Out of 72 million Millennials in America, roughly 600,000 are already millionaires according to Coldwell Banker.
Like the generation they represent, Gen Y’s own one-percenters come from diverse backgrounds and share a bootstrapping attitude to building wealth and success. Their paths to riches range from the tried-and-true to the clever and lucky; some of their methods are merely admirable, while others are easily repeatable.
So who are the Millennial millionaires? How did they build their fortunes, and what can we learn from them?
Let’s investigate six Millennial millionaires, their paths to wealth, and extract one takeaway from each journey.
Jeremy Gardner: crypto
In 2013, at age 21, Jeremy Gardner bought some bitcoins from a friend purely out of curiosity.
At the time, all he really knew about “crypto” was that it was the preferred currency of Silk Road, a darknet eBay for drugs and illegal activity. Shady traders on Silk Road liked Bitcoin because it was unregulated and difficult for authorities to trace.
The FBI shut down Silk Road in 2013 but Bitcoin lived on – and soon, Gardner began to see its true merit.
“There was this realization that I could — with just an internet connection— exchange value with anyone in the world who also has an internet connection,” he told Business Insider. “No longer did I have to rely on a centralized intermediary, a troll under the bridge, such as a bank or a government.”
Gardner converted all of his cash and holdings into Bitcoin and dedicated his life to evangelizing cryptocurrency. He won’t share his net worth publicly, but considering Bitcoin traded for as low as $50 in 2013 and now hovers around $50,000, it’s safe to say he’s beyond mere “millionaire” status.
So what does a crypto millionaire do all day?
At the time of his Business Insider interview, Gardner lived in a three-story townhome in San Francisco dubbed “The Crypto Castle.” He claims that most of the other tenants who have rotated in and out of the Castle have become millionaires as a result of cryptocurrency investing.
Despite residing in one of the most expensive cities on earth, Gardner’s biggest living expense was apparently “alcohol.” That’s because he loves taking people out to party, wax poetic about crypto, and pick up the tab.
During the day, Gardner worked “fairly full-time” at venture capital firm Blockchain Capital, which focuses on seeding crypto-based startups, for a salary of $0. He’s since moved to Miami for the lower cost of living.
Even at the time of his interview in 2017, Gardner acknowledged the possibility of a bubble popping – it may be at $60,000, $100,000, or $500,000 – so to protect his wealth, he has plenty of cash on reserve. That cash will continue to pay for his living expenses and, of course, be used to scoop up more Bitcoin after the bubble bursts.
What we can learn from Jeremy Gardner’s millions
An investment in cryptocurrency can provide generous returns, but it’s not without risk or challenges. Cryptocurrency investments are not FDIC-insured, for example, and the regulatory landscape is still unfolding.
Still, crypto can lend some high-risk, high-reward diversity to your portfolio. I’ll be covering crypto in more detail in the coming months, so stay tuned.
Shan Shan Fu: pandemic-based startup
Chinese-American immigrant Shan Shan Fu, 33, was already working hard enough when the pandemic hit in Q1 2020. Her mother and father had been an engineer and a doctor back in China, respectively, but since their degrees weren’t recognized in America they had to work in grocery stores to make ends meet. Their salaries plummeted but their work ethic stayed the same.
Inspired by her folks, Fu took on a second role in addition to her hard-enough nine-five consulting job. As soon as the pandemic hit, she saw an immediate need for high-quality, breathable face masks. So from five to one each night for seven months, she built and launched Millennials In Motion, a boutique mask and fashion vendor.
Her income from Millennials In Motion soon surpassed her consulting salary, so she left her steady gig to focus on growing her startup.
Shan Shan Fu’s financial success is doubly impressive considering everything working against her during the pandemic. She already had a full-time job, the economy was tanking, and she was an Asian woman, suffering from increased judgment and discrimination due to increasing anti-AAPI bias.
“When you immigrate from China, it’s already so difficult because you’re judged based on how you look, your accent. Your education isn’t valued as much as if [it were from the U.S.],” she told CNBC. “It’s tough to go through so much adversity and be hated on for [a pandemic] that has nothing to do with you…”
Launching Millennials In Motion wasn’t Shan Shan Fu’s first financial success. Fu briefly lived in Vancouver, where she spotted a beautiful condo for an affordable price. She called it “the Millennial dream” and sensed it would be a good investment. It was – since she bought it for $500,000 in 2015, the condo has more than doubled in value.
Technically speaking, Ms. Fu is barely a millionaire – in fact, I’d estimate that after being hammered by self-employment taxes, her net worth might have lost a digit. But I have no doubt that she’ll rebound immediately; if she can launch a successful one-woman startup during a pandemic, the sky’s the limit.
What we can learn from Shan Shan Fu’s (eventual) millions
There are four traditional paths to becoming a millionaire in this country: earning, investing, launching a successful business, and inheritance. Most rich Americans got that way by picking one, maybe two lanes at max so they can work less and stay focused.
Ms. Fu is unique in that she built wealth equally between lanes one, two, and three throughout 2020. But even someone with a work ethic as incredible as Ms. Fu realized that 17-hour days aren’t worth it for any amount of money, and focusing on two lanes is just fine.
Keith Gill: high-risk stock trading
Keith Gill is the only person on this list that I can provide an almost precise net worth for, down to the penny.
That’s because Gill is the de facto leader of the infamous amateur investing subreddit r/wallstreetbets where he posts his portfolio on a semi-regular basis. Gill’s “GME YOLO” updates show how he’s turned a $53,000 investment in GameStop stock into $25+ million, peaking at $50 million in February.
Granted, Gill’s “GME YOLO” updates only reflect his GameStop holdings, not his entire net worth. Still, it’s pretty safe to say they represent the majority of his net assets now, and that he’s definitely a Millennial millionaire several times over.
Gill, 34, got his Reddit username from the investing term “deep value.” Deep value investing involves building a diverse portfolio of cheap, undervalued stocks.
Calling upon his experience as a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), Gill noticed that GameStop stock (GME) had become severely undervalued in 2019, so he bought up 50,000 shares plus 500 call options. He didn’t just “YOLO” his cash into the wind, either, justifying his move with trends and data in a video he posted to his YouTube channel under the pseudonym Roaring Kitty. Critically, he never said he was sharing advice – just educational material.
Gill’s early investment in GameStop, and frequent posts justifying his positions, are credited with stimulating the now-famous GameStop short squeeze of Q1 2021. The movement got so serious that Gill was called in to testify to Congress on February 18th alongside Robinhood co-founder Vladimir Tenev. His two most famous quotes arising from his testimony are “I am not a cat” and “I like the stock.” To date, no legal action has been taken against Gill, and the day after his testimony he doubled his position in GameStop to 100,000 shares.
In many ways, Keith Gill was the hero Reddit needed in 2021. By all accounts, he’s just a normal guy who wants to promote financial literacy, notably the deep value investing strategy of seeking out undervalued stocks. He lives in a normal house in Brockton, Mass with a wife and young daughter, and despite their best efforts, the hedge funds have failed to charge, muzzle, or discredit him. He’s also made a lot of normal people a lot of money during a crippling pandemic.
What we can learn from Keith Gill’s millions
While Keith Gill’s gambit certainly paid off, it’s important to remember that r/wallstreetbets is full of terrible advice, too. Tons of people lose their livelihoods chasing meme stocks and trends, so it’s better to get your lols from WSB and investing guidance from a professional wealth advisor.
A better takeaway from Gill’s millions (that’s fun to say) is that financial literacy pays off. Even though he’s the figurehead of a subreddit that celebrates badly-researched trades, Gill did do his research on GameStop and it paid off. So if you’re looking to build wealth as an amateur investor, be like Gill – not like WSB.
Amandla Stenberg: entertainment
Remember Rue from The Hunger Games movies? Yeah, she’s crushing it now.
Born in 1998 to an African-American mother and Danish father, Amandla Stenberg got her name from the Zulu word for “strength.” Living up to her namesake, she followed her global debut in The Hunger Games by starring in Everything, Everything as Maddy, a young woman homebound by a debilitating medical condition.
Although her portrayal of Maddy won her universal acclaim and further propelled her to stardom (and millionaire status), Steinberg has garnered more well-deserved attention for her outspoken philosophies and political views.
Steinberg identifies as non-binary, preferring the pronouns “she/her” or “them/they,” and has used her newfound stardom to spread pro-acceptance and feminist messaging. In 2015 she published a five-minute YouTube video titled Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows, directly confronting the disconnect between cultural appropriation and cultural acceptance of black Americans.
On a smaller but similarly profound note, Steinberg announced in 2017 that she’d stopped using a smartphone in favor of a “dumb phone.”
“I’m legitimately concerned about my generation and how phones are going to affect us psychologically.” she told Bust in an interview. “I think [social media] is a very important tool. But at the same time, I think it can create some serious effects on our mental health.”
Amandla Steinberg, who straddles the line between Millennial and Gen Z, evokes the best possible definition of “woke.” She carries a torch of acceptance and critical thinking for both generations, using her wealth and stardom to propel society forward in the right direction.
What we can learn from Amandla Steinberg’s millions
As a “Millennial millionaire,” Steinberg exemplifies how wealth, power, and influence can absolutely be forces for good. She may not give us a clear path to riches, since acting isn’t exactly a reliable cash cow – but she sure as hell shows us how to use it.
Whitney Wolfe Herd: dating apps
Are billionaires still millionaires? Asking for a friend.
Whitney Wolfe Herd was a millionaire, at least, before the Bumble IPO in February 2021. Then, in the ring of a bell, 31-year-old Wolfe became a bonafide billionaire and the youngest woman to take a company public ever.
Unlike Kylie Jenner, nobody dispute’s Whitney Wolfe Herd’s wealth or authenticity. Wolfe launched her first business in college when she began selling bamboo tote bags to benefit victims of the BP oil spill. Two years later, she joined an incubator where she became the third employee of a new Millennial-focused dating app. The app was all about immediate sparks, so she came up with the name Tinder.
Despite Tinder’s explosive growth, Wolfe Herd resigned just two years later and sued her former partners for sexual harassment. The whole nasty episode inspired her to move to Austin and launch a female-friendly dating app called Moxie. The name was taken, unfortunately, so her second choice was Bumble.
Between 2015 and 2019, Wolfe Herd swept awards and collected accolades for her unstoppable momentum in the male-dominated tech industry. In September 2019, she even testified before the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on the topic of explicit images sent within dating apps, further championing efforts to protect women from sexual harassment online: all before her 29th birthday.
When Bumble finally launched a successful IPO, Wolfe Herd’s hefty stake in the company reached an estimated value of $1.5 billion. But despite her 10-figure wealth and barrier-shattering success, Whitney Wolfe Herd’s path to riches is actually pretty old school.
What we can learn from Whitney Wolfe Herd’s (many) millions
If you work in a startup environment, ask for stock options. 10 years of startup salaries probably represent less than 0.05% of Herd’s net worth; the rest is entirely stock.
I myself have a few friends who were the 9th or 17th or 31st employees of no-name companies that have since become big-name companies. Even those that didn’t become Pinterest or Bumble were often bought out, resulting in massive capital gains for early employees and seed round investors. So just a few years of hard work in the right startup can make you a millionaire: as long as you get that stock!
Todd and Angela Baldwin: just save and invest
Todd Baldwin, 28, started out shoveling manure for $3 an hour. Today, his annual income exceeds $600,000. His wife Angela makes six figures also, which the couple can afford to put entirely into savings.
Todd and Angela began their relationship with a combined household income well under $100k. They couldn’t afford to live alone in Seattle, so they bought a $500k home with a small $19,000 down payment and rented out the other rooms to make their mortgage payments.
But by keeping their costs low and crushing it at work, the Baldwins were able to earn more, save more, and buy more. Within a year they invested in a second property. Now they have six.
Three factors enabled the Baldwins to keep purchasing property and build their real estate portfolio:
- Their increased earnings at work.
- Rent payments from tenants.
- Their dedication to frugality and simple living.
Interestingly, Todd credits number three as their primary factor for success. For example, in college he couldn’t afford to take his soon-to-be-wife out for fancy meals, so he took a side gig as a mystery shopper. Now, instead of paying $60 for a nice meal, he’s paid $60 to take his wife out and report his experience. She doesn’t mind and enjoys their “free dates.”
Todd and Angela now live in a much nicer $900,000 duplex, but they still rent out their spare bedrooms, even their converted garage to cover 100% of their mortgage. The couple shares a 2009 Ford Focus, and Todd wears a $12 wedding band made of rubber.
Personally, I admire the Baldwins’ dedication to frugality – but if you find their lean lifestyle to be a bit… restricting, know this: as a result of cost-cutting, they’re able to save 80% of his income and 100% of hers. Even if they bought a pair of matching Mercedes and gave their roommates the boot, they’d likely still save more than half of both of their salaries.
The couple’s ultimate goal is to own 6,000 apartments by the time Todd turns 60, which would bring in $9 million a month in rent. If they pull it off, they’d be fast on their way to becoming a billionaire power couple: too recognizable to keep power shopping.
What we can learn from Todd and Angela Baldwin’s millions
The Baldwins aren’t startup heroes, lottery winners, or crypto zillionaires. Their path to riches didn’t even involve luck or months of 17-hour days. All they did was save and invest, save and invest.
The single most common path to becoming a millionaire in America is to invest 20% of your income for 30 years. The Baldwins were just a bit more aggressive (to say the least), investing 80% of their income for five years and counting. But the core principle still stands – you don’t need a six-figure salary, a massive inheritance, or an early stake in Bumble to get rich; just patience and the most fundamental investing knowledge.
The Millennial millionaires range from sage opportunists to Hollywood activists; glass ceiling-smashers to frugal investors. Their pathways to wealth are as diverse as the generation they represent, but each of the one-percenters on this list shares one thing in common: a plan.
When it comes to building wealth, luck plays a surprisingly tiny role, if it even factors in at all. Nobody on this list waited for luck; instead, they did their research, executed upon an opportunity, and worked hard for that second comma in their bank statement.