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Meet the millionaires next door. These Americans made millions out of nothing.

Making millions of dollars with a fleet of ice cream trucks, or an eBay business, or a family roofing company, feels like fulfillment of the American Dream.

America seems to have more millionaires than ever. Indeed, the average U.S. household is now worth a million dollars, according to the federal Survey of Consumer Finances for 2022. Household wealth grew at a record pace in the pandemic, fed by surging home values and rising stock ownership.

Not quite a millionaire yet? Don’t despair. The super-rich skew the average. The median American household – imagine the middle figure on a long list of numbers – is worth a more modest $192,700. Roughly 18% of Americans, about 24 million households, are worth a million dollars, according to a Motley Fool analysis.

So, who are all the new millionaires?

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Much American wealth is inherited: Somewhere between 15% and 46%, by one analysis. Other millionaires get there by entering high-wage fields. Medical specialists can earn a million dollars in a few years. The average law partner at a large firm bags that much in one year.

But you can’t choose to be born rich, and one cannot simply walk into a law partnership.

USA TODAY set out to find the proverbial millionaire next door: Americans who built seven- or eight-figure fortunes from essentially nothing, without high-powered law degrees or inherited wealth.

Some of them started out with a negative net worth. Today, each of them is worth millions.

We’ll let them tell you how they did it.

Anuar Garcia , founder and CEO of GreenTek Solutions, displays shredded hard drives in his 23,900-square-foot warehouse in Houston. GreenTek Solutions is an IT asset disposition company that helps mid-sized to large corporations dispose of their excess IT equipment. GreenTek makes sure company data is erased or destroyed, and that their equipment doesn’t end up in a landfill.

'Work hard, be disciplined and don't give up'

◾ Name: Anuar Garcia

◾ Age: 33

◾ City: Houston

◾ Job description: Founder and CEO, GreenTek Solutions LLC

◾ Year started: 2012

◾ Net worth then: $10,000

◾ Net worth now: $25 million

◾ Your secret: “Work hard, be disciplined and don’t give up, but be ready to adjust.”

Garcia was that rare breed of worker who would notice something around the office that wasn’t getting done, and offer to do it.

By 21, he was doing everything.

Garcia was born in 1991 in Guadalajara, Mexico. Throughout Anuar’s childhood, his family crossed back and forth to the United States. His father worked with cattle on a farm, illegally at first, then with a Green Card, through an amnesty program to reward hard work.

The nation to the north was like “another world,” Garcia recalled. At 13, he told his parents he wanted to live there. Mom and Dad didn’t want to move, so they sent him to live with friends and family.

Over the next few years, Garcia lived in Houston, Mexico, California and Wisconsin. He attended seven high schools. His mother sent him $100 a month.

At 16, Garcia returned to Houston. He told his parents, “If you help me buy a car, I’ll never ask you for money again.” They bought him a $2,000 beater. He took a job at Geek Squad, installing and repairing electronics for $11 an hour.

Garcia completed high school and enrolled in community college, working and studying full time. He moved from Geek Squad to a small tech company that recycled computers. The firm was growing, and Garcia kept taking on new duties.

Anuar Garcia , founder and CEO of GreenTek Solutions, works on computers in his 23,900-square-foot warehouse in Houston. GreenTek Solutions is an IT asset disposition company that helps midsized to large corporations dispose of their excess IT equipment. GreenTek makes sure company data is erased or destroyed, and that their equipment doesn’t end up in a landfill.

“Within two years, I was running most of the company,” he said.

But Garcia didn’t like the idea of recycling perfectly good computers.

“Why aren’t they fixing this and giving it to somebody who doesn’t have a lot of money?” he asked himself. “Because that was me.”

At 21, Garcia left the company to start his own.

“I had $5,000 in my bank account,” he said. “I had $13,000 to $15,000 debt on credit cards. I remember my brother telling me that I was crazy.”

Garcia went on his computer and Googled, “How do you start a business?” He knew nothing about that, but he knew a lot about computers.

He started spending his days on eBay, looking for sophisticated computer components that ignorant owners were selling on the cheap.

Anuar Garcia , founder and CEO of GreenTek Solutions, is photographed in his 23,900-square-foot warehouse in Houston. GreenTek Solutions is an IT asset disposition company that helps midsized to large corporations dispose of their excess IT equipment. GreenTek makes sure company data is erased or destroyed, and that their equipment doesn’t end up in a landfill.

For example: the Cisco ASA 5505. It’s a computer firewall system for companies, with a value that rises or falls according to the number of workers licensed to use it.

“This guy’s selling it for 100 bucks, and I could sell it for 200,” or 300, or 500, Garcia said. He bought and sold them, all day long.

Garcia made more than $100,000 in revenue in the first few months. In the second year, he broke a million. He hired employees and found a warehouse.

When the pandemic hit, and supply chain kinks slowed the manufacture of new computers, Garcia’s refurbishing business went through the roof.

Today, GreenTek Solutions is approaching $40 million in annual sales, with 65 employees and three locations.

Most of Garcia’s competitors focused on recycling old computers: shredding them, basically. Garcia, by contrast, never recycled anything someone could still use. That impulse, he thinks, is what set him apart.

Greg Clement poses for a portrait at Mapleside Farms in Brunswick, Ohio, on June 14. Clement runs a house-flipping company. He also owns an apple orchard and a winery, and he's into motorcycles.
Greg Clement poses for a portrait at Mapleside Farms in Brunswick, Ohio, on June 14. Clement runs a house-flipping company. He also owns an apple orchard and a winery, and he's into motorcycles.

'You can't have one client and be successful'

◾ Name: Greg Clement

◾ Age: 50

◾ City: Brunswick, Ohio

◾ Job description: Chief energy officer, Freedomology Labs & Realeflow

◾ Year started: 2004

◾ Net worth then: 0

◾ Net worth now: $70 million

◾ Your secret: “Balance is energy. Commit to only the important things, and use fear as energy to fuel your journey.”

From the start, Greg Clement understood how to turn a small real estate business into a large one. If you can flip one house, he reasoned, you can flip a hundred.

Clement grew up on a swath of rural Ohio between Cleveland and Akron, one of seven kids. His father ran a construction business when he wasn’t racing motorcycles or selling them.

“He was the hardest worker I knew,” Clement said.

As a teen, Clement worked on his father’s crew, hauling roof shingles up ladders, until he decided the construction business wasn’t for him. He went off to college, one of the first in his family to do so. He majored in philosophy, then switched to English, then business.

Clement graduated in 1997 and, at 22, went to work as a financial planner. One client was a doctor who earned $400,000 a year but spent more than that. Another was a “guy with a machine shop,” who made about $100,000 a year but was worth $9 million.

In financial planning, Clement said, “you get to see who’s actually doing well.”

Several years in, Clement was sensing a pattern: “A lot of my clients who were very successful were holding their assets in real estate,” he said. They used rental income to pay debts. Depreciation saved them a bundle at tax time.

Greg Clement poses for a portrait at Mapleside Farms in Brunswick, Ohio, on June 14. Clement runs a house-flipping company. He also owns an apple orchard and a winery, and he's into motorcycles.
Greg Clement poses for a portrait at Mapleside Farms in Brunswick, Ohio, on June 14. Clement runs a house-flipping company. He also owns an apple orchard and a winery, and he's into motorcycles.

“I came home from work one day and told my wife, ‘I’m done with financial planning. I’m getting into real estate.”

Clement decided he wanted to flip houses: Buy them, fix them up and sell them.

Fortuitous timing availed him. The mid-2000s housing bubble was about to burst, as a prelude to the Great Recession.

“Almost every house we were looking at was in foreclosure,” Clement said.

“We had to negotiate short sales,” haggling with a bank to set a discounted sale price below the value of the outstanding mortgage. “That was our business model, and we had an abundance of opportunities.”

Clement learned that many house-flippers worked one house at a time, buying a single property, renovating it and selling it. He knew, from his years in financial planning, that one project at a time was not enough.

“You can’t have one client and be successful,” he said. “You have to have 100. So, we took the same approach to real estate.”

Clement found private lenders to write checks to cover the short sales, in return for a percentage of the proceeds after Clement flipped the home.

He assembled a small team that could handle 30 or 40 projects at a time. In the first year, Clement completed more than 100 sales.

Over time, he branched out into multiunit complexes and commercial real estate, including an apple orchard, winery and golf course.

Early on, Clement hired a local programming company to write software that would help him manage the projects. He called the program Real Estate Workflow, or Realeflow.

In 2006, Clement started selling Realeflow to other investors. Today, the platform serves more than 100,000 clients.

All along, he knew real estate would be a no-brainer.

“I didn’t have to get lucky with a business idea,” he said. “I didn’t have to invent something.”

Most recently, Clement launched Freedomology, a wellness community that focuses on physical and mental health and improving relationships.

He started it this year, he said, after meeting with fellow millionaires and realizing that “many of these people were chasing financial success at the expense of their health, at the expense of their relationships.”

Rebecca Kase, CEO of Kase & CO, at her home in Fox Island, Wash.
Rebecca Kase, CEO of Kase & CO, at her home in Fox Island, Wash.

'Try believing in yourself, just a little'

◾ Name: Rebecca Kase

◾ Age: 42

◾ City: Fox Island, Washington

◾ Job description: CEO of Kase & CO

◾ Year started: 2017

◾ Net worth then: Negative

◾ Net worth now:  $3.5 million

◾ Your secret: “Try believing in yourself, just a little.”

I’ll be real with you, Rebecca Kase says on her professional website. It is not an empty promise.

Kase survived a sexual assault in college. That led to post-traumatic stress and depression, unhealthy relationships with drugs, alcohol and people, and a suicide attempt. Years later, her father died by suicide.

Today, Kase is both a trauma survivor and a trauma expert. She shares her story with other psychotherapists, whose job is to help trauma survivors. Not surprisingly, her words have an impact.

At 42, Kase is one of the nation’s leading trainers in a kind of therapy called EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. The therapy guides a subject through desensitizing traumatic memories, so they no longer cause distress.

Kase was raised outside St. Louis. Her parents had good jobs, but her real inspiration was her great-grandfather. He was a psychiatrist. Her parents inherited his home, a cabin in the woods, stocked with books on Freud and dreams and psychoanalysis.

She grew up feeling she had no talents outside of making friends and attending parties. But when she took Psychology 101 at the University of Missouri, something clicked.

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“It was this moment where I felt like, This is my dharma. This is what I’m supposed to do,” she said.

Kase earned a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in social work, graduating in 2007. She spent a decade in that field, working in community mental health centers, rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters. By 2017, she was a program manager.

That year, a friend told Kase she was retiring from her job as an EMDR trainer. She offered to sell Kase her manuals. Kase launched a small training business. It was a bold play: She had some assets, but even more student debt.

Rebecca Kase, CEO of Kase & CO, photographed at her home in Fox Island, Washington.
Rebecca Kase, CEO of Kase & CO, photographed at her home in Fox Island, Washington.

Kase & CO quickly took off. EMDR therapy was gaining currency. Kase made a compelling trainer, sharing her own mental health journey as she built an audience of like-minded therapists.

“My customers didn’t just want me to lecture at them and show them slide decks,” she said. “They wanted a community, and they wanted someone they could relate to.”

The COVID-19 pandemic was “a game changer,” she said, opening a new arena of virtual training.

Today, Kase has a staff of 40. She has trained “close to 10,000” therapists, by her count. She takes pride in earning good money in a profession that does not spawn many millionaires.

“I’m a seven-figure social worker,” she said. “Social workers aren’t supposed to earn seven figures.”

Tony Lamb, CEO of Kona Ice, with the company's crafted gourmet shaved ice truck at their headquarters in Florence, Ky. The crafted truck is geared toward adults. Flavors include Irish coffee, bourbon black cherry vanilla and peach ghost pepper.
Tony Lamb, CEO of Kona Ice, with the company's crafted gourmet shaved ice truck at their headquarters in Florence, Ky. The crafted truck is geared toward adults. Flavors include Irish coffee, bourbon black cherry vanilla and peach ghost pepper.

'Everyone can relate to an ice cream truck'

◾ Name: Tony Lamb

◾ Age: 55

◾ City: Florence, Kentucky

◾ Job description: CEO & founder of Kona Ice

◾ Year started: 2007

◾ Net worth then: “Probably negative.”

◾ Net worth now: “I own 50% of a $200 million-plus company.”

◾ Your secret: “Keep slingin’ till you catch a break, or, be lucky.”

One day in 2004, Tony Lamb watched a dilapidated ice cream truck drive past his home and saw an opportunity.

“Our kids knew instinctively to run to it. And it looked like a prison van,” he said. “I bought $22 worth of freezer-burned popsicles, and the guy drove away.”

Lamb thought to himself: What if the truck had been clean and colorful and new? What if the product had been better, and the prices reasonable? And what if someone presentable had been driving it, rather than a guy whose unkempt appearance prompted Lamb’s daughter to scream?

Lamb had worked his way through college selling vacuum cleaners door to door, his father’s trade. He kept it up after college, but he could tell that door-to-door sales were on the way out.

In 2007, Lamb went into the ice cream truck business. He and a friend ordered five trucks, investing $500,000, funds borrowed from an equity line on a house that belonged to the friend’s in-laws. Lamb drove one of the first trucks himself.

Tony Lamb, CEO of Kona Ice, with the company's crafted gourmet shaved ice truck at their headquarters in Florence, Ky. The crafted truck is geared toward adults. Flavors include Irish coffee, bourbon black cherry vanilla and peach ghost pepper.
Tony Lamb, CEO of Kona Ice, with the company's crafted gourmet shaved ice truck at their headquarters in Florence, Ky. The crafted truck is geared toward adults. Flavors include Irish coffee, bourbon black cherry vanilla and peach ghost pepper.

Lamb started the job as a side hustle, then built it into a full-time business called Kona Ice. His concept: Customers would assemble their own snow cones, pumping flavored syrup over shaved ice from spouts accessible outside the truck.

“You go to a snow cone stand, they never put enough snow cone flavors on it,” he explained.

Lamb noticed that most ice cream trucks looked decrepit. Aside from the venerable Mister Softee brand, small operators seemed to dominate the industry.

“There was nothing organized out there,” Lamb said.

Timing helped: The economy was tanking; snow cones were cheap.

“I don’t think anyone was talking about vacations in 2008,” Lamb said. “We wanted to give them a 15-minute vacation. We played tropical music off the truck.”

In 2009, Lamb started selling franchises. Buyers put $20,000 down on a $100,000 truck. The investment guaranteed a level of professionalism in the drivers.

Today, Kona Ice is approaching 1,900 franchises. Trucks routinely partner with schools and youth sports leagues, selling snow cones and donating some of the proceeds to the organizations: $180 million to date.

“Everyone can relate to an ice cream truck,” he said. “And that’s what I think has been universal.”

Andrew, left, and Eddie Prchal, owners of Gunner Roofing, at their current headquarters in Stamford, Conn. The company expanded from its original Greenwich location in 2022.
Andrew, left, and Eddie Prchal, owners of Gunner Roofing, at their current headquarters in Stamford, Conn. The company expanded from its original Greenwich location in 2022.

'It's easy to put up a roof. But it's what happens after'

◾ Names: Andrew and Eddie Prchal

◾ Ages: 27 and 31

◾ City: Stamford, Connecticut

◾ Job description: CEO (Eddie) and president (Andrew) of Gunner Roofing

◾ Year started: 2018

◾ Net worth then: Company valued at $5,000

◾ Net worth now: Company valued at $100 million

◾ Your secret: “We are always trying to learn, always trying to surround ourselves with people who want to make the company better and us better.”

As a home repair project, in terms of cost and safety, it doesn’t get much bigger than a new roof.

And so, when the Prchal brothers got into the roofing business, they set out to inspire confidence.

They grew up in a middle-class family in Arizona. Their father worked for IBM and earned good money until a round of layoffs arrived, in the mid-2000s.

“We pretty much lost everything,” Eddie Prchal said. Around the same time, their mother died. Eddie and Andrew went to live at friends’ houses as their father regrouped. They sought scholarships and sponsorships to remain in private school.

Each brother spent a year or so in college. After that, Eddie said, they worked “just random jobs.” Then, a brother-in-law approached them with an idea. He had a solar energy company. He asked the Prchals, “Do you guys think you could start a roofing company?”

Andrew, left, and Eddie Prchal, owners of Gunner Roofing, at their current headquarters in Stamford, Conn. The company expanded from its original Greenwich location in 2022.
Andrew, left, and Eddie Prchal, owners of Gunner Roofing, at their current headquarters in Stamford, Conn. The company expanded from its original Greenwich location in 2022.

They knew little or nothing about roofing, but Andrew and Eddie were handy. The brother-in-law had lost faith in roofers: They behaved unprofessionally, failed to call him back, missed deadlines and seemed disorganized, despite the considerable cash at stake.

The Prchals learned to build roofs on the fly, touring shingle factories and asking lots of questions. They called the company Gunner Roofing because the name “sounded reliable,” Eddie said. They set up as a proper business, with finance and marketing departments and a corporate brand.

Founded in 2018 in Connecticut, Gunner Roofing was one of the first in the industry to let customers “buy their roofs entirely online,” Eddie said. “You can buy a roof within an hour.”

In the decade since, the Prchals have built a national brand by emphasizing customer service along with craftsmanship: Returning phone calls, meeting deadlines, and following up after a project is done.

“You know, it’s easy to put up a roof,” Eddie said. “But it’s what happens after.”

Brian Preston co-hosts the podcast "The Money Guy Show" at his Abound Wealth Management office in Franklin, Tenn. He carved out some time in his show's recording session to do portraits Tuesday afternoon, June 18, 2024.
Brian Preston co-hosts the podcast "The Money Guy Show" at his Abound Wealth Management office in Franklin, Tenn. He carved out some time in his show's recording session to do portraits Tuesday afternoon, June 18, 2024.

'Building wealth is easy, but it's not simple'

◾ Name: Brian Preston

◾ Age: 50

◾ City: Franklin, Tennessee

◾ Job description: Co-founder and managing partner of Abound Wealth Management, accountant, podcaster, bestselling author.

◾ Year started: 1996

◾ Net worth then: Less than $1,000

◾ Net worth now: More than $10 million

◾ Your secret: “Building wealth is easy, but it’s not simple.”

Brian Preston offers himself as a living example of extraordinary success built upon fairly ordinary rules of saving and investing.

Lots of people sock money away every month, drive an old car and watch their spending on date nights. Preston just did a really good job of it.

Preston earned $100,000 in annual income by age 31. He reached $1 million in liquid assets at 41. Now, at 50, he co-hosts The Money Guy Show podcast and just published a bestselling book, Millionaire Mission.

Preston grew up in Georgia. Things got lean after his father lost his health care job in the 1980s.

“My parents would actually take us to timeshare presentations so that we’d have a trip,” he said: After the timeshare pitch, they’d get to stay for free. At home, Brian’s mother recycled soap.

Preston majored in accounting at the University of Georgia, angling for a job that would spare him the indignity of moving back in with his parents after college. He worked his way through school driving a campus bus. In the summer, he loaded baggage on Delta airplanes.

His inspiration to amass a million dollars came from a high school teacher, who apprised the class that if they each invested $100 a month, they could all retire as millionaires.

From the dawn of his career, as an Atlanta accountant earning $28,000 a year, Preston saved $200 to $300 a month. He married at 24 and bought a home. Within a year or two, he and his wife were collectively saving $1,000 a month.

It sounds like a lot, but the Prestons made only modest concessions to thrift. Brian drove a used Mazda 626. They kept their monthly car payment below 8% of their income, and their housing costs below 25%. Brian did his own landscaping and painting.

Brian Preston co-hosts the podcast "The Money Guy Show" at his Abound Wealth Management office in Franklin, Tenn. He carved out some time in his show's recording session to do portraits Tuesday afternoon, June 18, 2024.
Brian Preston co-hosts the podcast "The Money Guy Show" at his Abound Wealth Management office in Franklin, Tenn. He carved out some time in his show's recording session to do portraits Tuesday afternoon, June 18, 2024.

The rest of Preston’s investment and saving secrets are hardly shocking. He built equity in his home. He invested in index funds. He steered clear of credit card debt. He progressed from accounting to wealth management.

Near the end of his book, Preston makes a confession: He didn’t feel really comfortable with his finances until his forties. He made mistakes and had lean years, and he survived them.

He writes, “You do not have to be perfect (or even close) to be successful.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How these Americans made millions out of nothing