The No BS Way to Become a Millionaire in 5, 10, or 15 Years

Here are ten steps you could follow to become a millionaire by growing your income, reducing your expenses, and building your network.
Last updated Oct 4, 2020 | By Lee Huffman
How to become a millionaire

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There are a lot of millionaires in the U.S. You could become a millionaire too because joining the millionaire club is just a math equation involving time, the amount of money you save, and the rate of returns on your investments. The more money you save and the higher your rate of return, the quicker you'll become a millionaire. Of course, your work ethic and commitment to your goal of having a million dollars in the bank plays into it all too.

To help you achieve your goals, here are some real-life strategies for how to make money and become a millionaire in five, 10, or 15 years.

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10 steps to lay the right financial foundation

Whether your goal is to become a millionaire in five, 10, or 15 years, there are some basics you need to get a handle on first. Reaching millionaire status requires a solid financial foundation. These 10 steps will move you in the right direction:

1. Create a financial plan

Financial freedom starts with financial planning. Your plan should include where you're at today, what your goal is, and how you'll get there. Your financial plan should be written down with clear milestones of how much you want to have saved and by what date.

At each milestone, you’ll be able to assess your progress and make choices depending on whether you're ahead of or behind the plan. You can adjust any of these factors:

  • The deadline to reach your goal
  • Your goal amount
  • How much you're saving each month
  • The risk level of your investment portfolio

If you're ahead of plan, you might scale back how much you save and enjoy life a little more today. If you’re behind, it could be time to buckle down and learn some ways to make money while while also reducing your expenses.

2. Increase your income

It tends to be easier to increase your income than reduce your expenses. You can only cut your expenses so much without drastically adjusting your lifestyle. Yet, there are many opportunities to boost your income.

If you are employed, talk to your boss about a raise. Sometimes, it just requires a conversation about the value you bring to the organization. When you discuss your career with your boss, you'll know where you stand and come away with a game plan to boost your paycheck. If there aren't opportunities at your current job, start searching for a new one that offers a higher wage or the opportunity for promotions.

Your job isn't the only way to increase your income. Side hustles are a great way to supplement your income in your spare time. Many side hustles, like driving for a rideshare company or making grocery deliveries, don't require a huge time commitment. You can even learn how to make $1,000 a day if you strategically stack your side hustles.

Building passive income is the best way to boost your income in the long term. Passive income is money you earn that isn’t tied to the number of hours you work. Passive income strategies include:

  • Selling an eBook or a course on a topic that you are an expert in
  • Purchasing rental properties and hiring a property manager
  • Investing in stocks, bonds, and mutual funds
  • Affiliate marketing through your website or social media

There are a lot of ways to earn passive income. Although some can take time to ramp up, once they're in motion, you'll make money even when you're not working.

3. Live below your means

Living below your means is when your take-home pay is higher than your monthly expenses and you have money left over. The more you live below your means, the more money you have to put toward your financial goals. Review where you're spending your money each month right now, and decide whether those expenses are worth more to you than your goal of becoming a millionaire.

If your spending and financial goals aren’t in alignment, you can quickly cut expenses with these two strategies:

  • Lower your housing expenses. Get a roommate, move someplace less expensive, or return home to live with your parents.
  • Negotiate your bills. There are a lot of ways to lower your bills. Call your current providers and ask for discounts, shop around to find even lower prices, or use a service like Truebill to get your bills lowered for you.

4. Pay off your debt

Becoming a millionaire isn't just about having a portfolio with $1 million in it. It is also about boosting your net worth. Net worth is the amount left over when you subtract what you owe from what you own.

Every dollar of debt that you pay off not only increases your net worth, but it also saves you from paying interest to a lender. That savings can then be invested toward your goal of becoming a millionaire. So work toward eliminating things like student loan and credit card debt.

5. Understand the power of compound interest

Albert Einstein once called compound interest the eighth wonder of the world. When interest is compounded, the amount of interest you earned during a given time period is added to your balance, and that new total (original balance + interest) becomes your new interest-earning balance.

For example, this is what it would look like if you started with $1,000 and earned 10% interest per year (which is the average stock market return for the past 90 years), compounded annually:

Balance Interest earned that year Total interest earned
Starting balance $1,000 - -
After one year $1,100 $100 $100
After two years $1,210 $110 $210
After three years $1,331 $121 $331
After four years $1,464 $133 $464
After five years $1,611 $146 $611

At the end of five years, you'll have earned $611 in interest. As you can see, the interest that you earn continues to grow because the interest you've earned in prior years is now also earning interest.

6. Max out your retirement contributions each year

The government encourages people to invest for their retirement by giving valuable tax breaks on retirement accounts. The best way to take advantage of these programs is by maxing them out each and every year. This ensures that as much of your money as possible is receiving these tax advantages.

Because the tax advantages are so powerful, there are limits to how much you can invest in your retirement accounts each year. In 2020, Traditional and Roth IRA limits are $6,000 per year ($7,000 if over the age of 50), and company retirement plans are $19,500 ($26,000 if over 50).

7. Choose the right investing brokerage

After you've maxed out your retirement accounts, you'll want to choose a brokerage account. This will allow you to continue investing your way to having $1 million by buying stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and ETFs.

When selecting a brokerage account, look for one that offers reduced maintenance and trading fees. Many companies have eliminated fees for online trading. If you're unsure of where to begin investing, consider starting with an online service. Companies like Acorns, M1 Finance, and Stash offer simple investing platforms that make it easy for beginners to get started in the stock market.

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8. Open a high-yield savings account

In addition to retirement and brokerage accounts, it helps to have an emergency fund in a savings account. High-yield savings accounts offer better interest rates than a traditional bank while offering quick access in case you need the money to cover an unexpected bill.

9. Automate your savings and investing

Once your accounts are established, automate your saving and investing. This way you never forget to put that money aside and you can focus your mental energy on finding more ways to save and make money instead.

10. Network with millionaires

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn says we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. We're not saying you need to ditch your current friends, but you do need to spend time with successful people.

One good way to connect with wealthy people is to join the board of a charitable organization. Charities always need volunteers, and while you're there, you may also pick up some new skills. By donating your time, you could meet current and retired executives who are also on the board. Or you might get a chance to rub elbows with wealthy donors who would love to share stories of their success.

If you're having trouble networking with millionaires, the next best thing is to read about them. Buying a book or borrowing one from the library is the least expensive way to gain the best information a millionaire has to share.

Whether it's networking with successful people or reading about them in a book, the important thing is to continue to invest in yourself by upgrading your knowledge and learning from those you admire.

How to become a millionaire in 5 years

Becoming a millionaire in five years is an extremely aggressive goal, but it could happen. Although hitting a home run with an investment is what dreams are made of, the most realistic path is to put aside big chunks of money every year. The historical average return for the S&P 500 index is 8%. With that return, you’d have to invest $157,830 each year for five years in order to reach $1 million.

Account balance Cumulative amount invested Earnings per year Total earnings
Starting balance

$157,830

After one year

$170,456

$157,830

$12,626

$12,626

After two years

$354,549

$315,660

$26,263

$38,889

After three years

$553,370

$473,490

$40,991

$79,880

After four years

$768,096

$631,320

$56,896

$136,776

After five years

$1,000,000

$789,150

$74,074

$210,850

Obviously investing almost $160,000 each year is not much of an option for the average American household, which makes $78,500 before taxes and living expenses. High-income earners are the most likely people to be able to invest this much on a regular basis. Their professions might include doctors, business owners, and corporate executives.

Just because you may not have a job making this much money doesn't mean you can't achieve the goal of having $1 million in five years. There are other ways to make a lot of money:

  • Become a real estate investor. Start with wholesale real estate to make quick money, then start buying your own properties to either rent or flip.
  • Start your own business. Business ownership can be risky, but the rewards can also be massive. There are a lot of small businesses you can start for $1,000 or less.
  • Work for a startup. Companies that are just starting out often give shares of stock to early employees instead of large salaries. If that company goes public or gets bought, your shares could be worth a lot of money.

How to become a millionaire in 10 years

Becoming a millionaire in 10 years is much easier than doing it in five, but it still takes sacrifice and dedication to make it happen. With an 8% average annual return, you'd need to invest $63,916 each year for 10 years to reach your millionaire goal:

Account balance Cumulative amount invested Earnings per year Total earnings
Starting balance

$63,916

After one year

$69,029

$63,916

$5,113

$5,113

After two years

$143,581

$127,832

$10,636

$15,749

After three years

$224,097

$191,749

$16,600

$32,349

After four years

$311,055

$255,665

$23,041

$55,390

After five years

$404,968

$319,581

$29,998

$85,387

After six years

$506,395

$383,497

$37,511

$122,898

After seven years

$615,937

$447,413

$45,625

$168,523

After eight years

$734,241

$511,330

$54,388

$222,911

After nine years

$862,010

$575,246

$63,853

$286,764

After ten years

$1,000,000

$639,162

$74,074

$360,838

It would be hard for most households to put aside approximately $64,000 each year. The majority of people would need to supplement their income with a side hustle to contribute that much to their investments.

People in the FIRE movement (financial independence, retire early) set lofty savings goals in their pursuit of financial freedom. Some families choose to save one spouse's entire income and live off the other paycheck, and others focus on saving 50% of their household income.

Assume you're an average family making a combined $78,500. If you're able to save half of that income, you're putting away a little over $39,000 each year. To reach the target of roughly $64,000 per year, you'd need to earn an additional $25,000 after taxes. For a monthly goal, that's about $2,000 each month.

Earning $2,000 a month from side hustles is something a lot of people could do. Potential side hustles that could earn you that extra money include:

  • Driving for Uber Eats or Lyft
  • Making deliveries for Postmates or GrubHub
  • Freelance writing
  • Private tutoring
  • Teaching community college classes
  • Handyman work
  • Selling on Etsy or eBay
  • Wholesaling real estate

How to become a millionaire in 15 years

To become a millionaire in 15 years, you'll need to put aside $34,101 per year for 15 years while earning an average return of 8%. That means reaching millionaire status in 15 years is something most of us could do through maxing out our retirement savings by hitting the annual 401(k) contribution limits and IRA contribution limits.

A single person under 50 years old can contribute a combined $25,500 per year by putting $19,500 into a 401(k) and $6,000 into a Roth IRA. If you’re 50 or older, catch-up contributions can add another $6,000 and $1,000, respectively, for a total retirement contribution of $32,500 per year.

Under 50

50 and over

401(k)

$19,500

$19,500

401(k) Catch-up

$0

$6,000

IRA

$6,000

$6,000

IRA Catch-up

$0

$1,000

Maximum Yearly Retirement Contributions

$25,500

$32,500

Couples can contribute double these amounts because each person can contribute these maximums to their own personal accounts. For spouses who don’t work or have very little income, they can contribute the full amount to an IRA through what is known as a Spousal IRA.

If your company offers a matching contribution to your 401(k), you could be saving even more. If you made a salary of $60,000 per year and your employer offers a match of 3%, that’s another $1,800 per year toward your investment goals that you could take advantage of.

But let’s assume you’re single, under the age of 50, and your company does not offer a matching contribution. You can invest a total of $25,500 per year into your retirement account. In this scenario, you’ll need to invest another $8,600 per year into a taxable brokerage account to reach your million-dollar goals.

Account balance Cumulative amount invested Earnings per year Total earnings
Starting balance

$34,101

After one year

$36,830

$34,101

$2,728

$2,728

After two years

$76,605

$68,203

$5,674

$8,403

After three years

$119,563

$102,304

$8,857

$17,259

After four years

$165,958

$136,406

$12,293

$29,552

After five years

$216,064

$170,507

$16,005

$45,557

After six years

$270,179

$204,609

$20,013

$65,570

After seven years

$328,623

$238,710

$24,342

$89,913

After eight years

$391,742

$272,811

$29,018

$118,931

After nine years

$459,911

$306,913

$34,067

$152,998

After 10 years

$533,534

$341,014

$39,521

$192,519

After 11 years

$613,046

$375,116

$45,411

$237,930

After 12 years

$698,919

$409,217

$51,772

$289,702

After 13 years

$791,662

$443,319

$58,642

$348,343

After 14 years

$891,824

$477,420

$66,061

$414,404

After 15 years

$1,000,000

$511,521

$74,074

$488,479

If your income doesn't allow you to max out your retirement plans, look for promotion opportunities within your company, consider switching jobs, or start a side hustle. Also, take a deep look at where you're spending your money. You might be able to reduce your expenses to find extra cash to invest in your future. With a time frame of 15 years, anyone can reach the millionaire goal with a little focus and effort.

Don’t forget to build your millionaire advisory board

If you need help building your plan or making decisions along the way, seek out professional guidance from a financial advisor. Financial advisors can act as a sounding board for your investment strategies, as well as offer advice on the pros and cons of various investment choices.

Continue to build your team of advisors with a certified public accountant who will help you navigate tax questions. As your wealth builds, it is possible that tax planning becomes more complicated. Not only can your CPA complete your tax forms, but they can also provide advice on ways to minimize taxes, which leaves more money for you to invest in your goal of becoming a millionaire.

With a growing net worth, you'll also want to protect your assets with estate planning. An estate planning attorney will help you plan what to do with your money after you die. Proper planning can reduce estate taxes and leave more money for your heirs. If you don't have heirs (or don't wish to leave your wealth to them), an estate planning attorney can also help you donate your money to charities that support causes you believe in.

Bottom line

As you plan your path to achieving millionaire status, remember there are always risks when you invest. With calculated choices and consistent savings, it is possible to realize your goals — even when you're talking about achieving the goal of becoming a millionaire in 15 years or less. When you visualize your future self as a millionaire, it is possible to achieve your dreams.

The stock market is inherently risky and there is always a chance your investments could decrease in value. There are no guaranteed investment returns and past results do not indicate future performance. We are not professional investment advisors and this article does not contain investing advice.

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