The Millionaire Next Door

Book online The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley,William D. Danko

Original Title:

The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy



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Comment 1:

Despite the fact that it takes scores of pages to communicate a few basic points and that the author offers excruciating detail on things such as the car-buying habits of millionaires, I believe this is an important book that should be read by anyone who mistakenly believes that the long-term accumulation of wealth is determined almost entirely by income or that the majority of millionaires become wealthy through inheritance or pure luck. We tend to think of the “rich” as people with flashy cars, newly built houses, and expensive clothes, but this does not describe the average millionaire, who manages to become a millionaire precisely because he does not engage in such conspicuous consumption. The Millionaire Next Door will cause some to rethink their definition of what it means to be rich and others to consider whether or not they really want to practice the self-discipline and relative austerity that is required to accumulate (rather than spend) wealth. While becoming a millionaire may ensure your financial independence and security, it does require living consistently below your means. While almost any American with a college education can theoretically become a millionaire by the time he is sixty, few will consistently choose to do what it takes to become one. The author defines a millionaire as the head of any household that has a net worth of at least $1 million dollars. Of this group, upwards to 85 percent are self-made, “first generation rich” millionaires. The author’s research on the characteristics of this group did not surprise me because I saw my own parents gradually accumulate wealth by the time they retired. From them, I had already drawn my own conclusions about how one creates a millionaire household: (1) Get married and stay married. (2) Work for about 30 years, full-time, at a middle-class job. There is no need to pursue a profession (such as doctor or lawyer) that requires a graduate degree. A typical middle-class job will do. My father was an editor, and my mother was a school teacher. (3) Don’t buy a house until you have saved enough for a reasonable down payment. (4) Live consistently below your means. For example, don’t go on vacations unless you will be staying with relatives or in a free cabin a friend has let you borrow. Buy cheap clothes. Don’t buy dust-collecting trinkets or art. Limit jewelry. Drive your car into the ground before you buy a new one. (5) Don’t finance anything other than your house. If you can’t pay cash, don’t buy it. (6) Be generous with your children, especially when it comes to supporting their educations, but teach them about the importance of financial discipline by making them work to buy many of their “wants” for themselves. (7) Save and make regular long-term investments in tax deferred retirement accounts, mutual funds, municipal stocks, and bonds. Stanley has his own seven factors to characterize millionaires, and while they differ somewhat from my anecdotal, personal observations above, in essentials they are the same. Work hard, invest wisely, spend little. The choice is yours –you can be a PAW (prodigious accumulator of wealth) or a UAW (under accumulator of wealth). If you don't have enough income, no matter how much of a PAW you are, you may never be a millionaire, but you'll be much better off than your peers in the same income group. And no matter how great your income, if you're a UAW, you will likely never become a millionaire. By Stanley’s definition, whether you are a PAW or UAW is not determined by your net worth (“wealth”), but rather by your net worth in relation to your income. Basically, you multiply your income by your age, divide by 10, and you get the average net worth for someone in your age and income group. If your own net worth (minus any inheritance, which doesn’t count since you didn’t accumulate it yourself) is a ways above that, you’re a PAW. If it’s much below that, you’re a UAW. There is a very interesting chapter on the positive and negative (mostly negative) effects of EOC (“economic outpatient care”). EOC is when wealthy parents give gifts to their adult kids and grandkids, which they often do in their later years to decrease the value of their estates and therefore avoid inheritance tax. Stanley says that some EOC (payment of tuition, for instance) has a positive impact on the long-term wealth accumulation of the recipient while arguing that other forms of EOC (cash gifts earmarked for consumption) have a negative impact. He compares the net worth of similar occupational groups to show that those millionaire's kids who receive EOC actually have a lower net worth than those who do not receive EOC. He suggests such gifts encourage many adult children to develop habits of consumption and to incur additional costs they would not have incurred in absence of the gifts. For example, the middle-income couple who is given cash for a down payment on a house in an upscale neighborhood will then try to keep up with the Jones on that middle income, purchasing fancy cars and country club memberships, whereas if they had just stayed in a middle-class town house, they’d presumably feel the need to buy less stuff. I don’t think he takes personality and personal priorities into account enough when drawing such conclusions about the effect of EOC, though he does concede that EOC does not always have this effect, especially on two particular groups: teachers and “Type A” housewives acquire more wealth if they receive EOC than if they don’t, because these groups tend to receive the gifts without increasing consumption habits and to save some portion of the gifts. Things I wish the author had discussed more:INFLATION. Given that the average age of millionaires is 57, and most are acquiring this fortune over a thirty to fifty year period, I don’t think Stanley has enough to say about the affect of inflation or how that might alter the future number of millionaires. In fact, I don’t recall him mentioning inflation at all. The woman who buys a house at the age of 21 could be a millionaire by 70 based almost exclusively on the increase in the value of her house. Millionaires are only 3.5% of the total population, but what percentage of the population over 50 are they? CHARITY. How much do millionaires give to charity, on average, compared to others as a percentage of income? How does giving to charity affect the ability to accumulate wealth? He only briefly mentions charity, admitting that children of PAWs who receive EOC do tend to give more to charity than those who do not receive EOC. THE EFFECTS OF SHIFTING GENERATIONAL VALUES ON WEALTH ACCUMULATION. For Stanley, under accumulation of wealth largely accounts for the fact that few of the children and grandchildren of millionaires become millionaires themselves. Stanley says, basically, that the hard-working and frugal ethos of self-made millionaire parents is lost as their children and grandchildren become increasingly “Americanized” and thus become status-conscious, materialistic, undisciplined consumers. I’m not ruling out that possibility. I’m sure it’s true for some, perhaps many. But I think there’s another possibility. Maybe some of the children and grandchildren of millionaires simply have competing values that, while different, are quite possibly also good values. The reality is that life is full of competing goods. Unfortunately, we can’t fully realize all goods simultaneously. Being at home for your kids is a good; but being able to one day pay for their college tuition so they can have a debt-free start in life is also a good. Few mothers can realize both goods. Supporting your child’s love for music by getting him an expensive instrument and private lessons so he can grow as musicians and explore his talent is a good; but having financial independence in old age so your kids don’t have to support you financially is also a good. Having more money than you need in the bank, in case you one day do need it, is a good. But paying a babysitter so you can experience regular, marriage-building date nights with your husband is also a good. We sometimes have to choose between two good things. And which goods we choose may depend more on our personalities and preferences, on our individual fears and hopes, than on our moral fortitude. Stanley’s assumptions about why millionaire kids do not become millionaires are a bit harsh. Some of these “kids” no doubt are irresponsible spendthrifts, but perhaps others are saving *enough* to meet their own personal, long-term life goals and are realizing other positive values instead of wealth accumulation. I may be wrong about this, but it’s not even a possibility Stanley explores. One final note - this book should be read in conjunction with The Cheapskate Next Door.

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