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What Is Keeping the Middle Class From Becoming Millionaires?

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “Middle-Class Millionaire”? Do you think it’s a typo? Maybe a myth or a fairy tale?

This might come as a surprise to you, but middle-class millionaires do exist! And there are millions of them out there hiding in plain sight.

Despite the stereotypes of millionaires plastered on the news or social media, middle-class Americans can become millionaires. In fact, anyone can—yes, even you.

How Did Most Millionaires Grow Up?

The largest study of millionaires ever done shows that most millionaires didn’t grow up in wealthy families. In fact, 8 in 10 millionaires we surveyed said they come from families at or below the middle-class income level.

When we break that down, almost half of all millionaires (48%) described their parents’ household as middle class, 27% described it as lower-middle class, and over 4% of them described it as lower class.

Let those stats sink in. Half of millionaires come from middle-class homes. And one in four come from the lower-middle class. If there’s one message you should get out this, here it is: Becoming a millionaire is definitely possible—you just have to work for it.

How Two People Like You Became Millionaires

As a part of our research, we asked some folks to tell us their stories and share some “secrets” that helped them reach millionaire status. Here’s one of those stories that proves your background doesn’t matter:

Thomas grew up in the Midwest and started with literally nothing. In fact, he remembers only having two shirts and two pairs of pants for a long stretch of his childhood. He came from a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father and a mother who struggled with mental health issues. As a result, he was in and out of three or four different foster homes as a child, and both of his parents died far too young. Those early years taught him two important lessons: First, he learned that drinking alcohol would lead him away from future success, and second, he knew that he did not like being poor. Despite coming out of poverty, loss, and hardship, Thomas had a clear vision for where he wanted his life to go, but he knew he’d have to work for it.

Thomas went to college in the 1960s and graduated with a math degree before being drafted into the Vietnam War. After serving four years, he returned to school to pursue a Ph.D. in math, which he planned to use working for the Department of Defense. Instead, Thomas got sidetracked by a new passion: teaching. He taught math in a few different colleges for his entire career, spending 37 years in education before retiring with a net worth of $2.6 million.

Did Thomas come up with a new mathematical breakthrough that revolutionized education? Did he use his math skills to make a killing in Vegas? No. Thomas made his millions slowly and steadily, working in a job he loved and designing a life that allowed him to build wealth on his own terms.

What was his “secret”? He says he stayed away from debt, paid for everything he bought with cash, worked extra hours, and made wise investments. Sophisticated stuff, huh?

But just to show you that his story isn’t an exception, meet Larry:

Larry came from humble beginnings. His parents were Wisconsin dairy farmers who had never gone past the eighth grade. They were hard workers who hated debt—and who taught their children to hate debt too.

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Becoming the first person in his family to graduate college, Larry left the dairy farm and began a 35-year career in insurance. Throughout his working years, Larry kept his spending in check, just like his parents taught him. He avoided all forms of debt except a mortgage.

He and his wife lived well below their means throughout their marriage, making saving a priority from Larry’s first full-time paycheck. Even when he was only making $5,500 a year early in his career, he still prioritized his saving and managed to save $100 a month. When he got a raise, he increased his savings. When he got an annual bonus, he saved it. When his company introduced the 401(k), Larry maxed it out. He never played around with debt, and he never got distracted by risky investments that others tried to push on him. He worked hard, stuck to his plan, drove old, paid-for cars, and didn’t pay any attention to what other people had.

The end result? He retired early at age 55 and has a current net worth of over $4.2 million. Now, he gets to travel, play golf and tennis several times a week, visit his children and grandkids whenever he wants, and enjoy long walks and bike rides with his wife.

Did you notice the similarities in their stories? They didn’t let their family upbringing stop them. They took control of their finances and determined to live, work and save on their own terms. And both of their stories are, well, ordinary. These millionaires are everyday people—just like you.

How to Become a Millionaire on Any Income

So, how can someone who didn’t grow up wealthy become a millionaire? As the stories showed us, there is a familiar pattern. Here’s a quick outline:

1. Get out of debt.

Think of debt as a ball and chain wrapped around your neck, slowly choking you. Yes, it’s a violent visual, but you need to understand just how bad debt is. You have to hate it enough to get it out of your life for good.

2. Follow a budget.

The research revealed that millionaires stick to the budgets they create. Yes, really—whether you’re a millionaire or just getting started, you never outgrow your need to budget! Millionaires also use coupons when they shop. In fact, our research found that 93% of net worth millionaires use coupons all or some of the time when shopping.

3. Invest consistently.

The millionaires we interviewed said their company’s retirement plan was the number one contributor to achieving high net worth. As their income increased, so did their monthly contributions to their retirement plan. They invested money month after month, year after year.

4. Stay focused—for a long time.

Here’s the bottom line: Becoming a millionaire doesn’t happen overnight. On average, our survey participants hit the million-dollar mark at age 49. If they started working right out of college, they kept saving, budgeting and working toward their financial goals for almost three decades. It takes discipline to stay focused for that long!

These steps aren’t flashy. They won’t grab headlines. But they work. They worked for the 10,000 millionaires we talked to for this study—and they‘ll be the first to tell you this process will work for you too.

Work With an Investment Pro

Are you ready to get started? The good news is, you don’t have to do this on your own! One of the best things you can do for your financial future is get connected with an investment professional. Our SmartVestor Pros can sit down with you to help you invest and plan for your retirement future.

Find your SmartVestor Pro today!

Want to learn more? Dave's new book, Baby Steps Millionaires, will show you the proven path that millions of Americans have taken to become millionaires--and how you can become one too! Pre-order your copy today to learn how to bust through the barriers preventing you from becoming a millionaire.

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This article provides general guidelines about investing topics. Your situation may be unique. If you have questions, connect with a SmartVestor Pro. Ramsey Solutions is a paid, non-client promoter of participating Pros. 

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About the author


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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