How To Make Your First $1 Million

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The Millionaire's Mindset

When your grandparents lamented that a dollar just isn't a dollar anymore, they weren't just bellyaching. Inflation attacks the value of a dollar, reducing it as time goes by so you need more dollars as time goes on. That is one of the reasons that $1 million is often thrown around as a retirement goal. Back in 1900, a $1 million retirement would include a mansion and a bevy of servants, but now, it has become a benchmark for the average retirement portfolio. The upside is that it is easier to become a millionaire now than at any time before. While you won't be buying islands, it is still a goal worth shooting for. Read on for 10 ways to make your first million.

Stop Senseless Spending

It's easy to spend your way out of a fortune. Fortunately, the opposite is also true - you can save your way into your first million. Most people working in North America right now will earn well over $1 million during their working lives. The secret to saving $1 million lies in keeping more of what you earn. Just as extending your earnings offers a unique perspective, doing the same with your spending sheds a ghastly light on the waste. If you spend $5 every day of your working life on coffee, snacks, etc., you lose $73,000 of your lifetime earnings, making it that much harder to hit the $1 million mark in savings. (For more, see Squeeze A Greenback Out Of Your Latte.)

Prune Your Purchases

When you do have to spend, try to get the most utility, not simply the most you can. The difference between great value and utility is a fine line. Buying too much house or too costly a car comes from confusing the two. If you shop for what you need and buy it cheaper than you'd planned, that's a great deal. By keeping the end use of large purchases in mind, you can avoid this drain on your cash. Before paying more than you can afford, remember that Warren Buffet, a man who constantly jockeys for richest person on earth, still lives in his humble Omaha abode. (For more on the value of frugality see Save Money The Scottish Way.)

Target Your Taxes

Another leaky hole you need to plug is the parasitic drain of big government. While you are expected to pay your taxes, it's the right of every taxpayer to try and reduce their tax bills to the absolute minimum allowed by law. Increasing your tax awareness means making taxes a quarterly chore rather than an annual scourge. Keeping abreast of allowable deductions, changes to your withholding and changes in tax limits will allow you to keep more of what you earn, so that you can put that money to work for you. (See 10 Steps To Tax Preparation for more.)

Crafty Compounding

Time is on your side when you've got compounding working on your savings. The earlier you start saving and the earlier you get your savings into a financial instrument that compounds, the easier your path to $1 million will be. You may be thinking of tenbaggers or hot issues that return 10 times their value in a few weeks, but it is the boring, year-on-year compounding that builds fortune for most people. (To learn more, read Compound Your Way To Retirement.)

Build Through Your Boss

If you're looking to save $1 million dollars for retirement, look no further than your boss. With matching contributions, your employer can be your best ally when it comes to building up retirement funds. If you think you need to squirrel away 20% of your income for retirement and your boss puts up 6% in matched contributions, then you're left with a much more manageable 14%. Even if you are your own boss, there are still options under SEPs. (For more on this see Making Salary Deferral Contributions.)

Ramp-Up Your Retirement Savings

Rather than letting your boss's contribution lessen your load, try to put a little extra into your retirement plan whenever you can. Automating your account contributions will make setting your money aside that much easier. That said, making extra contributions a priority will speed up your journey to $1 million and make your golden years that much more golden. You don't have to eat cat food to do this, just keep your retirement in mind when you've got extra cash on hand. (For more in this vein, see Playing Retirement Catch-Up.)

Incremental Investing

If you've got your retirement portfolios where you want them and are ready to start a pure income portfolio, then incremental investing is an excellent way to begin. You don't have to jump into the market with your life savings to make money. Even relatively small amounts can result in decent returns. The important thing to remember with your income portfolio is that capital gains taxes will be applied yearly to any income you pull out. Again, improving your tax awareness will help reduce the bite, but it takes time and knowledge to make one million solely from a taxable portfolio. Still, it has been done and will be done again. (See Investing 101 to get started.)

Dare To Diversify

If your portfolio is made up entirely of American companies or is even all held in stocks, then you may need to diversify. In the first case, more and more financial activity is out there in the wider world. This doesn't just mean investing in emerging economies like China and India that are producing huge gains, but recognizing that there are companies in Europe and Asia that are just as good (maybe better) as investments in the U.S.. Diversifying also means not putting all your money into one type of asset. Being a financial omnivore opens up that much more opportunity in times of growth and makes certain you won't go hungry when one source dries up. (See The Importance Of Diversification for more.)

Reconsider Real Estate

Owning real estate provides equity and diversity to your investments. If you own your own home, then paying your rent builds up equity. If you invest in real estate, then someone else's rent builds up your equity. Real estate investing isn't for everyone, but it has built fortunes for many savvy people. Owning your own home, however, is usually a good idea regardless of your opinion on real estate bubbles. Peter Lynch, one of the greatest stock investors of all time, believed that you should own your first home before you buy your first stock. (If you feel ready, see Investing In Real Estate for more.)

Increase Your Income

There is nothing terribly romantic about becoming a millionaire while working a regular job, but it is probably the avenue available to most people. You don't need to start your own business to pull in a high income, and you don't even need to pull in a high income if your saving, spending and investing habits are sound. Asking for a raise, upgrading your skills or taking a second job will add that much more to your savings and investments and subtract that same amount from the countdown to your first million. If you are entrepreneurial at heart, starting a business on the side can actually decrease your overall tax bill, rather than putting you in a higher income tax bracket. (See Increase Your Disposable Income for more.)

The Three Ps

Persistence, patience and purpose are common traits that you'll find in every millionaire from John Jacob Astor to Bill Gates. Even though inflation has brought the value of $1 million down from its lofty perch, you still need these traits to reach it. Why isn't everyone a millionaire? Maybe because it is easier to spend now, buy big and put off saving and investing than it is to sacrifice to reach the goal of becoming a millionaire. Using the tips given here can help you on your way, but you have to be brave enough to take the steps - first, final and all the hard ones that lay in between.

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