What if I told you there was a simple, almost guaranteed way to become a millionaire?

No, this isn't a late-night informercial. This isn't a system you can get for just $997.97. This isn't quick, and its not definitely easy.

But it is VERY simple.

Do I have your attention yet? Good. Because this is important.

The simple, profound answer to all your money problems is this: spend less than you make. 

I know, this is probably not what you expected. You wanted something deep, something revolutionary, something you've never heard before. However, sometimes the most life-changing truths are the most obvious.

The problem with getting rich

During college I made $8.50 an hour working part time at Cold Stone Creamery. Including tips and after taxes I brought home about $1,000 per month, plus all the ice cream I could eat.

Somehow, I survived, albeit a few pounds heavier. I drove a junky car and lived in an apartment with four roommates (even rented out my own room and slept on the couch in the living room -- I was house hacking before I even knew what that meant!).

Finances were tight, but I made it. I didn't have any extra money at the end of the month, but I wasn't racking up the credit card debt, either. I just lived. 

A few years later (in between house flips as the market was crashing) I got a full-time job at a bank making $15 an hour. It was the most money I had ever made, and after taxes I was bringing home $2,000 per month. My wife was also working and bringing home about $1,000 per month from Starbucks. Compared to our previous situation, we were loaded.

But ... somehow ... finances were still tight. I didn't have any extra money at the end of the month, but I wasn't racking up the credit card debt, either. I just lived.

Later, I bought a 24-unit apartment complex and a number of other rentals using various "low money down" strategies. I was able to quit my job and live on the cash flow that I was bringing in, making almost $4,000 a month in income. It was the most I had ever made, and I truly felt I had "made it."

But ... somehow ... finances were still tight. I didn't have any extra money at the end of the month, but I wasn't racking up the credit card, debt either. I just lived. 

I have friends who make $200,000 a year and their finances are tight. I have friends who make $22,000 a year and their finances are tight.

Why?

Because people spend what they earn! Its not always a bad thing, but the fact is: it's almost impossible to get rich when you spend what you earn.  (Tweet This!)

When I was in college, I slept in the back of my car on road trips with my buddies. Today I pay $99 per night to sleep in three-star hotels I find on Hotwire.com. In a few years, I'll probably stay at the Marriott for $300 a night, booking directly on the company's website.

I used to drive a 1994 Toyota Camry my parents gave me when I was in high school. Later I bought a Nissan Altima. Today I drive a new Prius. In a few years I'll probably drive a new Camaro.

I could go on and on. There was never a point when I said to myself, "I'm going to spend more money now because I make more." 

It's just how the world works.

And it's hurting my financial future.

Why?

Is it really such a bad thing? I mean, we work hard; don't we deserve nice stuff? What's the big deal?

If you want to build wealth...
Yes, there are ways to build wealth without using a lot of your own money. In fact, I'm working on a book right now on the very subject of no (and low) money down Investing.

However...

True wealth is built through compound interest. For the non-nerds out there, that simply means wealth is built by recycling money.

$1 turns to $2.
$2 turns to $4.
$4 turns to $8.
$8 turns to $16

And so on.

However, if you always spend that $1 before you can send it out to make more, you'll never build wealth. You'll be stuck in the rat race forever.

Rather than your money earning you more money, your money will be used to maintain your current lifestyle. Every raise, every bonus, every dollar will be used to propagate the myth that you need to keep going on this wheel.

You'll be trapped.

Building wealth by living below your means
In the next few years, you are going to make more money. Perhaps it will come from a new job or your real estate investing business taking off.

Either way, your income will probably rise, as incomes generally do.

What if you didn't match your new income with your lifestyle? What if, instead, you save that extra money and put it to work for you?

Let's consider a plausible situation: your boss gives you a raise. You've been doing such a great job, he offers you $500 a month extra in take-home pay.

Most people would simply take that $500 and upgrade their lifestyle. But not you.

Instead, you start to save that $500 per month. Maybe you put it into stocks. Maybe you invest in Lending Club. Maybe you start investing in real estate (a good choice, in my opinion).

Saving that $500 per month will get you $6,000 after a year. After three years you'll have $18,000. That's enough for a down payment on a single-family house in the Midwest. Now you are making $500 from the job and another $300 in cash flow from the house. Plus, your boss gives you another $500 raise. Now you are saving $1,300 per month. After two years, you have $31,200. Enough for a down payment on a larger property. Maybe you sell the first and take the profit and fold it into the next.

How long do you think it would take to build wealth using this strategy?

It doesn't take much time at all, and it's much better than the "slave for 40 years then retire on Social Security" strategy that most Americans follow.

I'm reminded of something Dave Ramsey often says: "If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else."

I like that. After all, building wealth takes sacrifice.

Are you willing to sacrifice?

The meaning of life is not...
I love to read.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the greatest periods of growth in my life have been triggered by great books. A few financial books, in particular, have changed the course of my life:

2.) Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
3.) The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
4.) The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey

Interesting enough, as different as these books are, they all told me the same thing: life is about more than how much money I make.

Money is not the answer to happiness. If you ask a $40,000 income earner how much he or she needs to be happy, and that person will probably say $60,000. Ask a $60,000 income earner how much he or she needs, the answer will be $80,000. And so it goes.

I would love to make $200,000 per year, but would anything change? Sure, I would stay at those nicer hotels, upgrade my house, upgrade my car, but still be just as happy as I am today. This "American trap" to level up your lifestyle to your current income level is hard to escape.

Instead, I'm making a conscious decision to stick with my current spending level no matter how my income grows. Sure, I'll probably splurge. But I will no longer be held captive by the trap -- I'm going to determine my future, not my neighbors the Joneses.

I think the best advice I've heard on how to do this is by paying yourself first. In other words, come up with your savings goal and save that money first, before you pay another bill.  Then, with the remainder, pay your bills.  As I said, people always live up to their means, and it's tough to fight it. Rather than fight it, I'm going to work with it by making my first bill my savings.

Will you?

This article originally appeared on BiggerPockets.com and is Copyright 2014 BiggerPockets.

 

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