How – and Why – I Saved $1 Million

Laurie Itkin

It was six weeks before my wedding, and I was preparing a spreadsheet that listed all my assets for the prenuptial agreement my fiancé and I had agreed to sign. (It was his second marriage and my first.) 

I carefully listed each account: the two individual brokerage accounts, the 401(k), the Traditional Individual Retirement Account (IRA), the Rollover IRA, the Roth IRA and the 529 college savings plan that I had established for my soon-to-be stepdaughter. When I added up the balances, my mouth dropped. They added up to just over $1 million.  

I sat at my desk in a trance, staring at the document, and retraced in my head all the steps I had taken over the past 15 years that got me to this point. Not that long ago I was a 24-year-old woman buying 40 shares of Starbucks with a $1,600 inheritance that her poor Grandma Eda from the Bronx had left her; now I was a 39-year-old millionaire.

I celebrated it privately, but this was one of the proudest moments in my life. 

When I give speeches on investing in the stock market, I usually share my story of how I built my own wealth. Everyone always wants to know how I did it. They want to pick up tips and tactics to build their own wealth. Here are my top six: 

  • Start investing in the stock market at a young age
  • Educate yourself by reading about investing, the economy and personal finance
  • Spend less than you earn by living below your means
  • Rent a small apartment you can afford rather than buying a home you cannot
  • Invest a portion of every paycheck
  • Max out on tax-deferred retirement vehicles such as a 401K and IRA

But what’s more important than how I saved over $1 million is why I did it. 

I was raised by a mother who was financially dependent on her father for her entire life: She received an allowance until he died at age 97. Watching this example, I vowed early on that I would never be dependent on anyone but myself for financial security. After being laid off twice by the time I was 22, I knew I couldn’t depend on an employer for guaranteed income and set forth to grow any money I would subsequently earn through investing. I accepted the risks that come with investing and knew if I stuck with it, I could weather the ups and downs of the stock market.  

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