How to Become a Millionaire | Learn the Top 3 Lessons from Real-Life Millionaires

Attorney Paul Denni

Attorney Paul Denni

The best way to learn how to become a millionaire is by embracing the same attitudes, behaviors, and traits of real-life millionaires. Do we know how millionaires think and behave?

As it turns out, we do.

Author Thomas J. Stanley, Ph.D., studied millionaire traits for over 40 years to find the common beliefs, attitudes, and habits of millionaires in the United States. He and his daughter, Sarah Stanley Fallaw, Ph.D., published their results in the book The Next Millionaire Next Door (going forward I will abbreviate as “NMND”), an updated edition of Thomas Stanley’s book The Millionaire Next Door published 20 years earlier.

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Not surprisingly, the authors’ current research published in NMND reveals the behaviors and principles that made today’s millionaires are still the same as the mindsets and behaviors practiced by millionaires 20 years ago.

I’ve condensed the lessons taught to us by the millionaires interviewed in NMND into the top 3 lessons real-life millionaires can teach us about how to join the ranks of the wealthy.

Lesson #1 – Think Like a Millionaire

Millionaires embrace beliefs about themselves and about the world that are different than most.

Our brains are magnificent machines that create neural pathways in order to create efficiency. This is both amazing and troublesome, depending on the mental attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs we have entrenched in our minds through repetition.

how to become a millionaire

As author James Clear points out in his book Atomic Habits: “Your current habits have been internalized over the course of hundreds, if not thousands, of repetitions. New habits require the same level of frequency.” This concept applies to building new thought habits and behavior habits alike.

Money has the ability to conjure very powerful emotions. When money is in abundance, it can create feelings of extreme joy and euphoria. If it is scarce, we might experience feelings of fear, depression, or panic.

Consequently, it can be tempting to pretend like money doesn’t matter all that much, in order to insulate ourselves from potential negative feelings in times of scarcity, or perceived scarcity. The good news is, we have the power to change our thinking about money, through repetition. (For building better habits, I recommend reading James Clear.)

So how do millionaires think?

Millionaires believe money matters, yet keep it in its proper place.

Be inspired by the words of Allison, a millionaire twice over who was interviewed for NMND: “Take care of money responsibly, and it will take care of you later. When people say they don’t care about money, I believe that is an excuse not to deal with it.”

Allison overcame an upbringing where her parents struggled to make ends meet. She did so by working hard and always saving 10% of what she made.

You can challenge your own thoughts about money by throwing out the old attitudes and replacing them with something more authentic and productive; you can change thoughts like “I don’t care how much I spend” to “If I pay attention a little more closely, I can increase my savings rate to accumulate more wealth over time.”

Millionaires believe wealth is more important than income.

The belief that wealth is more important than income is a bit paradoxical at first – don’t those who earn more money also have more wealth?


Wealth is not your salary, it’s not the size of your bonus, nor is it how much money your business brings in every month. Wealth is your net worth – the value of your cash and other assets, less your debts and liabilities. If you make a million dollars this year, but also spend a million dollars this year on a luxurious lifestyle and assets that don’t appreciate, that still leaves a grand total of zero.

Interestingly, the millionaires studied in NMND were not all lawyers and surgeons. NMND points out that the typically “high-earning professions” are comprised of people who run in social circles that also have high-spending expectations, such as expensive homes, cars, social club memberships, and other luxurious expenditures.

As the authors point out: “…professionals such as engineers and teachers often have the characteristics, personalities, and abilities that allow them to prodigiously transform their incomes into wealth.”

You may “look rich” with fancy professional titles or fancy cars, but this has little do with accumulating real wealth. The amount of money you save after you earn it is far more important.

Millionaires don’t care what others think.

“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”

This quote is attributed to various personal finance teachers about the spending habits of the general public, but no matter who said it, millionaires do not fit this personality type or attitude.

how to become a millionaire

The authors of NMND have found the “social indifference” mindset to be common amongst the millionaires they interviewed: “The concept of ignoring what others are driving, buying, and wearing is what we refer to as social indifference. Those who demonstrate high levels of social indifference across all consumption categories have a better opportunity to build wealth.”

It’s easy to say and often hard to do, because appearing wealthy through lavish spending has the immediate social benefit of gaining social power through impressing others. But if you want to be a millionaire, you need to leave your ego behind and be ok with others being clueless about your net worth.

Lesson #2 – Act Like a Millionaire

Our actions are driven by the thoughts and beliefs we embrace. If millionaires think and believe different things about themselves and about the world, it explains why they also behave differently than most.

So how do millionaires behave?

Millionaire Behaviors and Traits

If looking at your money causes fear or anxiety, it will be easy to ignore. But remember that millionaires did not wait until they were out of debt, caught up on bills, or had a substantial savings before they sat down to look at their income and expenses – rather, it was because they paid attention to their finances that they were able to accumulate wealth.

how to become a millionaire

Remembering this can help you reframe the habit of paying close attention to your finances as a positive experience. Like the millionaire Allison said: “Take care of money responsibly, and it will take care of you.” Allison’s viewpoint reflects a positive relationship with money.

The NMND authors create a picture of what millionaires act and look like, based on their research; these key behaviors and traits can serve as a compass for our own behavior:

Earn a High Income – Although wealth (net worth) matters more than income, earning a high income is still a huge part of the equation for accumulating wealth; the median millionaire income was $250,000/ year (in 2019).

Value Education – Although most millionaires have a college degree, in today’s world online education is becoming more abundant every year. You can take online courses on business, finances, and your particular field of interest to grow your mastery of a subject and becoming that much more valuable in the workforce.

Be Self-Made/ Not Entitled – Most millionaires became wealthy through self-investment, hard work, and saving what they earned, as opposed to inheriting their wealth from a relative.

Be Frugal and Budget – The majority of millionaires are frugal (made easier through social indifference), and drove Toyotas, Hondas, or Fords that were at least 3 years old. Millionaires pay attention to their money and budget, which can be as simple as tracking income and expenses and making sure there is a gap between the two to put something aside for savings. We don’t have to make this more difficult than necessary – we can pay attention to our income, expenses, and find ways to have fun along the way.

Be Healthy and Balanced – 90% of millionaires are satisfied with life. Remember the adage that money will make you more of who you already are. This means that we can’t wait to be millionaires before we are happy. We have to be happy first. 80% of millionaires were in good shape physically, and got an average of 7.65 hours of sleep per night. Don’t glorify an extreme lifestyle, which leads to burnout and quitting; stability and consistency is key.

Lesson #3 – Wait Like a Millionaire

It’s not sexy and it’s not cool, but it’s true: millionaires are patient.

When you look at a person’s bank account and see a million dollars or more, that accumulated amount is a lag measure, meaning it is a result. A millionaire’s bank account is the result of accumulated actions and behaviors over a span of time.

how to become a millionaire

When you search in Google the phrase “how to become a millionaire,” Google tells us people also asked:

  • How can I become a millionaire in a year?
  • How can I become a millionaire fast?

Google also tells us searches related to “how to become a millionaire,” were:

  • Become a millionaire in 3 months
  • How to become a millionaire in one day
  • How to become a millionaire overnight

But as the authors of NMND explain to us from the actual data of real-life millionaires, “They did it slowly, steadily, without signing a multimillion dollar contract with the Yankees, without winning the lottery, without becoming the next Mick Jagger.”

This insight is counterintuitive, particularly when the internet is rife with ads from 20-somethings claiming they have a 10-step program just for you that will transform you into a millionaire instantly.

Most people who want to become a millionaire want it now. But the research shows that if you want to become a millionaire, in the majority of cases it will take some time. Millionaires understand through experience that a fortune is not gained overnight – and when you read about the cases where millions is accumulated very quickly (lottery winnings, high-profile sports contracts, etc.), those fortunes are also quickly lost. That’s because instant millionaires didn’t take the time to cultivate the habits that build lasting wealth.

Perhaps this is why so few millionaires actually exist in the world, compared to the rest of the population. Those who gain instant success and who attain millions overnight are few and far between – they are the outliers, not the norm.

It’s not bad to want instant wealth, who doesn’t? But blowing money on lottery tickets or chasing the next guru’s get-rich-quick advice will, in most cases, only end up in bitter disappointment.

So on your path to becoming a millionaire, patience is key.

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