15 Ways to Build Wealth From Nothing

Here's how to go from rags to riches and build the financial life you want.
Updated Nov. 27, 2023
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We’ve all heard the adage, “You have to spend money to make money.” And it makes sense because it’s definitely easier to make money if you have a lot of seed capital.

But is it possible to build your wealth when you don’t have much already? Is it possible to start from almost nothing? The answer is a resounding yes. 

Most millionaires (79%) are first-generation rich, meaning they didn’t inherit their money. That’s an indicator you can build wealth, even if you’re starting from the bottom. Here are a few ways to do it.

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Have an abundance mindset

Victor Moussa/Adobe group of chess pawns representing the poor separated from the wealthy

This might sound hokey, but having the right state of mind is key to building wealth. 

If you don’t believe you can, you think money is the root of all evil, or you’re not confident in your ability to keep the wealth you generate, it will be a lot tougher for you to reach your financial goals.

Choose a lucrative field

Yakobchuk Olena/Adobe charming positive senior woman is relaxing on sofa

Play the money-making game where the prizes are bigger. While it isn’t essential, working in a field that pays above average will give you more cash to work with when investing and saving. 

White-collar jobs like engineers and attorneys aren’t the only ones to make a lot of money — skilled trades like aircraft mechanics and plumbers can make well over six figures.

Live below your means

erllre/Adobe rich and poor

Wealth is built in the gap between what you earn and what you spend. The wider you can make this gap, the more space you have to save and invest. 

Even if you’re not making a ton of money, if you can keep your expenses low, you may still have enough to build wealth.

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Be willing to diverge from your culture

Minerva Studio/Adobe money rain

If you didn’t come from a rich background, it might be difficult to break free of the cultural expectations around money. 

Friends and family might expect you to buy things for them. Others in your community might scoff or think you’re too good for them if you change your income level.

If you plan to build wealth, be ready to draw some kind but firm boundaries when it comes to the perceptions and ideas of others about your new economic status.

Get an education

peampath/Adobe college university

College is expensive, but studies continue to show that those with bachelor’s degrees tend to outearn high school grads by 84%. 

If you can find ways to get an education — whether that’s a four-year university degree or a trade school certification — you’ll open up doors to higher-paying jobs than if you only had a high school diploma.

While an education can be expensive, financial aid and loans are available. Just make sure you choose a worthwhile field so you can pay back your loans and build wealth.

Automatically pay yourself first

Dmitry Lobanov/Adobe Boy with a bundle of money

Take the decision-making out of your savings by setting up an automatic draft on payday to your savings account and/or a retirement account. 

By putting savings on autopilot, it will happen month after month without any input from you, and you won’t be as tempted to spend the money. This life hack will build your nest egg even when you aren’t thinking about it.

Have a source of reliable income

kerkezz/Adobe A female candidate receiving congratulations from a female interviewer after a successful job interview.

Getting a job might seem like a no-brainer if you want to build wealth, but having a steady income source makes it easier to plan your expenses and your savings. 

If you’re not worried about where your next paycheck is coming from, you can make forward-thinking money moves like automatically contributing to a retirement account or buying things in bulk.

Start a business

ChenPG/Adobe successful businessman

By starting a business, you have much more control over how much money your investment can make since you can dictate the time and effort you put in.

An estimated 51% of millionaires are entrepreneurs, so starting a business could be an excellent way to wealth if you have the knowledge and stamina to do it. Some businesses require very little capital to get started.

Insure your assets

Tyler Olson/Adobe wealthy woman stepping out of car

One unsung step on anyone’s wealth journey is to not lose what you’ve built. Having proper insurance for your health, life, auto, and home can help prevent a single disaster from wiping you out. 

However, beware of overinsuring yourself, as you can overpay on premiums. This will rob you of the growth that money could have made if you’d invested it instead.

Upgrade your skills

Miljan Živković/Adobe woman study in front of the laptop

Technology is changing our lives at an ever-increasing pace, so keeping your skills relevant and up-to-date is key. Whether it’s understanding the latest computer programs or training on new regulations, keep educating yourself in your field. 

You’ll command a higher salary and open yourself up to more opportunities. YouTube, Coursera, and other sites can be a great place to get started for free.

Diversify your wealth

Nick Starichenko/Adobe Woman on balcony

Once you begin to build wealth, don’t hold all your eggs in one basket. This is a well-known cliche for a reason. 

Life got pretty tough for tech investors when the Dot-Com Bubble burst and for real estate investors during the 2008-2009 meltdown. 

By having a diverse group of assets, you’ll insulate yourself from a crash in any given area of the market.

Avoid high-interest debt

deagreez/Adobe crazy funny funky old man

Nothing drags down your net worth like high-interest consumer debt. If you plan on getting rich, don’t use debt to buy things that lose value like cars, clothes, and boats. 

The high-interest rate means you’ll pay much more for these things in the long run than if you’d saved up and bought them outright.

Build multiple income sources

oneinchpunch/Adobe businessman flying on his private jet

We hear a lot about diversifying our investments, but what about our incomes? Having only one source of income is riskier than having a few streams of income. 

Even if you get laid off or fired, you’ll have a few backup income sources. Even if they don’t cover all your expenses, it will cushion the blow of losing your largest paycheck.

Optimize your taxes

Kittiphan/Adobe stressed young woman checking bills

While paying taxes is necessary, there’s no reason to give Uncle Sam more than his fair share. 

Take all the tax deductions you qualify for and make sure you’re taking steps to reduce your tax burden, such as contributing to tax-optimized retirement accounts, calculating business deductions, charitable contributions, and more.

Maintain an emergency fund

Vitalii Vodolazskyi/Adobe jlass jar labeled

Your rainy day fund won’t earn you a lot of interest, but that’s not its purpose. 

An emergency fund protects you from financial stress and having to use high-interest credit cards when your heater goes out or you need an unexpected car repair.

Bottom line

Jose Luis Stephens /Adobe A wealthy woman going on a private jet

Great wealth isn’t built overnight, but with the right mindset, tools, and effort, you can become wealthy — even if you don’t come from an affluent upbringing. 

What you do with your money (savings and investing) is even more important than how much you make.

By disciplining yourself to make smart money moves, you’ll see your wealth slowly grow over time. With dedication and persistence, you can write your own rags-to-riches success story.

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Author Details

Jenni Sisson Jenni Sisson is a freelance writer and editor who focuses on personal finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship. She has been published in Business Insider and The Ways to Wealth. In addition to writing, Jenni hosts the Mama's Money Map podcast to help fellow stay-at-home moms on their journey to financial freedom.

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