The Secret To Money That Wealthy People Know (And You Don’t)


I have a great job with a pretty great salary. It’s given me the means to experience some amazing things (like a trip to Peru) while still being able to fund my retirement and add to my savings. On top of that, I rent out a spare room in my home, meaning that when it comes to the financial side of the life equation, I’m doing fairly well (knock on wood). And yet…

Yet here I sit in a home much smaller than those my friends are buying. I drive a car that is 11 years old. I only get my hair done every 6 months. I shop at H&M and Target because the prices at Nordstrom still make me cringe. I take my lunch to work. Every day.

I have the means to live exponentially better than I do now, and yet I’m still so frugal you’d think I was barely scraping by. I could afford the monthly payment on a new car. I could buy a bigger home. I could shop at J. Crew and Anthropologie and Lululemon. I could live without split ends. But I don’t. Why am I not allowing myself to “enjoy the best in life”?

I live this way because I learned a wealthy-people secret at a fairly young age that allowed me to amass a net worth of $200K (20 times the national average) before my 30th birthday. This secret is easy to understand, but many choose to ignore. A secret that has transformed even the most middle-class of us into millionaires. This is the secret:

You can have it all. You just can’t have it all right now.

Just what you wanted to hear, I’m sure. Let’s be honest: we millennials are a generation of “we want it, and we want it now.” We’ve grown up in an age where everything is just a click away (Steve Jobs, we’re blaming you here), and it’s rewired the way we think. We LOVE instant satisfaction. Some of our friends are buying the new cars and four-bedroom homes and fancy vacations all before the age of 30. And really, why wait? Some of the more fortunately-employed can easily manage a $400/month car payment and still have money to go out on the weekends. These friends are killing it, right?

Well, maybe. But maybe not. See, the problem is that by spending that money now, you negate spending more of it later. Because you want the nice clothes and latest iPhone and best Crossfit membership, you are more than likely skimping on funding your retirement or building your emergency fund or saving to put 20% down on a house. And you know what that means? It’s costing you extra money. And potentially YEARS of secure, comfortable retirement.

Think of it like this: all that money you’re spending on rounds at the bar could have been thrown into savings and used as an additional down payment on your home. Now, however, instead of putting down 20% to get a lower interest rate and avoid PMI (i.e. things that will save you serious cash), you can only afford a 10% down payment, meaning you are losing thousands every year that those 20%-down-payers don’t have to worry about.

Or, let’s say you haven’t quite gotten around to building an emergency fund. No big deal…until your company gets acquired, and you lose your job with nothing to fall back on. You end up having to take an underpaying job just to pay the bills, but damn, do you hate it. Out of nowhere, you’ve found yourself in a situation where you dread going to work in the mornings and are maxing out your credit cards just to stay above water. Sucks, right? It dies, and it happens more commonly than you think.

If you truly want to “have it all,” you need to become a master of delayed gratification. You have to be willing to give up a little now in order to get a lot later. I know, easier said than done; but it’s a habit that can be learned. And coming from someone who knows, the promise of financial stability and more “fun money” down the road is definitely worth it. All it takes is a little willpower.  And I’m here to show you how to develop it.

1. Set goals that support your “Why.”

You know which promises are the easiest to break? The ones you don’t care about. The same thing goes for your goals.

If you don’t set a worthwhile financial goal, there is no way you will sacrifice your wants and needs now for your wants and needs later. Yes, we can all say we’d like to be debt-free. But honestly, the delayed, abstract idea of gratification from nixing a $300 monthly credit card payment doesn’t really compute: it doesn’t make sacrificing our current Thursday night happy hours or weekly personal training sessions feel very worthwhile.

That’s why you need to figure out your “why.” Why it’s important to reach your goal. Why you want to be on better financial footing. Why giving up your time and energy and comfort now will be worth it down the road. For instance, let’s say your goal is to pay off debt. Great. I’m all for it. But if that’s where you leave it, you’re not going to find the motivation to stick with it. You need to figure out the root cause behind why you want to free up your cash. Is it to use that extra money to save for a house so you can expand your family? Finally take a honeymoon? Just be able to go out to dinner and buy a pair of shoes without feeling guilty? Whatever it is, make it something you are 100% behind, excited about, and sure that reason can remain the focus of your efforts for a long time.

2. Set reminders.

Day-to-day life can sometimes get in the way of our long-term goals. You get last-minute invites to happy hour after a stressful day, opportunities to donate to a friend’s charity, or find a really expensive pair of shoes on sale and all of a sudden, you’ve blown your budget. Again. That’s why setting reminders of those long-term goals is so important: it keeps you focused on the end goal.

Here’s what you need to do: change your desktop background to a picture that represents your Why. Do the same for your phone. Put an actual photo up somewhere in your house, or even better: in your wallet next to your credit card. Heck, even set periodic reminders on your phone calendar. These little reminders will keep you on the straight and narrow, and when you pass by those boots you’ve been eyeing at Nordstrom, you’ll have a much easier time walking away.

3. Take the Net Worth Challenge.

Here’s the competitor in me coming out again. Most people believe that having a high salary is what makes you wealthy, but they’re wrong. It’s your net worth (more assets like cars and homes, fewer financial liabilities like debt) that’s the most important number when determining true wealth. And for me, getting that number to increase has been one of the most motivating factors in sticking to the delayed gratification course.

A higher net worth means a lot of things to different people: an earlier retirement, the ability to fund their kids’ college, the means to travel. Whatever it is, having a higher worth is always going to be a positive. Focusing on this (taking the time to periodically crunch the numbers to calculate the difference between your assets and debts) will allow you to truly see the progress you are making.

4. Set your budget.

Yes, I will be reiterating this point until you actually do it.

Budgeting is the #1 way to ensure you are getting the most out of your money, and when you have financial goals you want to hit, that’s hella important. It’ll also allow you to squeeze in a little fun while you’re in Sacrifice Mode so that you don’t absolutely hate your life until you’ve hit those goals. Because as much as we’d all love to eat Ramen every day in order to pay off debt, we have to also try to keep our sanity intact during the process. That’s hella important, too.

Having your cake and eating it, too, is possible. It’s all just a matter of self-control and willpower. If your “why” is strong enough, you’ll find it’s easier than you thought to give up a little now to gain a whole lot later. So find your “why,” pick your “why image, set your reminders, calculate your net worth, set your budget, and get ready for the challenge. You’re going to get everything you hoped for — you just have to wait until later in the party to have it.

What are some of the financial goals you’re chasing? And what are you doing now to reach them?

Brittney is a CPA in Indianapolis who loves any & all carbs and in her spare time runs the blog Britt & the Benjamins, which is focused on helping people, especially women, achieve financial independence and kill it in their careers.

Image via Picjumbo


  • D. Broussard

    This is an awesome article, succinct and real. Many of my peers (mid 20s millenials)- and myself! -don’t understand the difference between being rich and being wealthy. It’s something that’s I struggle with everyday because learned habits are hard to break. I’m glad that you’ve shared this, especially as I’m entering my second go round at completing my degree at another university. Paring down my l@vi$h lifestyle is going to be difficult in the coming months. However, my new motto has been delayed gratification, and I’m excited to believe in that and the concept of building wealth.

  • I agree, I really enjoyed this article. It’s the tough love outlook that so many of us need. It’s way too easy to think “but I deserve it, I work hard” and just buy now, now, now than to put money aside and go for delayed gratification. 🙂

  • Violaine

    I would love an article to learn how to calculate/evaluate/I don’t know what it’s called!!/ about net worth.
    I only learned about credit score this year (in France we don’t use it; in the UK where I live we do so thank goodness I finally understood what it is…) and I think starting to think about my net worth is something I want to do but I wouldn’t know where to start.

    On another note, I think it’s a shame that education isn’t included in the net worth once you’ve paid your debt! I mean, owning a degree (and knowledge!) should be worth something, if a car is worth something.

    • Chrs

      I never thought of that before! My net worth could multiply by twelve or thirteen if I counted my diploma.

      • Andrea Sease

        take your assets( house, car, savings account, investment accounts) add them up
        take you debts( car, house, student loans, credit cards) , add them up

        assets minus debts= net worth

      • Andrea Sease

        nope, you got the boast when you ( if you) secured a better position via your education).

        • Chrs

          What about if I don’t have student debt?

          • Andrea Sease

            then you already probably saw a boost in income.

            Would you make the amount of money you make, if you had not pursued higher education?

          • Chrs

            Difficult to say. My current job as a certified substitute pays a premium for my education of $30 per day. It’s a job I wouldn’t have gotten an interview for without that education. However because the number of days per year I can work is limited, my annual salary is slightly less than what I could make at my other job in retail if I worked full time the whole year.

            Before college I made $15/hour teaching piano. If I’d continued to build a client base instead of leaving for college my prospects might theoretically be better than they now are. It’s not something I’m willing to bet on.

          • Andrea Sease

            also you have to factor in which job do you prefer more: retail, or teaching or piano?

            did your education help you pursue your preferred career?

            and then what are the chances that retail provided the same level of benefits that teacher receives( health care, vacation deals, raises, 401k)

            Also there is no reason for you to not continue to teach piano on the side. though i know my own music teachers hard to work alot of hours to make a full time earning doing music, so i agree that isnt a great bet.


            i could be over reading , but it sounds like you just need to maximize your earning, and your net worth will take care of itself.
            starting off with no loans though is a huge boon, and I wish I could say the same

          • Chrs

            The lack of student debt is something I’m incredibly grateful for. For me it was due to the National Merit Scholarship program, but I would like to see the same opportunity afforded to university students in general.

            As a matter of fact the retail job provides benefits whereas the sub job does not, which is one reason I still do both. My situation exemplifies the unfortunate options a lot of young adults face. A degree is an unofficial requirement to be considered for a job where it’s not necessary. Working multiple jobs will probably be necessary until you pull together the network and experience to secure a “professional” job.

            I’ve just lost all focus on anything else I might have said because I just got a call offering me an interview for such a job. Wish me luck!

          • Andrea Sease

            OMG Good luck!

    • Andrea Sease

      🙂 that is because education is an intangible, however look at it as an investment.

      one way to determine the ‘value’ of your student loans:

      (how much money do you earn in your current field/ career) minus (how much someone with a lower amount of education would earn). multiply that by about 30 (this will be the total difference throughout your lifetime.)

      boom that is how much that education/student loan was worth.

      now you can compare that to the amount of student loans you have.
      not everyone will come out ahead.

      so the education is not counted in your net worth, but it can aid you in increasing your net worth. if you make more money relative to your debts ( aka you student loans were a ‘good’ investment) , then your net worth will grow faster than if you had not gotten a higher education

    • Andrea Sease

      take your assets( house, car, savings account, investment accounts) add them up
      take you debts( car, house, student loans, credit cards) , add them up

      assets minus debts= net worth

      • Violaine

        Will have a go! Afraid mine will be negative, I have a student loan but no car and no house!

  • Kalee Cowan

    Love this piece, Brittney! Especially, “If your “why” is strong enough, you’ll find it’s easier than you thought to give up a little now to gain a whole lot later.” Every once in a while, I have to remind myself of this when I really want to buy something (shoes, clothes, concert ticket, etc.) or try a new restaurant, but when I think about my “why” and how badly I want to meet my goals, I actually feel really good about saving my money.

  • Winterlight

    I’ve found that having a Fun Money account with a certain contribution each month keeps me from feeling poor when I’m being frugal. Just knowing that I can buy the occasional hot chocolate or craft class helps a lot, because it comes from the account that was created to pay for them.

  • Jennifer

    This is the idea behind the book “The Millionaire Next Door.” It’s kinda dry (your article is much more palatable to read!), but it’s got excellent advice on how to become a millionaire.