The Top Three Ways People Get Rich

iStock_000004349083SmallBeing rich means different things to different people at different points in their lives. For some folks, millions of dollars don’t make them feel rich, but for others a few hundred thousand may do the trick. It all depends on what you want from life and what you are willing to do to get it.

For me, riches meant reaching financial independence. This is a goal many people have, and something few seem to achieve. To me financial independence is having the ability to sustain your chosen lifestyle in your chosen locale without having to work for someone else. I’ve achieved that goal, and it’s really all I want or need.

Still, it’s nice to dream about what it would be like to have tens of millions of dollars, or the billions that the folks on the Forbes 400 list have. These to me are the uber rich.

Forbes analyzed their wealth database to find out how the billionaires made their wealth and wrote about it in How the Worlds Billionaires Got Rich. Here are the top three ways people got rich – and my thoughts as to how we ordinary mortals make out with them.


If you have the talent and stomach for investing using other people’s money, you might make billions. Warren Buffet is an obvious example. He started investing with other people’s money way back in 1956 using funds only from friends and family.

I’m not sure I’d have the stomach for this. First, I would be devastated if I lost the money my relatives provided and I’m sure it would cause a lot of family issues! Plus, there are the many and complex rules and laws that apply now to investment firms.

Then there are folks like Carl Icahn, who buy up companies in hostile takeovers and then sell off the pieces for personal gain. I worked at TWA in the 1980’s when he was in full corporate raider mode. In my opinion, he destroyed the airline single handedly for personal profit. I’m not sure that what he does should even be called investing! I would not feel right doing that kind of ‘investing’.

My own financial freedom was gained through investing, but mine was the slow motion, takes a lifetime of scrimping and saving and working and earning to get the money to invest kind of investing.

Start a business, fill a need.

The landmark study that resulted in the book – The Millionaire Next Door – noted that many millionaires got that way by having their own business. The businesses weren’t even that extraordinary, they were auto repair shops; CPA services; or other types of goods and services that all of us need or want every day.

Several of the billionaires on the 2013 Forbes 400 list got there via their business. That Forbes article mentioned above put it nicely, saying:

“And therein is perhaps the best bet for becoming a billionaire: inventing, designing, creating something that will have broad appeal to consumers”

They noted several individuals who created companies based around fashion saying that:

“In all of these cases, individuals with an entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to build something from scratch made their own luck.”

Millions of Americans are self employed but not all of them make bunches of money. Some start a business, run it awhile and then go back to working for someone else. Others are able to eke out a living for a number of years, but then there are those that find and fill a need or desire, and have the smarts, guts and determination to make it pay. And they aren’t necessarily the well known names like Gates or Jobs.

These are folks like super star blogger Pat Flynn over at Smart Passive Income who figure out what people are looking for and give it to them. By cashing in on book and affiliate sales, he now hauls in over $70,000 a month!

They also include folks like Patricia Billings of Kansas City, Missouri, named inventor of the year in 1997 by MIT and who invented GEOBond (kind of a super goo that is non-toxic as well as indestructible and fireproof,as well as the world’s first workable replacement for asbestos. She did this when she was already a great-grandma!

Real Estate.

One hundred twenty-nine people on that Forbes 2013 list made their billions in real estate.

Real estate is a field with possibilities for the average gal and guy. The ability to leverage your money by getting a mortgage on a piece of income property and letting your tenants pay it off is unique in the investment world.

But, owning real estate is not a sure fire way to riches. You have to work hard, understand the tax laws, cover your liabilities and be prepared to hang on through good times and bad to end up with real estate fortunes. You make your money when you buy, as with most things. I have been mostly unsuccessful in my own real estate dealings. I’ve bought high, at the wrong time and without mortgages.

It takes true grit to give up precious free time to make repairs, do maintenance and attend to renter emergencies and requests.

Of course, there are paths to riches other than the above. Some lucky few inherit money. Others win it in casinos or lotteries. Still others are born with some innate talent that they work hard to develop and parlay into a bright future – football stars, musicians like Dolly Parton, movie stars like Will Smith and etc.

How do you plan to get rich (or at least achieve a level of financial independence)?


The Top Three Ways People Get Rich — 11 Comments

  1. As of right now I am doing it with investing in index funds and dividend stocks. I want to begin with real estate investing in the future. Hopefully these two avenues will help me reach financial independence.

  2. I’m making progress on numbers one and two but I haven’t gotten into real estate yet. Mostly because I have no money for a downpayment.

  3. This is very interesting! I am wondering though whether things have changed a bit (after all Forbes are analysing historical data). For instance, when thinking about investing most people will think about shares and stocks. How about investing in developing new skills? Investing in a local business? Also, is real estate that great for getting rich today? If I want to get rich I’ll start an academic publishing house – a business model that can’t fail because most of the work around creating ‘the product’ is done for free by academics wanting promotion and they also pay to buy the product. Genius!

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