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There was once a time when the word “millionaire” carried cachet. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word was first used in French in the early eighteenth century and in English nearly a century later. Regardless of your station in French society in 1719, achieving a net worth of one million livres was notable.

The same would be true for one million U.S. dollars a century later. Only a small percentage of society could be listed within a roster of millionaires.

Millionaires are easier to find today. Inflation and the erosion of the dollar’s value — continuously, over the course of multiple decades — has put the goal of acquiring a million dollars within reach for more Americans. Of course, the club is no longer the exclusive party it once was. When the term became popular, the millionaires were most likely the heads of multi-national corporations. These are the same folks who are most likely to be multi-billionaires today.

Of course, a million dollars is still an admirable financial target. (I say “target” because I’m hesitant to call any financial milestone a goal. Goals are related to why one might set a financial target, not the target itself.) Outside of real estate equity, though, most households won’t have assets worth one million dollars.

It Isn’t Worth What It Once Was

This next part may sound odd, especially considering this is a country where 50 million people are living in poverty, according to the U.S. census. However, a net worth of one million dollars isn’t really a demarcation line between the rich and the not-rich.

Retiring with a net worth of one million dollars in investable assets might allow you to withdraw $50,000 a year for 20 years using the simplest calculation. That’s fine, except that an annual income of $50,000 while living in the United States would probably not provide the lavish lifestyle historically associated with the idea of the millionaire.

If you want to live the life of the upper class, you’ll need a net worth well north of one million dollars. That way, you can generate an annual income of six or seven digits.

Related: How Much Do You Really Need to Retire?

Millionaire Mystique

Yet the concept of the millionaire still carries some mystique. The success of the book The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko is evidence of this.

The 2010 edition of book is ranked #1 in wealth management by Amazon, even today. The book’s subtitle is “The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy,” which is interesting. The authors didn’t seek out the “wealthy” for their advice and tips for this book. They interviewed mere millionaires.

The premise is that today’s millionaires achieve their status by living below their means, spending less than they earn, and making financial choices that weigh future possibilities against today’s media-driven desires.

The authors show that the neighbor with an old car still running well is more likely to be financially secure than the neighbor whose fancy car requires unaffordable lease payments. People become millionaires by owning small businesses rather than working for a large corporation in middle management.

There is nothing wrong with this advice. It may inspire some readers to get started making better financial choices. However, it won’t lead to “wealth,” as represented by the socially-inherited concept of the millionaire. If we want the best advice for creating a lifestyle in which money is no longer a concern and the fulfillment of desires is not limited by wealth, ignore the millionaires and look to the multi-billionaires.

Learn More: How to Build Wealth and Make Life Easier

Look Toward the Top

Forget about the neighbor who owns the auto repair business. Don’t waste your time looking for advice from financial bloggers like me. While keeping in mind that wealth itself is not a goal — your goal should be what you want to do with your life when you have access to as much capital as you need — take a look at the Forbes list of the wealthiest Americans. Two categories stand out.

First, there are the business owners who started their companies small. Millionaires kept their businesses small, while these individuals, like Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, and the Waltons, took their businesses a few steps farther.

Next, the list includes people whose business is investing in businesses, like Warren Buffett and George Soros. Use your money — as well as other people’s money — to create wealth.

This is easier when you have a lot to give. Warren Buffett gets sweetheart deals on his investments because a billion dollars from Berkshire Hathaway is more newsworthy, media-positive, and encouraging to other mimicking investors than a billion dollars from a conglomerate of Chinese or Middle Eastern investors.

Don’t be fooled. You’ll need to work incredibly hard and be blessed with an inordinate amount of luck to become this wealthy. Paving your way to one million dollars, however, isn’t quite the challenge it once was.

Aim Higher

“Aim high” was the recruiting slogan for the U.S. Air Force, and it applies here.

Lionizing millionaires seems like a good way to come up with financial advice that applies to a mass audience. However, I can almost guarantee that today’s recent college graduate planning to retire with assets worth one million dollars forty years in the future will be gravely disappointed. It won’t be because he or she couldn’t meet that goal, either. It’ll be because the sum isn’t going to provide the financial security expected.

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Given the option, owning assets that produce income is a much better financial strategy than owning assets that generate expenses.

If you own a house or apartment for your own residence, for example, you have a lot of expenses. You will need to pay for maintenance, repairs, taxes, mortgage interest, landscaping, and utilities. Or you may pay a homeowner association fee that covers some of these expenses. If, however, you own a house or apartment that is available for rent or lease, you can generate income with the property. In some cases, you can even end up with positive cash flow after you pay the expenses.

Being a landlord is a viable vocation. After all, landlords exist for every rental tenant, and they often thrive financially. Sasha, a former writer for Consumerism Commentary, owns several properties. She shared tips for buying a rental property for prospective landlords based on her own experiences.

Succeeding in the business of rental properties requires a certain set of skills and desires, and making a living isn’t always as easy as others would lead you to believe. If you want to earn a living — for example, the equivalent of a $50,000 salary — you’ll need to profit more than $4,000 per month. That’s a lot of pressure.

Consider these questions and tips before jumping into the rental property business. That way you can determine whether you have what it takes to be a landlord.

Do you like “doing it yourself?”

If you’re a handy person who likes doing your own work around the house — light plumbing, perhaps some construction, yard work, and so on — you might be a good candidate for becoming a landlord. If you’re just starting out, you may be unable to afford outside contractors while still turning a profit. Doing the work yourself saves money.

Do you know the right people?

Do you plan to expand your property portfolio beyond one or two locations? (If you want to earn a living, you’ll likely need to expand quickly.) Well, you’ll soon reach a point where you can’t handle all the work yourself.

You’ll need to call in trusted contractors to handle repairs quickly and thoroughly. If you have personal relationships with contractors, you’re in a better position to negotiate discounts and enhance your overall profit. These relationships take time to build, and it takes time to find the best people to hire for the work. If you’re able to begin your adventure as a landlord with these relationships already formed, you’ll be in a much better position.

The same is true about real estate agents. If you have connections in this business, you will have better access to potential tenants, reducing your advertising costs. You may hear of new deals coming to market before the sign is even out in the yard. Word of mouth is incredibly important, and knowing agents can remove some obstacles before you even get started.

Can you handle the 24-hour responsibilities?

Hiring a company to manage your properties cuts into your profit. Depending on the location, you may be able to afford this from just your rental income. If that’s the case, work with a property management company that will answer the phone at all hours to fix any problems that arise.

Otherwise, if you’ll be DIY-ing the management, be prepared for calls in the middle of the night from tenants for problems big and small. If you’re starting your adventure with rental properties while working at another job, you will find yourself with competing priorities often.

Do you like dealing with people?

Some tenants can be difficult; there’s no way around it. In most states, tenants also have legal rights that level the playing field in disputes. If you’re able to screen tenants well and have a choice of potential residents, you can carefully choose who will be living in your house or apartment. If, however, you need to fill a vacancy to prevent losing money every month and there aren’t enough tenants interested in the property, you may have to accept a tenant you might not like in order to prevent negative cash flow.

Even if you believe you’ve chosen well, dealing with strangers is not for everyone. Tenants will certainly not care for your property as well as you would. Even nice people can surprise you in a tenant/landlord relationship. To become a landlord with a successful business, you’ll need to be able to deal with people who might be different from you in terms of values and personality.

Do you have cash and savings to buy the properties?

The great thing about buying a house with cash, rather than with a mortgage, is that you can eliminate the expense of the mortgage payments. Every cent of rental income you receive (after maintenance expenses) is profit. That can make the difference between a rental property business that succeeds and one that struggles.

Leveraging your property purchase by using other people’s money — a mortgage — can turn out to be profitable when property values increase, but that’s not guaranteed. Loans open up the possibility of becoming a landlord to more people, easing the affordability of properties. Having the cash to buy the property outright is not necessary. If you have the money and are willing to invest in your own business, though, it will be much easier to generate a positive cash flow.

Can you charge high enough rent to cover your expenses?

In some locations, monthly rental properties are very competitive. That can drive down prices, decreasing your profit. If you’re competing in an area where most investors own their properties outright without a mortgage while you have mortgage expenses to contend with, you have less pricing flexibility than your competitors. You need to charge high enough rent to cover your expenses, while still hoping to take home a profit.

With mortgage payments to contend with and potential competition, you may only be able to profit $200 to $400 per month on a property. That’s $4,800 a year… a far cry from the $50,000 we’re talking about for earning a living. You’d need to own over 10 properties, each profiting $400 per month, in order to reach that target.

Related: Using the 1% Rule to Determine If a Rental Property Is a Good Investment

Sure, once you own multiple properties, you may also be able to increase that per-property profit due to economies of scale — buying materials in bulk and receiving significant discounts from contractors. You might be able to reach the annual income target faster, but it will still take a long time to reach the number of units necessary. Use this mortgage calculator to assist in determining how much profit you might generate.

In other locations, though, you can charge much higher rent compared to the purchase price or mortgage payment. Property prices still tend to be high in New Jersey (where I live), so potential for profit isn’t as great. Head to other areas of the country, though, and you’ll see a different story. There, you can buy properties commanding rental fees of $1,000 or more, for purchase prices of just over six figures. Let’s say your monthly mortgage payment is $450 and you can successfully charge $1,100 in rent. Well, your path to earning a living just got much clearer and shorter.

How much work are you willing to do for an extra $400 a month?

The initial hard work may pay off when you add additional properties to your portfolio. However, the path to millionaire status through rental properties is not as simple as television shows on HGTV might lead you to believe.

You may profit in terms of your financial statements, but if you consider your time and your sweat equity worth something, the calculation gets a little trickier. This is particularly true when you’re doing more work to get started.

Learn More: Fixer Upper: What I Learned from Flipping My First House

Even in markets where home prices have remained relatively high, it’s still possible to earn a living with rental properties. The work isn’t for everyone, and that’s a good thing. Those who are willing to put the necessary labor into creating a successful business will be rewarded. While you can bring in extra cash from a sole property, earning a true living isn’t that easy. If you want to create a passive income that can support your family, you’ll need to expand and add some volume to your rental property portfolio.

Are you earning a living through rental properties? What lessons have you learned? If you’ve considered becoming a landlord but have decided against it, what held you back?

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The concept of the Latte Factor is one of the most divisive in personal finance. Money gurus get so worked up over whether the Latte Factor is a valuable lesson in money management, that one might think the issue were as important as the national debt. Most of the time, passionate responses pertaining to the Latte Factor are based more on book sales and page views than any rational consideration of the issue, though.

latte

The Latte Factor is a term coined and trademarked by financial author and guru David Bach. He posits that small, repeated savings — of which people can make into habits — can aid the growth of wealth over time. The math supports this as truth: Assume you spend five dollars every weekday on a fancy, coffee-related drink on the way to your office. Now, imagine you cut out the coffee, or replace it with a $1.50, less-fancy drink. You would save at least $20 a week, or about $1,000 a year.

Take it a step further and put that money in a bank or invest it. Then, assume that you can earn a return from interest, dividends, or investment gains on that cash. Over the next ten years, you’ll have somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000 more to your name than you would have, had you continued buying your daily gourmet drink.

Take it a step furtherLatte Factor Coffee

This concept isn’t limited to expensive coffee-related drinks, though. Any habits that result in spending money that could be deemed unnecessary can qualify for elimination due to the Latte Factor. Cook your own food rather than dining out once a week, and you could save just as much money (or more) over the same period. Cut out your premium cable package in exchange for Netflix or Amazon Prime streaming, and tuck that cash away.

Most people, however, don’t bridge the gap between reducing spending in one area and increasing savings with the difference. Unless there’s a concerted, conscious effort to transfer money from a checking account to a savings account or an investment, the money formerly spent on lattes or other repeatable expense will often just be spent on something else.

Furthermore, families that have already reduced their spending due to personal or economic situations may not have much room left to scrape the barrel. Finding additional savings can be too much to ask.

Yet another criticism of the Latte Factor is that it minimizes the importance of reducing large expenses. If a family gets into the habit of saving money ordinarily spent on lattes and uses that attitude to justify buying a more expensive car, all the work will have been for naught.

Well, I take that back: the work would have been for a more expensive car. But, in my opinion, there are about 100 better uses for that extra, squirreled cash.

Do what works for you

All spending is a choice. It’s easy to remember this when a friend refuses to spend time with you, citing the expense of the activity, while they continue to purchase unnecessary electronics equipment, for example. You can identify someone’s priorities by looking at how they choose to spend the money they have and the time they have available. If you look at your own priorities, your budget should match.

Whether you realize it or not, you’re broadcasting your priorities to the world. Spending money and time in one area of your life, at the expense of another area, is really all the evidence you need. If there’s incongruence between the priorities you think you should have and how you spend your time and money, consider changing something. Or maybe, you need to accept the idea that your priorities may not be what you expect. Your real priorities are evidenced by how you spend your limited resources.

So, what if the pick-me-up you receive by drinking a fancy latte in the morning is important to you? As long as you realize that your habit results in a hypothetical “loss” of $10,000 or more over the course of ten years, spend the money. Sure, buying a practical car that requires little care, uses fuel efficiently, and will last a long time can save money over the course of several decades. But if buying a less practical car makes you feel happy and won’t be a financial hardship — even if it means leasing a new car every three years — then go ahead.

Just remember, though: Your spending reflects your priorities.

I see this in my own spending. For example, I still drive my old Honda Civic. In one respect, I haven’t purchased a new car because I see it as an unnecessary expense. I’m more than comfortable with keeping the money I would need to buy a new car in my savings account. Meanwhile, I spend money on things other people would see as frivolous, such as photography classes and equipment, hiring a maid service for my apartment on a bi-weekly basis, coin collecting (though not much recently), and travel.

Is the Latte Factor relevant to your personal finance experience? What does your spending say about your priorities? 

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Most taxpayers can choose between itemizing tax deductions to reduce taxable income, which requires accurate record-keeping and support and taking the standard deduction. The standard tax deduction is a fixed amount that reduces the amount of money on which year-end taxes are calculated. Generally, if you can show that you’ve had more deductible expenses than the amount of the default standard deduction, it’s better to itemize.

IRS publication 501 outlines each year’s deduction amounts. There are some cases where adjustments should be made to the standard deduction. For example, if you are 65 or older, or if you are blind, the standard deduction increases.

The standard exemption is another deduction to your income that you can take for yourself and for any dependents.

Tax Year 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009
Single $6,350 $6,300 $6,300 $6,200 $6,100 $5,950 $5,800 $5,700 $5,700
Married filing jointly $12,700 $12,600 $12,600 $12,400 $12,200 $11,900 $11,600 $11,400 $11,400
Married filing separately $6,350 $6,300 $6,300 $6,200 $6,100 $5,950 $5,800 $5,700 $5,700
Head of household $9,350 $9,300 $9,250 $9,100 $8,950 $8,700 $8,500 $8.400 $8,350
Personal exemption $4,050 $4,050 $4,000 $3,950 $3,900 $3,800 $3,750 $3,650 $3,650

Note: When you file taxes in April 2017, you’re actually filing for your 2016 earned income. Review the numbers in the 2016 column and understand the federal tax brackets.

A dependent child can increase the standard deduction by as much as $1,000, if certain requirements are met.

Do you itemize your tax deductions or take the standard deduction?

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Should the US Postal Service Offer Basic Financial Services?

by Luke Landes

The U.S. Postal Service could offer basic banking services to customers, many of whom do not have reliable and affordable access to mainstream banking products like savings accounts and forms of credit. From the moment I heard this, it sounded like a bad idea. Not long ago, discussions about the U.S. Postal Service focused on […]

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With More Options for Marriage, Income Inequality Increases

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An article on The Atlantic brought new research on the growth of income inequality to my attention. The article explains that the cause of today’s income disparity between the wealthy and the rest of the country is explained by the plot of the film When Harry Met Sally — or the increasingly common occurrence of […]

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2014 Federal Income Tax Brackets and Marginal Rates

by Luke Landes

Anyone who likes getting a look at their future tax expenses might be interested in seeing what next year’s tax brackets and tax rates will be. The IRS has now announced the official rates and brackets for 2014, although the numbers have been predicted for months because the IRS uses a simple process of inflation […]

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How the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) Will Affect My Insurance

by Luke Landes

In just a few days, one of the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act will go into effect. The health insurance marketplace will open. The public discussion about this marketplace and about Obamacare overall is full of partisan politics, so it’s difficult to see beyond the rhetoric and get an idea of what this […]

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How to Save Money Without Worrying About Coupons

by Luke Landes

The retail industry has everyone fooled. While millions of people spend their time scouring for deals, clipping coupons from the newspaper if they’re old-fashioned, plugging into the latest mobile deal applications if they are somewhat more technologically inclined, sharing their finds on Facebook to recruit friends for group deals, the companies on the other side […]

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8 Reasons to Sell Your Business

by Luke Landes

I was an entrepreneur by accident. When I started blogging in 1994, I didn’t expect to earn money; I wasn’t even trying. But almost ten years after building my first website, I created Consumerism Commentary to learn about personal finance and to improve my own money situation. Within about a year, much to my initial […]

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