If you’re anything like me, you want only a few things out of life.
You want cheeseburgers and fried potatoes, preferably as part of the same meal. You want people who care about you, but not so much that they’re annoying. A comfortable bed and/or chair is pretty nice too. Oh, and you want to accumulate millions of dollars. Because hey, what’s the point of working hard towards getting rich if you don’t actually become rich in the process?
To be honest and a little depressing, simply becoming a millionaire isn’t really that impressive anymore. In 2015 it’s an accomplishment worthy of some praise, but by the time someone in their 20s or 30s retires it won’t be that impressive. If inflation averages 2% per year, $1 million will have the same purchasing power as about $600,000 of today’s dollars. That’s about the average cost of a house in crazy Toronto.
In short, damn near everybody with anything will have a $1 million net worth by 2050. Which is why you have to aim higher.
I’ve already thrown out the gauntlet, revealing my goal is $50 million in net worth before the aforementioned fried potatoes make me worm food.
But I’ve just spent the last few days in Omaha, reveling in the town Warren Buffett put on the map (more coming on Thursday!). And if I’m going to become the next Buffett, I need more than just a few measly millions. I’m going to need billions, and lots of them. Hold on, I better go get some.
Okay, I’m back, and I brought $50 billion back with me. How did I become a billionaire? I’m glad you asked. The answer is really quite simple. Instead of investing in the stock market, I came up with a much better method.
Passive investments won’t get you there
Here’s a list of the world’s ten richest people. Spoiler alert: they’re all old white men because they are the best people. Obvs.
There are plenty of things these people have in common. With the exception of Zuckerberg, they’re old white guys. They came from at least middle class backgrounds. And they all started their careers at a time that was advantageous to the particular industry they’re in. The Koch brothers started in the oil business at a pretty opportune time, for example. Most of the last 60 years have been good for oil companies, even after including the recent downturn.
Here’s what I think is the most important thing these guys have in common. They didn’t make their money on passive investments. They made it on starting and running their own companies.
But Nelson, you might say, isn’t there one big exception to that list? Didn’t Buffett become a billionaire by investing?
Well, sort of. Sure, Buffett made a lot of money investing over the years. He started out as a hedge fund manager back in the 1960s, and has been investing ever since through Berkshire Hathaway.
However, many people don’t really understand how Berkshire works. Buffett invested the excess capital generated by a profitable insurance business well. So, sure, Buffett got rich investing. But it was the insurance operations that generated the capital in the first place. So in reality, Buffett became a billionaire like everyone else on the list — by running his own business.
(And remember, Buffett’s hedge fund in the 60s gave him a big chunk of the profits if he did well. That sounds a lot like a business to me.)
The internet is filled with approximately 3348194819430184919999999999 blogs about how you (even you!) can amass your own passive income empire. All you need to do is buy the certain stocks recommended by said blog and you’re in business. It might take time, but you’ll eventually get enough capital to sit back, relax, and watch those sweet dividends roll in.
But let’s face it; if you want to become a billionaire, there’s a lot wrong with that plan. Firstly, it takes a lot of capital, money that isn’t just accumulated overnight. It takes decades of saving the ol’ fashioned way to end up with money. And we’re impatient, dammit. I won’t even wait 10 seconds for a g.d. webpage to load.
Secondly, returns from the stock market probably won’t be spectacular. If you manage to match the index’s return over time, you’re looking at about 9-10% per year. But many market experts believe we’re looking at returns of 4-5% over the next decade or so, since stocks are high and interest rates are low. The macroeconomic factors are about as good as they can be for stocks right now. That’s why we’re seeing high valuations.
There are other advantages of investing in privately held assets too. Each day, the market tells you the price your stocks are worth. Sometimes, those prices are high; other times, they’re low. Nobody shows up each day to tell you how much a franchise is worth. That would be a colossal waste of everyone’s time.
You might say you don’t pay attention to stock prices but you do. I guaran-damn-tee you do.
There are dozens of businesses you can get into that offer the opportunity to make 20% returns on the equity you’ve put in. It could even be as easy as buying real estate, although probably not in Canada at this point.
Say you invest $100,000 into a business worth $500,000. This business generates profits of $50,000 per year after all expenses are paid for, including interest on the debt. Boom, you’ve generated a 50% return on your equity. I’m not going to say it’s easy, because it isn’t. But the opportunity exists in many places if you look for it.
Anyhoo, let’s wrap this up. Investing is great. Putting money to work in the capital markets is something everybody should do, because you need growth to be able to retire. But if you really want to become a billionaire, either starting your own business or buying something private is where it’s at. If you do it right, you’ll generate far higher returns than on anything passive.