Updated August 2021
Back in the dark ages (otherwise known as the 1990’s), I came across this book in my house. It was called “The Millionaire Next Door”, and little did I know that this book would re-enter my life over 20 years later.
I was a college student back then, and I must have been home for one of my breaks. I have no idea how this book ended up in our house, but I remember thumbing through it and thinking that it brought up some interesting points.
The big takeaway point? That everyday millionaires didn’t look or act like the ones we saw in the movies or on TV. They were really frugal. They usually drove older cars and they weren’t into big, flashy houses. They looked, well, normal.
In fact, I realized that I was already on the path to being a millionaire. The message was simple. Watch your spending and live below your means. Not really earth shattering news, but I appreciated the practicality of the information and enjoyed reading about normal people who achieved millionaire status with little fanfare.
THEN AND NOW
After learning about financial independence and getting REALLY excited about personal finance, I eagerly re-read the book. This time, I have had the benefit of 20+ years of extra life experience.
Living like a student versus living as a part of a family unit are two completely different realities. The idea of living within my means was so simple when I was a broke college student who didn’t understand the idea of living completely independently from my parents.
But once you enter the real world, earn a salary, and have competing financial obligations (student debt, mortgage, saving for retirement, childcare), living within your means takes on a whole different meaning. Monopoly money turns into real money. Debt is no longer a fuzzy concept. There are consequences if you cannot pull in an income that supports your debt and your lifestyle.
THE SEVEN TRAITS
This book goes into seven common traits that the authors noticed about the millionaires they were interviewing:
- They live below their means.
- They allocate their time, energy, and money efficiently, in ways conducive to building wealth.
- They believe that financial independence is more important than displaying high social status.
- Their parents did not provide economic outpatient care.
- Their adult children are economically self-sufficient.
- They are proficient in targeting market opportunities.
- They chose the right occupation.
I know what you’re thinking. I can’t possibly be a millionaire because I chose the wrong occupation!
The cost of education has completely gone through the roof the past 20+ years. This has put a huge damper on wealth building for many veterinary graduates. There is no doubt that the high debt to income ratio is preventing many veterinarians from quickly achieving wealth.
However, there are 6 other traits that are mentioned. Focusing on one characteristic is doing a disservice to the other traits that have contributed to the financial success of these millionaires.
Here are some key parts of the book that I wanted to highlight:
THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RICH AND WEALTHY
People usually get these two terms mixed up. Here’s a quote from the book that sums it up nicely:
“We define wealth differently. We do not define wealthy, affluent, or rich in terms of material possessions. Many people who display a high-consumption lifestyle have little or no investments, appreciable assets, income producing assets, common stocks, bonds, private businesses, oil/gas rights, or timber land. Conversely, those people whom we define as being wealthy get much more pleasureThomas J. Stanley, Ph.D., William D. Danko, Ph.D., “The Millionaire Next Door”
from owningsubstantial amounts of appreciable assets than from displaying a high-consumption lifestyle.”
Being wealthy has to do with your net worth number, not how much you have materially. People usually confuse the two, not realizing that outward displays of wealth only show your ability to spend money, not your ability to use your money to build wealth. It’s pretty easy to “look” wealthy when credit is flowing and debt is rampant, but in actuality, your net worth number says otherwise.
ARE YOU A PAW OR UAW?
I discussed this concept in my Net Worth post. In a nutshell, you can determine if you’re a PAW (prodigious accumulator of wealth) or a UAW (underaccumulator of wealth) by using a formula. I suggest you read my post and calculate your number to see where you stand.
Even the most frugal person may find themselves in the UAW category, simply because they are young and have not had the chance to build wealth. Remember, becoming a millionaire does not happen overnight; it’s the result of great habits and discipline over a period of time to achieve this goal.
“The more intellect, time and energy you spend in hiring a financial advisor, the more likely you will be to find a suitable one.”Thomas J. Stanley, Ph.D., William D. Danko, Ph.D., “The Millionaire Next Door”
I have written extensively about this. Of course, with the internet, there’s a lot of financial advice right at your fingertips. You’re less restricted by location now that a financial advisor can work with you remotely. The demand for more transparency in the world of financial advice is in favor of you, the client.
Take advantage of the fact that this information is so readily available to you, much more so now than back in 1996, when this book was originally published. It’s getting easier to DIY your own finances if you so choose. But if you want to go the route of hiring someone, please do your homework beforehand! Otherwise, you run the risk of wasting your time AND your money. Not a good combination.
WOMEN AND MONEY
This section of the book is definitely showing its age. It talks about women, their housewife status, and the abysmal numbers when it comes to representation in the workplace. The unfortunate part is that while the numbers have improved, women are still far from having equal pay for equal work.
Some of the language is not very relatable to many of us today (for example, “Type B housewives, in contrast, are viewed as adult children who need economic outpatient care and even emotional support. They tend to be dependent on others and are unlikely to be leaders in any capacity.”)
It pained me to read this, and my first reaction was that people don’t really think this way anymore, right?
But I’ve seen and experienced enough firsthand to know that there are thoughts about women and money that people may not verbalize out loud, but they may still secretly hold these biases. Unconscious bias, where we show our biases without even being aware, is all around us. It shows the power of how our environment and past experiences shape our thoughts today.
As much as I’d like to think that our society has progressed a lot over the past 20 years, I’m always reminded of how much further we need to go.
A CLOSING STORY
For you animal lovers (I’m guess that’s anyone that’s reading this), I thought you might be interested in the very last case study in the book. It involves a muti-millionaire, his condo’s action committee, and his dog. You’ll have to read the book to get all the details, but the dog was a key player in the story!
This book is showing its age, but it was a book that really changed the public’s perception on what it means to be a millionaire. It wasn’t about the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” It was about your next door neighbor, quietly accumulating wealth by being frugal and smart with his/her money.
Social media has distorted our view of how much our lifestyles “should” cost the average American consumer. In many ways, the deck is stacked against us because we’re dealing with social norms and economic realities that were not around in 1996.
On the flip side, technology is making it easier to learn about personal finance, as well as giving us additional opportunities to save and invest money in ways that were unthinkable in 1996.
An updated version of this book, “The Next Millionaire Next Door,” was published in 2018. I have not had a chance to review it, but based on the original, I think it’s pretty good idea to check it out the next time you’re in the bookstore or the library.
Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Do you think that it’s easier or harder to achieve millionaire status today compared to a generation ago? Comment below!