To get rich investing, the power of time beats a lucky stock pick

Lucky stock pick helps but power of time makes you rich

iStockphoto Five years can change your life.

Each of these three investment moves has an amazing lifetime payoff, especially if you (or someone you know) can start in their 20s. Do them all, and you could be set for a very comfortable retirement. 1. Start early

You can turn yourself into a multi-millionaire by saving for retirement for just five years. Start at 25, and you will be giving yourself the greatest gift an investor can have: time.

Sure, luck is important. But time is more important.

To see why, let’s assume that you’re 25 years old and you’ve decided that when you’re 30, you will start a long-term savings plan for your retirement. Further, we’ll assume that you will retire at age 70 (which in the year 2061 may be the norm.) That’s not a bad plan. But it could be better.

If you start now, at 25, five years of modest investments can leave you with millions when it’s time to retire, no matter what you do after you’re 30.

Here’s the setup: You’re 25 and you have a decent job. You don’t have tons of money to spare, but you figure out how to save $500 a month for your long-term future. That adds up to $6,000 a year, which you can put into an IRA, either a Roth (in which you’ll pay taxes on the $6,000 just as if you’ve spent it but get a huge tax break later) or a traditional one (in which you can defer taxes on the $6,000, making it less expensive at the moment).

Do that for five years and you’ll have invested $30,000.

During this five years, your investments are earning a return, though it’s impossible to know how much.

If we assume you receive the very-long-term compound annual growth rate of the S&P 500 index SPX, -0.67% — 10.7% — your $30,000 would grow to $37,144 when you’re 30.

Good luck, bad luck

I mentioned luck, and it certainly applies here. If you are unlucky enough to be 25 at the start of a string of years like 1970 through 1974 (with annual S&P 500 returns of 4%, 14.3%, 18.3%, -14.7% and -26.5%) your $30,00 would be worth only $22,998.

On the other hand, if you are lucky enough to be 25 at the start of a string of years like 1995 through 1999 (with returns of 37.5%, 22.9%, 33.3%, 28.5% and 21%) you’d have $65,323.

In any of these three cases, your $22,998 or $37,144 or $65,323 seems like only a tiny start toward $4 million. But every penny of it is money you won’t have if you wait until you’re 30.

Now assume you invest that money (and only that money) for the next 40 years in the S&P 500. Since 1928, the average 40-year compound annual growth rate of the index has been 11%. So let’s assume you achieved that from age 30 to 70.

Remember that this won’t be a straight line of 11% returns. There will be great years for the stock market, and there will be years where the market goes down and your portfolio shrinks. But we can’t see into the future, so history is the best guide we have.

Given these caveats and depending on whether you start (at age 30) with $22,998, $37,144 or $65,323, at age 70 you would have $1.49 million or $2.41 million or $4.25 million.

Those numbers came from only $30,000 of your own money – without assuming you invested anything after your 30 th birthday. That’s why a long time horizon is so powerful in investing.

This plan lets the ups and downs of life get in the way after age 30. But I’m presuming that after five years of savings, you’ll have good habits and will continue contributing to your IRA, leaving you with more money (probably MUCH more) at age 70.In the interest of balancing risks, that future money won’t be all in stocks, meaning not only will you have less time to invest but also will likely have lower returns. So consider this 100% equities investment that you made over just five years the jewel of your retirement portfolio. 2. Work for a generous employer You’ll improve your results a great deal if instead of putting your money into an IRA, you participate in a 401(k) or similar retirement plan in which your employer offers a 25% match. That will add $1,500 a year to your own savings. (And in a way it’s like free money to you.)Again using the three rates […]

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