Business Management

What Being a CPA Has Taught Me About Becoming a Millionaire

Expertise: Business Management, Landlording & Rental Properties, Personal Finance, Personal Development
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Usually my articles are all about taxes and how real estate investors and business owners should approach various scenarios and apply sets of tax regulations. I always try to share my knowledge to help you improve your bottom line.

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What I’ve come to realize through speaking with and advising hundreds of real estate investors and having a front row seat to their financial lives and mindsets is that I’ve learned quite a lot about wealth over the past few years.

I’ve learned about creative and unique means to generate wealth. I’ve learned about market niches that are rarely brought up in the BiggerPockets Forums that turn out to be quite lucrative. I’ve learned about ways to mitigate exposure to various financial and market risks.

However, one of the most beneficial things that I’ve learned—and the topic of this post—is how millionaires build their wealth.

I'm not talking about the mega-millionaires. While I'm sure everyone would love to be in the "mega-millionaire" category, frankly it's unattainable for most. I'm talking about the Millionaire Next Door type of millionaires. This type of millionaire is, as I’ve found, relatively easy to become.

Full disclosure: I’m not a millionaire—not even close. However, I have been lucky enough to interact with and advise many homegrown millionaires. Hopefully, you’ll still be able to take away something of value from this.

So what does the everyday millionaire do differently than the rest of us? They develop key habits, defer their gratification, and treat their “passive” income like the most important business they’ve ever run.

woman in plaid shirt with glasses standing in front of colorfully painted building

The No. 1 Non-Money Habit of Millionaires

The number one non-money habit that will make you a millionaire is waking up earlier than the rest of the world.

I know it’s hyped up and over-sold. I always rolled my eyes when I heard about this habit, too. I’m not a morning person, and the thought of waking up before the sun was dreadful.

But that was before I got into the business of advising successful real estate investors and business owners. That was also before I established this habit for myself.

Waking up early has plenty of benefits; however, the two that stand out the most when I’m conversing with clients are that it gives you time to work on projects you never have time for and it jumpstarts your productivity.

Related: Building Wealth: What Key Practices Separate Millionaires From the Middle Class?

The difference between people living mediocre lives and people living successful lives is that the successful people create time to work on the projects that the mediocre people dream about. Don’t have time to review three real estate deals a day? Wake up early!

The projects don’t have to be real estate-related; in fact, they don’t even have to be business-related. Maybe you dream about starting a podcast or writing a book about tea and food pairings. Maybe you just want to paint more often or get in shape.

When interviewing my clients, other investors, and business owners, I’ve realized the most successful ones have some sort of cool project they’re working on. As I noticed the trend, I began inquiring not only about the projects but also about how they have time.

The answer almost all of these successful people provided was that they wake up early. It’s that simple.

And think about it—when you wake up early to work on the project you’re always putting off, do you think you’ll be excited to wake up? Not only will you be motivated to get out of bed, but your entire day will essentially see a jumpstart in productivity. You will create this sort of productivity momentum, which will result in you performing better throughout the day at your job, business, real estate, or whatever it is you’re working on!

I don’t have scientific data. I don’t know the neurology behind it. But I do know that almost all of the successful investors and clients I’ve collaborated with wake up early to work on their various projects.

I was skeptical at first, but I tried it. I read Miracle Morning for some motivation, and I’ve now created a habit of waking up early. My productivity has exploded, and I’ve seen the benefits spill over into other areas of my life—like business, investing, relationships, and overall health and happiness.

Best of all, waking up at 5:00 a.m. isn’t bad at all after a week or so. I’m used to it and have a routine that motivates me to jump out of bed every morning.

If you get nothing else out of this post, I highly recommend trying this for 30 days. The benefits will exceed your expectations.

investor-habit-morning

Deferring Gratification and Value-Add Spending

All, let me repeat, ALL of the successful people I’ve spoken with understand the art of gratification deferral.

The thought process goes like this: “That purchase will make me happy, but is it necessary today? Do I really need that product or service? Will it help me reach my goals?”

Oftentimes, the answer is a simple no.

So they put off buying the new shoes, fancy dinners, and concert tickets. They buy used vehicles rather than new and expensive cars. They focus on saving and investing—growing their dollar and paying their future selves. This allows them to get out of the rat race and snowball their investments into financial freedom territory.

Buy the Tesla once your net worth reaches $1,000,000. Your future millionaire self will thank the present you for waiting.

Another key trend semi-related to this topic is that successful investors and business owners focus on value-add spending and savings.

For instance, one of the investors I know built up an enormous amount of wealth by simply owner-occupying multi-family properties and slowly rehabbing all of the units. He would buy a fourplex, live in one unit for a year, rehab it, then move to the next unit and rinse and repeat. While he was flipping the unit, the other three would be rented out, covering his mortgage and then some.

He used this strategy for two fourplexes, and it took him about eight years to complete. He was able to 1031 exchange those properties into a much larger apartment complex, which is valued at over $1,000,000.

Related: 5 Habits of the Wealthy That Helped Them Get Rich

One of my clients spends tens of thousands of dollars each year on seminars and trainings. However, she has a high net worth and has determined she can do this without it negatively impacting her financial position. Her business is centered on building a network of people, and she’s quantified the value of every $1,000 she spends at these seminars and found that she will eventually earn revenue about twice the size of the cost to attend.

But it wasn't always this way. Had she spent thousands of dollars going to a seminar while her business was trying to get on its feet, she may not have succeeded at all. In the early days, her money was better spent creating content, advertising, building a local network, and implementing business systems.

She understood that while the seminars may be valuable, there were better things to spend her money on at the time to grow to a level where it was financially feasible to attend these larger events.

several people seated in a classroom setting and two suited male speakers at the front of the room

Treating Real Estate Investing Like a Business

One of the more eye-opening conversations I’ve ever had was with a gentleman who invests in apartment buildings. I was showing him a property I thought was a good deal, and before he even looked at the deal, he asked me how the local economy was.

The investors that see large-scale success analyze real estate in a completely different way than the rest of us. The successful investors start by analyzing economic conditions of various cities, towns, etc. When they find one they like, they narrow down their search and identify the best locations and neighborhoods in the area.

They don't start with Realtor.com. They also don't necessarily start by contacting a real estate agent.

They want to understand the macro and microeconomic conditions that may affect their investment performance to determine if it’s even worth their time to continue looking in the target area. Then they worry about building relationships and getting boots on the ground.

And when you think about it, that simple reversal of the typical methodology many of us employ makes complete sense. Why invest in the best neighborhood in a city that has declining economic conditions? It’s backward logic.

On top of that, before they even attempt to identify a property, they learn all they can about the competition in the area. If they want to invest in apartment buildings, they will find out exactly what the other apartment buildings in the area have to offer. If they find a value gap, they exploit it.

For instance, the gentleman I briefly mentioned above told me that his apartment building has washer and dryer hookups, and no other apartment building near him has washer/dryer hookups. Something that simple can give you a huge competitive advantage over all the other investors in your area.

That’s how businesses are run. There’s a constant jockeying of positioning to have the best value-add offerings. The investors who understand and can identify competitive advantages will win every time.

issue-1099s

The Wrap-Up

Being a CPA has allowed me to peer into the financial lives of many successful real estate investors. Though I’m not a millionaire myself, I’ve identified habits, mindsets, and logic that I believe can make anyone a millionaire if they are all applied.

I find wealth a fascinating topic, and I hope you are able to take something away from this article. Until next time!

Which of these lessons strikes a chord with you? What would you add?

Leave your comments below!

Brandon Hall is a CPA and owner of The Real Estate CPA. Brandon assists investors with Tax Strategy through customized planning and
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    Ben Travis Flipper/Rehabber from Nashville, TN
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Really enjoyed this post. Does anyone have any article recommendations on how certain investors, like the ones mentioned, look at macro and micro econ trends as their first steps? I’d like to read more on that and learn that method.
    Jeremiah Pangan from Los Angeles, California
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Great read – definitely agree! I am an Accountant myself with my own practice. I’ve got several big clients that are millionaires, yet you’d never think that they are. Several have made wealth by starting in Network Marketing (small capital with big upside), owning a duplex and executing a 1031-exchange, or producers. They didn’t get rich with receiving W-2. The point is they all shared similar habits such as waking up early and deferred gratification.
    Chris H. from Los Angeles, California
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Great article, thanks for sharing.
    Lulli Debrosse from Howard Beach, New York
    Replied over 2 years ago
    “I don’t have scientific data. I don’t know the neurology behind it. But I do know that almost all of the successful investors and clients I’ve collaborated with wake up early to work on their various projects.” I love to read about a wide range of things. Mainly all non-fiction. In books like the Power of Habit, The Willpower Instinct and Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence; Scientist have done studies on focus productivity and willpower. Studies they’ve conducted found that focus and willpower is like a gas tank that’s depleted with every choice you make during the day. That’s why most people have horrible eating habits towards the end of the day and they reach for sugary things to replenish some glucose to fuel the mental processes. You might even become easily distracted as the day goes on. I think its best to tackle taxing issues in the morning when no one is around and you’re at full capacity.
    Joe P. from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    Replied over 2 years ago
    It’s interesting – I always read posts and articles and “tips” saying “wake up early to be successful.” I don’t agree, and I think there is some bias towards the saying. Drive, determination, and planning are more important than waking up early. Waking up early just means you’re either going to bed early, or deferring/reducing sleep. Both of these are not positive. I do my best thinking and planning in the evening. I have all my energy in the evening, usually around 10-11 PM. Why? I don’t know, it’s just the way I’m wired. But people should be associating (correctly) waking up early to determination and planning. If I get up early and play video games all morning, am I successful? Probably not. Waking up early is just an EFFECT of a person being self-motivated to further themselves. You could make the same argument that a person working on hobbies, business, etc. long into the evening could be just as successful. We’re awake for 16-18 hours a day — maximizing, planning, and executing the time is more important than the window in which you maximize, plan, and execute.
    Charles Bellanfante
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Great piece written. I am also a CPA so i definitely relate to the incite that you gain when you are now in the mist of millionaires and you are in more contact with their financials. I am breaking into the world of real estate investing so it is also a plus to here info from a CPA investor vantage point. I totally agree with the rising early being one of the habits of millionaire (Self made millionaire vs inherited wealth). I started rising early at 6am to go to the gym, work on projects, etc. and instantly noticed how much more productive that it made my day. I will be sure to follow more of your reads.
    Lidia Grasso
    Replied 7 months ago
    Thank you for the great article! And - I’ll download the Miracle Morning book
    Scott Ellman
    Replied 7 months ago
    An article that I have actual take-a-ways from! Exciting & thank you Brandon!
    Tushar P.
    Replied 7 months ago
    So this article is 11 years old, and you are still not a millionaire? I thought any average person can become a millionaire within 10 years of a W2 job. Do you think people who do not have the capacity to become millionaires will become one if they start waking up early? Do you think people who have the capacity to become millionaires will not become one because they don’t wake up early?
    Brandon Hall CPA from Raleigh, NC
    Replied 7 months ago
    Oh come on Tushar...
    Nate T. Investor from Tempe, Arizona
    Replied 7 months ago
    I'd be surprised if Brandon is not a millionaire now, 11 years later. But it's pretty annoying that the date on the article is Feb 27, 2020, even though the comments start 11 years ago.
    Brandon Hall CPA from Raleigh, NC
    Replied 7 months ago
    Business valuations are key for growth of net worth. I wrote this article in 2016. I’m not sure how the 11 year old comment snuck in here, it’s weird.
    Sylvia B. Rental Property Investor from Douglas County, MO
    Replied 7 months ago
    Just look at the very first comment on the article. It says it was posted 11 years ago. If you didn't write the article until 2016, how is that possible?
    Wenda Kennedy JD from Nikiski, Alaska
    Replied 7 months ago
    I totally agree. I've been an agent, a commercial real estate appraiser, an expert witness in RE and now a retired professional investor, spanning the last 44 years. I too have learned LOTS from watching my clients over the years. I've adopted a lot of their good habits and best practices. One thing I can tell you is that even when you make that million -- you don't buy the Tesla. The frugal habits acquired over those many years of hard work and struggle are too deeply ingrained. Flashy stuff just doesn't have the same meaning. Those shiny objects are too much trouble and expensive to own. They're just not worth it. I have also noted that most of the "millionaires next door" are quiet, unassuming people. You wouldn't pick them out of the crowd. They blend in, and they like it that way. The people around them, who don't know them well, underestimate their skills and assets all the time. Most of them lead "cash & carry" lives that are simple to the bone.
    Russell Wagner
    Replied 7 months ago
    Great post Brandon, another thing I found out about millionaires, they do negotiate. Most people are not accustomed to this. And I say negotiate because our home appeals business comes across a lot of people that a money sharp and want to appeal their homes value to reduce taxes. Same thing as a CPA but on a granular level with local municipalities and their valuations of their homes and property investment. Great post.
    Juris Cooper Rental Property Investor from Ogden, UT
    Replied 7 months ago
    Love it! Great insights, Brandon. Thanks for sharing