Nine Traits Of The Middle-Class Millionaire

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Russ Alan Prince, author of The Middle-Class Millionaire, has been trying to understand a new sub-class of Americans called the “working rich”. Prince defines them as those with net worths between $1 million and $10 million, but who still work for a living. After conducting a survey of both middle-class millionaires and those just plain “middle class” (defined as having income of $50,000 to $80,000 and net worth under $1 million), he distilled these differences into 9 traits for Forbes. Apparently, middle-class millionaires:

  1. Work Longer. The average middle-class millionaire puts 70 hours a week into the job. They take 12 vacation days a year, seven fewer than the average middle-class worker.
  2. Value Networking. More than 60% say knowing “many, many people” is very important in achieving financial success.
  3. Take Risks. Over 90% of middle-class millionaires admit to having made a major career or business decision that had a bad outcome.
  4. Avoid Vanilla Corporate Jobs. Over 80% own their own business or a have a stake in a partnership.
  5. Do It For The Money. 74% say that choosing a career “for its potential financial rewards” is very important to achieving success.
  6. Don’t See Themselves As Rich. Fully one-third of those worth $1 million to $10 million think of themselves as middle class (the other two-thirds consider themselves upper middle class). Meanwhile, 21% of middle-class people (making $50,000 to $80,000 annually) call themselves members of the upper middle class.
  7. Put Family First Over Community. The values the mass affluent place the most importance on are ethics, responsibilities to loved ones, parenthood and children’s education.
  8. Pay For Help. Half of them have hired personal or career coaches.
  9. Put Family First In Vacation. Over 60% of middle-class millionaires say that spending time with family is an important component of a vacation. By contrast, only 28% of middle-class workers think so.

Overall, there are some interesting differences. But I personally don’t see these as a “how-to” template – There’s no way I’m consistently working 70 hours a week – the whole point of being smart with money for me is to work less. Also, I feel like some information is missing. Are working millionaires older than average? Being a working millionaire at 30 is a lot different than at 60.

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  1. Just read the Dough Roller’s 7 habits of Wealth. There are a number of similarities. As a working stiff, your crystalizing the points from the book is enlightening.


  2. As someone who owns her own business, I can tell you that you work very differently for yourself than for someone else…if something at work is not right, guess who needs to fix it? There is much more work, much more satisfaction.

  3. #1 and #9 almost contradict each other. If family is so important then why spend 70 hours a week working, that’s nuts.

  4. One pet peeve of mine is the lack of validity to these types of surveys. I know my brother in law has made statements in the press about how important family is to him. I have yet to see him take a vacation with his family that is not work related (this is over 30 years). He does take these trips by himself. An old way to describe surveys such as these…”garbage in, garbage out.” I agree with you. No clear path outlined by the survey, but rhetoric and facts presented as data.

  5. Abby Normal says

    Agreed, Sue. There’s no number of pieces of green paper with pictures of dead white men worth spending over 60% of your waking hours working. At the end of your life, which memory is going to be more important, watching your kids learn to walk, or watching your bank account balance?

  6. Personally, I would rather be middle class save my money and accumulate wealth that way then working 70 hrs a week and taking less vacation time. While I’d like to be a millionaire I don’t think I’d go to these extremes unless I opened a business and had to work this much to get it running. Even if I did go that route however I would eventually like to hire a manager to do day to day functions while I would just oversee the business.

  7. Heh, when I was working 70 hours a week, I rarely saw my family in any meaningful context. Now that I’m down to 40-50 hours, I spend time with them everyday. I don’t NEED a vacation just to spend time with them. I’d spin that the other way, that they don’t make family a priority the other 353 days a year.

    I’d also posit that people in the actual middle class are far more likely than I to encounter people in the course of their jobs that make much less. And since people making 30-50 generally think of themselves as being middle class, it makes sense that the actual middle would think themselves above middle class.

    And of course, we don’t really factor worth into class, just income. It’s possible that you may be worth a million bucks, but only make 75K a year. I know my Father in law is worth over a million bucks, but he’s pulling in about 80K per annum. By common standards of classification, they would be middle class. 🙂

  8. I think the ’70’ hours have something to do with the fact that most of these people work their own businesses. When it’s your business, you are probably thinking about it around the clock anyway. That doesn’t mean you have to be working outside of your home for that whole time. Their work probably becomes their hobby, something they look at during their downtime, like looking up financing on the internet — or into health insurance or what not. Some of us like to do this kind of research anyway — and for your own business, it might even be a little fun (boy, am I getting boring!).

  9. Sue, note that they value spending time with family during vacation. Which totally makes sense, since they do NOT spend time with family during the rest of the year.

    Also, the same amount of money goes to vastly different lengths in different places around the country (which might have influenced the self-classification people reported). It is difficult to appreciate this if you did not actually seriously considered buying real estate in places like GA/AL/SC/NC vs, for example, CA/MA/NY. I was looking at houses around Boston for some time (half a mil buys you a small, 50 years old shack in a decent neighborhood), and then saw an ad for a 500K house somewhere in AL. It was like a freaking Hollywood mansion. I wanted to sit down and cry. (I have to admit though, that in the end, I did not go to Alabama. At least, not yet ;))

  10. I have a question for people in this forum:

    Can somebody explain the fascination or affinity of most people with their “family”? Everybody professes to talk about family as the most important element, but what defines family and how far would you go for it? Would you go into debt for them? Your grown-up adult children?

    I know a ton of people who have children with college degrees and working good jobs but yet the parents still pay for their cell phone bill, car payments, credit card bills or pocket money for the weekend trip to the bar.

    Another observation is that they either live with their parents or move-back in with their parents. I am talking about adults. I watched a news segment that pointed to baby-boomer parents as being responsible/blame for the indulgence of their children.

    If family is so important, then how come the divorce rates are so high in this country– people still shopping for clothes/shoes for their family while putting themselves into debt, go on expensive family vacations but don’t get along with family members?

    Please explain this obsession with “family”?

  11. If that doesn’t sum it up in a paragraph… Read between the lines here folks.

    Here, let me help:

    1. Laws and taxes are designed to benefit the corporation, not the individual. SO INCORPORATE…

    2. Make your job your life – and make your family a part of it. Just ask Tony Soprano how it works (minus the guns and roughhousing please).

    3. Benefit from the herd mentality but definitely remove yourself from it. When Greenspan starts lowering rates, find out who will benefit.

    4. Putting family first means do your own homework about how to make money. Since you’re reading this you’re already doing that. Bravo.

    5. “Retirement” was “retired” about 25 years ago during the 401k “revolution”. There is no such thing as retirement any more. Get used to it…

  12. “The values the mass affluent place the most importance on are ethics, responsibilities to loved ones, parenthood and children’s education.”

    Ethics? HA!! Assuming that the vast majority, if not all, of these people made their money in Business, they cannot claim being ethical as one of their strong suits. Perhaps one of the reasons ethics are so important a value to them is because they are striving to have them in a world which does not allow them.

  13. There is no way a millionaire is a middle class. Those so-called middle class millionaires simply feel insecure.

  14. #4 My wife is a banker, most of her clients build wealth from having their own business. They always like to talk about how they started, interesting stories.

    “1. Laws and taxes are designed to benefit the corporation, not the individual. SO INCORPORATE…”

    This is so true. It also gives you asset protection.

  15. “5. “Retirement” was “retired” about 25 years ago during the 401k “revolution”. There is no such thing as retirement any more.”
    amen to that. this country has turned into work your entire life to be able to buy things….

    what are these ‘millionaires’ going to do with all that money? seriously, they’re probably 60 years old, their business is finally doing great, and guess what? they’ll be working til the day they die, enjoy all that money guy!

  16. “Fully one-third of those worth $1 million to $10 million think of themselves as middle class (the other two-thirds consider themselves upper middle class). Meanwhile, 21% of middle-class people (making $50,000 to $80,000 annually) call themselves members of the upper middle class.”

    WOW! I’m not sure what exactly those people are doing… Isn’t $80,000 about the family income for a married secretary and Best Buy manager? Or maybe a really good car salesman on his own?

    What does someone who makes $80,000 a year do, and how does that fit in with the (my?) traditional view of UMC?

    I make about 3 times the upper limit of that range, my wife doesn’t work and I have a mortgage. I don’t consider myself UMC yet (I’m in my mid 30s and have just finished paying for college and grad school), and my net worth is still under the “working millionaire” floor.

  17. I agree with Sue. #1 completely contradicts #7 and #9. If you are spending 70 hours a week (that’s working 14 hours a day in a 5 day work week) and take only 12 days of vacation a year, you are not spending any time with your family.
    If you value your family by putting them on a pedestal but never being around, you have a very strange sense of what family means.
    To Shak, in my experience, Americans are obsessed primarily with themselves even when they profess otherwise. The examples you raise point to that. They talk about family but are basically milking their parents for what they can. Similarly, the rich in this survey don’t seem to understand that family means having to spend time with it.
    Family is a lot of give (what your examples are missing) and some take and in the end it’s all you have.

  18. I’d def. continue working if (when?!) I reach 1 million + in net worth. Not necessarily for the money though, but just to keep sane. Depending on what age this “happens”, I’d jump in a field that I can really see enjoying and do it for fun.

    It would most likely be part-time, so I could travel and/or learn some new tricks on the side, but the idea of not working really doesn’t sound all that appealing…granted I am only 28 right now.

  19. Wow what a depressing set of rules. I don’t begrudge anyone’s desire to have a million dollars, but I don’t know many people who would rather have the money over a better quality of life.

  20. $50,000 – $80,000 middle class? Is that for individuals?
    In 2008 i think a better representation of “middle class” would be:
    Single: $35,000 – $100,000
    Couple: $50,000 – $170,000.

    Of course this all depends on location. I’m in the Bay Area and with the high cost of living here, i bet most families w/ at least two kids and household income up to $180,000 would consider themselves to be in the middle-class. Personally, i wouldn’t consider myself out of the “middle class” until i could live comfortably off my investments (cash, property, dividends, etc.). I could definitely do that with a net worth of $1 million.

  21. I think when a lot of people say they are doing things for their family, they mean buying a lot of expensive crap for their family. Big houses, big cars, big vacations, big cell phone plans, etc, etc.,

  22. “Meanwhile, 21% of middle-class people (making $50,000 to $80,000 annually) call themselves members of the upper middle class.” Is it just me or is that completely delusional?!? Certainly living in NYC these salaries are nowhere near upper middle class.

  23. Shak,
    OK I’ll bite. The reason there is so much divorce is that it is not natural to be with the same person for 60 years. People force themselves to “be” with their significant other because of kids, money, the Disney factor (myth of happily-ever-after). It’s just not a natural state to be in and sooner or later like any other natural unstable force it breaks apart. I know of no marriage personally that I see going more then 5 years.

    As a single guy who has never been married I can vouch for what affect the type of parents you explained above have on women that I have dated. They have been given everything from mom and dad so that is what they expect. I don’t doubt men can be the same way either. That is a hard thing to compete against and again, because it is an unnatural bond, will cause the realtionship to self destruct.

    In simple terms it is the parents fault. If you are buying your 9 year old kids cell phones, blackberries, Gamecubes, waterbeds and laptops then you have no right to complain about the decline of the “family” because you are the reason for the state of superficial boys/girls.

    Brought to you by the Theory of Saladdin,
    Saladdin, CEO and President

  24. Good points all around… I was thinking about this as I went to bed – What it really sounds like is

    Priority #1 – Money
    Priority #2 – Family

    … and then everything else.

    But at the same time, I grew up with many kids whose parents owned restaurants and worked 7 days/80 hours we week. I think these parents truly did think they were “doing it for the kids” so they could afford private schools, live in a nice safe neighborhood, and all that – because these are the things the parents never had in their own lives. But instead, lots of kids simply resented not having them around.

  25. in asia, its very common to live with your parents till ur mid 30’s which i think makes sense. why live a mile away and pay when u can stay with ur folks and contribute and save as well. Both will gain.

    as for the survey, i dont believe in them. Think about the time u answered surveys….when u reach question 25 or 30, ur focus on answering them correctly fades away. It becomes irritating. and sometimes its ingrained in us to answer one way and behave another way completely. for example, valuing your family…..naturally everyone will say its the most important….

    even me….in a survey!

    but right now, in reality, its about making money.

    The best way to become rich is live smart! Thats it.
    Dont get a $1000 laptop no matter what people say!! lifespan of alaptop is only 2 years. Buy a $500 one and in 2 years, u can buy another $500 one! same thing goes for all other things in life.

    there is no ONE RIGHT WAY, but there is a SMART(er) way for sure.

  26. FFB, living in NY is maybe 1% of the population. You do not represent AMERICA!

  27. I find #6 particularly telling. Perhaps the main reason these middle-class people aren’t rich is that they think (and thus likely spend) like they are.

  28. if ur young and making $65K in rural america, u can have prostitutes feeding you grapes on a daily basis.

  29. @ xmasy – Just looked up the census bureau – NYC is about 6% of the US population (if my math is correct). It’s also not the only city with major expenses. I can understand $80k as middle class in another part of the country, maybe even NYC, but is it upper middle class? I guess the bigger question is what really constitutes upper middle class versus it’s perception. Can we convert these values for cities with different living expenses?

    Either way 50-80k is not upper middle class here. Wish it was though.

  30. Saladdin, you say it much better than I can.

  31. Parenting is a tough job, with long hours, no pay and at the end of it some brat tells you how you screwed his life.

    –Homer Simpson

  32. “The best way to become rich is live smart! Thats it.”

    Couldn’t agree with you more. I make the least amount of money in my office and among my friends which is fine. I just make sure I give Uncle Sam least amount of money by making smart business decision. With your example of the laptop made me think about cars.
    My family first car was American, brand new car that broke down the first six month and many trips to the shop that end up costing a lot of money. We never bought American again, Japanese only, our Toyota van lasted 255K, civic lasted 245K. I just can’t afford to waste money on cars breaking down. How much money would people save by spending a little more on a quality car, I would say a lot!

  33. Thanks for taking the time to collect the key bits from one of those dreaded slideshows favored by the mass media outlets. Great post!

  34. Here’s a link that lists median household income by county, for 2000 and 2006, based on census data:

    Median 2006 income for SF: $89,565.
    Median 2006 income for Alameda County: $81,821

  35. A few points…

    1. Work Longer.
    No wonder heart disease is killing men ages 30-40.

    2. Value Networking.
    I work in the corporate world, and I would call these people suck-ups. They really don’t have any special skills, so they feel the need to point out how special they are so they can have jobs that they don’t really like but they pay well. I work as a mathematician. I love my work, and I’m good at it. I don’t consider what I do extremely complex, but other people weren’t willing to learn it, so I get a good paying job and never work more than 40/hrs.

    4. Avoid Vanilla Corporate Jobs.
    Maybe you should do this if all you desire is money. Some of us have personalities where we enjoy routine and order, and the corporate world is good for that. Also, if you can get good benefits it’s not a bad deal.

    5. Do It For The Money.
    I might agree with this if it’s a job you really enjoy. I recently took a 20% pay cut to go from manufacturing to healthcare. It was a tough jump, but I’m willing to hedge my future success on a better industry.

  36. I guess I would qualify for this, but don’t fit with the survey. First of all thanks to inflation, the housing bubble & the end of pensions, $1M + is not so special any more. A million plus social security is not going to generate more than about $75K in income at retirement. Also, age adjusted wealth is very important. A million at 30 is more significant than at 65. What is your goal at 40? What is your number to live comfortably for the rest of your life.
    The key to financial success has been to live within your means. You have to develop a life style that is less than your income.
    The survey is biased towards entrepreneurs who do put in long hours.
    I don’t understand the community vs. family. Is being active in youth activities, schools, etc. only for families? Doesn’t it provide social structure for the community as well?
    Also, there is a tradeoff between doing what you “like” and making money. Based on happiness research most people are poor judges of what makes them happy.

  37. nathan formerly in new mexico now israel says

    another question to remind oneself of is “does correlation necessarily mean causation?”

    my two shekels…

  38. Yes, as others have said, the problem with these surveys are basically survivorship bias. How many middle-class folk never become millionaires? Most, because otherwise a book with ‘millionaire’ in the title wouldn’t count for a thing.

    I’m sure the principles can’t be faulted (work hard, save and spend less than you earn) but it isn’t guaranteed to make you really rich. You have to be aggressive somewhere (take risks in business, save 50% of your income, etc).

  39. This discussion is very interesting and yet uniquely American-mundane. I doubt an average western European will spend so much time talking about how many hours they work at their jobs.

    I mean, you can work 8 hours and still be great at what you are doing. I know someone practice cell about 4 hours a day, then spend time teach and read for another 4-5 hours. They are not millionaires, but I envy their life much more than my other neighbor who owns 3 Toco Bells.

  40. cello (correction) – also add, I know plenty people who work long hours yelling screaming and hate what they are doing in their subconsciousness.

  41. Lewis Schiff says


    Folks, lots of great comments here. Russ Prince and I wrote this book, The Middle-Class Millionaire, based on an original research survey of 3714 heads of households. 586 were “Middle-Class Millionaires,” meaning they had a net worth of $1 million to $10 million and were self-made. We compared their answers to 3128 households who had a household income of $50,000 to $80,000. It’s worth noting that $50,000 is the median income in America. Obviously in different parts of the country, $50k to $80k means different things.

    The 9 traits of the Wealthy pointed out above are not what we thought people should do, it’s the results of our survey. I noticed some of the comments suggested a contradiction between working 70 hours a week and being family-oriented. Let me give you an example of what this means:

    When we asked the middle-class survey respondents ($50k-$80k household income) why they chose the community they lived in, they generally split their responses between three things: quality of local schools, convenience to work and convenience to shopping.

    When we asked the Middle-Class Millionaire survey respondents ($1mm to $10mm net worth) the same question, most said it was the school system. Very few chose their community because of convenience to shopping or work. That’s what we mean when we say they are “family oriented.”

    Likewise, when we asked both groups what was most important during family vacations, the middle-class are split between “rest and relaxation” and “spending time with family.” For the Middle-Class Millionaire, the most important virtue of vacations was “spending time with family.”

  42. Agree with Sue and all those who commented on 70 hours work week. A great way to have a heart attack at 50-something. All these money will sure help to have a great funeral.

    A question to those who read the book, also to authors. Do you consider anyone with 1 million total net worth a millionaire? I thought it was supposed to be 1 million excluding primary residence. What about 401K? Do you include all of it or do you adjust for taxes?

    If you include primary residence I’d like to second what Doctored said because I’ll guess I’ll qualify as well. Yet I’ve worked for a corporation my whole life, still do, worked normal hours – stayed late when needed to meet schedules but not all the time.

    Over here in Westchester cty, NY where house prices skyrocketed from 200K-something in mid-90s to 600K-something (with a median price of 690K); one bedroom condos form 90K in mid-90s to 300K, townhouse condos from 180-250K to 440-650K anyone who was lucky enough to buy in mid-90s may get at least a third of 1 million in net worth by equity alone. Especially if you’ve done something smart like moving to a more expensive place in mid-90s, renting out the old place, then selling with nice profit.

    In addition, if you are a baby boomer with an above-average paying job e.g. an engineer working for a corporation, have been contributing to 401K for years, living slightly below your means – not counting pennies but also not overspending – you can easily have a net worth of 1 million with just a regular job. If you exclude primary residence, it’d be more difficult.

  43. Frozen Calzone says

    These middle class yahoo’s need to read the 4-hour Workweek!

    70 hours, for-get-it!
    I beat 1/2 of us can do what they do in 70 hours in 35 hours.
    Creating work for work sake.


  44. Know The Ledge says

    These type of lists always spark debate, but it really depends on your perspective. If you start a business doing something that you enjoy, then maybe 70 hours a week doesn’t feel like as much work as a 40 hour work week at a regular job.

    I agree that it’s hard to imagine you have a lot of family time working 70 hours a week, but if you’re family is also somewhat involved in what you do for your business, then maybe.

    Hopefully those 70 hour weeks are working towards building your business so that it can potential run itself (at least mostly), freeing you up for a lot more time in the future.

  45. Are we really defining “class” simply based on the size of one’s paycheque or bank balance? How very American. What about level of education, role, neighbourhood, family background, etc?

    I mean, there are plenty of grad students or junior academics making $20k to $40k, but they’re hardly anything less than middle- or even upper-middle class.

  46. $1mm doesn’t make you a millionaire any more. As Phoenix says, you aren’t rich until you could conceivably live off your investments. At $1mm invested conservatively (5% returns), you’re making $50k per year. That’s enough to live out of country, or maybe in a super cheap area of the country. But you won’t be traveling or eating out or generally doing anything fun. Hell, you may as well keep working at that point. I’m coming up on $1mm net worth, but I live in Los Angeles so I’m not particularly close to being able to retire. And believe me, I would if I could.

  47. Dre, while I agree that $1mm doesn’t make one a millionaire – which is why I asked the question in my post above.

    At the same time, I am not sure thinking of retirement income only in terms of bank interest is a right thing to do. It is right only if you really want to leave your principal intact to your children. If you just think about being comfortable while you are alive and don’t care about your estate or if you don’t have any children, you can consider withdrawals as well. If your goal is simply ensuring nice lifestyle while you are alive, you can, for example, convert the whole principal or a large part of it into fixed annuity for life which will pay a lot more than 5% with exact amount depending on age. Or you can start reducing your principal yourself at some point based on life expectancy. So a million in investable assets (excluding primary residence) can generate more that 50K in retirement income.

  48. The middle-class millionaires will, if not already, have health issues if they continuously working 70-hour weeks. Money is important, but your health is much more important. I once heard this millionaire said,

    Your health is one while everything, your family, money and every possessions, is zero. So, if you want to be a millionaire, first take care of your body & mind.

  49. Lewismind says

    “You don’t need a million dollars to do nothing. Just look at my cousin, he’s broke and doesn’t do #($*@!%#”

    I know people that this survey is describing and it is pretty reasonable to believe for me. Work hard and play hard. Dad may have a project that sucks 70 hours a week for a little while but lets take the family to Mexico for a week or two to catch up and do some diving.

    Keep in mind this survey is not a how to be a perfect happy parent but how to be a working millionaire. I know lots of working millionaires and almost all of them would say they are middle class. They mostly own their own business so if they don’t work, they don’t get to pay the tuition or house note.

  50. If we want to achieve we have to work hard, yes the millionaires are worked hard (week 70 hours ) they achieved, most of achieved peoples are worked jointly that the main reason reason for their success.

  51. I just have a few points to share
    1. a lot of people frown upon entrepreneurs working hard and not spending time with family. But the fact is, for those that frown, the majority of the time, they are not really spending their valuable time with their family as they let’s the kids watching TV or they are not on the internet. The fact is, the average North American spend over 7 years of their lives watching TV. Imagine if you can take this time, invest it by building a legacy for your family, does it not have more of an impact for generations?
    2. Ego – i think that we have been imprinted for most of our lives to think a certain way and relies on security. As Bono of U2 said “the only security that we have is the unsecurity”. I thought that this statement is so profound. We just need to be realistic. Working for yourself is always more rewarding. Look at Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, etc. I am sure they put in a lot of hours building their empire but don’t you agree of the profound impact they also have on society and the lives that they have touched?

  52. I doubt anybody will read this since it has been two years, but i stumbled on it….I live in Minnesota. I am a Laborer who pours concrete, and builds homes from the ground to the roof. I take alot of pride building peoples dreams….I make $40,000 a year. I have a woman, kid, and a dog thats mean. Why do people give a shit what class they are. Does that say what kind of man or woman you represent…If you make 1 dollar-$$$$$$$$ you are no better then anyone else…If you think you are, then you really aint. We all bleed the same.

  53. Right on brother, Matt!
    I feel ya,

  54. Interesting that there is now middle class, upper-middle class, middle-class millionaire, upper class, arithmetic class…wait. I think it’s good because it shows that you can’t categorize people into groups. Every situation is different and there are thousands of ways to earn and save money. What works for one person may not work for a million others.

  55. Property is theft

  56. The Money Grower says

    Why do Americans equate ‘class’ with ‘wealth’?


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