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Trim Your Debt, And grow your Wealth

March 16, 2012

Self-made millionaire Dani Johnson grew up on welfare in a home where drugs and abuse were prevalent. She was pregnant at 17 and homeless by 21. But Johnson didn’t accept what fate seemed to have in store for her. Instead, she resolved to get out of her situation, and she knew the best way to do it was to work hard on her business idea, avoid debt and save like crazy. By age 23, she had made her first million. If you think you can’t be a millionaire one day, Johnson begs to differ. “I was once a homeless, broke cocktail waitress,” she says. “If I can do it, you can do it.”

Johnson says a little bit of self-control today could make you a millionaire tomorrow or, at the very least, help you eliminate all that debt you’re carrying around. “If you spend all that you make, you have a poverty mentality,” says Johnson, who starred on an episode of ABC’s Secret Millionaire and is the author of First Steps to Wealth. And, she says, if you’re buying a coffee and bagel every morning on the way to work and splurging on new clothes when you already have a closet full of them, you’re never going to get ahead financially, no matter how much you make.

From home mortgages to credit card bills, debt is a problem for the majority of Americans today—a big problem. How do you get rid of it? Johnson says it’s actually amazingly simple. “Look at where your money is going,” she says, advising people to sit down with their bank statements and a highlighter and mark every ATM withdrawal, restaurant purchase and any others that aren’t bare necessities. She guarantees you’re spending hundreds of dollars a month on things that provide temporary gratification but that you really don’t need.

“How much money have you made in the last five years?” she asks. “And how much of that do you have left?” If a quick calculation leads you to realize you’ve earned half a million in that time but aren’t anywhere close to being a millionaire, you’re not alone. “The answer isn’t always to make more money,” Johnson says. “The answer may be to spend less.”


Keep More of What’s Coming In: Tips on Building Wealth, from Dani Johnson

  • Stop spending everything you make. Buy the big luxury items (the big house and expensive car) after you’re wealthy. Buying those things on credit does not make you rich—it makes you poor.
  • Skip the Starbucks coffee runs, the convenience-store breakfasts, and lunches and dinners out. It’s temporary pleasure, and, as Johnson says, “most of it ends in the sewage and as inches around your waist.”
  • Stop buying on impulse and buy to need instead; put that money in a savings account until you build an emergency fund.
  • Pay off your debt every month with a portion of your savings.
  • Set aside fun money for a family vacation or special night on the town to stay motivated.
  • Become an investigator. Watch where every single penny you make goes. If you don’t know where your money is going, you’re never going to be wealthy.
  • “And get rid of those stupid credit cards,” Johnson says. “Is life about working for what you bought yesterday?”

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