At the tender age of 11, I made a solemn vow that when I grew up I was going to be rich. My plan was simple: Marry well.
I bless the day I married my husband, a man who is rich in character and unfailing love. I assumed his money would follow. While waiting for wealth to descend upon me, I made the near-tragic error of spending as though I were already rich. That landed us in so much financial trouble that it took 13 years to repair.
The experience taught me a very important principle: How much you spend matters much more than how much you earn. It's the money you don't spend that gives you the freedom to build wealth and live a life you love.
I asked financial experts for their best tried-and-true rules for building wealth.
Rule No. 1: Live Smarter
Enough is enough. "Living below your means is the secret to prosperity," says Michelle Singletary, nationally syndicated personal finance columnist for the Washington Post. "Don't need to borrow more money to get more stuff, because all that means is you'll have to work more to pay for it."
Stop trading up. In his book "You Can Do It! The Boomer's Guide to a Great Retirement," Jonathan Pond says, "Over 40 years of car ownership, someone who trades in a car every 10 years will have almost $500,000 more in the kitty than someone who trades in their car every three years."
Rule No. 2: Make Your Money Grow
"Time is money, so start saving now. Even small amounts of money invested regularly in a tax-sheltered retirement account using a diversified stock fund with dividends reinvested can create great wealth over the long run," says Terry Savage, author of "The Savage Number: How Much Money Do You Need to Retire?" It's never too late to get started.
Pay yourself first. Invest money automatically taken out of your paycheck or bank account on a regular basis.
Rule No. 3: Protect Your Main Asset
Buy a home and live in it. "You cannot get rich renting; it's impossible," says David Bach, author of "The Automatic Millionaire." Despite the ups and downs of the housing market, over time, owning your home is one of the best financial moves you can make.
Leave your home equity alone. "Don't borrow against it," says Quinn. "Let it build, so you'll own the house free and clear by the time you retire."
Rule No. 4: Avoid Toxic Debt
"Pay your credit card bill(s) in full every month. No exceptions!" says Liz Pulliam Weston, author of "Easy Money: How to Simplify Your Finances and Get What You Want Out of Life." "Credit card debt is the most toxic debt there is; you'll wind up paying a fortune in interest charges. Paying late or over-limit fees just throws more good money away."
Have the highest possible credit score. "Your FICO credit score determines who will hire you, and how much interest you'll pay on mortgages and car loans," says Suze Orman, author of "Women & Money."
Rule No. 5: Be Patient!
It takes time to get rich; there's no secret formula. "You already know that the key is to spend less than you earn and invest those savings wisely," Pond says. "If you do that, it's almost a certainty you'll accumulate a lot of money over the years, no matter when you start."