50 ways to save your first million

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OK, so maybe $1 million isn’t as cool as it used to be. Thanks, inflation, David Fincher’s “The Social Network” and Russ Hanneman!

Making the two-comma club is still a noble financial goal, though. And an attainable one,  too, with a little luck and a whole lotta work. Or vice versa, depending on where you are in life and how much money is already sitting in your bank account.

With that caveat in mind, here are 50 habits that, taken collectively (more or less), could make you a millionaire.

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1. Save 40% to 50% of your paycheck.

If you’re just starting out in the workforce, “keep living like a student,” Jeff White, a financial analyst with FitSmallBusiness.com, says. Which means, yes, try to set aside almost half of your income. Saving is important, but you’ll also want to …

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2. Invest

Because, let’s face it, these days, it’s pretty much impossible to nickel-and-dime your way to a $1 million. Here are the best ways to invest $100,000 in 2020.

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3. Diversify

Take that 40% to 50% of your paycheck and “invest [it] into more than one source,” White says. That includes stocks, bonds, real estate and mutual funds. But if you’re already overwhelmed (we get it: investing is terrifying) …

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4. Start small

There are plenty of investing apps out there that can get you started. Some apps, like Betterment and Wealthfront, are robo-advisors, while others serve as online investment brokers. Think Robinhood and Stash. And then there’s Acorns, which lets you invest your spare change.

 

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5. Mix in long-term investments

We’re talking IRAs and 401(k) plans. These funds are essential for a stable retirement. But the tax penalties associated with early withdrawals should dissuade you from tapping that money for non-emergencies. In other words, “you don’t feel the temptation of diving into those accounts just to go to Disney World,” White says.

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6. Max out an employer-sponsored 401(k)…

If your employer matches up to a certain amount, well, that’s the amount you should deposit into the fund each paycheck. Otherwise, you’re basically leaving free money on the table for retirement.

Here’s everything you need to know about 401(k)s.

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7. … & your annual IRA contributions

In 2019, for instance, your total contributions to all of your traditional and Roth individual retirement accounts can’t be over $6,000 ($7,000 if you’re 50 or older) or your taxable compensation for the year, assuming your compensation was under that limit.

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8. Take part in an IPO

Terrifying, we know, but think about how much Facebook stock originally sold for ($38 per share) and how much it’s worth now ($214.67 as of writing this.) Of course, be sure to consult a financial adviser before making any major investments.

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9. Don’t waste money

Sounds like a no brainer, sure, but people (ahem, Gen-Zers and millennials) are into being extra, these days. Don’t fall for it, Gen-Zers and millennials: $400 pants are not an investment.

 

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10. Embrace minimalism

That’s the theory all those tiny house hunters you’re watching on HGTV subscribe to: Less is more … and great for your bank account.

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11. Sell your stuff

If you decide to downsize — or, maybe, when you decide to downsize — make some money off of your still salvageable stuff. There are plenty of sites and apps, like eBay and Poshmark, that’ll help you save your gently used wares to the masses. Here’s a guide.

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12. At the very least, trim the fat

True minimalism isn’t for everyone. (Fumio Sasaki, a leading voice in the minimalism movement, only keeps a roll-up mattress, three shirts, four pairs of socks, a box that serves as a table, chair and desk and a computer.)

But, even if your budget is already lean, there’s usually at least some place you can trim more fat. Common money-wasters? Avocado toast. Your morning coffee. $1,000 smartphones. You know, the usual.

“Millionaires are made by years of smart financial choices,” entrepreneur Tyler Douthitt says. “Make the cuts to your budget to make it work.”

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13. Remember, you’re not cheap, you’re thrifty

There are plenty of wealthy individuals who are unabashedly frugal. Consider Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffett who once had a vanity license plate that said “thrifty.”

Want more ideas on how to be thrifty? Be sure to sign up for the Policygenius newsletter for weekly easy money tips sent right to your inbox.

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14. Avoid debt

Notice we didn’t say “pay your debt down”. That’s certainly important, but also it’s own thing. Like, if you’re seriously in debt, focus more on paying it down and less on making your million, you know?

Future millionaires keep debt to an absolute minimum — even the good kind, which is essentially debt associated with an asset that’ll increase in value. Like a home. (Here are 50 easy ways to pay off debt.) Speaking of which …

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15. Don’t be house poor …

That’s a term used to describe someone who’s living in a home that’s essentially eating all of their income. So, yes, you might be paying your mortgage, but you’ve also got credit card debt and $0 in your emergency fund. If you can’t save three to six months worth of expenses, how are you going save $1 million?

“Only buy a house that fits your family, without feeling the need to be in the most expensive neighborhood,” White said. “You don’t need to build a home from scratch if you’re trying to save.”

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16. … but do try to buy a home

Because it’s an investment. Plus, depending on where you live and how much of a down payment you can put down, a monthly mortgage payment could be more affordable than the one you’re making to a landlord. If you must lease …

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17. Keep rent well below 30% of your income

That’s the general rule of thumb when it comes to the cost of housing, but, if you’re trying to hit a mil, you’ll need to aim higher. Or lower, in this case. Think 20% to 25%.

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18. Properly insure your stuff …

Lest a fire, break-in, explosion, etc. drain your coffers and blow your master plan. And, yes, that goes for renters, too. You can learn more about renters insurance here.

 

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19. … & yourself

Disability insurance will replace some or most of your income if you’re suddenly unable to work for a period of time. Car insurance covers you if you cause an accident with your vehicle. And, as your wealth grows, umbrella liability insurance can cover anything in between. Bottomline: If you’re trying to build your net worth, you have to protect your assets.

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20. Keep your credit shiny

As anyone involved in the Equifax data breach undoubtedly knows by now, your credit affects everything: how much interest you pay on a loan, what apartments you can score, how high your car insurance premiums climb. The list goes on and on.

To keep good credit, pay all your bills on time (yes, every single one), keep you debt low (told you) and add new lines of credit organically over time.

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21. Renegotiate everything

It’s easy to get entrenched in a contract, but we’d be the first to tell you, it pays to shop around. Call up your current service providers — cable company, credit card issuer, etc. — to see if you can score a lower rate. If not (and your contract is set to expire), take your business elsewhere.

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22. Actually negotiate everything

Just saying.

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23. Doing life? Save less … just not too much less

Once you get to spouse and 2.5 kids-mode, it gets a lot harder to bank nearly half of your paycheck. Aim instead to invest 20%-plus of your monthly income into a retirement account.

That way, “by the time you hit retirement, the compounding returns should easily make you worth much more than $1 million,” White says.

And, listen, if even that gets tricky …

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24. Save a minimum of 10% of your income

“No matter what happens,” he said.

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25. Automate your savings

There are ways to make saving a little bit easier. One method involves setting it and forgetting it.

“Every time you have a [paycheck] deposited, have your bank account setup to automatically put a certain amount in your savings account or investment portfolio,” Jay Labelle, owner of The Cover Guy, says.

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26. Keep your emergency fund separate from your actual savings

That way “you don’t dive into your savings or investment accounts if something unexpected happens, which it will with kids,” White says.

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27. Avoid the hotspots

Couples with kids are (probably) less inclined to throw down a bunch of money on $85 pet rocks. But there are certainly temptations prospective $1 million parents will need to negotiate.

“Find memorable, but affordable, vacations,” White says. “You can have a blast with your kids without spending $20K.” Here are some affordable family vacations to consider, if you’re in the market for a getaway.

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28. Bank your windfalls

Sure, you want to buy a new TV or Escalade, but you’ll reach a $1 million much faster if save that money for later.

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29. Early to bed, early to rise

Makes a person healthy, wealthy and wise, you know?

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30. Get a side hustle

If you can’t save more, make more. And, thanks to the gig economy, there are plenty of ways to bring in a little extra income on your nights and weekends.

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31. Provide short-term lodging

Thanks to sites like Airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner), it’s also possible to make some extra money when you are away. You just gotta be cool with renting out your place to strangers. Here’s how to rent your home in eight easy steps.

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32. Start a business

Who knows? Your side hustle could turn into a full-time gig. Or maybe you’ve got an innovative idea venture capitalists will love. That might sound real pie in the sky, but consider this stat, courtesy of The Cato Institute: Roughly one-third of first-generation millionaires are entrepreneurs or managers of nonfinancial businesses.

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33. Go full-fledged landlord

That could mean scooping up some investment/rental properties as your wealth grows. Or something as simple as renting out a room in your abode to help with your mortgage. We hear house hacks are all the rage these days.

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34. Become an influencer

Dirty word, we know, but, per Forbes, top influencers can take home about $187,000 per Facebook post and $150,000 per Instagram.

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35. Never relax …

That’s according to Mark Cuban, and while it sounds … well, kind of terrible, we figured we’d pass it along.

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36. … like, ever

Not enjoying life is actually a theme among self-made millionaires. Earlier this year, VaynerMedia CEO Gary Vaynerchuk said millennials were financial failures because they watch too much Netflix and play too much Madden. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

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37. Exercise

Studies have found wealthy people exercise more. Plus, you know, it’s good for your health. Here are the healthiest (and unhealthiest) states in America.

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38. Lean in

Wage stagnation has let up at least a little bit since the recession, so you might find there’s more money to be made in your current position. Case in point: Senior executives who changed jobs in 2013 received compensation increases that topped 16%, according to a survey from Salveson Stetson Group.

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39. Earn your bonus

Don’t take any bonus options you have at work for granted — and, by that, we mean don’t assume you won’t net the full amount. It might require a mad dash to December, but you definitely won’t get the money if you don’t put in the work. Not eligible for a bonus?

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40. Ask for one

So long as you deliver on a certain goal, of course.

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41. Avoid lifestyle creep

If you want to make a million, you need to make sure your spending doesn’t increase alongside your income. Seriously. Lifestyle creep is a big problem that’s kept plenty of high-earners from maximizing their money.

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42. Think like a hacker

This one comes courtesy of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

“The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration,” he wrote in a 2012 memo to Facebook shareholders. “Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete.”

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43. Go on a game show

I mean, the grand prize for Survivor and Who Wants to be a Millionaire is $1 million.

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44. Catch up

Remember, once you’re over the age of 50, you can make annual “catch up” contributions into certain retirement accounts, including 401(k) plans and IRAs. You can learn more about what amounts you can allot to each account on the IRS’ website.

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45. Hold off on taking Social Security

Also helpful for people who are older, but not quite at the $1 million mark, because, thanks to delayed retirement credits, your can receive larger (in fact, the largest) Social Security benefits by retiring at age 70.

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46. Work all the tax breaks

Flexible Spending or Health Savings Accounts. Commuter benefits. Property tax and mortgage interest deductions (told you it helped to own a home). Make sure you’re capitalizing on anything and everything Uncle Sam offers in terms of tax breaks. Here’s a guide to filing taxes this year.

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47. Get some help

The higher your income, the more complex your finances will be. (Case in points: all those tax breaks we just mentioned.) And, at a certain point, it’s a good idea to bring in the professional – a certified financial planner or certified public account — to help you manage your money.

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48. Stick with it

Because you can’t make amass a small fortune overnight. In fact, a 2016 study found it took the average self-made millionaire an average of 32 years to become rich.

 

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49. Believe in yourself

Because you can make $1 million.

“Confidence will get you through your moments of weakness when you want to pull money out of savings or your investment accounts,” White says. “Keep going, and before you know it you’ll hit your goal.”

Or, you know, you could just cross your fingers and hope you …

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50. Win the lottery

It could happen. Here’s what to do if you do.

This article originally appeared on Policygenius and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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Jeanine Skowronski

Jeanine Skowronski is a veteran personal finance journalist and content strategist, she has previously served as the Head of Content at Policygenius, Executive Editor of Credit.com and a columnist for Inc. Magazine. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, American Banker Magazine, Newsweek, Business Insider, CNBC and more.