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What Does It Take to Become a Millionaire? Here's What Americans Think

By Maurie Backman – May 16, 2019 at 10:06PM

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Invest wisely. Spend less. Save more. Repeat.

When we think of millionaires, we tend to imagine TV characters with mansions, luxury cars, and the fanciest of clothes. But actually, there are close to 12 million U.S. households with a net worth of more than $1 million, and if those folks can do it, you can, too. In fact, many Americans aspire to be millionaires and are mapping out plans to get there. GOBankingRates recently asked U.S. adults what steps they'd need to take to achieve this milestone, and here's what they had to say.

1. Learn how to invest

Nearly 40% of aspiring millionaires think learning how to invest is a crucial step on the road to that goal. And it's true. The beauty of investing is that you get to put your money to work for you, and the longer an investment window you give yourself, the more you stand to gain.

Pile of hundred-dollar bills.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

Case in point: Investing $350 a month over a 40-year period will leave you with over $1 million if your portfolio generates an average annual 8% return during that time, which is just below the stock market's average. If you're an investing newbie, read up on what it takes to get started. At the same time, commit to consistently funding your investment account -- whether it's an IRA, 401(k), or traditional brokerage account -- so that you're continuously capitalizing on growth opportunities.

2. Save more and spend less

Almost 18% of Americans agree that to become a millionaire, you need to cut back on spending and consistently bank cash. If you've struggled in this area, create a budget. It'll allow you to see where your money is going and help you identify ways to spend less. Once you slash some expenses, automate your savings so that you're consistently socking away money month after month. You can arrange to have that cash land in a savings account or retirement plan, but the point is to remove the temptation to spend it.

3. Pay off debt

Over 17% of Americans believe that paying off debt is critical if you want to hit millionaire status. To this end, cutting back on expenses in your budget to free up cash will go a long way, as will getting a side hustle. The more extra money you have on hand, the sooner you'll rid yourself of debt and avoid racking up costly interest that causes you to waste money rather than spend it.

4. Get a college degree

More than 8% of Americans think a college degree is the ticket to becoming a millionaire. And there may be some truth to that, as workers with degrees are statistically likely to earn more than those without. But that doesn't mean you must attend college to accumulate wealth. There are plenty of trade workers or small-business owners without degrees who do quite well for themselves and uphold smart spending and saving habits that allow them to build substantial wealth over time. In fact, skipping college in favor of a career that doesn't require a degree could save you loads of money on tuition and student loans.

Of course, this isn't to say that attending college is a bad idea. It certainly isn't. Just know that there are different career paths you can choose that may or may not require a degree, and that your personal spending and saving habits might play more of a role in helping you build wealth than your college graduation status.

5. Land a higher-paying job

Over 5% of Americans feel that landing a higher-paying job will make it possible for them to become millionaires. Now, it certainly stands to reason that the more money you make, the more opportunity you'll have to save and invest. That said, many people get raises throughout their careers but blow that money on luxuries rather than save and invest it. If you wind up snagging a better salary, be smart about it. Take that excess cash and stick it into a savings account, a retirement plan, a traditional brokerage account, or some combination of all three. Remember, more money won't get you closer to your goal if you don't manage it properly.

Becoming a millionaire often boils down to making smart long-term choices with your money. If that's your goal, map out a plan to make it happen and stick to it. If you invest wisely, prioritize your savings, keep your spending in check, and stay out of debt, you may very well achieve that objective, and sooner than you'd think.

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