Everyday in our mass-consumption society we're bombarded with hundreds of messages about what products to buy, what clothes to wear, what vehicle to drive, what job to pursue, what image to create. We're conditioned to look successful if we want to become successful. From this logic, we often assume that those who are well-dressed, neatly coifed, and luxuriously transported are wealthy people. However, a recent bestseller challenges our appearance-based assumptions. In The Millionaire Next Door, authors Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko examine over twenty-five years' worth of research on the affluent in America. They write:

In the course of our investigations, we discovered seven common denominators among those who successfully build wealth.

1. They live below their means.

2. They allocate their time, energy, and money efficiently, in ways conducive to building wealth.

3. They believe that financial independence is more important than displaying high social status.

4. Their parents did not provide economic outpatient care.

5. Their adult children are economically self-sufficient.

6. They are proficient in targeting market opportunities.

7. They chose the right occupation.

The authors present a composite portrait of the average American millionaire as someone who is typically a small-business owner in his late fifties, married with three children, living well below his means in a modest house, wearing non-designer clothing from J.C. Penney's and Sears, and driving an American-made car several years old.

The typical affluent millionaire stereotype that many of us may hold is now only perpetuated by those who aren't really millionaires at all. They are either hyper-consumers or work in industries where appearances of wealth and success are crucial to job performance (such as law, medicine, or entertainment).

Much of the book's popularity is its message that many of us can be millionaires with proper discipline, shrewd savings and investments, and careful attention to our lifestyle habits.

When you think of a millionaire, what comes to mind? How does this book's portrait of a millionaire compare with what you envision?

How do you define financial security at this stage of your life? Take a moment to jot down your individual responses before comparing them with one another.

How has your definition changed over your life's course, perhaps after you switched careers, married or divorced, or had children? Try to specify what accounts for the changes. ...

Clip pages from magazines that convey messages about what it means to be "successful" in our society today. Pay special attention to the way various ads sell not only a product or service, but a lifestyle. What's the power in this strategy? Why are such lifestyle ads so appealing? In your journal, write a composite description of a "successful American" man or woman, in your same stage of life, based on the ads alone. Then journal your response to this composite portrait. How does it make you feel? What does it make you want to do?

Congratulations! Imagine that you've just inherited five million dollars from a long-lost relative. Be honest with yourself and journal about how you would spend and allocate the windfall. How would this kind of money affect your lifestyle? What new struggles would this money include? What present attitudes and difficulties would it alleviate? Would you share your news with other family, friends, and group members? Why, or why not?

What do you most want to tell God after considering this discussion? What's your most important request of Him regarding the issue of mastering money?

Excerpted from Mastering Money: A Pilgrimage Small Group Study Guide, copyright 1998 by Dudley Delffs. Used by permission of NavPress, Colorado Springs, Co., www.navpress.com. All rights reserved. For copies of the book, call 1-800-366-7788.

Do you think it's likely or unlikely that you'll eventually become a millionaire if you continue to manage money the way you're managing it now? Why or why not? Are you a millionaire already? If so, how has your money affected your lifestyle? If you're not a millionaire yet but want to be, why is that important to you, and how do you think it will change your life? Visit Crosswalk's forums to discuss this topic by clicking on the link below.