It's more than just a number: Becoming a millionaire says you've made it, regardless of whether a comfortable retirement actually requires $1 million or $5 million.
To those just starting their careers, wealth may seem like a mirage-like goal, but the path to becoming a millionaire can seem effortless if you lay the proper foundation early.
There are almost 9 million households worth a million dollars or more, not including the value of a primary residence. That's up from 8.6 million in 2011, but still shy of the all-time high of 9.2 million in 2006, according to Spectrem Group, a research firm in Chicago.
The stock market's bull run is boosting wealth, along with a slowly improving economy, says George Walper, president of Spectrem. Whether the millionaire population surpasses its prerecession numbers will depend on the housing recovery, he adds.
Use time to your advantage
If you're young, you don't have to become a reality TV star or develop the next Facebook to become a millionaire. By making the right moves now, you'll have one of the most powerful elements of wealth creation working for you: time.
Walper says Spectrem's research has determined that self-made millionaires are typically entrepreneurs, professionals such as doctors and lawyers and senior corporate executives. "Only about 22 percent of millionaires inherit their wealth," he adds.
But there's also a segment of what he calls "the middle" that frequently retire as millionaires. He sees couples, both longtime schoolteachers, for example, who often achieve the goal for two reasons: They're more conventional in how they invest and spend (think of the millionaire next door) and they tend to have robust, defined benefit retirement accounts that have accumulated over time.
Aside from the basics of saving and smart spending over a lifetime, there's also an opportunistic element to building wealth. When real estate values plummeted, the wealthy invested in underpriced property. But smart, average individuals also took advantage of the opportunity to create some wealth, he says, by buying a duplex, living in one side and renting the other, for example.
Join the future millionaire's club
Gaining membership to the elite club of millionaires is not as difficult as you might think. To help start you on your way, the editors and reporters at Bankrate have written a book titled "Future Millionaires' Guidebook."
With engaging, easy-to-read chapters on credit cards, student loans, debt, banking, insurance, real estate, mortgages, taxes, investing and more, it makes it easy to find the right path early and to maintain a smart, focused approach to increasing your net worth.
"This book will help you understand how to set yourself up with just a little upfront effort," the introduction states, "after which you can focus your attention on the things that really matter to you."
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