Financial planners have seen it all while working with clients-from financial ruin to financial freedom. Over the years, they’ve learned what separates millionaires from those who struggle to get their monetary footing.
Eight of them shared the insights they’ve picked up from clients in the seven-figure club that they now use to help others build the life of their dreams. Here are 13 of those lessons.
Create a Financial Plan
Joe Petry, CFP and founder of Mayfair Financial, said, “My wealthier clients have figured out that having a plan can make a big difference. Lower taxes, maximiz[ed] Social Security, and a sound investment approach can represent a million dollars or more over a 30-year retirement.
“Having a [financial] plan can also save us from ourselves. Our financial decisions are emotional, whether we realize it or not. A plan can help us avoid trying to time the market or putting too much of our nest egg in one or two hot stocks.”
Limiting the amount of debt you carry to a mortgage and maybe an auto loan is key to building wealth, said David E. Barfield, CFP and founder of Datapoint Financial Planning, LLC.
However, if you’ve got other types of debt or your current debt prevents you from saving for the future, don’t panic. You can take control by implementing one or more debt repayment strategies.
Maintain an Emergency Fund
Barfield also recommends building and maintaining an emergency fund. That way, you can cover urgent, critical expenses with cash. While everyone’s situation is different, the consensus is that you need at least three months’ worth of living expenses stashed away.
However, if that amount feels impossible to amass right now, squirrel away what you can. Some money in the bank is better than no money in the bank.
Live Below Your Means
“A common trait among millionaires is living below their means,” said Jorey Bernstein, founder of Bernstein Investment Consultants. “To cultivate wealth, focus less on your income and more on your spending habits. Budgeting isn’t about limiting your freedom; it’s about making your money work effectively for you.”
However, as you look for ways to improve your spending habits, be aware that you can slash your expenses too far. If possible, don’t reduce your insurance coverage or skimp on healthcare. Doing so could cost you more money in the long run.
Prioritize Your Spending
“I have a single female multi-millionaire client,” Petry said. “She never had a particularly high-paying job. Her superpower is knowing what things bring her joy and what things don’t. She doesn’t value a big house or lots of new clothes. Cruises are her passion.
“When I asked her what she would change if she had only 5-10 years to live, she replied that she would live on a cruise ship for the rest of her life. The thing is her otherwise frugal lifestyle means she could afford to! She focuses her spending on what truly brings her joy — and skips the other stuff.”
Kevin Estes, a financial planner and the founder of Scaled Finance, has seen similar cases in his practice.
“The ‘richest’ people I know don’t have the most,” he said. “They have enough. Proactively reviewing expenses helps them cut what isn’t worth it to them and double down on what is.”
Automate Your Money
“Your savings rate is the most significant indicator of your ability to accumulate wealth,” said Cecil Staton, CFPand founder of Arch Financial Planning. “As long as a good percentage of household income is saved and invested each year, you’ll be on track to accumulate wealth.”
One way to ensure your nest egg steadily grows is to automate your savings. That way, you won’t be able to spend those funds or have to remember to transfer money between accounts.
Diversify Your Investments
“Diversification is a cornerstone principle of wealth creation,” Bernstein said. “As the saying goes, ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.’ Spreading your investments across various assets can help mitigate risk and maximize returns.”
Take Advantage of Compound Interest
Simple interest occurs when you earn interest only on the principal balance of your account. However, compound interest occurs when you earn interest on both the principal balance and the interest that has already accrued. That’s why Jonathan Bird, CFP and financial advisor at Farnam Financial, calls compound interest “the most powerful financial tool in the world.”
Pro Tip: You can take advantage of this monetary wonder by putting your cash in investments that feature compound interest, such as high-yield savings accounts, certificates of deposit or stocks.
Understand the Tax Code
If you understand the tax code, you can take advantage of tax loopholes and keep more money in your pocket.
Bird said, “I help my clients reduce their tax bill by using asset location, harvesting tax losses and evenly spreading out their taxable income over the years so as to reduce their marginal tax rate and their Medicare premiums.”
Protect Against Risk
“The lesson I have seen time and again from millionaires is they protect against the type of risks that would destroy their financial lives,” said Cobin Soelberg, founder of Greeley Wealth Management. “A good example of this would be purchasing disability insurance and life insurance. Protecting the downside allows millionaires to take larger risks in their investments and business, knowing there is a limit on the risk they are taking on.”
Your specific circumstances will dictate which insurance you need. However, financial experts typically recommend maintaining sufficient auto, home, health and life coverage.
“Continuous learning is a key differentiator among the successful,” Bernstein said. “[Getting educated] about the financial markets, investment strategies and broader economic trends can empower you to make informed decisions that drive wealth accumulation.”
Unfortunately, studies show that few people feel confident about managing money — let alone building wealth. Injecting financial literacy lessons into school curriculums, workplace trainings and even dinnertime conversations can help you and future generations achieve your goals.
David Berns, financial planner at Truadvice Wealth Management, said, “We all want to be millionaires overnight, but the No. 1 lesson we’ve learned over the years is that these successful clients have poured in 30 years of hard work. Slow and steady wins the race, and very rarely do we see clients who have taken shortcuts be as wealthy.”
Estes agrees, noting that the path to becoming wealthy is paved with a series of small, consistent behaviors over the long haul.
“Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned from millionaires is that wealth creation is boring,” Estes said. “It’s taking lunch to work, automatically saving into retirement accounts, and attending kids’ soccer matches.”
Stay True to You
Staying true to who you are and “sticking to what you believe in morally is also another trait we see held by the rich,” Berns said.
His practice often reminds long-term clients (who have short-term memories) about their underlying motivations for building wealth, which helps them make tough decisions.
“If one of your dreams is to own a legacy vacation home for your family,” he said, “[you] may have to sacrifice buying that fancy new car or exotic trip overseas.”
More From GOBankingRates