Step #3 To Getting Rich: Make Your Money Earn For You

Ramit Sethi · August 25th, 2004

Make Your Money Grow

Now that you’ve learned about budgeting and banking, it’s on to the fun stuff. Investing is the best way to earn substantial amounts of money. Here’s how you can earn money with your existing money.

Risk and Reward
Higher risk equals higher reward, right?


Higher risk equals higher potential for reward, a big difference. The first (wrong) version assumes that if you invest in a risky venture, you will get higher rewards. This is very bad to think. The better way to think about it: If you invest in a biotech-startup, it’s risky: The stock may drop like a ton of bricks tomorrow. But if it really succeeds, the reward would be dramatic–a many-times-over overnight return on your money, something you’d never get from safer companies like GE or Wal-Mart.

What kinds of investments are risky? Well, every kind is risky to some degree. So…risky compared to what? Investing in a single stock is risky compared to investing in a lot of stocks (i.e., diversifying your portfolio). In general, stocks are riskier than bonds. And investing in an unproven startup or a company you haven’t researched in depth is really risky.

Risky investments aren’t good or bad–you just have to find a balance between your tolerance for risk and reward.


If you’re in your twenties, you have an enormous tolerance for risk. Let’s take the worst case. Say that tomorrow, you lost your job and all your money in investments. It would be bad, thats for sure–but not catastrophic. You could still go home and live with mom and dad, look for another job, and be ok.

Things are different when you’re older. At 30, you have a spouse and kids. At 40, you have a mortgage. And at 60, you have retirement and hip surgery, you old bastard. Simply by virtue of your age and place in life, you become more conservative. You can’t afford a total wipeout when you need your Vioxx prescription filled next week.

The point is that, as young people, we can take risks now that we won’t be able to take later. And if you invest sensibly, that higher risk can translate to higher (dramatically higher) rewards.

Bonus: Tapping into “hidden income” – money you’re throwing away every month – is part of my huge free guide to personal finance. Download your copy of my 6-part guide now.

Investing for the Long Term
…is what smart people do. Please don’t be stupid!!

Friend: “Ramit, where should I invest my money?”
Me: “Well, when do you need the money again?”
Friend: “Next year.”
Me: (Sob) (Then bitter anger)

Investing for a 1-year outlook is almost impossible to guarantee good returns. 5 years is better; 30 years is best. If you’re reading this in your twenties, chances are you will be rich. A wise man once said that “compound interest is the greatest invention of man.” His name was Albert Einstein.

Check this scenario out: You start investing at age 25, investing $2,000 each year until age 35. Then you STOP–never touching that money again. Your dumb friend doesn’t start until age 35, but he invests $2,000 a year for 30 years (compared to your 10). Who has more by age 65?

You! Actually, you’ll have over $70,000 more than your friend. Here’s a cool simulation.

One more thing. Over time, investing for the long-term (aka “buy & hold”) always beats short-term investing. (See some basic information here & here. Once you invest your money, don’t plan to take it out for a year. 5 years is better, and 30 years is even better. Why? Any given year can be good or bad, but that volatility will be averaged out over a long period of time, with good companies providing you dramatic returns.

Here are the technical details of why long-term investing works and short-term investing sucks (skip this part if you’re not interested).

First, we’re very bad at timing the market. For example, if you buy a stock on Jan 1 and it goes up 20% by March, you might sell–only to miss the 200% climb next month. Or if your investment drops, you’re tempted to sell it to cut your losses–literally buying high and selling low. That is bad. (Read more about investor psychology).

Second, every time you sell a stock, you’re incurring trading fees and taxes. Over time, these dramatically reduce your returns. In fact, Warren Buffet (Snoop Dogg of investing) once proposed a 100% capital-gains tax on investments held less than a year.

Third, it’s a lot of work to constantly buy and sell like that. Avoid work when at all possible.

“The Market”
You might have heard people saying “The market is up 2% today.” They’re usually talking about the S&P 500 index, a collection of 500 U.S. stocks. There are thousands of other indexes, most notably the NASDAQ (tech stocks) and the Dow Industrials, but we’ll use the S&P 500 (“the market”) for comparisons.

Now this is where it gets cool. “The market” is the benchmark for your investments. Over the past 70 years, it’s averaged an approximately 11% rate of return. Some years it went down a lot; others up). That means if you put $1.00 in, one average year later you’d have $1.11.

The Rule of 72: 72 divided by your return rate = the number of years it’ll take to double your money.

Woah. So 72/11 = 7 years to double your money. If you invested $10,000 directly into the market today, you’d likely have around $20,000 in 7 years. And that’s if you didn’t touch it at all–what if you added a little bit each month?

Anyway, use 11% as a benchmark. You should expect at least 11% from your investments because you can invest directly in the market itself. If, for example, you invested in a stock (higher risk because it’s just one stock, not 500), you’d expect a higher potential reward. So next time your friends are bragging about their stocks or mutual funds, ask them what their return rate was. “200%,” they’ll lie. Ask them what it was over 10 years, then snort. You could beat that by investing directly in the market.

Other typical rates for comparison
0.25% – typical bank savings account
2.89% – 2-year CD
9.4% – average annual mutual-fund return (with survivorship bias factored in)

Now what?
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  1. I was wondering if you have a guide on annual mutual-fund investing? For example, I have not a clue when it comes to investing, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc. However after reading all the great advice on this site I am excited and want to start investing. I am 27yrs old and want to invest in something that will be fairly safe but will be rewarding also. I have already setup my finances and this is my next step. Any advice on mutual funds for those like me? Thanks again for the awesome advice!

  2. Misty Sawyer

    37 years old and have invested in state retirement and 401-k for 7 years….401-k interest has been about 11%….suggestions (Roth IRA, etc and/or higher savings account interest than my credit union)? Thanks…Misty

  3. Hey thanks for the adivce. I was wondering if you could explain where you think it would be a good place to begin investing. Mutual funds, shares.etc

  4. Deb Thompson

    My husband and I are second marriage coupe. My husband is 58. We own our home worth about $200,00 and have no outstanding debt. We have $100,000 to invest and would like get around 8-10 percent in mutual funds (after fees) and we want to start withdrawing in 5 years ($8,000 a year) We don’t want to run out of money. Right now have what little money we have in CDs. What suggestions would you have regarding mutual funds that althoughI know the earning fluctuate — average 8-12% with minimum fees and how would this play out in five years when we want to start withdrawing a bit each year???

  5. My husband and I are second marriage coupe. My husband is 58. We own our home worth about $200,00 and have no outstanding debt. We have $100,000 to invest and would like get around 8-10 percent in mutual funds (after fees) and we want to start withdrawing in 5 years ($8,000 a year) We don’t want to run out of money. Right now have what little money we have in CDs. What suggestions would you have regarding mutual funds that althoughI know the earning fluctuate — average 8-12% with minimum fees and how would this play out in five years when we want to start withdrawing a bit each year???

  6. Just letting you know the article on survivorship bias is no longer available on its Web site.

    I appreciate all the information, thank you!!!

  7. hi, my bank is calling me to invest in variable funds, i have about 63k in the bank and would like to earn about 100k by the years end please what can I invest in for better return my money is in dumb savings, little returns and checking what should i put my money in

  8. which one do you think about investing in mutual funds or a cD ? Please let me know so I can go about it

  9. Sangeeta

    Considering your 2nd largest reader’s age group is 30-39, and you want to increase the number of women who read your advice, please do consider adding more financial information for that age group and gender.
    There are a lot of women in their late 30’s who, like me, are looking for the next challenge in their life since they’ve already pinnacled at work and done the kids thing…
    now we are actually interested in learning about finance and not leaving that to the husbands. That, along with yoga is the new trend…

    • Tyler

      Sexist much? The article is fairly broad talking about anyone, male or female. You need to actually read before you start getting all pc on everybody.

  10. Hi, I am a regular follower of your articles. Just like other ones this article too is informative. I have started my investment plans with Fair Investments ( ) and will keep all your points in mind. Thanks for sharing.

  11. I am 40years i want to invest #30,000 monthly for the next 5years where can invest,bond or shares

  12. I’m a Nigerian living in Lagos. I’m 35 yrs old. I work with an Events Management company. I earn an equivalent of $880 per month. I’m financially illiterate but i do really want to develop myself and make money work for me.
    A few years ago, like 8 or 9yrs ago, as a fresh graduate, i did invest in some bank/company shares worth $125/$62.5 at that period but i don’t know what has become of them nor how to track it.
    Two months ago, i made a conscious effort to invest in a low capital investment fund called FBN Capital after listening to a radio programme. Now apart from making some commitments towards this investment i really do not understand how it all works and will really love to educate myself. I will appreciate if i can get tips, manual or stuff that can really help to become financial savvy.

  13. I’m really glad i came across this. And I’m excited about it all and feel really motivated. Warm regards for your efforts. Looking forwards to your reply

  14. Evans Were

    I love this article, I really want to make some steps so money can work for me . I do admire investing. And I don’t know the best way to do it , I have ksh 100,000 to invest what is the best investment I can go for. Advice please.

  15. I have been trying to figure out what the best will be. To invest in a mutual fund, an index fund or the exchange investments. I see u said that in a mutual fund i should expect 11% interest. Can u suggest a place to open a mutual fund? I just moved to america and i am 28. I recently sold my firat business so have some money i want to invest but donr know where. Please advice thank u

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  17. If you want to make some money then check out the stock LW. I wish I was in it right now… had it at 7.80 four years ago and got married and sold it all. It’s still a great buy and will likely see 70 within ten to fifteen years. Dividend is 7.8 percent a year plus inflation on top of that.

  18. Also, as you begin to make money, GUARD IT WITH YOUR LIFE! There are so many scams and stupid investments out there. Believe in yourself and make certain you’re not investing your money foolishly. This sounds like common sense yet it happens all the time.

  19. Pierre Robidoux

    Thank you for sharing. It’s very useful. Hope to hear more from you.

  20. Great video. Hard to find something stable to invest in. The best I’ve tried is , I get returns of 10%. Also, is another one of my favs.

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  22. I like your story.
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  24. Yujin

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  25. How to invest my money (step by step guide)

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    Hi i have 70000$ how to work with my money and be a successful person in my economy.

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  31. This. This is how you write an article! Well done.

  32. Joy Butler

    I agree how the article illustrates the importance of long term investing and managing risk. It is a great idea to take on long term investments in the earlier stages of life so they can grow to a high return. It is also good to worry more about hedging risk when you are approaching retirement and your risk tolerance is minimal. I think that long term insurance would be something to invest in middle stages of life because it provides security when the time comes to exit the workforce.