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We all wonder about millionaires’ secrets to success, but few of us ever ask. Sure, some are born into wealth, but there are many others that worked their way up, struggling along the way until finally reach the top 1%.

New York Times Wealth Matters columnist Paul Sullivan recently published a book that observes the habits of more than 300 wealthy people across U.S. and Canada. Entitled “The Thin Green Line: The Money Secrets of the Super Wealthy,” it lays out basic principles many of those with substantial financial success have followed. Since Sullivan claims one can develop these behaviors at any point in life, I thought it would be interesting to examine a few of them:

1. Make purchases that increase your happiness. 

Earning a lot of money doesn’t always equal wealthiness.

Start being mindful of the things you buy that actually give you joy. Is it an occasional fancy coffee drink? A nice bottle of wine at dinner? You should splurge only on the things that really improve your happiness and wellbeing, Sullivan said. Some people may believe certain assets like giant homes and multiple fancy cars equal happiness, but in the end they can become money pits and sources of stress when they malfunction, diminish in value, or if they’re no longer able to afford them. Truly rich people view their wealth as a state of mind, instead of a status. If your possessions are a house of cards that could easily tumble down, then maybe it’s time to reevaluate what’s are really important.

2. Take advantage of your employer’s retirement savings plan. 

It’s a simple act to increase wealth, but is surprisingly one that many people still don’t follow. If your employer offers a matching program, that’s free money that can significantly boost your retirement nest egg—even if you start with a small percentage of your income. And if your workplace doesn’t offer a 401(k), you can still set up an IRA or other investment account with the same purpose. In both cases, a designated amount is transferred from your bank account each month an account that will grow your money via various fund options. You most likely won’t even realize it’s gone.

3. Don’t stress about taxes.

Hire a reliable account to help you figure out your tax rate, and then accept it. There’s no use becoming upset or obsessing over something you can’t change. As we laid out in the first principle, truly wealthy people focus on the things that make them happy, not the frustrations that are out of their control.

4. Prioritize life insurance.

Wealthy people certainly understand this. They know how precious and fleeting life can be. Less wealthy people don’t invest in life insurance simply because they don’t realize how affordable (and important!) of a decision it is. While there’s a low chance you could die early, if such an event were to occur, it could be detrimental to your family—especially if you’re the primary earner. Work with a financial professional to decide on a sufficient policy that would help the surviving spouse get back on his or her feet. Even a basic policy, which costs around $400 to $500 per year, will give you a peace of mind.

5. Focus on your future, not past mistakes.

Forget about the investments you wish you would have made years ago. That’s out of your control now. You do, however, have power over the way you budget your money right now, as well as the amount you save and invest each month. When setting up a new portfolio, ask a financial professional to help you choose a diversified array of funds. This is a much better method than stressing over each individual stock pick—especially if you’re new to the process.

Sullivan claims you’re truly wealthy if you have the money to do the things you want to do. This could be as simple as retiring to spend more time with grandchildren, volunteering, or splurging on one trip abroad per year. Whatever it is, follow the above “wealthy habits,” and then strive toward that goal with the belief that you will reach it.

Author Ron L. Brown, CFP®

Ron is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and President of R.L. Brown Wealth Management. He specializes in retirement, estate, and business planning for professionals and entrepreneurs. Ron assists his clients with creating a financial plan to ensure they are able to live their ideal lifestyle during retirement and leave a strong legacy for their family. Ron has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, US News, Yahoo Finance, Investopedia, and numerous other high profile financial publications.

More posts by Ron L. Brown, CFP®
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