money for what exactly, in the end ? To have the opportunity to spend time in the most expensive old men hospitals, and enjoying a much more polluted world... I'm just saying that saving money blindly is just as stupid as spending blindly.

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