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How to Go From Zero to Millionaire in 20 Years

If you think about it, a lot can happen in 20 years. Just two decades ago, the iPhone didn’t exist, Facebook wasn’t even a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye, and Netflix was still years away from getting into the streaming business.

That makes us wonder what the next 20 years will look like. Listen, we have no idea if flying cars or recreational space travel will be a thing (fingers crossed). But what if we told you that you could be a millionaire 20 years from this very moment? It’s not as far-fetched as you might think!

According to The National Study of Millionaires, most millionaires built their wealth slowly over time. The average millionaire worked, saved and invested for 28 years before hitting the million-dollar mark, and most of them reached that milestone around age 49.

While there are no real shortcuts to building wealth, there is a unique group of millionaires that found an even quicker way to a million-dollar net worth. We call these folks Baby Steps Millionaires, and most of them reached millionaire status in 20 years or less from the beginning of their journey!

The Baby Steps Are the Key to Becoming a Millionaire

How did they do it? They followed Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps, a proven money management plan that has helped millions get out of debt, take control of their money, and build wealth.   

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How much will you need for retirement? Find out with this free tool!

What are those Baby Steps? We’re glad you asked! Here they are in order:

  • Baby Step 1: Save $1,000 for your starter emergency fund.
  • Baby Step 2: Pay off all debt (except the house) using the debt snowball.
  • Baby Step 3: Save 3–6 months of expenses in a fully funded emergency fund.
  • Baby Step 4: Invest 15% of your household income for retirement.
  • Baby Step 5: Save for your children’s college fund.
  • Baby Step 6: Pay off your home early.
  • Baby Step 7: Build wealth and give.

The first three Baby Steps are done one at a time as fast as you can—like your life depends on it. Once you’ve gotten that starter emergency fund in place, you pay off all your debts from smallest to largest using the debt snowball. Then you take all that intensity and focus on beefing up your emergency fund.

After that, you work on Baby Steps 4–6 at the same time. That means you’ll be saving for retirement, putting money away for your kids’ college, and throwing whatever extra money you can at the mortgage to pay it off early.

In Dave Ramsey’s new book, Baby Steps Millionaires, he explains that it usually takes Baby Steppers around two and a half to three years to complete Baby Steps 1–3. And then once you get to Baby Steps 4–6, it takes another 17 years or less for most Baby Steppers to reach millionaire status. Did you do the math there? That’s about 20 years to go from zero to millionaire!

Here are the three keys to becoming a millionaire in 20 years or less:

1. Say Goodbye to Debt—Forever

There’s a reason why most millionaires never carried a credit card balance in their entire lives. There’s also a reason why they’re less likely to take out car loans, student loans or any form of consumer debt than the general public.1 It’s because these folks realized a long time ago that debt is financial quicksand. It will drag you down, keep you stuck and prevent you from building wealth.

Don’t believe us? Let’s take a look at some numbers:

  • The average monthly car loan payment is $609.2
  • The average monthly student loan payment is $393.3
  • The average monthly credit card payment is $274.4,5

So if you’re just the “Average Joe,” you’re probably paying $1,276 in debt payments every single month (and that’s not even including a mortgage). That’s crazy! Do you have any idea how much money you could have in your nest egg if you invested $1,276 every month from age 35 to 65? We’ll tell you: $3.5 million! Let that sink in for a minute.

It’s time to break the cycle, people. If you want to become a millionaire, getting debt out of your life is the first step. You can’t take advantage of your most powerful wealth-building tool—your income—if you keep sending hundreds of dollars of your hard-earned cash to a bank or credit card company every month.

2. Make Investing a Top Priority

We’re going to let you in on a little secret. According to millionaires, the most important factors in building a million-dollar portfolio have nothing to do with luck, an inheritance, or having a six-figure income.

Nope! They said it was financial discipline and consistent investing that made them millionaires.6 In other words, they actually put money in their retirement accounts—and they kept doing it over and over again. The good news is you can do the same. No magic wand or rich uncle required!

Once you reach Baby Step 4, it’s time to focus on saving for retirement. That means investing 15% of your income into tax-advantaged retirement accounts like a 401(k) and Roth IRA. And if you want help picking out good growth stock mutual funds for your investment portfolio, we can connect you with a financial advisor who can help you get started.

Why 15%? Why not more—or less? Here’s why:

  • If you save less than 15%, you’re running the risk of coming up short in retirement because of things like inflation and rising health care costs.
  • Going above 15% could prevent you from devoting enough of your income toward other key goals like paying off your home early (more on that in a minute) or funding college for your kids.
  • Saving 15% avoids both of those problems and makes the most of compound growth over time, allowing you to hit a million or more by the end of your career.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in America is right around $67,500.7 What would happen if you invested 15% of that income for the next 20 years? That would mean investing $843 each month into your 401(k)s and IRAs.

The historical average rate of return for the stock market is between 10–12%, so after 20 years of investing you could have around $730,000 in your nest egg.8

That’s pretty good! But we know what you’re thinking though: $730,000? That’s not quite a million dollars . . . Hold the phone! If you’re working the Baby Steps like we’ve taught you, that means you’ve also been trying to throw some extra money at the mortgage to pay it off early. Which leads us to . . .

3. Pay Off Your House Early

You may not realize it, but you’re probably sitting inside one of the most important assets in your wealth-building journey: your home!    

Remember, a millionaire is someone with a net worth of $1 million or more. That means what they own minus what they owe equals a million dollars or more. And guess what? A paid-for house is part of that equation! 

Get this, the majority of millionaires live in average-sized homes, and they pay off their mortgages in about 10 years.9 In fact, 67% of millionaires live in homes with paid-off mortgages.10 Between making extra house payments and exploring options to refinance or downsize, they made a plan to pay off their homes early and executed that plan.

This is huge. Once you don’t have a mortgage payment anymore, just imagine how much more money you could put away for retirement and other fun financial goals. We get goosebumps just thinking about the possibilities! Meanwhile, the median home sales price is around $408,000—and if it’s completely paid for, the entire value of your home counts toward your net worth.11

So if you have $730,000 saved in 401(k)s and IRAs with a $400,000 paid-for home, guess what? That brings your net worth to a total of (drum roll, please) . . . $1.13 million. Congratulations, you’re a millionaire—and you did it in 20 years flat! Bust out the confetti cannons and champagne!

Ready to Become the Next Baby Steps Millionaire?

Whether you’re 24 or 42, the message is clear. Getting out of debt, investing consistently for retirement, and getting your home paid off quickly are the three keys to going from zero to millionaire in two decades or less. That’s the formula that has worked for thousands of millionaires all over the country—and it can work for you too!

If you want to learn more about the proven path that has helped thousands of Americans become millionaires, then Dave’s new book, Baby Steps Millionaires, is for you. Order your copy today to find out more about this special group of millionaires, and how you can become one too!

These are general guidelines. Your situation may be unique. If you have questions, connect with a SmartVestor Pro.

Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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