by Richard Russell
Dow Theory Letters

Recently by Richard Russell: The Red Arrows


MAKING MONEY: The most popular piece I’ve published in 40 years of writing these Letters was entitled, “Rich Man, Poor Man.” I have had dozens of requests to run this piece again or for permission to reprint it for various business organizations.

Making money entails a lot more than predicting which way the stock or bond markets are heading or trying to figure which stock or fund will double over the next few years. For the great majority of investors, making money requires a plan, self-discipline and desire. I say, “for the great majority of people” because if you’re a Steven Spielberg or a Bill Gates you don’t have to know about the Dow or the markets or about yields or price/earnings ratios. You’re a phenomenon in your own field, and you’re going to make big money as a by-product of your talent and ability. But this kind of genius is rare.

For the average investor, you and me, we’re not geniuses so we have to have a financial plan. In view of this, I offer below a few items that we must be aware of if we are serious about making money.

Rule 1: Compounding: One of the most important lessons for living in the modern world is that to survive you’ve got to have money. But to live (survive) happily, you must have love, health (mental and physical), freedom, intellectual stimulation – and money. When I taught my kids about money, the first thing I taught them was the use of the “money bible.” What’s the money bible? Simple, it’s a volume of the compounding interest tables.

Compounding is the royal road to riches. Compounding is the safe road, the sure road, and fortunately, anybody can do it. To compound successfully you need the following: perseverance in order to keep you firmly on the savings path. You need intelligence in order to understand what you are doing and why. And you need a knowledge of the mathematics tables in order to comprehend the amazing rewards that will come to you if you faithfully follow the compounding road. And, of course, you need time, time to allow the power of compounding to work for you. Remember, compounding only works through time.

But there are two catches in the compounding process. The first is obvious – compounding may involve sacrifice (you can’t spend it and still save it). Second, compounding is boring – b-o-r-i-n-g. Or I should say it’s boring until (after seven or eight years) the money starts to pour in. Then, believe me, compounding becomes very interesting. In fact, it becomes downright fascinating!

In order to emphasize the power of compounding, I am including this extraordinary study, courtesy of Market Logic, of Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33306. In this study we assume that investor (B) opens an IRA at age 19. For seven consecutive periods he puts $2,000 in his IRA at an average growth rate of 10% (7% interest plus growth). After seven years this fellow makes NO MORE contributions – he’s finished.

A second investor (A) makes no contributions until age 26 (this is the age when investor B was finished with his contributions). Then A continues faithfully to contribute $2,000 every year until he’s 65 (at the same theoretical 10% rate).

Now study the incredible results. B, who made his contributions earlier and who made only seven contributions, ends up with MORE money than A, who made 40 contributions but at a LATER TIME. The difference in the two is that B had seven more early years of compounding than A. Those seven early years were worth more than all of A’s 33 additional contributions.

This is a study that I suggest you show to your kids. It’s a study I’ve lived by, and I can tell you, “It works.” You can work your compounding with muni-bonds, with a good money market fund, with T-bills or say with five-year T-notes.

Rule 2: DON’T LOSE MONEY: This may sound naive, but believe me it isn’t. If you want to be wealthy, you must not lose money, or I should say must not lose BIG money. Absurd rule, silly rule? Maybe, but MOST PEOPLE LOSE MONEY in disastrous investments, gambling, rotten business deals, greed, poor timing. Yes, after almost five decades of investing and talking to investors, I can tell you that most people definitely DO lose money, lose big time – in the stock market, in options and futures, in real estate, in bad loans, in mindless gambling, and in their own business.

RULE 3: RICH MAN, POOR MAN: In the investment world the wealthy investor has one major advantage over the little guy, the stock market amateur and the neophyte trader. The advantage that the wealthy investor enjoys is that HE DOESN’T NEED THE MARKETS. I can’t begin to tell you what a difference that makes, both in one’s mental attitude and in the way one actually handles one’s money.

The wealthy investor doesn’t need the markets, because he already has all the income he needs. He has money coming in via bonds, T-bills, money market funds, stocks and real estate. In other words, the wealthy investor never feels pressured to “make money” in the market.

The wealthy investor tends to be an expert on values. When bonds are cheap and bond yields are irresistibly high, he buys bonds. When stocks are on the bargain table and stock yields are attractive, he buys stocks. When real estate is a great value, he buys real estate. When great art or fine jewelry or gold is on the “give away” table, he buys art or diamonds or gold. In other words, the wealthy investor puts his money where the great values are.

And if no outstanding values are available, the wealthy investors waits. He can afford to wait. He has money coming in daily, weekly, monthly. The wealthy investor knows what he is looking for, and he doesn’t mind waiting months or even years for his next investment (they call that patience).

But what about the little guy? This fellow always feels pressured to “make money.” And in return he’s always pressuring the market to “do something” for him. But sadly, the market isn’t interested. When the little guy isn’t buying stocks offering 1% or 2% yields, he’s off to Las Vegas or Atlantic City trying to beat the house at roulette. Or he’s spending 20 bucks a week on lottery tickets, or he’s “investing” in some crackpot scheme that his neighbor told him about (in strictest confidence, of course).

And because the little guy is trying to force the market to do something for him, he’s a guaranteed loser. The little guy doesn’t understand values so he constantly overpays. He doesn’t comprehend the power of compounding, and he doesn’t understand money. He’s never heard the adage, “He who understands interest – earns it. He who doesn’t understand interest – pays it.” The little guy is the typical American, and he’s deeply in debt.

The little guy is in hock up to his ears. As a result, he’s always sweating – sweating to make payments on his house, his refrigerator, his car or his lawn mower. He’s impatient, and he feels perpetually put upon. He tells himself that he has to make money – fast. And he dreams of those “big, juicy mega-bucks.” In the end, the little guy wastes his money in the market, or he loses his money gambling, or he dribbles it away on senseless schemes. In short, this “money-nerd” spends his life dashing up the financial down-escalator.

But here’s the ironic part of it. If, from the beginning, the little guy had adopted a strict policy of never spending more than he made, if he had taken his extra savings and compounded it in intelligent, income-producing securities, then in due time he’d have money coming in daily, weekly, monthly, just like the rich man. The little guy would have become a financial winner, instead of a pathetic loser.

RULE 4: VALUES: The only time the average investor should stray outside the basic compounding system is when a given market offers outstanding value. I judge an investment to be a great value when it offers (a) safety; (b) an attractive return; and (c) a good chance of appreciating in price. At all other times, the compounding route is safer and probably a lot more profitable, at least in the long run.

Reprinted with permission from Dow Theory Letters.

Category: Think Tank

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

8 Responses to “Rich Man, Poor Man (The Power of Compounding)”

  1. CitizenWhy says:

    Why not? …

    1. Set up at birth an account with $2000? Some kind of savings/conservative investment account. Funded by US government, but with a tax on the sales in US of large corporations, wherever domiciled. … Allow family/godparents/christening guests to contribute up to $3000 more. Encourage people/congregations to adopt a poor household/street/parish and contribute extra. To be collectible/annuitized at 65, or earlier if medical conditions force retirement, or if a person is unemployed for 2 years or more and wants to retire.

    2. Encourage Mexico to do the same, with a smaller sum. Also, perhaps have US give foreign aid to Mexico and other appropriate countries with a contribution of $200-500.

    3. Make oil company royalties to be at least partly used toward such accounts for citizens of oil-producing companies. Why should all the income go to elite klepto-politicians and their cronies?

  2. Kevin C. says:

    This all seems nice in theory, but how does one do safe compounding in a market like we have now? 5 year t-bills earn less than 3%, even 30 year are below 5%. Muni-bonds appear to be similarly low. Money market rates are below 1%. I don’t see how anywhere near 10% is a realistic rate for safe investments like you described.

  3. [...] stumbled across an article by Richard Russell talking about the power of compounding. If you’re familiar with compound [...]

  4. las_vegas_researcher says:

    Stupid article with very misleading information. There are no guaranteed 10 or 11% investments which the article states. If present times were years 62-65 in the example of so-called smart investor B; and years 1-61 actually were true, the total for year 65 would be over $200,000 lower. Reality for virtually everone fowwing this scam, I mean scheme, will yield a far lower return.

  5. Over very long periods of time — 25-50 years — that is what the market returns.

    But you seem to be missing the main point about the power of compounding . . .

  6. las_vegas_researcher says:

    I understand compounding very well.Thank you. The author does not take into acCOuNt that one year of 1% or lower interest rates in guaranteed investment negates all of the grandiose claims.

  7. daddysarm says:

    Barry, you seem to be missing the other main points in that piece;
    1. that there are low-risk ways to beat inflation
    2. that it is ALWAYS a good time to start investing, due to compouding

    That piece comes from a time of much dfferent inflation & interest rates, not only absolute, but in their 5 – 10 yr outlook. That piece comes from a time before the Fed was seriallyblowing & popping bubbles. That piece is woefully naive now.

    It is NOT always a good time to start investing. The price you pay matters greatly.
    I dare you to redo those calculations, for 2 investors born in 1980.

  8. daddysarm says:

    When I say “redo those calculations, for 2 investors born in 1980″, I should clarify “assuming they invested in SP500″, ie “the market”.

    ps: was investr A hiding his money under the mattress for 7 years?