A seven-figure nest egg may feel far off, but these millionaires—and millionaires in the making—have figured out the keys to financial success. From smart investing to aggressive saving to launching a business, check out their tips for reaching your million-dollar payday.
Debra Cohen, 48, Long Island, N.Y.
Her Approach: “I feel very strongly that if you have some drive and want to make a million dollars, you should be in business for yourself,” says Debra Cohen, president of Home Remedies and creator of the Homeowner Referral Network (HRN).
After recognizing a need to help connect quality contractors and consumers, she borrowed $5,000 from her husband’s 403b to start a contractor referral business. After six months, she paid the money back. Three years later, she got a call from a woman in Boston who was interested in starting her own referral network. Sensing the widespread appeal of contract referral businesses as self-employment options, she wrote The Complete Guide to Owning And Operating A Successful Homeowner Referral Network, a business plan that has helped establish more than 400 HRNs nationwide.
The popularity of the HRN model helped propel the company’s revenue to $1 million in 2007—a feat Cohen celebrated with a family trip to Puerto Rico. As her net worth continues to grow, Cohen has incorporated other cost saving measures, like remodeling her home instead of buying a new house, a move she estimates saved her $400,000 over 10 years.
Simon Margolis, 30, San Francisco
His Approach: Ever since he started investing in 2007, Simon Margolis has viewed downturns in the market as opportunities to buy.
“I haven’t really been concerned with investment performance too much over the past 10 years or so,” he says. Even with the Great Recession hitting just when Margolis was getting into his investment groove, he still opted to offset paper losses with new investments. “I thought of it as an opportunity to buy cheaper stuff than I had the previous week.”
With a net worth of $450,000, the 30-year-old’s strategy is paying off. He makes a point of maxing out his 401k and IRA, favoring low-fee exchange-traded funds. Though initially attracted to S&P 500 index funds, he’s since diversified his portfolio by including international exchange-traded funds, REITs, and commodities, and has taken a larger cash position, all to help hedge some risk.
Based on his current savings rate and investment returns, Margolis predicts he’ll hit the $1 million mark within the next five years. His advice to investors who want to follow in his footsteps?
“Pay yourself first. Make sure you invest before you do anything else. Before you buy a car, before you pay for dinner, pay yourself first.”
Dan Malkin, 27, New York City
His Approach: “For me, it’s all about saving—and saving properly,” says Dan Malkin. Set to hit seven figures by his 30th birthday, the 27-year-old contributes to his company’s 401k, as well as auto-deposits money from each paycheck into an investment account comprised of exchange-traded funds and two to four individual stocks.
To stay on track, Malkin checks his account balances regularly. “I’m big on comparing expenses one month to another,” he says, doing it with the help of the expense tracking and budgeting app Wallet. The app offers insight into his spending habits, which he tries to manage by walking to work in the summer and cooking his meals at home instead of eating out with friends. Another major savings strategy? Reasonable rent.
“I try to live in a place without insane rent,” he says. “I know people paying 70% of their salary in rent.”
Alison Doyle, 58, Alexandria, Va.
Her Approach: Alison Doyle didn’t set out to establish a grand real estate investment plan–it was more of a natural progression. After deciding she wanted to upgrade from a condo to a townhouse in 2004, she recognized the potential of her neighborhood and decided to rent the unit instead of putting it on the market. Four years later, she found herself regularly traveling to her hometown of Buffalo to visit her mother and help plan her high school reunion. With all the back and forth, she decided to purchase a duplex, rent one side and live in the other.
“[Investing in real estate] became more intentional as I learned how well it worked,” says Doyle. “Did I sit down and come up with an investment plan? No, and I probably wouldn’t now. That’s a lot riskier than what I did. I guess I’m more conservative.”
Doyle now manages five rental units: two condos in Arlington, Va., and two duplexes in Buffalo (she keeps one half of one of the duplexes as a vacation home for herself). With all the properties paid off, the recently retired lawyer lives off the rental income and her savings, opting to let her retirement accounts grow unfettered.
Colin Wiesner, 34, Milwaukee, Wisc.
His Approach: With the help of his parents, Colin Wiesner graduated from college debt-free. To honor his folks’ commitment to his education, he decided to make the best use of his income—and that meant maxing out his 401k and an IRA straight out of school. His contributions, plus employer match, allowed him to save $25,000 to $30,000 a year.
Retirement saving became such a part of his routine, Wiesner had a hard time scaling back his 401k contributions when he and his wife decided to save for a house. “It was actually kind of difficult for me to do mentally,” he says, “but I understand the need to scale back my saving to attend to my short-term future instead of my long-term goals.” Though he was still maxing out is IRA, he gradually got used to reallocating a portion of his 401k contributions toward a down payment on a home.
Wiesner also tracks his and his wife’s net worth, which is already more than $500,000, with the website Personal Capital. Based on his current savings rate, he anticipates reaching $1 million within 10 years.
“In the back of my mind I’m always concerned [about losing it], but I know I’m in a much better situation than a lot of my peers and my elders,” he says. “I would rather be in the position I am than [that of] people approaching retirement with less than $100,000.”
Sue Carlson, 62, Anna Maria, Fla.
Her Approach: In 1984, Sue Carlson took a chance on a $32,500 distressed property Traverse City, Mich. Over the next four years, she committed nights and weekends to updating the home, eventually selling it for $67,000.
“I was able to double my money with that first investment, so I purchased another one, then another one,” she says. “The rest is history.”
Instead of focusing on long-term rentals, Carlson saw the opportunity in short-term vacation rentals in Michigan and Florida. In late 1999, she opened Anna Maria Island Accommodations. In 2005 she sold the company, which had grown to include 75 rental properties on the island. Five years later, she started a second rental property company, Coastal Cottage AMI.
Carlson now owns $2 million in real estate holdings, and, with the exception of a $185,000 mortgage on her home in Anna Maria, her other properties—a second home in Longboat Key, Fla., a rental property in Bradenton, Fla., another rental unit in Anna Maria, and a home in Kewadin, Mich.—are paid off.
Chip Downes, 51, Harleysville, Pa.
His Approach: Downes‘s path toward seven figures began when he was 23 years old and started investing in individual blue-chip stocks. Now 51, he has maintained an aggressive strategy, compiling a portfolio that is 95% stocks. Though he still has the individual stocks he originally purchased in his 20s, he now opts for low-fee exchange-traded funds to help diversify his portfolio. While his strategy isn’t right for everyone, especially in his age bracket, he says buying and holding the equities has worked well, even during the financial crisis.
“I’m just willing to take the ups and downs over the years with the expectation that the percent gain will be better than a savings account,” he says.
He anticipates weathering another market downturn before he retires from his position as an information technology consultant. Until then he will continue to funnel any raises into retirement savings while maintaining his current cost of living, a practice that has helped him gradually up his 401k contribution to a healthy 12%.
An added interest maintaining rental properties—he currently owns two rental units—has also helped push his net worth above the million-dollar mark.
Written by Jackie Zimmerman of Money