I am slightly travel-weary and sleep-deprived at the moment having been in New York, Sheffield, and Birmingham this past week and eaten far more bad food on trains and planes than I care to think about.
But one of the biggest benefits of all this travel has been the time I have had to read books that have been collecting the electronic equivalent of dust on my Kindle. And the gem I am 6% through at the moment is called The Millionaire Next Door.
Now, already there are some fantastic takeaways (I won't share too much because it is definitely worth reading... and I am only 6% into it), but the fact that comes up again and again and again in this exhaustively researched book is that the people with NET wealth over a million are almost never who we think they are.
One of the main misconceptions about wealth is that you can tell who is wealthy: the rich look rich and act rich and live where you think they would live (Kensington, Bel Air, Central Park West). But the reality couldn't be further from that perception.
It seems the great bulk of America's millionaires (the book is only about the US) live, well, next door, in middle-class or sometimes working-class neighborhoods.
They drive Fords, wear Timex or Seiko watches (I love Seikos!), and have a net wealth that they could live off of for more than 10 years without doing anything. They prioritize financial freedom over conspicuous consumption and live well below their means.
And you know what else? The people we think are wealthy because of what they wear or drive or earn are often as likely to be living paycheck to paycheck as their lower-earning counterparts. A big income means nothing for wealth if you spend what you earn, as so many people do.
So why am I sharing this?
Well, one of the reasons is that wealth is something that so many of us strive for. Some of us may even have started our businesses to become wealthy and financially independent and have big plans for when we finally "make it." But sometimes it's easy to forget that we can build wealth now, from where we already are, if we are willing to do what the unseen majority of millionaires do: spend less than we earn, not increase our liabilities even when our assets increase, and have a wealth building plan that isn't over-reliant on any one asset class. We can do all of this whether we are in the bootstrapping phase of our business or are already 9-figure unicorns-in-the making.
Another reason is because I see and mentor so many entrepreneurs who don't have a financial "runway", or have a plan for getting one, before they get started. All entrepreneurs need a "war chest" to cover their expenses until their business becomes profitable, but not enough think about the sacrifices that are needed to make that happen. They keep spending like they used to (eating out, holidaying with friends, living as if nothing has changed) and run out of money before their business can support them, and then have to scramble for a Plan B or go back to working for someone else. Many of the entrepreneurs I know who have given up gave up because they ran out of runway, not necessarily because they had a bad idea.
And finally, I want to burst any bubbles (mine as much as anyone else's) about what we think needs to happen before we can be financially free. One of the reasons I founded Entreprenora is because I want to help more women become financially independent and normalize wealth for women. But the bad habits we have when we are "poor" or "dependent" will follow us when we become wealthy and independent, so we need to start now, wherever we are, and start doing what millionaires do.
For me, over the years that has meant saying no to a LOT of social engagements or outings, prioritizing quality over quantity in everything I buy, and tuning out the pressure to live an Instagram-able life of conspicuous consumption (it helps that I largely shun social media). Have I become a miser who lives off Wheatabix, dresses in rags, and doesn't have any friends? Nope (or at least I don't think so!). I just make smarter choices as often as I can and have learned to invest more than I spend.
And the final, more uplifting, reason the book has already captivated me is that if real millionaires don't look or act or live where we expect them to, then I don't have to either. We can all become millionaires from where we are, living in the same house, wearing the same mix of fast fashion and high fashion (or no fashion!), and cruising in our 2002 Honda Accord. As Denise Duffield-Thomas says, you are what a wealthy woman looks like. You don't have to change. But your habits do.