5 investments that made me a millionaire

Chris Reining, Contributor
How this 38-year-old became a millionaire and retired early

I used to think to be a millionaire all you had to do was make a lot of money. Then I realized lots of people earning six figures don’t have two nickels to rub together.

What’s the secret, then? Living below your means so you can save, and then investing those savings.

It took me a long time to realize there’s only so many expenses you can cut, so why not focus on earning more. What you can make is nearly limitless. Success is not only about investing in things like stocks or real estate, it’s about investing in yourself.

I’ve never believed you have to “spend money to make money,” because, looking back, I realize I made five investments that helped me become a millionaire by 35 that cost little to nothing.

Investment No. 1: Get a mentor

The biggest career mistake I made was not having a mentor. I naively thought the harder you work, the faster you climb. Actually, the key to getting ahead is showing your value. A mentor helps you do that.

You want to look for someone who is five years ahead of you in your career. Someone who’s an overachiever and has the position or talent you want. Ask them if they want to get coffee or if you can meet them at their office. Surprisingly, most people say yes.

And when you meet them make sure you bring a list of questions, problems, or topics you want to cover. Briefly tell them what you recently achieved as well as what setbacks or challenges you’re facing and what approaches you might take to solve them.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without reaching out to people I admired and asking them for help.

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Investment No. 2: Surround yourself with the right people

You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. If you’re not surrounding yourself with smart, ambitious people, it’s time to change that.

I first heard the term “mastermind” in "Think and Grow Rich." Napoleon Hill defines it this way: "Coordination of knowledge and effort, in a spirit of harmony, between two or more people, for the attainment of a definite purpose.”

To say that another way, you're looking for a group of growth-minded people who meet regularly to support each other. To brainstorm and to share expertise.

After finding only masterminds who charged thousands of dollars, I tried starting my own group. The first one failed, as did the second. Then, while attending a conference in Portland, I was talking to a guy who mentioned his mastermind was looking for another member. Since 2015, the four of us have been meeting every week for an hour, and I’m constantly amazed at how much I’ve grown through the group’s advice and knowledge.

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Investment No. 3: Stack talents on talents

Warren Buffett was asked what he thought was the best investment anyone could make. He said, “Investing in yourself is the best thing you can do. Anything that improves your own talents; nobody can tax it or take it away from you. They can run up huge deficits and the dollar can become worth far less. You can have all kinds of things happen. But if you’ve got talent yourself, and you’ve maximized your talent, you’ve got a tremendous asset that can return ten-fold.”

That could very well be the best investment advice Buffett has ever given.

What he’s saying is keep adding to your talents. Get better at skills like public speaking, writing, design, persuasion, technology, a second language. This can make you the architect who’s a great public speaker and writer, or the personal trainer with a mastery of psychology and persuasion.

This is how you become more valuable, and when you’re more valuable people pay you more for what you do.

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Investment No. 4: Streamline decisions

I used to eat out for lunch, and my thought process would go something like this: “Do I feel like Mexican food? Indian? Mediterranean? Okay, how about Mexican. There’s that taco truck, the hole-in-the-wall place, maybe something new.”

How many hours of my life did I waste thinking about lunch? A lot. So I decided to try eating the same simple lunch every day: a sandwich and yogurt.

It sounds insane, but this changed my life. I didn’t need to think about lunch anymore because the decision had already been made for me.

Like Scott Adams says, “Losers have goals, winners have systems.” And systems can be applied across your life. For example, you can have a certain dollar amount, say $100, automatically diverted to some simple investments before your paycheck ever hits your bank account.

This way you’re spending what you have left after investing, instead of investing what you have left after spending.

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Investment No. 5: Commit to being a lifelong learner

Someone on Quora once asked how to be as great as people like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Richard Branson. Justine Musk, Elon’s ex-wife, wrote an incredible answer: “They are more likely to go straight to a book, perhaps a biography of Alexander the Great or Catherine the Great or someone else they consider great. Surfing the 'Net is a deadly timesuck, and given what they know their time is worth — even back in the day when technically it was not worth that — they can't afford it.”

I imagine my time is worth $350 an hour and ask myself, What’s worth $350? Media consumption? No. Watching TV? No. Reading, learning, studying? Yes.

When you pick up a book, you upgrade your knowledge. And that's the investment of a lifetime.

Chris Reining retired from corporate America at 37, and is now an investor, student of life, and writer -- though not in that order. You can read more at

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