As I was working on this column, the country was in the grip of Mega Millions madness. Outside a liquor store a couple of blocks from my office (and a stone’s throw from D.C.’s Occupy encampment), people lined up to buy lottery tickets. It would seem that even though millionaires have been buffeted in the media, people are still itching to join their ranks.
Only three winning tickets would eventually claim the Mega Millions jackpot. But many more of the millions of people who bought tickets around the country may reach millionaire status. Last year there were 8.6 million households in the U.S. with a net worth of $1 million or more, not including a primary residence, according to Spectrem Group. And they really were the people next door. The top occupations for millionaires with a net worth between $1 million and $5 million were: manager (17%); educator (12%); senior corporate executive (7%); entrepreneur/business owner (6%); accountant (4%); salesperson (4%); attorney (2%); and physician/dentist (2%).
In our cover story, we profile an entrepreneurial couple who capitalized on Apple’s popularity to carve out their own niche and build a million-dollar-plus business. But you don’t need a bright idea or a winning ticket to amass that much cash. In a study from Phoenix Marketing International, 47% of the millionaires said that they got their money from earned income, and 28% credited investment returns.
In fact, the real ticket to riches is to get into the habit of saving small amounts when you’re young. In our April issue (and on our iPad app) we show graphically what it takes to make a million (see 50 Top Money Tips, or download the app). For example, if you start socking away $200 a month in a retirement account at age 22, you’ll have $1.2 million at retirement, assuming an 8% annual return. And you don’t have to cough up all that cash; tax breaks and employer matches can cut your out-of-pocket outlay. Take advantage of automatic deductions and, before long, you probably won’t miss the money.
Of course, it’s fun to dream about striking it rich by winning the lottery or the jackpot on a game show. One of my colleagues hopes to be on Jeopardy. The appeal, he says, is fame and fortune—with an emphasis on fortune. “I’d like to win some money—and meet Alex Trebek.”
Shoutout to Gen Y. Fame and fortune also figure in a recent study of young adults. In it, the authors report with some disappointment that compared with earlier generations, Millennials (born after 1982) consider goals related to money, image and fame more important than those related to community or having a job worthwhile to society. As someone who writes about young people and money—and has three Millennial kids of my own—I’d like to say a word on their behalf. Caught in the Great Recession just as they were trying to gain a foothold in the labor force, carrying a boatload of student debt and traumatized by the bear market, many of them have come back home to Mom and Dad to wait for better times. So it’s not surprising if they’re focused on money—they probably want to earn enough to pay down those loans and save up to move out and buy a home of their own. Plus, the search for fame and fortune could spawn bright ideas that make a permanent mark on society—much like the innovation of the ultimate Millennial, Mark Zuckerberg, whose original goal in creating Facebook was simply to spice up social life at Harvard.