investing

How to become a millionaire in 7 easy (hah!) steps

The road to wealth is not paved with infomercials. Those wee-hour TV staples would have you believe that you'll become "Fantasy Island" rich by placing tiny ads in the classifieds, or by buying up -- for no money down -- distressed property and selling it for millions.

Unfortunately, the only thing you're likely to get from watching those infomercials is dark circles under your eyes from lack of sleep. If you actually go to the seminar or buy the tapes, you'll probably just have more debt.

The truth is, unless you're lucky enough to receive a sizeable inheritance, you'll need to navigate your own route to prosperity. But while Bill Gates-style megawealth may be elusive, becoming a millionaire is definitely within reach of those who start young and develop the right habits. And anyone, at any age, can develop the traits that increase wealth and decrease debt.

"You can have money or you can have stuff, but seldom do you have both early in life," says Jason Flurry, a certified financial planner and president of Legacy Partners Financial Group, Woodstock, Ga.

"Part of our culture is, 'Fake it until you make it.' Debt holds people back. They buy liabilities and they make those payments forever. Spend less than you make, live a modest lifestyle and don't live up to every raise. Some people have spent their prosperity for the next 10 years and they've done it on credit."

It's a matter of choices
Flurry isn't suggesting you decorate your home in plastic lawn furniture, forego cable TV and dine on macaroni and cheese every night. But do you really need to buy a car that's so expensive that you must stretch the payments out five or more years? Do you have to have that 50-inch widescreen HD-ready TV right now?

Many people who choose wealth over "stuff" wouldn't consider spending money on the "latest and greatest" because they know their money can be put to better use elsewhere. Buying a "liability" would probably cause them stress because they'd rather buy an asset -- something that will appreciate over time and give them a return on their investment.

Flurry says he has a hard time getting some of his older clients to spend their money.

"They've been savers all their lives and the thought of spending $5,000 or $10,000 on a vacation is ridiculous; it doesn't matter that they're worth $3 million. They're really the last Depression generation and it's burned in their memory that they need to squirrel away money."

Paring it all down, we've come up with seven steps to becoming wealthy. Remember, wealth is relative, it doesn't necessarily mean "millionaire." The goal for many people is financial independence, says Stewart Welch of The Welch Group in Birmingham, Ala.

"That's the point in time when your cash flow from investments is equal to or greater than your income from work. Look at the statistics: 95 percent of the population never achieves financial independence. For 65 percent of retirees, Social Security is their largest source of retirement income."

The No. 1 reason people don't achieve financial independence, says Welch, is they don't have a written financial plan. So, that is our No. 1 rule for becoming wealthy.

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1. Develop a written financial plan 
Saying you want to be wealthy isn't good enough. You need to come up with a workable plan and put it on paper.

"The written plan forces you to do something," Welch says. "Calculate what you need to earn and how to invest. The plan isn't just the goal, it's the whole thing -- the dream, the goals, the options. The options are scenario planning -- all the ways you can accomplish that goal -- open a Roth IRA, contribute to a 401(k).

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