Today, we Millennial college graduates are bound by a cumulative $1.5 trillion in student loans. We struggle to afford housing, families, and attain financial security as we work to pay down tens of thousands of dollars in debt. But it doesn’t have to stay this way. A new study of America’s millionaires offers insight on how we too can achieve financial security.
Ramsey Solutions, a corporation founded by financial guru, radio personality, and millionaire Dave Ramsey, studied 10,000 American millionaires and their paths to financial success in the largest study of its kind ever conducted. The study, released earlier this year, offers several key insights for those looking to build wealth.
1) Financial success is not defined by alma mater or salary
Conventional wisdom teaches that attending a prestigious private school offers a larger, more elite career network, better career opportunities, and ultimately higher salaries post-graduation. This, students are told, is the path to success.
As a result of this guidance, career-seekers leave their homes and in-state public universities in droves, searching for more prestigious institutions across state lines. A 2016 New York Times study found that the number of students attending out-of-state public schools has nearly doubled since 1986.
But this migration comes with a cost. According to the College Board, out-of-state public tuition costs students $14,480 more on average per year than in-state public tuition, and attending private schools costs a hefty $23,000 more. In keeping with conventional wisdom, we students take on this debt hoping it will pay off with larger salaries and employment opportunities on the other end. But in pursuit of higher salaries, we never stop to consider that a higher salary may not be the best path to financial success.
Of the 10,000 millionaires Ramsey examined, 88% graduated from college. The majority (62%) graduated from public state schools–only 8% graduated from prestigious private schools including the Ivy Leagues. Notably, these millionaires do, in many cases receive lower salaries than their privately educated peers. Only 15% hold senior leadership roles in their companies, and most (69%) received less than 100,000 on average per year over the course of their careers. One-third never made six-figures at any point during their working years.
If salary did not set them apart, what did?
2) Millionaires don’t carry debt
According to a 2018 survey by NBC and the Millennial organization GenForward, 34% of the Millennial generation is paying off student loans, but an even larger percentage (46%) of Millennials have credit card debt.
While Millennials do tend to pay more than our parents did for some expenses such as housing and education, we also tend to spend more on products and activities we consider non-essential than they do. The investment brokerage firm TD-Ameritrade found in a 2018 survey that Millennials spend more than our parents, grandparents, and Gen Z peers ($838 per month) on things we do not think are necessary, including spending from boredom, advertising, and social media. The survey found that 49% of Millennials say these non-essential purchases drive up their credit card debt
Ramsey’s Millionaires prioritize spending differently. According to the study, 94% of millionaires said they live on less than they make, and nearly three-quarters had never carried a credit card balance in their lives. They reported spending less than $200 per month on restaurants and 93% use coupons when they shop.
“By staying out of debt and watching expenses,” Ramsey concluded, “millionaires are able to build their bank accounts instead of trying to get out of a financial hole every month.”
For those who are working to escape debt, Ramsey’s study gives us hope:
3) Building wealth takes time
According to the study, three out of four millionaires said that regular, consistent investing over a long period of time was the reason for their success. On average, Ramsey found that these men and women took 28 years to reach their million-dollar-goal.
“These numbers show that becoming a millionaire doesn’t happen overnight,” said Chris Hogan, #1 national best-selling author and financial expert. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. By using the basic tools of saving and investing, you can make your money work for you to build wealth.”
Fortunately, in comparison to other generations, Millennials have the time to do what Ramsey’s millionaires did. We have plenty of working years before us and with them, the opportunity to save, and invest, and perhaps even become millionaires ourselves.
While we Millennials do face the immense pressure of financing education, we can still make choices about that education and the areas where we spend our hard-earned dollars that will contribute to overall financial success down the road. Taking the lead from 10,000 American millionaires may not be a bad place to start.