That’s why small, simple decisions you make today — like where you stash your savings or how much of your income you’re spending on housing — are so important.
When John, an early retiree and blogger, interviewed 100 millionaires, he discovered many of them did the exact same thing to get there: “They earned a lot, saved a ton, and invested for a long time.”
Below, we’ve rounded up eight things you can do right now to set yourself up for a rich future.
Set up automatic savings
You can take the biggest step toward building wealth in 10 minutes at your computer. Setting up auto savings takes the effort and thought out of saving money.
If you set up a 401(k) through your employer, your contribution will typically be automatic, so that’s a great place to start. If you want to save a portion of your after-tax income, you can connect multiple accounts to your direct deposit and designate how much money from every paycheck will move into each account.
“By saving off the top, an amazing thing will happen,” said Sean, a 28-year-old blogger who goes by The Money Wizard and has saved over $260,000. “You won’t even notice all the missed money, and you won’t even have to adjust your lifestyle to meet your savings goals. Your spending will instead mold around what’s left, leaving you feeling like you’re living just as great of a lifestyle, all while saving a fortune.”
Ask for a raise — or change jobs
Hourly wages for US workers have risen less than 1% in the past year, according to the Economic Policy Institute. And despite the average American believing they deserve a raise, more than 70% aren’t asking for one.
Negotiating your starting salary — and continuing to negotiate every few years or when you start a new job — could make a $1 million difference in your lifetime earnings.
Take a page out of supermodel and entrepreneur Tyra Banks’ book when asking for a raise: “You need to sit there and talk about your value. Talk about what you have done that has increased revenues, increased engagement, or how you’ve been working from nine to nine, even though you are only supposed to be working from nine to six. … You don’t need a raise, deserve a raise.”
The key to earning more money may be switching jobs, according to an analysis from financial services company Nomura. Employees who changed jobs earned about 1% more year-over-year than those who stayed with the same employer.
Job switchers likely experience stronger bargaining power and greater salary increases when more opportunities are available or they find a new higher-paid role that better matches their talents, according to the report.
Put your money in a high-yield savings account
Having too much money in your checking account could hold you back from building wealth.
Keep about a month’s salary in your checking account so you can easily pay your bills each month. Once you have that, start building up at least three months’ worth of expenses in an emergency fund.
Allowing your checking account to overflow beyond what’s necessary means you’re missing out on the benefit of compound interest, which is the snowball effect applied to your money.
Store your savings in a high-yield savings account, where you could be earning 1% interest on your money, rather than the 0.01% earned in a traditional checking or savings account.
Or invest it in the stock market
If you’re part of the 46% of millennials staying out of the stock market because it’s too risky, you could be leaving millions of dollars on the table.
Based on average market returns and interest rates from the past 40 years, NerdWallet calculated that investing in stocks (including in retirement accounts) would lead to $4.57 million by age 65. That’s accounting for annual investment fees of 0.70% but not adjusted for inflation.
Keeping the money in a traditional savings account — which 63% of millennials are doing today, according to a NerdWallet survey— would result in $1.27 million by retirement, before adjusting for inflation.
The potential opportunity cost to staying out of the market over four decades? About $3.3 million.
“Low-cost index and exchange-traded funds are great options if you want to be more hands on; target-date funds and robo-advisers might be a better fit if you’d like someone or something else to do the work,” says Arielle O’Shea, the investing and retirement specialist at NerdWallet.
The most important thing is to invest now. Wasted time now equals less money later.
Find cheaper housing
If you’re part of the one-third of Americans who overpay for housing, start by looking for a place that meets the standard measure of affordability: 30% or less of pretax income.
But if you can find a place that allows you to spend 25% or less of your after-tax income on housing, your savings account will thank you.
Sean, aka The Money Wizard, said finding cheap housing in an affordable city was one of the best financial moves he’s made. His advice? You’ll get more bang for your buck if you live outside the “trendy” areas — and you probably need less space than you think.
Even billionaire Warren Buffet keeps his housing costs low. Buffett lives in a modest house that’s worth .001% of his total wealth.
Buy a rental property
Investing in real estate and buying a home to live in are two very different things. When you buy a home to live in long term, you’re not guaranteed to earn a return on your investment, especially in the near future.
If you have cash to invest, buying a home or apartment building as a rental property gives you, the investor, the power to determine your profits.
In the end, the rental income you earn may be enough to cover the mortgage and possibly more. That’s different from expecting a big return when it comes time to sell a home. And it’s a great way to make money off of real estate now rather than down the road.
Increase your 401(k) contribution
One of the best parts about saving in a 401(k) is that the contributions are taken directly out of your paycheck, before you have a chance to spend the money elsewhere. You’ll also get tax benefits, and, if your company offers it, free money in the form of a 401(k) match.
It takes very little time to log in to the online dashboard for your company’s plan to change the percentage you’re contributing. Push the amount as high as you can realistically handle, up to the annual maximum of $19,000 if you’re under age 50 ($25,000 if you’re 50 or older) in 2019.
A good starting point, if you’re new to this, is to save 5% more than you’re doing today. If that amount is 0%, then go up to 5%. If you’re already saving 10%, push it to 15%. If you’re afraid to go that high, try something smaller to start. It’s easy to log in and increase it again once you adjust to the slightly smaller paycheck.
At a minimum, if your company offers a match, make sure you contribute enough to get it. If you hit the maximum amount, don’t stop saving for retirement there. You can contribute to an IRA in addition to your 401(k).
Try a backdoor Roth IRA if your income is high
The Roth IRA is a popular retirement account recommended often by financial experts, but it presents a challenge for high earners thanks to IRS-imposed income restrictions for who can contribute, and how much.
To directly contribute the maximum amount to a Roth IRA — $6,000 in 2019— you have to earn less than $122,000 as a single taxpayer or $193,000 if you’re married and file taxes jointly with your spouse.
If you earn more, a strategy called the “backdoor Roth IRA” could help.
Using Roth IRA conversions, the strategy allows you to contribute to a non-deductible traditional IRA and then convert the funds to a Roth IRA. You won’t get two tax benefits today — the first contribution to a traditional IRA won’t give you a tax break, but at least it gives you the long-term benefit of tax-free investment growth in a Roth IRA.
If you already have tax-deductible traditional IRA accounts, this strategy becomes a lot more complex. In that case, it’s worthwhile to reach out to an accountant or financial planner for guidance.