Steve Martin once delivered an opening monologue for Saturday Night Live in which he answered the age-old question “How can I be a millionaire?” His answer was fairly simple and straightforward, “First? get a million dollars.” If at this point you can’t help but feel that Mr. Martin performed an extraordinary feet of oversimplification that night, then I urge you to read on, and hopefully, by the time you finish this essay, you’ll be convinced that becoming a millionaire isn’t nearly as difficult as everyone makes it out to be. Through a simple three-step process which I will lay out clearly, the keys to the millionaire’s club will be shown to be available to anyone willing to merely reach out and grab them.
Before you begin any financial strategy, you must realize that there is a vast difference between what you earn, what you own, and what you’re worth. The amount of money that you earn from going to work everyday is known as your income, and has relatively little to do with your financial status. The sum of the value of all of your possessions is known as your wealth, and is a closer guideline. Net worth is the real gauge of how close you are to becoming a millionaire, as it is the value of all of your assets, subtracted by your total debt. Now that you see that having a large income is not the end all guarantee of financial security, let’s move quickly to what you can due to get that million dollars that Mr. Martin so accurately described as the first step to being a millionaire.
The first phase in your journey involves understanding that time is of the essence. For those who start investing at an early age, the power of compound interest turns time into their greatest ally in wealth-building. Once you have been investing for long enough, your investments will begin to consistently, and eventually rather impressively, outperform your paycheck. This is true no matter what level of income you have already achieved. If you have an annual salary of $50,000, and invest only 10 percent of that each year, earning a 10% annual rate of return on your investment, in 25 years you will have amassed over half a million dollars. At this point you will be earning over $50,000 each year in interest. Continue saving at that rate for another 10 years and you will find yourself earning $150,000 annually in interest. 10 percent of your income may seem like a lot, but if you can find an investment which directly debits the money from your paycheck each week, you will be surprised to find yourself able to live without it.
Another way to ease the pain of that 10% decrease in take home pay is to use part or all of it as an excuse to lower your tax burden, which I will discuss later. Now that you’re salting away 10 percent of your income each week, and can’t possibly imagine affording anymore, let’s talk about how you can make one of your largest living expenses work for you rather than against you. I am of course talking about the money that you spend providing shelter for yourself and your family.
Owning a home is the single largest investment that most people will make in their lifetime, and that is why moving from renter to home owner is your next step on the road to becoming a millionaire. The growth in the value of real estate in this country makes owning a home not only a wise investment, but also a hedge against inflation While many Americans pour their money into renting a house, effectively flushing it down a toilet they don’t even own, you should be using yours to cover the mortgage payment of the most profitable purchase you’ll ever make according to some financial experts. While it’s true that owning a home does come with certain expenses which a landlord normally covers for those who rent, the tax advantages which you receive for paying the interest on your loan help to offset your out of pocket expenses. The less money you give to Uncle Sam, the more you have available to turn into improvements which increase the value of your home, as well as to put into your other investments, such as a 401k plan at work, or an IRA.
The final step in your quest to become a millionaire is to make sure that as much of the money you earn as possible is there for you to invest. That means giving as little as possible to your greedy Uncle Sam. There are two simple ways to beat the tax man, thereby increasing the amount of money available to help build your net worth. Pretax investment vehicles, such as a 401k, traditional IRA and 529 college savings plans, allow you to lower the amount that your employer deducts from your weekly paycheck to cover your state and federal tax liability. The only drawback to these types of investments is that once you pull the money from the account, taxes are due in full. You do however get the benefit of watching your money grow tax free for years, which allows the concept of compound interest which I discussed earlier to work harder for you than it would if your money was in a traditional savings account.
A traditional savings account is one of the worst investment vehicles available. Along with the comparatively low rates of interest which savings accounts earn, any money that you do earn is subject to annual taxation. To avoid paying taxes on the money you withdraw once you become an independently wealthy millionaire, you should set up a Roth IRA. A Roth IRA is funded with after tax dollars, which may leave you wondering how that helps you avoid paying taxes. The fact is though, that in a Roth IRA, all the money you earn is yours to keep. Uncle Sam can’t take a penny of the money that you accrue in interest, meaning in the long run, the tax advantages are far better than any other form of investment.
I’ve just shown you in three easy steps how you can take advantage of the unseen forces of the financial world to grow your net worth at an alarming rate, now all that is left is for you to follow my advice and wait patiently for compound interest to work its magic. By avoiding taxes to the greatest extent possible, turning you home into an investment, and most importantly of all, not waiting to start saving, you too can be a millionaire. What you do once you get that million dollars is up to you.
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