Money

Author who studies millionaires: Here are 3 proven ways to get rich

Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
Scott Eelis | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Wealth comes in many shapes and sizes. In the course of the research for my book, "Rich Habits" — for which I interviewed 233 wealthy individuals and 128 poor individuals over three years, from March 2004 to March 2007 — I identified three main ways people get rich.

Here's an overview of the three kinds of rich people and their paths to wealth.

Type 1 rich: The savers

Less than 22 percent of the rich people in my Rich Habits study fell into this category. Type 1 rich means you have zero debt and the passive income generated by your wealth is enough to meet or exceed your standard of living.

The type 1 rich have five things in common:

  1. They have a low standard of living
  2. They typically make a modest income
  3. Still, their income exceeds their low standard of living
  4. They save 20 percent or more of their income for many years
  5. They invest their savings prudently for many years

It took type 1 Rich people in my Rich Habits study about 32 years to accumulate an average of $3.2 million.

Type 2 rich: The virtuosos

Approximately 27 percent of the rich people in my study were the type 2 rich. Type 2 rich individuals were virtuosos in their career, industry or profession. That means they were among the best at what they did.

These individuals either worked for large, publicly-held corporations, so a significant portion of their compensation was stock-based, or they ran small businesses that were highly profitable.

It took type 2 Rich people in my Rich Habits study about 20 years to accumulate an average of $4 million.

Type 3 rich: The dreamers

These are the super-rich. Over 50 percent of the rich people in my study were individuals who pursued some big dream, usually an ambitious business idea, and were able to turn that dream into a reality. Their success eventually provided them with an enormous amount of income, profit or gain.

According to my Rich Habits study, the type 3 rich accumulated the most wealth ($7.4 million) in the shortest period of time: 12 years.

The point in all this is that there is more than one way to skin a cat. If you’re risk-averse, that doesn't disqualify you from becoming rich. If you have no business dream or you’re not interested in saving your way to wealth, become a virtuoso. If you are not a saver or a virtuoso, pursue some business dream that excites you.

If you want to be rich, the only important thing is to pick one path and stick with it for many years. The one common denominator all levels of wealth share is time – it takes many years to become rich.

Tom Corley is an accountant, financial planner and author of "Rich Kids: How to Raise Our Children to Be Happy and Successful in Life."

Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!

Don't miss: Author who studies millionaires: 240 minutes a day separates the rich from everyone else

A version of this article originally appeared on Rich Habits.