How to Make a Million Dollars

By: Lee Ann Obringer & Laurie L. Dove

Millionaire Success Stories

Here are two stories of ordinary people who became millionaires. If it could happen to them, it could happen to you:

Neil McCarthy

Research chemist Neil McCarthy started investing in the stock market when he was 34, in the 1970s. Today he has a net worth of about $2.1 million. When stocks went down, he bought more. He contributed the maximum to both his IRA and his 401(k) and his employer matched 100 percent. That's truly free money -- no risk. The big payoff came during the 1990s bull market when his stock doubled in three or four years, suddenly reaching $1 million.


He avoided technology companies because it didn't make sense to him. He saw price-earnings ratios of 200 to 300 and "thought it was absolute nonsense." This practical investing style saved his millionaire status when the market crashed. When he retired in 2000, McCarthy took his retirement payout as a lump sum. Just before interest rates started to fall, he invested part of the money in an immediate annuity and earned a bigger payout than if he had chosen the company's pension annuity.

His number one piece of advice that made all the difference is this: "If you wait to save out of what's left over from your salary, it's not going to happen. Pay yourself first" [source: Million Dollar Ideas].

Sheri Schmelzer

In 2005, Sheri Schmelzer was a 40-year-old stay-at-home mom when she decided to get creative with her family's multiple pairs of Crocs shoes. The plastic slip-on shoes have ventilation holes across the top and Schmelzer, armed with clay and rhinestones, created mix-and-match designs that would fit in the holes.

Schmelzer came up with the idea just for fun and credits her husband with seeing the sparkly designs' potential. Within weeks, the two had set up a Web site for their new company, Jibbitz, and had started selling the Croc add-ons to the masses, tapping into a home equity loan for capital. Before long, the accessories were sold in stores, too. By August 2006, Jibbitz sales had reached $2.2 million. And, just three months later, the Schmelzers sold their company to Crocs for $10 million, with another $10 million promised if the accessories hit a specified sales goal [source: Anderson]. "If you have good customer service then your customers are going to talk about you," said Schmelzer. "We didn't do any marketing or advertising at all; it was all organic growth" [source: Ladies Who Launch].

Author's Note: How to Make a Million Dollars

There's a phrase used to describe those who live above their means -- and those who don't: "big hat, no cattle." Where I come from, there's a literal truth to this adage. Some of the richest people I know drive old pickups and wear worn-out Wranglers, yet have amassed a fortune that would surely be envied by all the people driving new cars, wearing designer brands and struggling to save. There's something to be said for living below your means, especially if your goal is to become a millionaire.

Researching this article was inspiring, too, thanks to all the real-life stories of self-made millionaires I've come across. I find the common threads interesting: work they are passionate about, problems they noticed and then vowed to solve, the desire to succeed that overshadowed the desire to spend.

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