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The Simple Action No One Does That Will Make You A Millionaire

by Brandon Turner on August 30, 2014 · 54 comments

One Simple Action to Get Rich

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 were expecting. 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 at Cold Stone Creamery, part time. Including tips and after taxes I brought home about $1,000 per month plus all the ice cream I could eat.

Somehow,  I still survived, albeit a few pounds heavier.  I drove a junky car, 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!)

Related: How to “Hack” Your Housing and Get Paid to Live for Free

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

A few years later (in between house flips as the market was crashing) on 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 and we were loaded, compared to previously.

But… somehow… finances were still tight.  I didn’t have any extra money at the end of the month, but I wasn’t wracking 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 wracking 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.


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 sleep in 3-star hotels I find on for $99 a night. In a few years, I’ll probably be staying at the Marriott for $300 a night, booking directly on their website.

I used to drive a 1994 Toyota Camry I got from my parents 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 where 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.


I mean, 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.


True wealth is built through compound interest. For the non-nerds out there, that simply means: wealth is build 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 try and maintain your current lifestyle. Every raise, every bonus, every dollar will be used to propitiate 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 its from a new job or your real estate investing business takes 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 could 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 your take-home pay.

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

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

Saving that $500 per month will get you $6,000 after a year. After 3 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 $1300 per month. After 2 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?

(Want to know? Check out my article How to Make a Million Dollars in Real Estate: A Step by Step Path. )

It doesn’t take much time at all and its much better than the “Slave for 40 years then retire on social security” strategy that most Americans live for.

I’m reminded of the quote 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. (Tweet This!)

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 Four Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
4.) The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey

Interestingly enough, as different as these books are, they all told me the same thing:

Life is about more than how much money I make. (Tweet This!)

Money is not the answer to happiness. If you ask a $40k income earner how much they need to be happy, they’ll probably say $60k. Ask a $60k income earner how much they need, they’ll say $80k. And on and on it goes.

I know 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 conscience 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 neighbor The Jones’.

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 other bill.  Then, with the remainder, pay your bills.  As I said, people always live up to their means, and its tough to fight it. Rather than fight it, I’m going to work with it by making my first bill my savings.

Will you?

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{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben Leybovich August 30, 2014 at 6:24 am

In other words – are you the type of person who is happier earning $20,000/month working 70 hours per week, or $4,000 doing nothing (or almost nothing)?


Brandon Turner August 30, 2014 at 11:16 am

Yep. I like the $4,000 all day long, but we’d both go crazy doing nothing! :) (BUT I want the $20k later when I do want to do nothing!)


Raymond Weston August 31, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Personally, whenever I can make money, for little or no work; I am a happy camper. I’d rather have the $4, 000.00 to start with. And then re-invest that money, repeatedly. That will become $20, 000.00 consistently; because thankfully money tends to attract more money, when invested properly. I love Compound Interest. Capitalism is a Beautiful thing.


Dave Tanner August 30, 2014 at 7:03 am

Instead of paying your savings 1st. I have our family on a set monthly paycheck, which is below what we actually make. Whether I have a great month or a crappy month we live on the same amount. If you make money in chunks (big commissions one month, only a little the next, etc) this works well.
Also the idea of moving up financially and not being any happier is known as the hedonic treadmill
It states that we have a baseline happiness that we return to relatively quickly after a new purchase or raise, etc. This is why I too was happy in a cheap apartment and a low paying job, and I am about the same level of happy now at 41 yrs old and more “things”. Because our stuff doesn’t make us happy long term.
Lastly I would recommend the book, The Millionaire Next Door. It studies 1st generation millionaires. The results are in line with Brandon’s. Among 1st gen millionaires, the most popular vehicle was a Ford F-150, the most they ever spent on a pair of shoes was $150, and on and on. They spent less than they made! Do you want to look rich or be rich.


Cory Binsfield August 30, 2014 at 9:12 am

Highly recommend Millionaire Next Door! Buy it used on Amazon for less than five bucks. Thanks for the link Dave.


Brandon Turner August 30, 2014 at 11:18 am

Thanks for the awesome comment Dave – and yes, I was looking for that phrase “hedonic treadmill” but couldn’t find it – so thanks for adding that. And yes- millionaire next door is great. Ironically – my favorite vehicle is my Ford F-150 :)


brandy August 30, 2014 at 7:06 am

Also ” A dollar saved is more than a dollar earned”.


Brandon Turner August 30, 2014 at 11:20 am

True true!


Raj September 1, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Brandy so true. when you don’t have much you can learn to make each dollar work more and more. Even if you don’t make much learn the tactics to make some sacrifices and make each dollar work harder with knowledge acquired.


Liz Faircloth August 30, 2014 at 7:38 am

Terrific blog post Brandon!!! Spot on advice!! Your advice here is something Matt and I have always lived by as well. This strategy is one of the ways we have been able to leave our jobs and become full time real estate investors!


Brandon Turner August 30, 2014 at 11:20 am

Awesome Liz! Yeah, I find this is a common trait with the most successful investors!


Karin DiMauro August 30, 2014 at 8:19 am

Great stuff, Brandon! These kinds of articles are just as important as any of the other how-to stuff on BP.

I like each of those books you recommended, and would add “The Snowball” for a great example of living below your means. This biography of Warren Buffett was such an eye-opener for me, watching how he consistently squirreled away money for years on end, wore scuffed-up shoes and plain clothing, etc etc. Now he travels by private plane but still prefers Dairy Queen to a high-end steak house. Fascinating. Of course he’s upgraded his life in a number of ways, but he’s lived by the principles you outline here.

It’s tough, though, isn’t it? We work so hard to get to a certain point and want to kick back and reward ourselves w/a cushier lifestyle. I’m working hard to edit that mentality. Dave Ramsey is the man!


Karin DiMauro August 30, 2014 at 8:25 am

* Yes, I know Buffett owns DQ so of COURSE he prefers it. Just an example, and there are many other anecdotes in the book.


Brandon Turner August 30, 2014 at 11:21 am

I need to read that book! It’s on my list. I’ll order it this week :) Thanks for the comment!


Wendy Noble August 30, 2014 at 9:02 am

A great way to get someone to think about this: Ask the question, who is wealthier? Someone who earns a salary of $2,500 per month or someone who earns $12,000 a month? Almost everyone will say the person who earns $12,000 is wealthier. The real answer: If they both spend all their money every month, they are both equally poor.
I live on 50% of my income per month. If I get a raise, 50% of that raise is mine to “upgrade” my lifestyle but I only live on 50% per month. Everything else goes to savings and investing.


Brandon Turner August 30, 2014 at 11:33 am

Totally agreed! And I like the idea of 50% of the raise being a lifestyle upgrade and 50% more in savings. Smart :)


Amber August 30, 2014 at 8:25 pm

I also live by that principle the best that I can. I have been self employed for 12 yrs now and at first I was spending everything I had and it would get scary when some months I didn’t make enough and then I had to pull out the credit cards, cash advances and NO savings to speak of.. Then I re-did my entire life and slashed all my bills and cut out everything that was not necessity and created a very well defined budget.. I try to live off 50% that’s the goal always but not very well feasible as I support 3 people and my budget is almost pretty barebones. The one splurge I have is good food as YOUR health is your wealth and nothing else is MORE important than that. but whenever I think of buying a new car or house for myself I look at half my income and say NOPE can’t afford it yet.. And it’s funny I also say the same thing. If I make 100 grand a year then I get to live off 50,000 and invest the other half.. etc etc.. I think this way of life it’s kind of hard to ever get yourself into trouble.


Cory Binsfield August 30, 2014 at 9:08 am

Excellent post Brandon!

One of the ways I avoid over spending may sound a bit strange to folks.

Whenever I end up with extra cash on hand, I try to buy another property.

By purchasing another cash flowing property, it ties up my money and make it extremely difficult to tap in an emergency or for an impulsive purchase-oops, bought a BMW!


Brandon Turner August 30, 2014 at 11:34 am

Hah- funny Cory, but I do the same thing. It’s my monopoly strategy played out in real life!


Wendy Noble August 30, 2014 at 6:54 pm

I like this one. Money that sits around doing nothing will always get into trouble!


Brandon Turner September 3, 2014 at 3:30 pm



Sharon Tzib August 30, 2014 at 10:37 am

The King of living below your means and retiring early, Mr. Money Mustache. Love this blog he wrote:

Most people do not like to sacrifice and in my opinion, focus too much on saving and not enough on spending. I didn’t learn how to effectively monitor my spending until I moved to Belize. Now I live well below my means, consciously consume, and when I return to the States soon, will be doing the same thing.

If you understand that for every dollar you spend, it is someone else’s income. Put another way, every dollar you spend is one less dollar you have to invest. Once you get that concept, spending less becomes much more enticing.


Brandon Turner August 30, 2014 at 11:34 am

I love Mr. MMM also – smart dude. Thanks so much for the comment Sharon!


Anil August 30, 2014 at 9:45 pm

I learned a lot from Mr. MMM as well. He really helped me to focus on necessities and slashing expenses. I also learned from his website not matter what investments I make, the most important thing is how much of my income I am currently saving. Now that I have been more active on BP, I use that saved income to buy more properties. Brandon, thanks for sharing your money saving/investing articles! I like that you have simple actionable plans that are intuitive and easy to follow. I feel it is hard to limit your spending unless you reward yourself somehow. In order to consistently save for the long term I think you cannot feel like you are depriving yourself. There must be some “fun” in your life. Similar to a workout routine by body builders, they usually have a cheat day where they get to eat anything they want. I guess by paying yourself first that is similar to rewarding your self as long as you still get to budget for Starbucks each month or something similar!


Suzette Lefort August 30, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Thks Brandon. One book i just finished reading and opened up my eyes was “Your money or your life” by Vicky Robin. Great read!!!


Brandon Turner September 3, 2014 at 3:31 pm

Thanks for the comment and the book recommendation! I hadn’t read that :)


Chas Phillips August 30, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Great Article! This is a truth that the majority of American do not understand.


Brandon Turner September 3, 2014 at 3:31 pm

Thanks Chas! Spread the word :)


Jeff Brown August 30, 2014 at 3:24 pm

EVERYTHING starts from spending less than we make. The rest is HappyTalk while whistling through the graveyard. I still live on far less than comes in. Who knows how many thousands of young folks you’ve helped with this post, Brandon? This is truly a public service post.


Brandon Turner September 3, 2014 at 3:32 pm

Thanks so much Jeff – I appreciate that a lot! Hopefully someone will read and apply, rather than just read and then go wrack up some credit card debt!


Sharon Vornholt August 30, 2014 at 7:29 pm

Great post Brandon.

I think you make some great points. The vast majority of people spend what they make regardless of how much they make. If they only were educated in the concepts in your article things could be so much different.

Why they don’t teach these types of concepts in early on in middle school and high school is beyond me.

Stop and think for a minute how differently people would think if they were educated about these concepts before they went out into the world. Most teenagers don’t get this type of education from their parents because they didn’t get it from their parents. Great job.



Brandon Turner September 3, 2014 at 3:33 pm

Thanks Sharon! I wish they taught this stuff in school! I had never heard about the Dangers of credit cards and spending too much until far too late. Or maybe I just didn’t listen ;)


Kay Khan September 6, 2014 at 2:56 pm

I came from the old country and they do teach about value of saving money in the old country because there is not much to go around. Here in the blessed US the corporations are running the show and we are bombarded with commercials 24/7 and someone even suggested to put ads on the toilet paper so we would still be thinking about spending while we are answering the nature’s call (by the way a guy in Florida uses urinals for “we buy houses”) so one must have fire in the belly, a vey clear financial freedom goal in mind and be very discipline in order to achieve that goal. It is doable but very difficult (if it was easy, everybody would be doing it). At the end “everybody likes to go to heaven but nobody likes to die”.


Sharon Vornholt September 6, 2014 at 6:42 pm

That’s hilarious Kay. We buy houses on urinals.

Sadly most children aren’t taught the basics of budgeting and how money can work for you. Then they grow up and they don’t teach their children because they don’t have that information themselves. It’s a cycle that repeats itself.



Chad Lubke August 31, 2014 at 6:34 am

While I agree spending less than you make is the key to getting your personal finances in order, I disagree with the MMM philosophy. You can use the save, save, save philosophy only to a point. You are limited by your income. I live frugally but invest heavily in my business. I could never get to where I am at by simply being conservative and not taking risk and investing heavily. The MMM philosophy is to use his own man power to accomplish things, ie riding a bike, doing “high paying jobs” like carpentry work on his homes etc. My most valuable asset is my time, I can generate new business, and network in the time that would be spent doing manual work. I am not saying you can’t become a millionaire by saving and being frugal, but do you just want to be a millionaire. I don’t know about you but settling at millionaire just doesn’t cut it for me. I enjoy working and talking to people and really don’t like saving pennies.


Brandon Turner September 3, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Hey Chad, I actually agree also that being “frugal” will only take you so far. It’s like this: is it easier to save $100 or make $100 ? For me – Making it is WAY easier and much more enjoyable!


Dave August 31, 2014 at 8:30 am

Great advice – I made a rap video on the very subject of spending less than you make. Check out the youtube link connected to my name above, Brandon!


Brandon Turner September 3, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Hah nice Dave! That’s awesome! I just tweeted it :)


Dmitri August 31, 2014 at 8:34 am

Great post!!

Here’s another relevant link from MMM that digs into this idea some more

Avoiding lifestyle inflation by not instantly allocating your raises to more spending, is a great strategy, because it doesn’t really require giving anything up – sacrifice through omission, as it were.

Things get even more exciting though, once you actually make conscious decisions to optimize and trim down your “lifestyle” (consumer spending). Making purposeful steps towards your goal makes you feel bad-ass and sets up a virtuous circle that just builds momentum over time.

Keep savin’!


Jerry K. August 31, 2014 at 8:39 am

Brandon this is always a great topic to remind people. My parents drilled the philosophy of spending less than you make into our heads from the day we were born. My dad didn’t get a credit card until he was almost 50 and then only because they started traveling and needed a credit card to get a hotel (usually Motel 6) when they traveled. They never had a car loan and had a mortgage as their only debt.

The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley is great. You should also read his follow ups where he digs deeper into what you can do to build wealth; “The Millionaire Mind”, and “Stop Acting Rich”. Stop Acting Rich is especially on point.

And his first 3 books are great if you own any kind of business – Marketing to the Affluent, Selling to the Affluent, and Networking with the Affluent and Their Advisers. I re-read those books every couple of years and use the actions described to build my businesses.


Gene Cook August 31, 2014 at 9:03 am

Excellent discussion.I am especially intrigued by the varying thoughts about drastic budgeting and using your own labor to economize vs applying your skills in a more focused way to bring in a higher return. I don’t think there is any “right” answer there – more a matter of perspective and individual skill sets and inclinations. Of course the overarching concept of spending less than you make is a foundation to all.

Suzette, I too would add “Your Money or Your Life” to the list potentiality life changing books.
Read it a long time ago and though I choose to not employ many of the strategies and continued to trade my life as a worker for the option to spend more money and hopefully worry a little less about it. But I felt it was important in my being able to know that I was making that choice vs it just happening.

We are all going to make different choices in how we approach the economic part of our lives, it seems like the important thing is to give ourselves the awareness of what options there are and ways to have control over the choices we make .


Engelo Rumora August 31, 2014 at 9:22 am

I’m reminded of the quote Dave Ramsey often says: “If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”

I am tweeting the above Brandon :)

Awesome blog mate,

Have a great Sunday


Joffrey Long August 31, 2014 at 11:00 am

Brandon, Great post. One additional benefit of this strategy – it helps greatly during downturns. last downturn was my 3rd as an investor and due to living this way, got through the downturn with no lifestyle change and no loss of assets.


Johnson August 31, 2014 at 11:51 am

Great article Brandon! I can hear my mom’s voice right now… WORK HARD and SAVE, SAVE, SAVE! I just modified it a little bit…WORK HARD & SMART then SAVE & INVEST!


Eric August 31, 2014 at 4:03 pm

My uncle used to say, his ex-wife (my aunt) made him a millionaire, he used to have two million, now he has one…lol

But you are spot on. Spend less than you make is a difficult concept for people. After a few years, you will hate to go back to being a millionaire…


Paula Pant August 31, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Major thumbs-up!! Brandon, you’re totally on-point. The BEST way to become wealthy is to live like a college student (or maybe just one or two notches above a college student) for as long as possible … and shovel every dime into investing!


Keith Weinhold August 31, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Spending is more fun than saving.

Sometimes the obvious, when put in writing, can be remarkably clarifying. The above can be important to consider when one spends on experiences.

Few people grow up, leave their parents’ home, then think, “I want to go out and live a SMALL life. Then I want to meet a wife, live a small life with her, and then have kids and teach them how to live a small life too.”

But then that’s exactly what most go do.

One can only cut out so much to the downside. But when one is financially educated and acts, there is UNLIMITED upside.

Spending on experiences with loved ones – though often not required – enhances our quality of life. That is our time.

Life is made up of time. Time is all that we’ve got.

Live well and give well.


Jennifer Kurtz August 31, 2014 at 9:02 pm

Great book suggestions, I would have to agree on Napoleon Hill and the 4 hour workweek. I saw some more recommendations in the comments I look forward to reading. If someone gave me twoincome figures and said which is wealthier, rather than saying the obvious higher income, my question would be “tell me how much time is involved in generating this income.” My time to live and experience the world in the ways I want to is my currency. I save and invest with the goal of freedom, not a 40 year slave to someone else’s business :)


Michael Dorovich September 1, 2014 at 10:08 pm

Excellent article, I agree 100%. Also recommended ‘Secrets of the Millionaire Mind’ and the ‘jar system’ of saving for different areas in your life, including the ‘play account.’


Rick September 3, 2014 at 9:03 am

Money may not be able to buy happiness, but it can sure as hell buy out unhappiness.


aaron foster September 4, 2014 at 9:17 pm

Just want to add one note; money sitting around in a savings account loses value…

You may make around 1% in a savings account (if you’re lucky) but you lose between 1-3% on inflation every year. You may still have that same dollar in the account but the power of that dollar has dwindled. The strength of currency varies every minute of every day and can be seen in foreign exchange. (another vehicle to invest in for some)



Sogo September 7, 2014 at 7:15 pm

Great Post Brandon, thanks for sharing, just saved me from an impulse buy :), now i need to get my financial life together.


Mark Ferguson September 16, 2014 at 9:48 pm

Nice work Brandon!
Saving is definitely the key to wealth. I think MMM has some great ideas for saving, but I think he goes overboard with it. He really emphasizes spending as little as possible on everything! i don’t think people should be afraid to spend money if they are also saving and investing. We only live life once and I want it to be as exciting as possible. To me being frugal should not be the end goal but a way to get started. Having goals for nice things or things you really want also help you achieve more and make more. The more money you make the easier it is to save.

When I stopped limiting myself about what I thought I could achieve or how much money I could make, things exploded for me. I think saving is extremely important, but making a lot of money while having a saving attitude can be a game changer. Those goals and shiny things can help you motivate yourself and make more money.

Hope that made sense. It’s difficult to explain saving and spending at the same time.


Robert Blanchard September 25, 2014 at 2:20 pm

You make many great points Brandon. Some of my relatives spend every cent that they bring in. I doubt they do not even have an emergency fund set up which is baby step 1 per Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course.

Many people that I know live paycheck to paycheck and do not know how to change their financial outlook.

What will it take for the schools to start teaching basic financial planning in schools?

Real Estate Investing allows many people to become millionaires even if only on paper.

I will go out and get the books mentioned here and start reading them.

I read somewhere once, that every day you should try to accomplish something to improve your life or your bottom line. If you throughout your life being happy being just over broke, it will be hard to have a retirement that is not dependent on relatives or the government. The Social Security program will be drastically different by the time that I retire. I am not planning on getting much back out of it, even though I will have been forced to contribute to it for many years.

Now off to do some time management so I can get some books read.



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