Super investor Warren Buffett, CEO of the massive conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.A) (NYSE: BRK.B), has dispensed many nuggets of wisdom that can help make us better investors — and as better investors, we can grow richer.
Here's a look at some valuable investing lessons imparted by Mr. Buffett — including what may be one of his last recommendations.
Learning from Warren Buffett
If you want to learn how to be a smarter investor from someone who has headed his company for more than 50 years, growing its value by an annual average of about 20%, you're in luck: Warren Buffett has been publishing annual letters to his shareholders in each of those years. They're all available on the company website, going back to 1977.
In his 1977 report, he detailed how the company's textile business was struggling, despite a lot of hard work by dedicated people, and how the company's insurance business had done well, despite mistakes having been made. He explained: “One of the lessons your management has learned — and, unfortunately, sometimes relearned — is the importance of being in businesses where tailwinds prevail rather than headwinds.”
Buffett's ultimate plan for his own money
That's an old insight, and you might be wondering what wisdom Buffett has imparted more recently. Well, roughly a decade ago, in his 2013 letter to shareholders, he shared one of his last wishes:
He said that in his will, he directed how he wants the money he leaves for his wife to be invested: “Put 10% of the cash in short-term government bonds and 90% in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund. (I suggest Vanguard's.)”
It's not a surprise that he likes Vanguard. He was friends with Vanguard's founder (and the father of index funds) John Bogle, and Vanguard is known for low fees, too — something Buffett would value.
But it might be surprising to you that Buffett is so bullish on index funds when he has been such an astute stock picker for so long. It shouldn't surprise you, though.
Buffett on index funds
An index fund is a passively managed mutual fund. Its managers don't have to apply much brainpower studying companies and making trading decisions. Instead, they just keep the fund filled with shares of whatever securities are in the index tracked by the fund. Since relatively little work is involved, index fund fees tend to be low.
Buffett's wife, like the rest of us, is not as brilliant an investor as he is, and she likely isn't that interested in studying stocks and making buy and sell decisions. Index funds are perfect for such people, offering roughly the same returns as the indexes they track (less those tiny fees). Since the stock market has averaged annual returns of close to 10% over long periods, index funds can build significant wealth over time. Check out how money grows at just 8%:
Growing at 8% for
$5,000 invested annually
$10,000 invested annually
$15,000 invested annually
Clearly, you can become a millionaire investing solely with index funds — as long as you're socking away significant sums regularly and have a long enough period during which your money can grow.
In a 2017 CNBC “On the Money” interview, Buffett suggested that investors “consistently buy an S&P 500 low-cost index fund… I think it's the thing that makes the most sense practically all of the time.” At his annual meeting in 2020, he said, “In my view, for most people, the best thing to do is to own the S&P 500 index fund.”
It's well worth learning more about Warren Buffett and his investing style — as adapting some of his approaches and principles can make you a more successful investor. But it's also fine to just park much or all of your long-term dollars in a low-fee, broad-market index fund. You can still amass a hefty nest egg for retirement that way.
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Selena Maranjian owns Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool owns and recommends Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long January 2023 $200 calls on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), short January 2023 $200 puts on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), and short January 2023 $265 calls on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.