As Prime Minister Boris Johnson returns to Downing Street with a mandate to “Get Brexit Done,” real-estate agents in prime central London (PCL), regardless of

How can you become a female millionaire in your 30s without marrying one or starting a multi-million dollar company?

I became a female millionaire in my early 30’s and in my late 30’s I had enough millions to never work again. I continue to do so, because I believe it makes my life more interesting.

I’m answering this question, because many answers on the topic assume that wealth is a consequence of luck or some externality – e.g.: inheriting, winning the lottery, marrying a millionaire, founding an outlier start-up. I believe that becoming millionaire early in life is accessible to any individual – male or female – who is hungry enough to work for it. My journey did not involve the much hyped route of founding a company. There are other ways, even if you are born poor, in a small country where opportunities are scarce. Still, it is always about hard work, challenging boundaries and taking risks. Below I detail some key pointers, based on my experience.

1) Have an ambitious dream/goal that goes beyond money

Becoming rich tends to be a consequence of a bigger dream/goal that has nothing to do with money. In my case, I wanted to be independent and accountable for my life. I grew up in Portugal in a very conservative society, where my mother depended financially of my father, who is a very controlling person. I saw financial freedom as the way to never depend on any man – father or husband.

Dreaming is the easy part, as it is rather indulgent and democratic. However, dreaming is just a beginning… To get far in life one needs plenty of hard work, relentless discipline and never-ending resilience to overcome the many difficulties and failures that will naturally happen.

2) Get the best education you can

Having a degree from a top University almost always lands you a good first job. However, if you are not academically inclined or don’t have a strong calling for it, choose a different path that motivates you. Many successful people don’t have degrees.

I was a good student, so I went to a good University, had a scholarship to study in the UK, where I made sure I got a first job. Later, I did an MBA at INSEAD and executive courses at Harvard and Wharton. I probably got more education than one needs, but my career evolved a lot and the courses helped in those turning points. The higher education route, if at top universities, is a safe bet – even if you not become really wealthy, you will earn a decent living. It’s true that good education is expensive, but there are plenty of scholarships. I got 3, one of them at INSEAD when I no longer needed it. But it was merit based and most of my peers were lazy to put the work necessary to win it; or, at least, try.

3) Push yourself to the limit – give your best at everything you do

Most very successful people I know take immense pride in a job well done and enjoy exceeding expectations. I decided to emigrate for work, which was a blow to my family, as emigrating in Portugal was still associated with poverty. Even today, most see it just as a necessity, not an opportunity.

My first salary in the UK was around 7 times what I would make in Portugal. I was alone in the UK, as my family and boyfriend were in different countries, so I had the time and motivation to give it all to my first job. I arrived early; stayed late; dreamt with the problems; and, often with the solutions. All this mental investment worked. In less than 2 years I had 3 salary increases and was made responsible for planning some global brands at the world’s largest consumer goods company. I was also chosen to be featured in their UK recruitment brochure whose cover was: “A butterfly in Lisbon can stir up a storm in Kazakhstan”. I’m not from the capital Lisbon, but it’s more recognizable than my hometown Braga!

If you are zealous in what you do and the quality of the work is great, you get the respect of your peers and the praise of your bosses; and, in turn become more motivated to achieve even more – it’s a virtuous cycle.

4) Don’t settle – get out of your comfort zone

In my early 20s, I was doing very well, but I was promoted too quickly and most of my job became about managing people and meetings. I wanted to learn more, so I applied for a management consultant job. After a grilling assessment center, I was offered an associate position and my salary nearly doubled. For the next couple of years, I really got out of my comfort zone both technically and personally e.g: I was very shy, but had to learn how to present effectively. I became as polished and sophisticated as the best of them. Nobody could guess that behind that façade, was a simple girl, born at home in a small village in northern Portugal.

I traveled all the time, stayed in the best hotels in Europe and accumulated so many air miles that I could visit the family or boyfriend on business class for free. This lifestyle, although glamorous on the surface, is very hard – it involves working late most evenings, many weekends and being always away from home. Again, I was promoted quickly, but at a great personal cost. My life literally became work and after a couple years I decided to take a break – by doing an MBA.

While at business school, again I went out of my comfort zone. While most students go for courses they already know a lot about to get good grades, I went for complex Finance electives where I had little knowledge. I also asked to be excused from the core courses I already knew a lot about, to take on more electives where I could learn. To make it even more challenging, I decided to spend a term in Singapore and traveled most weekends. After the MBA, I changed to a different consulting firm, where I had the opportunity to work mostly on Finance and Investments. The sign-on bonus and the salary increase I got made the move worthwhile, but I did it because I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and hence learn more. 

5) Learn about investing and invest as early you can

Some people never learn how to spend wisely and/or how to invest effectively. The consequence can be poverty, no matter how high the level of income.

In my 20’s, I saved a lot as I was always travelling for work and did not have the time to spend money. In my spare time, I read everything I could about investments and started investing in tax efficient ISAs that did very well.

When I was 25 I bought my first Flat in London. Everybody advised me against it, as in the early nineties the UK property market crashed sending many people into negative equity. In the late 90’s, the property prices were fairly cheap and I thought it was a good time to buy. Furthermore, I’d rather pay a mortgage than a rent. I bought in the best location I could, but the flat needed a lot of work, which I saw as an opportunity to add value. It turned out to be a great investment. By the time I went to business school, it was worth nearly double and the money I made by renting the flat more than covered my living expenses. After business school, I decided to convert the roof space of a top floor 2-bed flat, into a large 3-bed flat. It was a planning nightmare, but another great investment.

I left consulting to work for a British Retailer that was undergoing a transformation led by a CEO I respected a lot. It was a great career move, as I got to work with people that inspired me and maintained my high salary. As I did not have to travel as much, I had more spare time to become a more sophisticated investor. By then, I started investing in emerging markets bonds that provided high yields – e.g.: Brazilian government bonds with maturity in 2040, which paid a coupon of 11% in USD and had capital gains upside. I made more money in bonds than I would if had invested more in property; and, it was certainly less hassle.

In my early 30’s, I was living in a great place, mortgage free, had a high salary and a second income from investments that reinforced the virtuous circle of saving/investing, I started in my early 20’s. I could now get married; and, I did.

Saving is important, but never become a miser; or, go to the other extreme of spending to show off or fill a void. Personally, I am discreet and use money as efficiently as I can. This does not mean being cheap, just that I strive to maximize the value of the money I spend. This means, for example, rather than buying trending bags, I tend to buy Chanel classic bags, as they have great re-sale value. The same is true for classic design furniture. Regrettably, there are no good financial excuses to buy expensive designer shoes, apart from “they are worth it”!

Jokes apart, the main message here is: earning a lot is not enough to become sustainably wealthy. One needs to spend wisely and learn how to invest – the sooner the better.

6)  Go against the flow and take risks

Less than a couple of years after getting married, we decided to move from London to Sao Paulo in Brazil. Our friends and family could not understand and thought we were crazy. We moved before Brazil was a trendy BRIC country. It was just before the commodities cycle boom; and, a bit after Lula was elected. I bought and reformed 3 large apartments in prime locations in São Paulo within a year of moving in. I believed Brazilian property would boom as interest rates were going down and property prices were stalled for over a decade. As predicted, property prices in prime residential locations more than tripled from 2005 to 2012; and, in that same period the Brazilian currency appreciated a lot against the pound. Hence, I made several times my original investment.

Work-wise, Brazil was full of opportunities; hence I got a few good job offers. I chose to work for the trio of Brazilian billionaires that control several global companies, as the executive director at their Family Office. The culture in their companies was as meritocratic as I was used to, but more polarized – which I welcomed. If you do well, you can make several times your annual salary in bonus; if you don’t you end up leaving. Working for them for nearly 6 years was a transformative experience, especially in terms of my attitude towards risk. I really treasure what I’ve learned from them and the people in their ecosystem – much more so than the financial compensation (also very generous).

I decided to leave in 2011, when the financial crisis hit hardest in Southern Europe, as I saw opportunity to start a new cycle; and, felt there was diminishing return in what I was learning. Again, most friends could not understand, as Brazil was booming, Europe was in chaos and we both had highly paid jobs. After resigning, it took almost a year to arrange and train my successors. But in 2012, I was back in Europe buying cheap real estate, bonds and stocks. Since I left, the Brazilian economy stalled (it is now in recession), the Brazilian currency weakened and property prices are going down. In the meantime, European bonds and stocks and prime real estate have recovered a lot.

Going against the flow, can be a great investment strategy, but only if you have an underlying thesis of why it can work. Being a contrarian for the sake of it, does not work – it’s dangerous. I used mostly the real estate examples, as they are easier to understand for most people, but I apply the same principles to other asset classes – from stocks to bonds to VC&PE investments. My corollary is whenever everybody is going for a certain asset; I start to wonder if it is the time to get out!

7) Final remarks

Above all, I’d like to leave the message that there is no easy path to wealth, beyond sheer hard work, taking risks and constantly getting out of your comfort zone. This can mean changing careers often, or even countries to chase the best opportunities. Those entrepreneurs turned billionaires overnight are outliers; or, simply the exemptions that prove the rule that becoming wealthy is always about hard work over a long period of time. The good news is that it only depends on you. We can never control the circumstances we are born into, or the sort of “stuff” life throws at us. But we can control how we deal with it. Progress, is often a product of need or failure; so, stay positive as serendipity tends to strike those who keep chasing.

A final warning: becoming financially rich, doesn’t mean living a rich or fulfilled life; only means that you have more freedom and options to try.