If you come from a middle class or poor family, you may think that wealth is unattainable. Think again! Significant wealth can be within your reach.
That's one of the main messages from the U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth®. According to this survey, 77% of wealthy investors (defined as having at least $3 million in investable assets) came from households with average wealth or less. Almost 1 in 5 respondents came from households considered to be poor.
Aside from money, what separates the wealthy from the rest of us? Survey respondents attribute their success to three primary traits: ambition, hard work, and strong family values. This combination provides the foundation for the long-term planning and discipline necessary to achieve wealth by earning it, as opposed to simply inheriting it.
Only 10% of the wealthy inherited their wealth; the rest had to earn it. The majority of respondents (52%) reached their wealth through earned income, while 32% used investments to reach their goals.
The same three traits above are displayed in a multitude of survey results — for example, with business ownership. Respondents who own a business find it harder than working for others (74%), yet 80% prefer to run a business in spite of that sentiment. Only 9% do it to optimize their income. Many started a business to take control of their own destiny as opposed to working for others (27%), pursuing a specific passion or purpose (16%), or for self-fulfillment (11%). In other words, 54% show a form of drive to follow their business ambitions, and an even larger majority put in the hard work necessary to make that business succeed.
The wealthy are aware of their added efforts. 72% believe that they work harder than the average person does and 64% believe that they are more willing to sacrifice in pursuit of their goals. 76% believe they are more disciplined than average — and that may be the most important aspect of all.
A majority of the wealthy had parents who allowed them to find their own way, but do so within fairly strict boundaries. 80% of the respondents were raised by "firm disciplinarians" while two-thirds also had parents who tolerated failures. Not only did this combination give them the drive to succeed, it also helped them understand the value of learning from failure and in maintaining a disciplined lifestyle — and a disciplined lifestyle tends to lead to disciplined investing practices. Most wealthy investors see their largest gains from conservative buy-and-hold strategies (86%) and get the majority of their gains from many smaller, day-to-day wins (83%).
Another valuable byproduct of a disciplined approach to life is better long-term relationships. 86% of the survey respondents are married, with 75% of those married to their first spouse. (After all, it is hard to attain millionaire status if you periodically give half of your possessions away via divorce.)
The values of survey respondents extend to broader responsibilities to be good citizens. 74% of the wealthy donate to non-profits, and 58% consider the societal impact of their investments (sometimes referred to as "impact investing").
Hard work and a long-term strategy can bring you wealth regardless of your starting point in life, but it requires the proper mindset and the willpower to follow through. Even if you don't have the ambition and upbringing of the wealthy, following their prudent habits is likely to leave you in a better place financially — and that is reason enough to forge ahead.