Women on Top

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Back in 1996 Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko wrote The Millionaire Next Door, a nonfiction study of workaday millionaires — who turned out to be a bunch of skinflinty, old-car-driving, warehouse-shopping, small-business owners. The book was a best seller.

But as the years passed, Stanley (working on his own) noticed that he was getting a lot of letters from wealthy women who said the first Millionaire book didn't really apply to them. That made sense: 92% of the people who filled out the original survey were men. Thus a new project was born — a three-year study of wealthy women, published last week in Stanley's new book, Millionaire Women Next Door.

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Who are these women? The median millionaire woman next door is 49 years old, a wife (nearly 40% have been married more than once) and a mother. She wakes up each morning at 5:58 a.m. and crashes at 10:32 p.m. In that window, she logs 49 hours a week doing work she enjoys and spends three to four hours a week at the gym. Her average annual income is $414,000, which represents 71% of her household's income. She has probably been through college (and about half the time paid her own way), and she owns her own home. It's important to her to be able to give to significant causes.

This raises the question, Is it possible to become one of these women? Or to give your daughter a shot at the prize? The author says, Absolutely. Here's what you need to do:

SET GOALS, NOT LIMITS. Most millionaire women have daily, weekly, monthly, annual and lifetime goals, according to the research. Not only do they have clearly defined aims, but they also have multiple endgames in mind — as opposed to men, who tend to plan less and be single-minded. And these women tend to believe that all their goals are possible. Says Stanley: "If you listen to the interviews, time and time again, women said, 'My parents told me I could do anything I wanted to do.'"

SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF. Women millionaires often have a detailed method for tracking household expenses. Of those who are married, only 1 in 20 have ceded responsibility for budgeting and financial planning to their husbands. Almost half make those decisions jointly.

SELL YOURSELF. Although running a small retail business — say, an antique store or boutique — may seem like fun, it's also among the hardest ways to make a living. You'll fare much better if you (and the services you provide) are your own product, the research shows, whether you're a headhunter or an asset manager. The overhead is lower, and the upside greater. Service businesses also enable women to write their own job descriptions and work a reasonable 49 hours a week.

DON'T LOOK BACK. Four out of five millionaire women next door say they never do. They don't use their emotional energy to hate people who have wronged them — whether it was by passing them over for a promotion or abusing them in a romantic relationship. Instead, they use experience to look forward. They view themselves as leaders and believe it's up to them to turn their situations around.

You can e-mail Jean, a columnist, at moneytalk@moneymail.com