Retirement and Financial Independence

12 Realistic Ways to Make One Million Dollars

Updated on September 28, 2021 Updated on September 28, 2021
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If you want to become a millionaire, it’s entirely possible and easier than you think. No snake oil or voodoo, here, just 16 realistic ways to make one million dollars.

One million dollars is and is not a lot of money. The first million is the hardest, which is what people mean when they say it takes money to make money. Once you make the first million, your money starts doing the hard work. So let’s get those one million dollars!

Unless you hit the jackpot, there are a few decisions you have to make at a relatively young age, and they can help or hinder your progress to seeing those seven figures in your bank account.

Start Investing Early

Investing is easily the biggest thing on this list. If you want to be a millionaire (or billionaire), this is how you do it. It is the most important step in your personal finance journey and the key to financial success.


There is no substitute for time when it comes to investing. The earlier you start compounding your money, the faster you will make one million dollars.

“On average, millionaires invest 20% of their household income each year. Their wealth isn’t measured by the amount they make each year, but by how they’ve saved and invested over time,” writes Ramit Sethi in his New York Times bestseller, “I Will Teach You To Be Rich.”

In other words, a project manager could earn $50,000 per year and be wealthier than a doctor earning $250,000 per year — if the project manager has a higher net worth by saving and investing more over time.

If you want to save on fees and have more control over your investments, then you’ll want to look at a popular investment strategy created by an expert; we recommend the All-Weather Portfolio by Ray Dalio.

All-Weather Portfolio

This portfolio's single goal is to make money in all market conditions regardless of interest rates, deflation, what new pandemic is threatening our shores, or who the POTUS is. It does this by focusing on growth and inflation cycles.

These are a few more investment strategies we’ve covered:

You don’t need a lot of money or a lot of knowledge about investing to get started with Betterment. There is no minimum, the fees are low, and the process is simple. If you’re not investing, stop reading this and just get started already. As they say, the only thing more important than timing the market is time IN the market. It is a great easy way to grow you nest egg.

Real Estate Investing

We have written a lot about real estate as a great source of passive income, and it is. A rental property can be a long-term investment, but you don’t have to buy a house and rent it out to make money on real estate.

Fundrise lets you invest in real estate for as little as $500. It can be a great way to get your foot on the property ladder before you have the money to buy a rental property.


Diversify into income-producing real estate without the dramatics of actual tenants. Currently their return is 2x more than Vanguard's REIT Index Fund.

When you are ready to buy a rental property, you don’t have to be a hands-on landlord.

In fact, we created a course that focuses exclusively on a laissez-faire approach involving turnkey real estate: Rental Properties for Passive Investors.

You’ll learn our criteria for finding (and closing) the right property, the foundations of a successful rental business, the advantages of shielding your assets with an LLC, market trends, managing cash flow and much more.

Rental Properties for Passive Investors

Our proven, data-driven approach to building a portfolio of income-producing rental properties that perform in the long-term.

Want to get your money under control?

This is our guide to budgeting simply and effectively. We walk you through exactly how to use Mint, what your budget should be, and how to monitor your spending automatically.

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Get That Free Money

An employer-sponsored 401k retirement plan is the first foray into investing for many of us, and it’s an excellent place to do it.

A 401k is an employer-sponsored retirement savings account that allows you to invest part of your paycheck, pre-tax, into an investment account where it grows tax-free until you are ready to start withdrawing from it after age 59 1/2.

The money is taken directly from your check before it hits your checking account, so it’s invested before you get a chance to spend it, which makes it a great way to invest for people whose money burns a hole in their pocket.

A 401k also lowers your taxable income. If you earn $5,000 a month and invest $1,000 into your account, you are only taxed on the remaining $4,000. Some employers offer to match.

If you invest 6% of your income, for example, the company will match 3%. Even if you have high-interest consumer debt, like credit card debt, you should invest enough to get the match because it is free money!

For 2018, you can invest up to $18,500 a year in your 401k. Your employer will offer you a few choices of different investments; most plans are made up of mutual funds, that include stocks, bonds, and money market investments.

This is where most people run into trouble. They don’t know how to pick or what makes a good pick. This is where Blooom can help.


Blooom is a service that takes the guesswork out of managing your 401K, 403b or TSP. They will work to optimize your investments, try to reduce your investment fees, and provide open-ended fiduciary grade advice to members on the standard or unlimited plan. Use this link and get a free analysis. If you become a member, your first month is free.

They will do a free analysis of your account. It takes just three to four minutes, and the most complicated question you’ll be asked is when you want to retire.

In a play on the company’s name, you’ll see how healthy your account is in the form of a flower. The healthier the flower, the healthier your account.

When you join, you’ll pay an annual rate between $45 to $250, depending on the type of plan. Head here to see their pricing details.

They will show you how your money should be invested based on your retirement age and risk preference, what your allocation should be, and if changes need to be made, Blooom will make them for members on the standard or unlimited plan.

Keep Track Of Everything

Manage your cash and optimize your investments in one place. With Personal Capital, you can analyze your 401k to diversify your holdings better and reduce fees. Andrew had no idea he was paying over 1% of his assets in fees every year, but with Personal Capital’s help, he was able to get it below 0.03%.

Once you have all of your accounts linked, you can also leverage their Retirement Planner to plot out exactly what your retirement would look like. Using a Monte Carlo simulation, they determine how likely it is that you’ll reach the level of income in retirement that you’re hoping for.

Andrew has been using Personal Capital since 2013 and hasn’t found a better free online tool for building and managing wealth.

Be Smart About Debt

Into every life, some debt must fall. That’s not true for absolutely everyone, but it’s true for most of us.


There is good debt and bad debt. Good debt is taking out student loans to get a degree in a high paying field or borrowing money for a down payment on a home. Bad debt is buying stuff on credit cards you don’t need.

The beauty of good debt is that it’s essentially an investment, just like a stock or bond. You’re spending money now in the expectation of getting your money back, and perhaps some profit on top of that, at some point in the future.

And because you’re spreading the payments out over many months or years, you can buy the item you’re financing immediately instead of having to wait and save up enough money to buy it all at once.

On top of that, good debt tends to carry a relatively low-interest rate in the single digits.

But good or bad, we want to pay off debt smartly. If you have student loan debt, you can refinance it for a lower interest rate through Earnest. If you can refinance with an interest rate just 1% lower than your current rate can save you thousands of dollars over the term of the loan.

Earnest: Student Loan Refinance
Earnest uses unrivaled service and technology to bring low-interest loans to high-potential people. Their platform will give you the best rate you deserve for student loans.

Should you wait to invest until you’ve paid off your student loan debt? No! Remember, there is no substitute for time when it comes to investing.

Because student loan interest is usually relatively low, 2-4%, and the average return in the stock market is 7%, you can make more money investing than you are paying in interest.

Credit card debt, on the other hand, is an emergency. Because the interest is so high, you need to pay it off as quickly as you can. If you have credit card debt, make a plan to pay it off. Just throwing extra money at various balances isn’t efficient.

Use the snowball or stacking method to pay it off quickly and efficiently. If your credit is good enough, you can apply for a balance transfer credit card. The card has a 0% APR period, so the balance your transfer from a high rate interest card can be paid off without accruing additional interest.

Earnest: Personal Loan

Reduce the cost of your debt and refinance. Earnest has competitive rates and borrower benefits. They also have flexible payment schedules and an amazing app. If you're looking for a personal loan, Earnest is going to give you the best bang for your buck.

If you don’t pay it off before the 0% APR period ends, though, the remaining amount of money will be subject to the new interest rate. But that no interest period can give you some breathing room and the ability to make some progress on your debt.

Ask For More Money

Whether it’s from your 9-5 or a side hustle, if you want to make a million dollars, you need to get more money.

Are you being paid what you’re worth? Do you even know how much you should be making? Most employers aren’t just going to give you a raise because you’ve been with the company for another year. If you want a raise, you need to ask for one.

You can find out what people in similar positions in your area are making on sites like Glassdoor and PayScale. This gives you a starting point when it comes to negotiating a raise.

Before you ask for a raise, compile a list of the reasons you deserve one. What have you achieved over the past year, and how has it helped your boss or the company?

While getting a raise is great, it might not mean much more money in your pocket. The average raise is just 3%. If you want to earn more money, you should be changing jobs, and often.

Those who change jobs every two years earn an average of 50% more over their careers than those who stay in the same position for longer.

If you do get a new job offer, don’t just accept whatever salary you’re offered like a supplicant. Again, know what others in similar positions near you are earning and be prepared to negotiate for more money and better perks.

Earn More

Most of us are not on the limit when it comes to having the time to make more money outside of our day jobs. If we can spend five hours a day watching TV or on social media, we can spend a few of those hours making more money.

And if you want to grow your wealth to a million dollars, you’re going to have to.

Absolutely everyone should have more than one income stream. We could lose our jobs through no fault of our own, and then what? Even if you have a heart emergency fund, it’s nerve-racking not to have any money coming in.

You can aim high and look to be an entrepreneur and start your own business while working full time, but that admittedly takes time to work on it and time before it starts to make any money. It can be worth it, though, as LMM proves. The site now has a number of people full-time. Creating a niche website has very low start-up costs.

I'd rather hustle 24/7 than slave 9 to 5.

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Good at writing? You can try your hand at freelance writing be a contributor to a website or blog you love. Spend a few nights a week driving for Uber to bring in some extra cash. Babysit in the evening or on weekends with Sittercity.

Pick the Right Place

After college, you need to decide where to live. You often have to decide this based on where the jobs are, and the jobs are in cities and cities can be expensive.


But there are low-cost cities apart from New York and San Francisco, both of whom have some of the highest costs of living in the entire world.

When you’re looking for work, don’t discount smaller, “second-tier” cities. And don’t be dazzled by a significant salary offer. I can tell you that even low six figures don’t go that far in New York City, especially if you plan to throw a kid or two into the mix eventually.

In New York City, you’re just scraping by on $80,000 a year unless you live with a roommate or two (or three or four), but in places like Pittsburg, Asheville, and New Orleans, you’ll live like royalty on that kind of money and maybe even $20,000 less.

Before you start applying for jobs, make a list of a handful of cities you’d be happy living in. Next, do some research on sites like Glassdoor and PayScale to see what someone in your job, with your experience level, is earning in each of those cities.

And finally, plug those numbers into a cost of living calculator and pick the top three cities with the best results.

Now you can start applying for jobs in those cities. I know a lot of people want to be in a top tier city and a city with a lot of work in their given industry, but if you’re going to make a million dollars fast, cost of living is going to matter a lot.

Avoid Checking Account Fees

You might not think of fees when you think of ways you spend money because most fees are automatic, you don’t take out your credit card or cash to pay them. But you are paying them.

The average US household pays almost $300 a year in bank fees! If your bank is nickel and diming you, open an account with Betterment.

There are no fees with their Cash Reserve account – they even refund any ATM fees you incur.

There is no minimum balance, so no fee if you fall below a specific dollar amount, no monthly fees, no overdraft fees, and no foreign transaction fees.

Betterment Cash Reserve

This is a no-fee, high-yield savings account designed for the money you save every day. At 0.40%, their interest rate is 8X the national average. And since it tracks the Fed Funds rate, it stays that way.

While none of us wants to lose $300 a year to bank fees, it’s small potatoes when it comes to losing money to investing fees.

Americans pay $600 billion in investment fees every year. On an individual basis, you lose about one-third of your retirement money to these fees over time.

Personal Capital’s free tool can show you how much you’re paying in investing fees. It will analyze your investments to uncover where you are paying them (and how much).

Then they’ll find you cheaper alternatives with the same asset allocation. You connect your accounts in Personal Capital, and they do the work for you.

Mind Your Credit Score

fix bad credit

A bad credit score will cost you money. How much debt you take on is partly determined by your credit score. When you want to borrow money for a home or a car or to start a business, the interest rate you’re offered depends on your credit score.

The better your score, the lower your interest rate. Having a good credit score makes your life cheaper.

There is no need to chase the perfect 800 score, all you need is a score north of 760 to qualify for the best rates.

You can get your free credit score at Credit Karma. While having a good score is essential, you don’t need to obsess about it. It’s vital before you borrow money so if your score is not ideal and you’re thinking of borrowing money, work on improving your score before applying for a loan.

Improving your credit score isn’t tricky, and while it doesn’t happen overnight, it happens faster than you might imagine.

Spend Well and Make a Budget

It won’t matter how much money you earn if you don’t know how to spend that money well.

A budget doesn’t have the magical ability to control your spending, but it can help keep you accountable and show you exactly where your money is going.

If you’re not sure how to set up your budget categories, we have you covered. If you don’t know how to allocate your money, use the 50/30/20 rule. It makes things nice and simple. Personal Captial has awesome free budgeting software.

Our Pick
Personal Capital

Budget like a business and focus on your cash flow. In addition to their budgeting software, they have an awesome suite of tools to help you optimize your investments. Did we mention it's free?

Don’t Buy Things You Don’t Need

What do you do when you get a raise or a bonus or your tax refund check? Do you blow it? If you continuously upgrade your belongings and your lifestyle ever time you come into more money, you will never be a millionaire.

One common trait of wealthy people (and there is a very great difference between being rich and being wealthy, you want to be rich) is that they live below their means.

Avoid lifestyle creep if you want to become a millionaire.

Spending well doesn’t mean not spending any money apart from what is absolutely necessary. That’s no way to live. But when you do spend your discretionary money, spend it on experiences rather than things.

Don’t buy a new one hundred dollar pair of shoes; buy some concert tickets instead. Why? Because it’s been proven that we are made happier by our spending when we buy experiences rather than things. And it makes complete sense.

Experiences become a part of our identity.

We are not our possessions, but we are the accumulation of everything we’ve seen, the things we’ve done, and the places we’ve been.

Buying an Apple Watch isn’t going to change who you are; taking a break from work to hike the Appalachian Trail from start to finish most certainly will.

“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” said Gilovich. “You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”

You buy a pair of shoes, great you have shoes. You might even show them off to your friends who will nod and smile. The first few times you wear shoes, it’s fun! You like wearing them and look good in them.

But eventually, they become just another pair of shoes like all the others in your closet.

But when you buy the concert tickets, you get to enjoy the anticipation of the upcoming show. You will probably attend the show with another person and enjoy it together. The concert becomes a happy, shared memory.

Buying experiences is much more satisfying and a good example of spending well.

That One Trick

We’re sorry we don’t have that one trick for how to become a millionaire. If you want one million dollars, you will get it through a series of small, everyday actions and decisions. Being a multi-millionaire isn’t only for lotto winners, co-founders of tech start-ups and Dr. Evil.

Putting your bonus and tax refund into your Roth IRA instead of blowing it. Staying in your small apartment even though you could afford a bigger one. Not buying things on credit that you don’t need or have the cash to afford. Don’t invest in things you don’t understand like bitcoin.

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Candice Elliott - Senior Editor Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.
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