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$1 Million: Something or Nothing? (Part I)

By Thomas J. Stanley on Dec 8th, 2009 in Studying the Wealthy

Recently, Dave Ramsey magnanimously invited me to be a guest on his show. During the interview, Dave asked me about the changes I had noticed among Americans since the recent economic meltdown. One of the changes I mentioned was the precipitous decline in the number of people who advised me that “$1 million (in net worth) – that’s nothing anymore.”


Apparently, in this current economy $1 million is a lot more than nothing!


But, this issue is more complex than merely having or not having $1 million or more accumulated. It’s not really “a big deal” (or nothing anymore) if you became rich via a very high income, say $300,000 or more. What is a big deal is if you are clever enough to become a millionaire without even having a household income in excess of $100,000.


In Stop Acting Rich, I profile two distinct ways in which people become rich. The balance sheet affluent (BA) are very productive in converting income into wealth. In sharp contrast, the income statement affluent (IA) are much less productive.  They earn big and spend big. Their high level of compensation is the true force behind them becoming millionaires.


In order to illustrate my point, I computed a wealth index (WX) for each of the 944 millionaires profiled in Stop Acting Rich.  Your household ‘s WX is the ratio of its actual net worth over its expected or predicted level (expected net worth was computed via the wealth equation: your household’s net worth should equal 10% of your age times your annual realized household income, 0.10 X age X income).


I was particularly interested in determining at what age and at what corresponding level of annual realized income these respondents first crossed the millionaire threshold.  Given this information, I divided the 944 into 3 groups. The BA group contained those who ranked in the top 25 percent in terms of their WX.  The threshold WX for those included in the BA group was 1.84.  The median WX for those in this category was 2.49.  In other words, the “typical” member of the BA group had an actual net worth that was 2.49 times the expected figure, given his age and income at the time he first reached the seven-figure wealth threshold.  The IA millionaires ranked in the bottom quartile along the WX continuum. The highest WX within this group was 0.880; the median WX was only 0.665.  This means that the typical IA had an actual net worth that was only 66.5 percent of what was expected. When he first became a million 11 years prior, the typical BA respondent was 45 years of age and had an annual realized household income of $89,167. Given this age and income, his expected net worth was only $401,252. But it was actually 2.49 times greater than the expected amount. At the time he first reached the million-dollar plateau, the typical BA generated the equivalent of $11.20 of net worth for every $1.00 of his annual realized household income. The median age of an IA member when he first reached the affluent threshold was 45 years 5 months while his median annual realized household income was $331,250.  Thus the typical IA member needed $1.00 of income to generate the equivalent of $3.02 of net worth.  Contrast this figure with the $11.20 of net worth accumulated for every $1.00 of income generated by the typical member of the BA club.  It becomes clear that the BAs, those who played great defense, were much more efficient than the offense-minded IAs by a ratio of 3.7 to 1 ($11.20 versus $3.02).


So, now let me return to the key question once again. Is it true that having a net worth of $1 million or a bit more today is “nothing anymore”?  If it requires the equivalent annual income of $331,250 (top 1%) for one to reach millionaire status, then maybe the answer is “yes.” But, what if you are smart enough, disciplined enough to do it with an annual realized income of, say, about $89,167 or even up to, say, $120,000? Then you deserve to receive a recognition trophy from the league of the millionaires next door! 

8 responses to “$1 Million: Something or Nothing? (Part I)”

  1. Dan says:

    Dad made each of his four sons read TMND and Millionaire Mind (which I like better, for what its worth) so I’ve been familiar with your formula for sometime (since high school) and I’ve always thought it’s perfect for someone in their 40s but for people just starting in their careers, it’s a bit of a challenge and I think for those in their 60s, it’s too low of a benchmark. Have you ever considered a sliding scale of 8-12% based on age?

    • Graham says:

      It is simple if you want to be at 2.49 wx by 67 and to see where you should be to meet that at age 67 and lets say you start working at 18, 49 years of work and you are young worked 6-7 years, about 25, you can calculate your expected track much better by taking 49 root 2.49 = 1.01879 which means if you want to stay on track you must increase every year on average 1.879% your wx rating to reach 2.49.

      you have worked 7 years lets say, and you make a salary of 50k and lets say you expect to earn more but maybe keep up with inflation then you can calculate your salary times your retirement age instead 6.7(retirement age) *50k(current salary or salary you expect at retirement in todays inflated rates) = 335,000 * 1.01879^7(years worked) = 381,625/49 (years to work) * 7(years worked) = 54517.94 which gives a better measure of what you should be at early on in age to reach that 2.49 wx or you can do it with a higher wx if you think that 2.49 multiple of your age x salary is insufficient to retire on. The main thing this does is it converts the wx ratio to an exponential growth consistent in your ability to grow from 1.0 wx equivalent to a 2.49 wx consistently. It also doesn’t consider that at age 25 you should have 25/67 ths of your wealth it considers you should have 7/49ths and offsets by how many years you have worked not how many years you have lived. It will also work for future years to see how much you should plan to save as well.

  2. JoeTaxpayer says:

    This is why I like the idea of thinking of one’s savings in terms of a multiple of their income.
    When I say I have 10X saved up, with a goal of 20X (to replace about 80% of our income) you have a good idea where we stand regardless of actual income.
    Of course, at lower incomes, one can count (?) on social security replacing a higher percentage of pre-retirement income, but that’s another discussion. Excellent discussion, as always.

  3. Dan says:

    This post helped me to understand your formula a little better. It appears to be optimized at 45 years of age. I’ve always felt that it skewed high for a 25 year old, just out of college with his first real job, and it always seemed low for someone who is 60 and ready to retire.

  4. JoeTaxpayer says:

    This is why I like the idea of thinking of one’s savings in terms of a multiple of their income.
    When I say I have 10X saved up, with a goal of 20X (to replace about 80% of our income) you have a good idea where we stand regardless of actual income.
    Of course, at lower incomes, one can count (?) on social security replacing a higher percentage of pre-retirement income, but that’s another discussion. Excellent discussion, as always.

  5. Suzanne says:

    I wonder how many of those who said that a million dollars is no big deal, actually have attained that net worth themselves.
    But more importantly, I wonder if we will have a cultural change in this country from crazy spending & debt to financial planning & self-discipline. I would guess that the longer the recession lasts, the more likely we’ll have a change.

  6. James Morgan - Puritan Financial Advisor says:

    I was particularly interested in determining at what age and at what corresponding level of annual realized income these respondents first crossed the millionaire threshold.

  7. […] start this week with Dr. Thomas J. Stanley’s $1 Million: Something or Nothing? If you’re not a frequent reader of financial books, you may not know that Dr. Stanley is the […]

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