Single-digit millionaires are ‘basically middle-class,’ argues real estate mogul. Here’s why he’s wrong

March 3, 2023, 1:30 PM UTC
Grant Cardone
Grant Cardone argues that being a single-digit millionaire is like being middle-class.
Michael Reaves—Getty Images

Being a millionaire may not have the same cachet it once did. So argues real estate mogul Grant Cardone in a recent video on his YouTube channel in which he details five steps to becoming a millionaire. 

“Everybody’s like ‘Oh my God, the iconic millionaire, you’re wealthy,’” he said. “You’re not wealthy…you’re worried.” 

In the video, Cardone stands in a bleak office and yells a lot in an effort to show that being a single-digit millionaire won’t get you very far these days—which, if you take his word for it, says a lot about the rest of us considering the typical net worth of a family in U.S. is $121,700. He broke down some math to validate his point: If a 30-year-old with $1 million and zero income spent $4,000 a month, equivalent to $48,000 a year, they would be broke by the time they reached 51. 

“Millionaires are basically middle-class people who are worried about money,” Cardone said. 

The self-made millionaire, who’s CEO of property investment company Cardone Capital, author of several business books, and a scientologist, is known for his hot takes—in the past, he said he’d be embarrassed if he only made $400,000 a year. And his polarizing comments don’t stop with money advice—he recently came under fire for tweets to his almost 1 million followers regarding anti-trans laws. Being controversial is part of his brand: As he recently tweeted, “You don’t have to like everything I say. The feeling is mutual.”

Many people may not like his take on single-digit millionaires either (Cardone did not respond to Fortune’s request for comment). After all, netting $1 million doesn’t happen overnight for most people. It’s a hard net worth to achieve when you’re in the actual middle class, which the Pew Research Center defines as a single person earning between $30,003 and $90,010 or a family of four taking home $60,000 to $180,000. 

Now, the hypothetical 30-year-old millionaire Cardone speaks of does fall into that middle-class bracket if they are living off $48,000 for the next 21 years. But the example is highly unlikely: Most people aren’t striving to retire at this age, unless they’re part of a small subset aiming to join the FIRE movement, and those who do often rely on passive income, which Cardone didn’t account for. 

One million dollars is pretty out of reach for the average Joe; the average American household has a median savings of $5,300 (the average, which is skewed by high earners, is a bit better at $41,600). While one’s net worth also includes assets like real estate and car ownership, both of these investments have become less attainable to the middle class the past few years thanks to a combination of rising inflation, competitive markets, and high interest rates. 

While the middle class was able to sock away some serious cash during the pandemic, their golden era has since faded as the economy rebounded and 40-year-high inflation took over. About eight in 10 middle class families in America report chipping away at their savings to keep up with a high cost of living, according to a Primerica survey. While many upper-class households got raises to keep up with the pace of inflation, middle-class families didn’t see the same wage increases—contributing to the already shrinking middle class. 

Yes, the wealthy are worried—but that doesn’t make them middle-class

Sure, even the wealthy have been feeling a little uneasy thanks to inflation and a rocky stock market. Less than half (44%) of all millionaires feel “very comfortable” about their finances (although that’s still twice as many as all respondents), according to a survey from Edelman Financial Engines. And 29% of millionaires say they don’t feel rich.

That’s probably because today’s economy is having a negative impact on standard financial benchmarks; consider that more than half of Americans raking in over $100,000 annually feel they’re living paycheck to paycheck. And $1 million is no longer always enough for a comfortable retirement.

“While it is still an exceptional level of achievement, it is questionable whether that amount is sustainable as a source of lifetime income, given improved longevity and high inflation,” Michele Lee Fine, founder and CEO of Cornerstone Wealth Advisory, told Fortune’s Alicia Adamczyk of retiring on $1 million. 

But it can still be done with smart budgeting. “A million dollars isn’t what it used to be, but it can still provide a comfortable retirement if done right,” Gates Little, president and CEO at the Southern Bank Company, told Adamczyk. Even if Cardone’s aforementioned example was applied to someone who retired at the full retirement age of 66, it would last them until they’re 87—maybe not the full length of retirement for some, but again, that example doesn’t include passive income or Social Security benefits. 

Of course, being a single-digit millionaire means different things in different cities; it likely won’t give someone as much financial security in high-cost cities like New York City or San Francisco as it might in a non-metro area. While Americans think it takes a $2.2 million net worth to be wealthy, their standard for being financially comfortable—which one might equate with the middle class—is $774,000. 

But just because the value of $1 million has depreciated doesn’t mean it’s not a lot of money, as Cardone suggests. A net worth of $1 million that’s well invested is nothing to sniff at.

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