10 Habits Of Self-Made Female Millionaires

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
When you hear of someone’s “Cinderella” career story, it’s tempting to think that success can happen overnight. That's rarely ever the case, says Elle Kaplan, 35, founder of LexION Capital. Most success stories are many years in the making.

LexION is the only 100% woman-owned wealth management firm in the U.S., and it specializes in helping other women manage and invest their money. Kaplan became a self-made millionaire by the age of 30, thanks in part to her own strategic investing. But that’s not to say she didn’t have her share of challenges and setbacks. She only had $200 in her bank account when she moved to New York, and she’d witnessed her mother’s own financial hardships that came as the result of her father suffering from a serious illness. Kaplan knows a thing or two about what it takes to “make it,” especially for someone starting with next to nothing. She took a job as a temp, vowed to herself that she would succeed on Wall Street, and slowly started her ascent.

Like Kaplan, other self-made female millionaires we spoke to shared common experiences and similar mindsets. Though they may say that gaining millionaire-status wasn’t necessarily their end goal, the aim to become successful and self-sufficient proves to be an overarching theme. Here, they share what they’ve learned throughout their careers and the habits that have helped them flourish. Even if becoming a millionaire isn’t necessarily your life’s ambition, following these tips certainly won't hurt whatever your goals may be — whether it’s starting your own business, summiting the corporate ladder, or ensuring a secure financial future.

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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
As cliché as it may sound, finding what you love to do is a substantial part of the recipe for success, according to all the self-made millionaires we interviewed. Yet often times, the biggest hurdle can be identifying what exactly is driving you, says Lisa Nicole Cloud, direct sales expert, entrepreneur, speaker, fashion designer, and author, who made her first million at the age of 35.

“The first obstacle to uncover is often, ‘What is my purpose?’” she says. “For me, money was part of the total goal, but I never just focused on that. I focused on my vision. I believed that if I helped people achieve their goals and established excellence in everything I did, that everything else would fall in line.”

For Laurie Itkin, 46, founder of The Options Lady, who made her first million before the age of 40, watching her mother having to rely on men for financial support was her motivation. In fact, Itkin still doesn’t consider wealth to be her No. 1 goal. “I have no desire to be rich. I just have a desire to be financially secure,” she says.
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What do all millionaires — and billionaires for that matter — have in common? “They invest,” Kaplan says. “I don’t want women looking for spare change or not buying the latte. I want them thinking like moguls and investing,” she says. “It’s not about clipping coupons, it’s not a mentality of deprivation, it’s redefining luxury. And the only way you get an investment account is by starting.”

In fact, think of investing as an insurance policy. In Itkin’s experience, getting laid off twice in her early 20s was the wake-up call she needed to take control of her financial future. So, she invested the $1,600 she received as an inheritance from her grandmother into the stock market rather than spending it. She owes her now millionaire status to that move. “Investing was the most empowering thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “I realized you can’t depend on an employer for your financial security. Instead of spending to make my lifestyle a little comfortable, I knew I had to start building a stake for my future. And you can’t do that by saving alone. You have to save
and invest.”

Don’t be afraid to also look into other forms of investing as well, such as real estate or precious metals, Cloud
suggests. Diversify your investments, too, so that if one gets hit, you’ll have others to fall back on.
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No matter how wealthy you are, your most precious commodity will always be time, so be diligent with how you use it. One of Cloud’s favorite habits is to never start the day off “running.” Rather than dive into emails or meetings, she devotes the first hour of every day to reflection, prayer, and meditation. She journals about what she would like to accomplish and then gets started. This helps her efficiently structure her time, and be more productive than if she had jumped right in.

Shashicka Tyre-Hill
, 33, a high school dropout and teen mom, made her first million by the age of 29, after founding Miracle Home Care in Georgia and becoming a best-selling author. Tyre-Hill devises her daily plan the night before. Especially while trying to sustain a burgeoning business, she makes a list of five new people who might benefit from her home-care services to contact the next day. By setting goals the night before, she starts the morning with a focused agenda.
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It’s tempting to focus on graduate school applications and GRE courses when you’re considering leaving your job or embarking on a new career. But, Itkin advises to evaluate all the costs involved first — and that doesn’t just include the five- or six-figure debt you’re about to take on.

Itkin opted out of grad school not only because she didn’t want to accrue debt; she also didn’t want to take time off from her career — something called “opportunity cost.” Before considering going back to school or getting new certification, think about whether the future benefits will outweigh the costs. If it will increase your salary while allowing you to continue working full time, that’s certainly a plus. If it forces you to put your career on hold while also taking on more debt, that’s another story.
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Kaplan’s favorite piece of career (and life) advice: “‘No’ is just one person’s opinion.”

“If I hadn’t trained myself to think that way, I’d still be a temp,” she says. “You really have to be your own best cheerleader. And I want people to realize that I’m successful because I have allowed myself to fail so many times — and I dust my knees off, get up, and try again.”

Instead of focusing on whatever obstacle is currently holding you back, seek out and study success stories, especially ones in your field, Cloud says. “Failing is a part of succeeding. If it’s been done before, then it can be done. You just need to find a proven system or company in what you’re trying to do. Study their approach or strategy and use your own spin,” she says.

Also, keep your inner circle small, with people who are aligned with your goals, Cloud suggests. “I used to think I needed lots of people to help my dream, but that’s absolutely not the case,” she says. “You just need the right people.”
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As much as you’d like to buy that Hermès handbag or a BMW in celebration of a recent accomplishment, one key habit is to keep living as though you haven’t “made it” yet. “Even if you know you can buy nice stuff, put off the immediate urge. Instead, invest so you have freedom and flexibility in the future,” Itkin says. “If you add up all those things — buying a used car over a new car, or dyeing your hair yourself instead of going to the salon — over 20 years, you’d be shocked how much it would have grown had you invested it.”

That’s especially true if you’re starting your own business: Treat yourself as an employee, and don’t get too bonus-happy at first. Tyre-Hill’s advice is to give yourself a $200 bonus for every $100,000 you make and no more — a tip she learned the hard way when her business almost tanked. And never use your business account for personal purchases. “When I was spending business money for personal reasons, I was about to go under,” she says. “I had to go back to the drawing board and pay myself a set salary. I couldn’t get my hair or nails done and had to stop shopping. Pay yourself enough to pay your bills and stay humble.”
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Since budgeting is rarely a task people enjoy doing, establish a “set it and forget it” mentality, Kaplan says. “We don’t sit and figure out, ‘What should I do today?’ We have routines. You should have a money routine, too. Every month, set a parameter for your essentials, and then for your allowable budget and what you’re paying yourself,” she says.

Kaplan suggests a formula that she’s coined the “50-30-20 Rule.” With each paycheck, 50% goes toward the bills and necessities, such as groceries; 30% is for extraneous costs, such as eating out or going out with friends; 20% goes toward “paying yourself,” whether that means adding to your savings account, making investments, or paying down debt. (Note: It's best to make this division of funds automatic through your employer or bank.) Above all, remember that the 20% category is nonnegotiable. If you need emergency funds, dip into the 30% category.
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For those who find it uncomfortable to ask someone (especially someone they barely know) to be their mentor simply because it’s considered a requirement for career success, here’s another way to approach it: Find people you know you can learn from, and try to stay in touch.

“When there’s someone I meet, and I think I can learn from them, I’ll stay involved,” Kaplan says. “If you just remain part of their lives (such as buying them coffee once a month), you don’t give them a choice. It should be a more organic relationship, and if you have to ask someone to be your mentor, they probably aren’t.”

Oftentimes, successful women want to help other women, and there are resources if you seek them out. Itkin, for example, offers a coaching program for women, who — like herself at 24 — are unfamiliar with investing. Cloud, likewise, works to cultivate other women’s professional goals through her Women’s Empowerment Network.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
If you’re open to learning as much as you can, regardless of your stage in life or in your career, it will never hurt your chances of success. “Always feel like you’re in a student mode,” Cloud says. “I’m still learning, and believe we have to continue to learn even when we’re already successful. It’s when people start reading their own press and when egos come in that they stop growing.”

For business owners in particular, don’t become complacent owning the same business. Look for the next one to launch, says Tyre-Hill, who — in addition to her seven Miracle Home Care locations — owns a transportation company, an adult day care, and is opening a group care center next month. As she says, “You need to have more than one company, so that you have something to fall back on in case something happens.”
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When you pursue an entrepreneurial path or become assertive with your investments, risks are inevitable. But there are ways to be smart about it, Cloud assures. “A lot of people just jump out there. They have no strategy, no saving, no capital to start with, and they end up failing,” she says. “I always tell people to have a plan and an exit strategy, and sometimes that requires working another job. I did that for many years.”

As far as investing, it’s natural to fear losing money, and chances are that you will, Itkin says. But over time, investing builds wealth and, in the long run, the stock market proves to give a good return, she says.

And finally, whenever self-doubt sets in, call to mind Kaplan’s motto: “Love the hustle” — which also happens to be the title of her forthcoming book. “You get this one great, glorious life. It’s not love every step in the journey, but if you love the hustle, you’ll love starting your company,” Kaplan says. “There’s something so special from creating something from scratch. You get to pull the best of what you’ve learned from every place you’ve worked and leave behind the junk.”
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