You don’t need a six-figure income to become a millionaire.
In fact, the first time I earned a six-figure income, I didn’t build much wealth, because I spent most of what I earned. It was only later, when I was earning far less, that I got serious about saving money and building wealth.
It’s possible to save a down payment for an investment property within one year on a teacher’s salary, or to save $50,000 in two years on the median US income. You don’t need couch surf or eat ramen noodles every night, either.
But you do need to throw out your old budget, and draw up a new one from scratch. And the faster you want to build wealth, the greater the lifestyle changes required.
If you want to reach a seven-figure net worth quickly, here’s a quick roadmap to get you there as fast as possible.
A Brand New Budget
Your budget is going to be a work in progress. There are some changes you can make immediately, to start the ball rolling in the right direction. But the largest changes – with the greatest impact on your wealth – will require time to implement properly.
A good budget starts with two numbers: your current revenue, and your target savings rate. For your monthly income, write down four weeks’ take-home pay. That’s what you can count on in any given month, and no more. (Your occasional bonus paycheck can go straight toward savings and investments, but to include a fraction of it in your monthly budget is deceptive and counterproductive.)
Next, declare a target savings rate: the percent of your take-home income that you want to put towards savings and investments. I recommend no less than 15%, and ideally far more. List this as your first and most important “expense.”
Then you can list out all your expenses. Those come in four varieties: regular monthly expenses (like your housing payment), irregular monthly expenses (like groceries), regular annual expenses (like insurance premiums), and irregular-but-inevitable expenses (like holiday, birthday, and wedding gifts).
Don’t forget all your myriad subscriptions – even those that you pay annually, rather than monthly.
Your expenses probably add up to more than your income. Don’t fret, that’s what we’re aiming to change.
Form an Execution Plan
You now have a target, a destination to work toward. With it you can map out exactly how to get there.
Bear in mind that the average American spends between two-thirds and three-quarters of their budget on just three expenses: housing, transportation, and food. These, therefore, are where you have the greatest opportunity for savings.
But housing and transportation require major lifestyle shifts to reduce or remove. Those don’t happen overnight; we’ll come back to them shortly, but first let’s review some changes you can make right now.
Immediate Expenses to Cut
1. Stop Eating Commercial Food
Restaurants mark up food and beverages between three and five times their cost, at least. They’re in business to make a profit, after all.
Their profit comes out of your wallet. If you’re serious about building wealth, stop eating food prepared by someone else. That includes not just sit-down restaurants, but also fast food, take-out, delivery, and weekday lunches.
The good (and bad) news is that you get to learn how to cook. I’ve become a much better cook, since committing to becoming a millionaire. I started by learning how to make all my own favorite meals. Then I asked all my friends and family to send me their favorite recipes. On the rare occasions that I now let myself eat out, I scour menus for good recipe ideas – and then I learn how to make them myself.
I make enough at dinner to have leftovers the next day for lunch.
You can still eat well without eating out. You just need to commit to doing so.
2. Ditch All But 1 Subscription
When you listed all your subscriptions, you were probably shocked at how many you had. Cable TV subscriptions, video streaming services, music streaming services, monthly or weekly “box” delivery services, computer backup services. The list goes on.
You probably even forgot a few.
Pick one that you just can’t live without, and keep it. Cancel all the rest.
3. Cancel Your Gym Membership
Nearly two-thirds (63%) of gym members never go to the gym. Fully 82% of gym members go less than once a week. They just keep paying for them because to cancel the membership feels like admitting defeat.
If you don’t go to the gym at least once every single week, pick up the phone right this second and call the gym to cancel your membership. The rest of the article will still be here waiting for you when you hang up.
Gym memberships are a privilege earned by working out religiously. You build the habit of working out first, then you pay for the gym membership.
Start with home workout routines like running, bike riding, yoga videos, and other home workout videos you can find for free online. When you firmly establish the habit of working out every day, or at least three or four times a week, you can consider applying for a gym membership again.
No one likes to hear that. Which is why there are so few millionaires, not to mention so few adults out of their 20s with six-pack abs.
4. Quit Smoking
A one-pack-a-day cigarette habit costs nearly $2,400 per year in the US.
Which says nothing of the health costs, both medical and financial in the form of added healthcare expenses. Or the shorter life expectancy.
Quit smoking and put that money toward building wealth. You’ll be healthier, happier, and richer.
5. Go on a Cash Budget
One of the best ways to slash your spending and live on half your income is to physically part with every single dollar you spend. It makes them real, tangible, visceral.
Try the good ol’ fashioned envelope budgeting system for the next year. It’s a little inconvenient, but guess what? Getting rich is inconvenient. It’s a lot easier to eat out every night, sipping margaritas and gobbling enchiladas.
First, set aside your credit cards in a drawer somewhere, and delete all saved credit card data from your frequent shopping sites. They’re off limits.
Pay cash for everything you buy physically. If you absolutely must by something digitally, use your debit card.
You’ll be amazed at how much less you spend.
6. Explore More Alternative Budgeting Tips
There are hundreds of ways to save money.
Buy everything but consumables used. Buy generic brand products and groceries. Turn down your thermostat. Hang your clothes up to dry, rather than putting them in a dryer.
Get creative and stop spending so much money.
Structural Changes: Housing & Transportation
My wife Katie and I haven’t paid for housing in five years. For the previous four of those years, we shared one car. This year, we’ve gotten rid of even that one car.
And we’re saving around 60% of our household income.
Doing it required major lifestyle changes, but I don’t miss our old lifestyle one bit. Our life is far simpler and easier now, even aside from the financial savings.
7. Cut Your Housing Payment
There a dozen ways to house hack.
The traditional model involves buying a multifamily, moving into one unit, and renting out the other(s). Your neighboring tenants pay your housing costs for you, so you get free housing (see this duplex house hacking case study for more details).
But that’s not the only way to house hack. I’ve brought in housemates before to cover most of the mortgage. My co-founder Deni Supplee has house hacked suburban homes no fewer than four different ways. Her latest: she hosts a foreign exchange student, and the company pays her a nice monthly stipend.
Another friend of mine rents out a room on Airbnb, usually 10-14 days per month. It covers most of her housing costs.
Katie and I currently get free housing through her job. Don’t forget: some employers provide free housing!
Most Americans spend between 25-50% of their income on housing. Imagine how fast you could build wealth without those costs?
8. Ditch a Car
As you’re exploring how to house hack, look for homes where you could get by without a car, or at least with one fewer car in your household.
That could mean moving to a walkable neighborhood, or to within biking distance from work. Or it might mean living near public transportation, or somewhere convenient for using ridesharing services (like Uber) or carsharing services (like ZipCar).
Perhaps you could carpool to work with a colleague?
Don’t ignore the option of changing jobs. If your current job requires a car, you could always move to a new employer. Or switch fields entirely.
I designed my current business and side gig around living overseas ten months out of each year. I still don’t earn as much as I did working for an established company, but so what? I love what I do, and I get to travel the world.
Without a car.
Automate Your Savings
Regardless of your current savings rate, you should automate your savings so it goes out the door before any other expense. Every single paycheck.
That could mean having your employer split your direct deposit to go into two accounts, so your savings go directly in to a savings account. Or it could mean setting up automated transfers, scheduled for every single payday.
If you have outstanding credit card debt or student loans, schedule automated payments for each payday to ditch your debt fast.
You can also start using automated savings apps like Acorns or Chime Bank.
Or if you’re currently investing heavily in stocks, it could mean setting up a robo-advisor that automates the transfers for you, then automates the investments.
Discipline will fail you sooner or later, and usually sooner. You can’t count on it to make you wealthy – so don’t.
People don’t get rich because it’s convenient. Quite the opposite. People get rich because they’re willing to inconvenience themselves and spend less now in order to have more later.
No one says you have to get rich. By all means, keep living like the average American, spending nearly all of your income on conveniences and keeping up with the proverbial Joneses. You want to show off how successful you are to your friends and family, right?
Most people live like that. And most people don’t build real wealth. If you want to create abnormal wealth, you need to buck the trends and live abnormally. That’s the price of getting rich, and it’s one you get to choose, consciously, whether you’re willing to pay.
What’s your current savings rate? What about your target savings rate? What’s your plan to get there, and what are you willing to change in order to reach it?
Share below in the comments!