What Being a CPA Has Taught Me About Becoming a Millionaire

by | BiggerPockets.com

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.

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 two 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 thing that I’ve learned—and the topic of today’s 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 my article.

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.


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The #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 jump starts 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 the 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 jump start 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 — life 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.


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 the 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 four-plex, 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 four-plexes, 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.


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.


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!

We’re republishing this article to help out our newer readers.

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

Leave your comments below!

About Author

Brandon Hall

Brandon Hall is a CPA and owner of The Real Estate CPA. Brandon assists investors with Tax Strategy through customized planning and Virtual Workshops. Brandon is an active real estate investor and a Principal at Naked Capital, a capital group investing in large multi-family projects and manufactured housing. Brandon's Big 4 and personal investing experiences allow him to provide unique advice to each of his clients.


  1. Daniel Ryu

    Hey Brandon!

    I’m back in CA now ^^ Great article. I’ve also conditioned myself to be a morning person. If people can’t afford the expensive seminars, I say start with masterminds or local meetups through meetup(dot)com. You can find something within your price range. I’ve used as many of these ‘free resources’ as I could when starting out and now that I have more momentum, I’m looking toward more of the paid seminar-type events.

    Anyways, great article, great insight. I think it’ll help a lot of people. We should definitely hop on a call/ skype sometime and catch up!

      • Daniel Ryu

        Sounds good. Thanks to @Mike Jin who’s an investor out here, I’ve been getting plugged into the local So Cal investors network. Meeting a lot of new people and getting ready to jump into mobile home park investing soon. Let’s jump on a call when things calm down. I’m starting to master the morning wake up routine so anytime after 5am, I should be good!

      • Simon Dupuis

        waking up earlier than the rest of the world…..

        Never taught of this one: work later than anybody else.
        I analyze deals at 1 or 2 in he morning email my real estate agent, banker or insurer
        the next when i wake up (around 10) my email box will be full with work done
        by other people for my me.

        People are actually working for me while i am at sleep!

        All my meeting are set up in the afternoons.

        And I am a full time investor.

        The waking up early thing has no value at all.

  2. Great article. I’m the guy next door millionaire. I learn 40 years ago the people at 7/11 buying coffee at 6AM have the wealth. The people there at 9:30 AM generally haven nothing. Some president, I think it was Kennnedy, said …..nothing important ever happened in the world after eight o clock in the morning.. This has been my life long philosophy.

  3. Aaron B.

    Brandon, thanks for putting this article together. It conveys some great concepts that are not just; specific, to real estate but broader success. Your ability to wrap personal experiences into the articles makes for a great read. Best of luck this year.

  4. James R.

    Wow! Brandon, this is one of my favorite articles that you have written.

    This one is going right into my BP folder, for future reference, just so that I can read it again and know that I am doing all of the right things!

    “The Millionaire Next Door” was one of the first investment books that I read.

    Best wishes!

    • Brandon Hall

      It is tough when you have a significant other/spouse. You have to figure out how to get them to buy into it while making them think it’s their own idea. Read How to Win Friends and Influence People and you’ll be set, I promise!

      • Jordan-Jamie Dayton

        Great article, Brandon.

        This ideology of waking up early has always been something I’ve said I subscribe to, but do nothing about. “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” right? I’ve always agreed, yet never done anything about it.

        Before reading this post, I came to this same conclusion. So at the beginning of this year I started reading a book called “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod, and it has changed the game for me. It gave me the motivation, inspiration, courage, and even permission to let go of my past excuses and BECOME what I really wanted to become… “a morning person.” It took about a month of doing it on my own. I was waking up at 6am and then my wife said she wanted to read the book.

        She saw that I was reading, exercising, writing in my journal, and accomplishing so much, before any of our 4 kids even woke up! And she wanted in on that! So she read the book and made a commitment to start getting up at 5:30am… vs. 7:30am! It’s amazing the difference this has made in our lives.

        And our weekends are no different. Forget sleeping in on the weekends! Just go to bed early so you can wake before the rest of the world and have the time to become the person you want to be.

        Start your journey by never again saying: “I’m not a morning person!”

        “If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”

        ? Dave Ramsey

    • Brandon Hall

      Thanks Jessie, glad you enjoyed the read. You can change “not being a morning person.” I wasn’t a morning person until about a week into my “wake up early experiment” and now I’m excited every day to get up at 5am as I know I’ll have time to work on some fun projects. Read the Miracle Morning and try it for 30 days!

    • Brandon Hall

      Hey Mindy thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed it. I’d be doing a few of the investors who told me about these niches a disservice if I disclosed the niche, but I know they read my articles so maybe they won’t mind sharing 🙂

  5. Troy M.


    I don’t post much here on BP but your article was so good I felt compelled to respond. I agree with all of the points you made; getting up early, deferring gratification, and treating RE as a business. A common thread through all three is starting and running your own business. It is very unlikely that an employee for someone else will ever become a multi-millionaire. Yes, they may have a very high income but they will likely not have an exceptional net worth.

    Keep getting up early and charging ahead. I have no doubts you’ll be a millionaire sooner rather than later.


  6. Kevin Yeats

    Two points.

    First, Zig Ziglar renamed the device that rings at a certain early morning hour his “opportunity clock.”

    Second, in his blog from several years ago, Mark Cuban wrote about working until the early morning hours and sending emails to Michael Dell at 3 AM ….. and receiving replies in just a few minutes.

  7. Bryan Drury

    Brandon Hall,
    I would like to repeat what Troy M. said.I’ve been reading your material for a long time and I have to say that I like your thought process and ability to communicate it.I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and learned a lot from your writings.They make me stop and think when I sometimes get into big of a hurry.After tax season I would like to talk to you about helping us.Thanks

    • Brandon Hall

      Bryan – thank you for the kind words. I’m very appreciative of folks who take the time to comment (whether praise or criticism) as it helps me perfect my overall writing style. I’m more than happy to help you. Feel free to email me at any time – brandon.hall(at)hallcpallc.com

  8. Ken Green

    Hi Brandon – thanks for the article. Really informative. I’m a CPA as well but in Canada. I want to start investing in Jacksonville, Florida and would need some advise setting up my corporate structure. Please let me know if you can provide this service or if you know an accountant or lawyer in Florida with some understanding of Canadian cross border taxation. Cheers.

  9. Roy C.

    Excellent article, Brandon! I listened to BP’s podcast on Miracle Morning couple of weeks ago, and I started implementing SAVERS by getting up at 5 AM. So far, It has drastically improved my life. I feel like I get more things done. Hopefully, I can keep up for 66 days and make it a permanent habit of mine.

    Also excellent point about gentleman’s story. When I research for potential rental property, I go through city-data to make sure city’s economy is healthy before I browse through MLS (looking for population growth, average income, big companies, etc). As they say, with real estate, it’s “location, location, location”

  10. Hi Brandon, great post! This is so true, I’ve been an early riser and a delayed gratification guy my whole life and it’s really paid off. It’s funny how a small shift in strategy of how one uses their time and money can have such a compound effect.

  11. Albert Bui

    Nice seeing your Name on an investors tax return Brandon ! (recently)

    This article is spot on and I would have to agree that I get to see a perspective similar to yours too, seeing many investors financial profiles and having that one on one time to talk through the game plans really helps provide perspective on your own wealth building.

  12. John Murray

    Here is the big secret to becoming a multimillionaire next door. The government does not care how much money you have but the government cares deeply on how much you make. Most of us are very multi skilled people that have our own entrepreneurial activities that minimize our tax burden. Depreciation. 0-15% capital gains bracket, pass through losses and portfolio income reduce our tax burden. We view luxuries as a middle class fault and formal education as a middle class value. We do not rely on earned income for making a living and do not contribute to the social security system or provide the self employment tax to the IRS. We are not bogged down by petty employment politics and can free think. We do not compete with other employees for low raises and the frustrations that jealousy can bring with employment. We are dreamers, we are truly free.

  13. Christopher Smith

    I think the getting up early thing as a necessary requirement (while likely never really accurate) has its roots in a very antiquated notion of how society operates.

    Even just a hundred years ago the World was still primarily agrarian based, and one’s scope of activities were primarily if not wholly local. As such getting up early in those times maximized one’s ability to get things done during day light hours in that limited locale (the reasoning behind daylight savings time).

    The world is now fully mobile and runs on a 24/7 basis so it likely matters not when you rise unless your income still derives from growing corn and beans in your back yard.

    Arguably the 3 most powerful men who ever lived routinely got up at 11 am and went to bed at 3 am.

    In reality there are many paths to wealth, and I wouldn’t necessarily attempt to shoehorn my self into antiquated notions of success, but rather find out what works for you in the world in which we currently live.

    • John Murray

      Chris a man after my own heart. I go to bed about 1AM and sleep to 10AM or so. I spend at least 2 hours of free thinking until about noon and then hit the gym. After the gym I may do some work or not if I feel like it. My wife and I discuss financial matters for 1 to 2 hours a day. I rarely think about money, but discuss concept strategy. Usually what has worked and what has not. A person can accomplish so much with 9 hours of sleep, critical thinking and the drive to succeed. Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise? How about be smart, sound mind, sound body and most of all share your success with others.

    • Darin Anderson

      Science doesn’t back it either.



      There are advantages to being an early riser or night owl but on the whole night owls tend to make more money. They also tend to have more bad habits like drinking and smoking but that may be because they are more likely to be involved in social night life, not sure.

      There is nothing magical about the hours of the day one works. What is likely happening here is that people who are implementing a system like the Miracle Morning plan are using “systems and plans.” Systems and plans tend to make one more productive. So they think it was the starting early in the morning that made them more productive when in fact it was just the system.

      It is also often offered as a way to squeeze in more hours. If you don’t have time to get something done get up earlier to do it. This one is really puzzling because it makes no sense on two levels. First if you get up earlier do you not go to bed earlier? If not then you are sleep deprived. If you do go to bed earlier then you haven’t gained any hours, just moved them around the day. Secondly if it is about not having distractions early in the morning, guess when else you don’t have distractions, late at night. Either works just as well as the other. And I would argue late at night works even better. If you get up at 5AM to start your routine and work on projects, that has to be done by 7AM when the rest of the family starts getting up and making noise and getting ready for school etc. If instead you start your work at 10pm when everyone goes to bed. You can work until midnight, 1, 2 however long you need to to make sure the project is done rather than having to start and stop over and over. Studies show that to be true as well.

      In the end people have a biologically programmed circadian rhythm that predisposes them to either be in the middle, in the early morning or night owls. Night owls and Morning larks have very strong difficulty switching to the other side where as those in the middle are more flexible and could go to either side somewhat. True Night Owls should in no way ever try to follow the miracle morning formula. It will be a disaster for them. Studies have shown that night owls who try end up drained and slipping back very quickly. It does not work regardless how many times someone says it is laziness if you can’t do it.

      For those who have switched to a morning routine they were almost surely never truly night owls. They were in the middle (where about 50% of people are) and just happened to be not getting up early. They can switch if they so choose. And it could be very productive for them. But it doesn’t make it a formula that works for true night owls and it is not actually the earliness of their rising that makes the difference anyway.

  14. Barry E Hill on

    Hi Brandon
    I see you are into multi family projects.
    I am a land developer in the Houston Tx area.
    My question is do you have or know of any investor groups in this area?
    I read your article and agree with the many reasons you talked about especially getting up early and working on the project.
    Please advise

  15. Ben Travis

    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.

  16. Jeremiah Pangan

    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.

  17. Lulli Debrosse

    “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.

  18. Joe P.

    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.

  19. Charles Bellanfante

    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.

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