The Path to a Million: A Millennial’s Guide

Path to a Million

The Path to A Million: A Millennial’s Guide

Hello again everyone! Welcome back to The Green Swan. In recent weeks we have taken a look back on my path to a million. If you missed those articles, you can check out Finding the Elevator and Moving to Move Up. In this post we will go through a millennials’ path to reaching a million.

In a recent survey published by Wells Fargo, 64% of working millennials said they never expect to accumulate $1 million in savings over their lifetime. Why not?! Come on folks, it is doable!

Look, I understand many have student loan debt, may not be employed in their preferred career or could be facing other financial struggles, but start small and let it grow! Unless of course you don’t want a million (in which case why are you reading this then?), let me lay out the savings math for you.

The Math to A Million

A millennial can reach $1 million in savings. Below I will detail three scenarios to reach that goal.

Scenario 1

Let’s start by assuming that the millennial’s beginning salary out of college is $30,000 at age 22 and increasing annually by 3%, a savings rate of 5%, and an increase to the savings rate by 1% annually (capped at 15%). While the millennial makes more money each year, a small portion of the salary increase will be saved with the savings rate capped at 15%. In this scenario, the path to a million stops at age 61! Not too shabby.

Path to a Million

Scenario 2

For the millennials willing to embrace the frugal life and not let lifestyle inflation creep in as much, scenario 2 has all the same assumptions as Scenario 1 with exception to the savings rate capped at 25% rather than 15%. In this scenario, the path to a million stops at age 58, effectively shaving off three years!

Path to a Million

Scenario 3

And the last scenario, for the high achievers out there, I’ve assumed a starting salary of $45,000 as well as the savings rate capped at 25%. Under this scenario, the path to a million stops at age 53. How about that for FIRE!?

Path to a Million

In all three scenarios, the assumptions are made for a single individual. Tie on the salary of a spouse and the improved ability to save each year and you can hit $1 million even sooner.

Path to a Million

For those readers who have started to save for retirement, you are on the right track and are developing strong savings habits. I encourage you to find ways to advance your career, bring in side-hustle income, and reduce expenses to allow you to save more. I hope you realize the path to a million is achievable.

For those who haven’t begun to save for retirement, get with the program.

Get With the Program

According to the survey, 85% of millennials say that saving for retirement is an important part of becoming a “financial adult” while 82% say they are encouraged to save more when they see people comfortably retired today. Yet, only 45% have a routine to monitor their finances and 52% say that volatility in the stock markets makes them worry about losing their retirement savings.

Let’s remember that there are vast resources available online to help folks get with the program. I’ve even discussed many relevant topics on this blog to help millennials including why it is important to track and budget expenses and why long term investors should invest to win.

Other Interesting Tidbit

As I was reviewing the survey, I wanted to highlight one other relevant and interesting statistic.

  • For those who have started to save for retirement, 44% say they are saving 1-5% of their income, 33% are savings 6-10%, and 6% are saving 11-14%. To that I say, “You can do better!”

Thoughts? Are you on your way to a million? If not, do you have a path to a million outlined? Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for taking a look!

The Green Swan

Work Harder, Work Smarter, Retire Earlier and Find Your Beach


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  • The charts you have there really show the exponential affect of saving. I think that’s what discourages some people. You need a lot of money accumulated before the growth looks really big! 10% of $1000 is only $100. But 10% of 1 million is $100,000!

    That’s why when you’re young, you need to work on accumulating so that your savings can get that big exponential growth at the end.

    Right now, I’m saving about $25k per year on my current $75k salary, which isn’t too shabby if I do say so myself.

    • JW

      Exactly! And we can’t get to a million without getting to $1,000 first, there are no shortcuts.

      I’d say that’s pretty good as well! Thanks for the comment.

    • Yup, the whole snowball effect clearly pictured. I’m starting to see some of its effect as I am reaching financial independence, where now the market dictates more than my savings rate. The adverse side effect is that I think this snowball effect is also one of the causes of the “one more year” syndrome: “if I keep working one more year, I give even more chances at my wealth to dramatically increase next year, which will in return mean I get much more profit when I actually retire…”

      • JW

        Thanks for the great comment, Stockbeard. I am getting very close to hitting that point where the market return is greater than my contributions which is a great tipping point and milestone. I look forward to it!

        And also great point on the one more year syndrome…I totally agree and that is part of the internal struggle I have already just in terms of trying to find a good retirement point.

    • Really solid saving percentage right there.

  • Love the examples and comparisons here! Goes to show savings rate is so important and starting early certainly helps.

    We are on our way and have lived on one five figure income from the very beginning (we are both 41). We started saving young (around 24), and saved 6% – 10% for several years. This helped tremendously. In our mid-30s, we noticed the growth and decided we wanted to speed it up a tad, so we upped the savings rate tremendously, which has helped propel us ahead much faster.

    • JW

      Nice work Amanda, you’re a great role model for others. Thanks for sharing!

  • Thanks for sharing! I am always amazed when I see survey results showing that many people have a low savings rate.

    • JW

      Yeah, the statistics are pretty eye opening. Thanks for the comment!

  • Love the side by side comparisons, it really highlights how small changes over time can make a huge difference.

    I am not to surprised by those statistics unfortunately – Millennials do need to get with the program!

    Thanks for the post Mr Swan

    • JW

      Thanks AE! There’s definitely room for millennials to improve and get on the path.

  • Good numbers to show to people. It is actually doable to be a millionaire one day! I hope to teach this to my kids one day.
    Even better, when the plans works, I can show them the numbers before they start to work… Would that not be fun!

    • JW

      Yeah that would be something! I look forward to teaching my children this one day as well. Thanks for the comment ATL.

  • I like that you mapped this out using a $30,000 starting salary. A lot of the complaints in the comments when a FIRE story is shared in the mainstream media are based on the idea that you can only save a lot of money if you are making six figures. This shows that you absolutely can save for a comfortable retirement even if you are starting from a more modest salary.

    • JW

      Totally agree, it can be done! Thanks Matt.

  • Awesome post–I love how you break down the math and show that reaching $1 million is totally doable, even with a modest salary. I lacked this information early in my career and it would have been motivating to realize sooner.

    • JW

      Thanks Kalie!

  • Excellent points, Green Swan. It is posts like this that help educate millennials to show that they can retire some day with a good amount of money to live on.

    • JW

      Absolutely! Thanks for giving it a read, Taylor.

  • It is compound interest that plays its magic irrespective of the savings rate. But as you nicely show, the math is doable for lower salaries and a very workable savings rate. Discipline and avoidance of peer pressure are key factors also to get there. Those two are devilishly difficult for most millenials. Indeed, difficult for most people….

    • JW

      Sad to say, but that is true Mr Pie. Thanks for stopping by!

  • You can never start too early. If you are in your 20s or even younger get started now…. you won’t regret it!

    • JW

      Absolutely, it’ll pay dividends… No pun intended. Thanks Ray Ray.

  • Definitely JW – everyone has a decent shot of getting to a million. There’s so many stories of janitors and teachers etc retiring with many millions.

    We’re sure we’re going to reach $1M, we want many millions, it’s just a matter of time (and compounding).


    • JW

      I’m sure you will, Tristan! Thanks for the comment.

  • I love the tables and graph JW, visuals can be so compelling! The bad news, which you didn’t share, is that they will likely need much more than $1 million to achieve FI! But at least it’s a good start. Ha, ha.

    If they take nothing else away except to start early and increase their savings rate every year, they will be in good shape!

    • JW

      True, a million is definitely a great start and more than most will achieve. Thanks for the comment, Jon!

  • I think it’s so important to remember how easy it is to actually hit a million if you plan to work for a long time. The problem is that the people who don’t know that, aren’t doing what they need to and won’t ever hit it! Those of us that know how easy it (seriously, I was going to do a post similar to yours!) want it to come FASTER! 🙂

    • JW

      Absolutely! I hope you still do your post, I’d love to read more of your thoughts on it. Thanks Maggie!

      • I’m doing an aggregated post on Monday of all the cool posts on the topic. I’m sharing your graph (with a link to you, obviously).

        • JW

          Oh that’s great, Maggie. I’ll look forward to seeing your post! Thanks so much for sharing my graph 🙂

  • The key is “long time”. The easy part is anyone can make a million, the hard part, where most people fail, is to keep working for a long time and save and invest wisely. For most people it seems saving is the after thought after all needs and wants have been met.

    • JW

      It’s disappointing but for most folks you are right. Hopefully more and more people catch on and change their behaviors! Thanks ATM.

  • That’s a good approach for new savers: Start small and increase the contributions. The average person wouldn’t even notice much of a constraint on spending. Because let’s face it: We can’t all be Mr. Money Mustache or some of the other turbo-savers who go cold-turkey to save 50% or all the way to 80% of net income. I personally started at a higher % and didn’t stop at 25%, so I accelerated that process a bit.

    • JW

      Absolutely! Folks like MMM are definitely the exception.

      Good for you ERN, I’m the same way and it does make a big difference.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • It’s not too surprising that the Wells Fargo survey is that way. Look at the Baby Boomers who probably had the easiest opportunities to accumulate wealth compared Gen Xers & Millennials, and a surprising amount saved very little.

    We all know retirement requires stashing away acorns, but, nobody seems to start until the first snowflake falls.

    • JW

      Ha that’s a great analogy, Josh! Thanks for giving it a read.

  • ADI

    I think I can make it, but it seems like a long way away sometimes.

    I also find that it isn’t the month to month savings that knocks me around, but the reasonably expected but large expenses in life – weddings, buying the family home, having children – that can knock around your savings.

    My life definitely doesn’t look like those nice charts you have there! Great post though; good motivation!

    • JW

      Thanks ADI. Those large expenses definitely take a toll. I hear you that it’s hard saving for those items while also tucking some away for retirement. Stay diligent though and you’ll get there.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • LOVING this post. We are on our way. Even with having the pay down massive consumer debt after years of money mistakes, making it to $1M is possible!!! Slow and steady wins the race.

    • JW

      That’s great for you Laurie, very happy for you folks. Keep it up!

  • Jacq

    In my experience, I haven’t experienced the 3% annual raise. My varied career has meant some time as a temp/contractor – which isn’t known for great raises. My last job we did get a 2.something% one year, but as the business grew head count, but was still in development phase the raise the next year was around 1%. One company furloughed people, and then told everyone else, ‘be glad you aren’t them, here’s a 10% pay cut’. I started this job too late in the year for raise or bonus considerations, *fingers crossed* when the time rolls around for next year. 🙂
    However, I live within my means and am in that 11-14% group for 401k. There’s hope for me yet! 🙂

    • JW

      Good for you Jacq and keep working hard. I know many other folks in similar situations with regards to pay raises. That’s been common lately, but hopefully the economy will continue to improve and wages will become more competitive again.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Nice work here! I really like the conservative assumptions you use – all the better to illustrate the power of small, long-term habits.

    And, as you say, with some small tweaks here and there to the inputs, it’s no stretch for many to get to the first mill a decade or two earlier than your examples show.

    Good job!

    • JW

      Thanks Libre! I tried to make it easy to visualize the various paths to a million, as you said, a few minor tweaks can make a big difference. Thanks for the comment!

  • Really enjoy this post Mr. Swan. Those statistics at the bottom are completely mind boggling, 6% save 11-14%… it is going to be a long way to $1m.

    Having successful habits when you are young matters. I understand that student loans and other burdens inhibit you but this is only temporarily. Getting the first million is the hardest and after that it can really balloon if you are investing properly. Hoping to get my first $1m in my 30s. Of course this can be expedited if I get married and also be pushed back if I have children so many factors will be at play.

    • JW

      That’s true, and you raise good points, Stefan. Many factors are at play, but it makes all the difference establishing good habits early. Knowing you, I’m sure you’ll be on the path to your first mill in no time. Thanks for stopping by!

  • I love the realistic income level that you start with in your calculation. Just goes to show you that savings play a large part in making a millionaire to be a millionaire. Can’t count it out!

    • JW

      You bet, thanks Finance Solver.

  • I belive we all can do better! Right now I’m getting my works 401k match at 5% plus the 5% I’m putting in which equals out to $328 per month. I’m also saving about $1-2k per month depending on the month. If I had to put a percentage on it I’m definitely etly in the 45-55% monthly savings rate!

    • JW

      That’s pretty solid! Thanks for sharing.

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  • I 100% agree with you on this. There is absolutely no reason why any millennial cannot amass $1 million in their lifetime. There are a couple points that I disagree with however. Assuming a 7% annual return on investment, this is not easy to achieve in today’s world unless you are investing in some very risky assets. Now when I say this, I am referring to assets such as equities, bonds or other paper assets. I prefer to invest in real estate, more specifically multifamily residential real estate. To me there are much higher returns to be had and I find that owning rental properties is much safer than holding a large portion of my money in the stock market.

    However I do agree with you that it is more than possible for any millennial to become a millionaire if they truly set their mind to it. My goal is to reach $1 million before age 30. I am 27 today and I am more than half way there… and by the way things are going I think I have a good shot.

    • JW

      Thanks for stopping by and the comment, YFM. Yes the 7% is assuming an all equity portfolio, but I agree there are other ways to do it such as real estate if that’s what you know and are comfortable with.

      That’s very impressive for your investments at that age. My goal was a million by 30 as well, and while I didn’t quite get it BY 30, I got it at that the age of 30 (before 31).

      Thanks for sharing!

      • Congrats on hitting your goal! In my book you made it since you weren’t 31 yet! 😉

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