You've probably heard of Warren Buffett, but you may not appreciate just how impressive an investing record he has. He has been at the helm of his company, Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.A) (NYSE: BRK.B), for more than 50 years, and in that time the company's value has increased at an average annual rate of about 20%. To put that in perspective, the S&P 500 has averaged around 10% over the same period. Want more perspective? A 20% growth rate will turn a single $1,000 investment into about $9 million over 50 years!
Most of us would love to have investing results like that. It's no easy feat to accomplish, but if you want to try to beat — or even meet — Buffett's average, here are some ways to go about it, including some advantages you may have over Buffett. You can do quite well even if you fall short.
Start young — very young
One important contributing factor to Buffett's longtime ranking among the world's richest people is simply that he has been busy growing his wealth for more than 80 years. He was selling sticks of gum when he was just six years old, for example, and delivering gobs of newspapers as a young teen — earning thousands of dollars and buying himself a farm. He bought his first shares of stock at age 11.
It's probably too late for you to start earning and investing money at such a young age, but take a moment to appreciate the power of time and dedication. You might get your children or grandchildren interested in investing very early, and that can pay off well for them throughout their lives.
Live a very long life
It also helps to live a long life. Buffett will turn 92 this year — and he's still working and investing. You might not want to be an active investor or worker into your 90s (not to mention your 80s), but doing so can help your portfolio grow powerfully.
A more manageable strategy for many people is simply to work a few years longer than they may have planned to work. Doing so has many advantages. For one thing, you'll have more years in which to save and invest money for your retirement. You may also be able to remain on your employer's health insurance plan, which may save you money. If you're delaying starting to collect Social Security, that will make your checks bigger. And every year that you're still working is one less year in which your nest egg has to support you. That can make it last longer.
Win “the ovarian lottery”
If you're sensing that it might be much harder than you expected to outperform Buffett, you're right. He credits much of his success to his having won “the ovarian lottery.” In other words, he was born at the right time, in the right place, and in the right circumstances to be well positioned to make a lot of money. It also helps that he has a brain and temperament that's particularly well suited to business and investing.
It's too late for most of us to be born in Omaha in 1930, but if you're reading this article on a computer or smartphone, you have probably won your own ovarian lottery. After all, more than a billion people on earth are struggling to live on a few dollars per day. And if you're online, that means you are able to tap a host of educational and enlightening information about business and investing — with a few keystrokes.
Take advantage of not being super rich
Here's one way that you've got an advantage over Buffett: You're a much smaller investor. He has grown so rich that it's hard for him to make much money investing in small companies. For a stake in a stock to make a meaningful difference in his portfolio, he needs to buy a lot of it, and that can be hard to do without driving up the price.
It's — not surprisingly — proving hard for Buffett to earn outsized returns when his company is so large. (Its market capitalization was recently around $700 billion.) In Berkshire's first 25 years, there were 13 years in which the company's stock value grew by more than 30%. In its last 25 years, there were four. It's simply harder for huge companies to grow huger at a rapid clip. Still, Berkshire is doing OK — averaging annual returns of close to 10% over the past 20 years and 15% over the past decade — both of which still outperform the S&P 500.
Another advantage you have over Buffett these days is time: He stands a good chance of reaching the age of 100, if not more, but he probably doesn't have 20 more years of investing in him — and there's a good chance that you do. See what 20 years (or more, or less) can do:
Growing at 8% for
$10,000 invested annually
$15,000 invested annually
$20,000 invested annually
Follow Buffett's example and lessons
It's unlikely that any of us can beat Buffett's long-term record, but if we start now, we may outperform him in the coming decade or two. A promising approach to take to do so is to follow his example — and the many lessons he's freely shared with the public, in his annual letters to shareholders and in interviews.
Some of Buffett's investing principles include staying within your circle of competence, thinking for yourself instead of following the crowd, and buying great companies at good (or better) prices, aiming to hold for many years, if not many decades. Putting such advice into practice means that we shouldn't buy into biotechnology companies if we know nothing about biotechnology, that we shouldn't buy stocks at any price just because we love the companies, and that we shouldn't trade frequently, out of impatience or fickleness.
Invest with Buffett
Finally, another good strategy for those interested in following Warren Buffett and getting investing results like his is to simply let him (and his investing lieutenants) invest for you — by becoming a Berkshire Hathaway shareholder. Doing so means you'll have a stake in his business, which encompasses scores of businesses that it owns outright (such as GEICO, Dairy Queen International, Benjamin Moore, and the entire BNSF railroad) along with large stock positions in companies such as Bank of America, Coca-Cola, and Apple. Berkshire isn't likely to average 20% annual growth any more, but it is likely to keep growing over time, due to the many solid businesses it owns.
Another strategy: Growth stocks
Of course, there are other approaches to investing than those favored by Buffett. You might aim to outperform him by focusing much attention on growth stocks, for example. They're tied to companies that are growing faster than average — and their stock prices can grow much faster than average. These stocks can be undervalued, but they often trade at steep values. Many never reach their potential, which is why the Motley Fool's investing philosophy recommends spreading your dollars across 25 or more of them while aiming to hang on for at least five years.
Whether you follow Buffett or not, you should be aiming to amass a sizable nest egg that can help support you in retirement — because Social Security is not likely to be sufficient.
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Bank of America is an advertising partner of The Ascent, a Motley Fool company. Selena Maranjian owns Apple and Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool owns and recommends Apple and Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long January 2023 $200 calls on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), long March 2023 $120 calls on Apple, short January 2023 $200 puts on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), short January 2023 $265 calls on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), and short March 2023 $130 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.