Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
If you grew up like me, you’ve been instilled with false beliefs and bad advice about money. The middle class is an unforgiving place to be for aspiring millionaires. As a society, we have been raised to believe that a $70,000 salary, a house in the suburbs, a couple of cars, and two-week vacation is living comfortably. Your parents are right; this kind of life is comfortable, it’s normal. After all, it’s what hundreds of millions of utterly average Americans are doing, and they’re perfectly happy, right?
However comfortable an average life may be, it’s certainly not freedom.
Comfort is commonly mistaken for freedom. Where the majority of American’s go wrong is taking money advice from those stuck in the middle-class, financial comfort zone, rather than those who have built wealth. Having been raised with a middle-class mindset towards money and lifestyle, I understand how difficult it is to break free of the restrictive thoughts that keep people from their potential. Because I’ve done it, I also know, step-by-step, how to break out of average and become financially free.
1. Embrace sales as a way of life
Selling impacts every person on this planet. Someone’s ability or inability to sell, persuade and negotiate directly influences their position or status in life. There is a person in this world selling every millisecond of every day.
You need to sell yourself to get the job you want, you need to convince your boss why you should get the raise you think you deserve, you need to persuade the car salesman to give you a discount, you need to sell your crush on saying yes to dinner, and the list goes on.
There is no limit to what and how much you can sell, and what you get in return is the commission. How good or bad you are at sales determines the life you lead. When you embrace sales as a lifestyle and begin to develop your skills in the area of sales, an immediate shift will take place. You’ll begin getting more of what you want more often, setting yourself up for a future of freewill.
2. Become an asset
You can’t get to where you’ve never been by doing the things you’ve always done. If you want to reach higher levels in life, you’ll need to think, train, and perform at higher levels. To enhance your thinking, invest in books with quality information from credible authors. To improve your training, you must invest in proven programs and workshops created by the people who have already built the wealth you want and are who you strive to become. To enhance your performance, invest in personal coaching from these people, allowing yourself a closer look into the mindset and actions of the ultra-successful, and adopting them into your daily practice.
Invest in yourself first and become your greatest asset. If the economy crashes and your bank balances go to zero, all you’ll have left is yourself. When self-development is done correctly and continuously, the only resource you’ll need to prosper is you.
3. Expand your network
You’ve probably heard this a million times before: “It’s not X, it’s who you know.” The people you know, and who know you, will have an effect on the quality of your life; even if that effect is no effect. Yes, your life is impacted when it’s not being impacted. Make a list of ten people in your network, and ask yourself: Do they invest in your ideas? Can they introduce you to people who can? Are they more successful than you? Do they add to your life?
Related: How Millennials Can Reach Financial Freedom
Someone in your circle who is not adding to your life, but not necessarily subtracting, is still having an impact on the overall state of your life. Rather than investing your time and energy into people who can help you expand, it’s being spent on people who play an inactive role in bettering your life and theirs. Discover who you want in your inner circle and devise a plan to meet them. When you have the right people in your corner, anything is possible.
4. Save to invest
If you were raised middle-class like me, you were most likely taught to save money for a rainy day, keep funds tucked away for emergencies, or to put your money away to buy a house, car, or two-week vacation in Hawaii.
The problem with this is that once you spend the money, it’s gone. The money that you saved to buy the house or car is worth less than it was the day after you spent it. The same way your house and car depreciates, your two-week vacation in Hawaii is an experience that will fade from memory over time. When it comes to savings, there is no light at the end of the tunnel; the tunnel just ends.
Related: 8 Ways to Set Yourself Up For Financial Freedom in Your 20s
The lessons I learned and applied from rich people to become rich myself was to save money to invest in appreciating, income-producing assets. Money should always come back to you. Rather than saving for the sake of saving, save your money to put it into smart investments that pay consistent returns for the rest of your life.
5. Cash flow
When you’ve saved enough money to start investing, choosing where to put your money is the final step to your financially free future. Some put their money into the stock market, which in my opinion, is only a good option for two kinds of people: Those who have enough wealth to risk a lot of money, or those who have the time to constantly watch the market for fluctuations. Stocks are too volatile for my taste; too much chance, with very little monthly payout.
Good money can only be made in the stock market when one has enough of three things: Knowledge (could be in the form of a fiduciary), money, and luck. Lose access to even one of these three things, and your chances of losing money increase dramatically.
Some invest in houses to flip or rent out. Renting single-family homes can produce positive cash flow but having a single tenant to depend on for payment is risky. If something happens to your tenant or in your tenant’s life that affects their living situation, your unit immediately becomes vacant, and you don’t get paid unless you can quickly fill that vacancy. As long as the unit remains unoccupied, it depreciates.
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I invest in multifamily apartment complexes. The reason I’ve chosen to put my money into apartments since I was 30 is because of their consistency in producing strong cash flow, month-after-month. Even if there are a handful of vacancies or tenants who are late on their payments, monthly income is still being generated from the remaining tenants.
The consistent cash flow that multifamily assets produce increases the value of these properties over time, priming them to be sold for much more than they were purchased for, or producing substantial lifelong income and generational wealth.
There’s enough wealth in the world for everyone, including you. Make the decision to become better every day than you were the day before, whether that means multiplying your income, being a better mother or father, or widening your social circle; always be improving.