“The single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.”
– Elon Musk
A few years back my wife and I visited a nutritionist. We were both working out, eating healthy, doing all the things the doctors told us to do—but we also knew we could do more. We wanted our health to be better than just ‘good.’ That’s what we told the nutritionist when we sat down in his office on a sunny afternoon in July.
The nutritionist nodded and pulled up three pictures on his computer. “Which one of these people do you want to be?” he asked.
All three people looked like supermodels. One was super bulked up; one was toned and chiseled; one was trim and lean.
I told him that I wanted to be the buff guy. My wife wanted to be trim and lean. Once we decided that, the nutritionist started the process of planning our eating habits to reach those goals.
The reason the nutritionist showed us those pictures was to get us to dream a little. To visualize how our lives would change when we implemented his recommendations.
It wasn’t going to happen overnight. I could do everything he told me and a week later I wouldn’t look any different. Two weeks, three, weeks, even a month later—I probably wouldn’t be that much closer to the ideal image I had in my head. But the more I worked at it, the closer I would get.
See where I’m going with this?
Becoming a millionaire has long been the ideal image of the American Dream, the point at which you can confidently turn from comfortable into wealthy. It’s the pinnacle of a healthy financial life.
But expecting to become a millionaire overnight—by picking the right stock or buying the winning lottery ticket—is like expecting to become Hercules from a diet pill.
The truth is, just like getting healthy, becoming a millionaire is possible. All it takes is a few simple but challenging steps.
Here’s how to get on the millionaire track in just 90 days.
#1 Save 10 – 20% of Your Income
One of the most powerful advantages the nutritionist was that he pushed us to go beyond our existing efforts.
To become a millionaire, the same thing needs to happen with your savings.
You probably know that you should be saving more than you are. According to MagnifyMoney, almost a third of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. Hopefully that isn’t you. Hopefully you have a decent safety net built up for emergencies, along with some money set aside for retirement.
But if your goal is to become a millionaire, you have to kick your savings into high gear.
Now I get it. 20% is a big number! And if you’re used to having the entirety of your income to work with, losing one-fifth of that overnight can be a big shock to the system.
It’s ok to start small. The nutritionist didn’t expect us to give up cheeseburgers on day one—but he did expect us to take steps, right away, so that we would be moving toward the right track.
So this month, trying saving 5% more of your income than you already are.
Next month, try bumping it up a little more: another 1%, 5%, whatever you can afford.
Work your way up little by little, and in 90 days you’ll be saving like a pro.
#2 Cut Your Expenses
This one goes hand in hand with number one. If you’re going to save more, that money has to come from somewhere.
After all, my nutritionist could have given me all the recommendations for healthy food that I could handle, but if I didn’t cut out the junk, his plan would only have been half effective.
Becoming a self-made millionaire isn’t just about numbers in your account. It’s a mindset that you’re willing to make sacrifices in the short term to reap the benefits in the long term.
Start by pulling together your checking and credit card statements for the last 6 months. Also grab a piece of paper or make a spreadsheet.
List out any recurring expenses that you might be able to cut over the next 90 days. Also list out any expenses that seem high that you might be able to reduce. Be honest with yourself—no self-shaming allowed, simply be realistic.
Take the money you’ve found and immediately put it into savings or, as we’ll discuss in the next section, start paying down debt. Don’t let yourself be tempted to fall back into the same old spending patterns.
I think personal development guru Jim Rohn said it best: “Learn how to be happy with what you have while you pursue all that you want.”
#3 Pay Down High Interest Debt
Nothing will prevent you from becoming a millionaire like debt.
It’s like a black hole sucking the life out of all your hard work, taking that nice pile of money you’ve been working so hard to build and taking a huge chunk out of it.
High interest debt is even worse; it’s like a supermassive black hole, and once you get near its gravitational pull, it’s almost impossible to escape. But that’s exactly what you have to do.
The longer you allow high interest debt to linger the more powerful it becomes. The compounding interest that allows your investments to grow becomes your enemy here; the more you allow interest to accumulate on top the principal, the higher the interest payments become, until you could find yourself with even more debt than you started with!
If you have high interest debt, pay it off as fast as you can. And if you can help it, don’t take on any new debt.
But wait! Once that balance hits zero, don’t close the account.
Keep your credit cards open even after you pay them off. The longer you have open lines of credit with a good payment history the better—even if you’re not actually making purchases of substance.
The longer you have them means the longer they’ve been in good standing, which means a better credit score.
#4 Automate Your Savings
One of the most difficult parts of implementing the nutritionist’s recommendations wasn’t the food he wanted us to eat or the food he wanted us to cut out—it was the consistency.
Every meal had to be thoughtful, planned out, and accounted for. If we sat down and did that before every meal, we would have gone crazy!
The solution was to make it . Like Benjamin Hardy says in his article Willpower Doesn’t work, “If you’re serious about the changes you want to make, willpower won’t be enough. Quite the opposite. Willpower is what’s holding you back.”
We would plan out our meals for the week, and then when dinner time rolled around we didn’t even have to think about it.
Each month a predetermined amount transfers from your checking directly to your savings account. It’s as simple as that. Since you never see the money, it’s easier to part with, and chances are you won’t miss it.
And remember that it isn’t about the amount you save, but about being consistent.
Let’s say you can put away $50 per week. That’s $10 per day–the equivalent of eating out for lunch on the week days. Not unreasonable, right? If you stick with it, that weekly $50 becomes $2,600 stored up in your savings account at the end of the year.
But let’s take it even further. Over the course of your career, if you automatically take $50 out of your checking account every week and put it into savings, that $2,600 turns into $104,000! And that’s before we’ve added interest and earnings, should you decide to invest that money in something other than a savings account.
Now we’re talking!
#5 Become an Owner
Now you’re on your way. You’ve cut your expenses, bumped up your savings, and automated the process so that it happens without you even noticing. Are you on the track to becoming a millionaire?
A nutrition plan was key to our success. But my wife and I knew that we wouldn’t reach our goals unless we combined it with regular exercise. Our nutrition plan gave us the fuel we needed, and it was our job to put that fuel to work.
If you have a high income, then you might be able to build up seven digits in a low-interest savings account. But if not, even with the compounding effect, it could take decades to reach the level you want to be.
You need a boost. This is the point when you need to upgrade from being a saver to an owner.
Every dollar you save needs to be put to work so that it generates even more in return. The stock market can be intimidating—and the prospect of losing your hard earned savings terrifying—but remember that you are in this for the long haul.
A great place to become an owner is your 401(k). The money you invest here can grow tax-deferred and you don’t have to worry about pesky capital gains until funds are withdrawn. Depending on the plan, you can even use it to maximize savings to other accounts—like a Roth IRA—and avoid income limitations.
The point is that, depending on your life stage, the stakes may be lower inside your 401(k) due to the long-term nature of the account. You can experiment, potentially take on some risk consistent with your time horizon, and do so with the knowledge that you are boosting your savings in a tax efficient manner.
“It’s pretty easy to get well-to-do slowly. But it’s not easy to get rich quick.”
– Warren Buffett
My wife and I followed the nutritionist’s health plan, and you know what? We reached our goals. But seeing that ideal number on the scale wasn’t what brought me joy.
In my life I am around a lot of multi-millionaires. I ask how they feel when they became millionaires and 100% of the time I am told no different than the day before. Having 1 million in the bank is not the end-all that people make it out to be.
It was the discipline I developed to help me reach that point that made me happy. I knew that this wasn’t some quick-fix program that would see all my progress disappear as soon as it arrived; it was a lifestyle change, one that will pay back dividends for the rest of my life.
You can do it. You can be a millionaire. Commit to these 5 things for 90 days, and you’ll understand—being a millionaire isn’t a number, but a mindset.
Are you Financial Adviser Compatible? Take the QUIZ here to find out. Byron W. Ellis, CFP®, CLU®, ChFC®, CRPC®, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and Managing Director with United Capital Financial Advisers, LLC, a Financial Life Management firm. The information contained in this article is intended for information only is not a recommendation, and should not be considered investment advice. Please contact your financial adviser with questions about your specific needs and circumstances
© Byron Ellis