Whether you envision yourself sitting by the pool drinking Dom Perignon or jumping in piles of gold coins a la Uncle Scrooge, you can't deny that the thought of being uber-wealthy makes for a good daydream. And some of us even think we can achieve those untold riches in no time through investing.
So is there an investment that can get you rich quick?
Unfortunately, the answer is no.
Why You Can't Get Rich Overnight
Chances are, you've read news articles about people who made lucky bets, trading the stock of a moonshot company. These are the companies whose stocks can shoot up by the hundreds of percent in just a matter of months, weeks or even days. Sometimes, they're startups making their initial public offering, or IPO.
But thanks to the fickle wheel of fortune (or market corrections, these moonshot trades could go down just as quickly and steeply as they could go up.
The Scams and Snake Oil Salesmen
Beyond the stock market, there are plenty of other investment opportunities that “promise” to make you rich.
There have been get-rich-quick “opportunities” since people first conceived of wealth. Ever heard of the term “snake oil salesman”? Someone who sells snake oil is someone who sells bogus products knowing they're bogus. Whether it be snake oil to cure your arthritis or an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a company that's going to make millions, they con you into thinking that their product is legitimate and then just take off with your cash.
The most famous of the get-rich-quick schemes is the Ponzi scheme, named after Charles Ponzi. He took money from people and promised them a 50% return on their investments. How did he deliver? By signing up more people and taking their money to pay his original investors. He signed up people knowing he had no way to generate the returns he promised.
In recent years, Bernie Madoff ran what is believed to be the biggest Ponzi scheme of all time, totaling $65 billion in fraud over roughly 20 years.
Madoff promised his investors higher returns than any other firm. He told them that it was achieved by buying blue-chip stocks and taking option contracts on them. He and his team tracked the stock market daily and generated reports that coincided with certain stocks' highest trading value. In this way, he kept people believing his scam, even though he never invested any money. Rather, he took all the money people gave him and put it in his business checking account. When people requested withdrawals, he would simply withdraw money from the checking account and give it to them.
Madoff's scheme worked for years, because he was able to get more people to “invest” with him. He preyed on people's desire to be rich without having to break their backs. People wanted to believe he had found a way to hack the system, to get around the rules and straight to the profit.
So let's banish all thoughts of investing your way to overnight riches. Instead, here's what to do.
Build Your Wealth the Smart Way
It's clear that when it comes to money, anything that's too good to be true probably is. In order to avoid losing your money to a scam artist or on a risky stock, here is a simple formula to get rich slowly (but safely).
1. Build up a cushion
Having a safety net or cushion is essential to financial health. Most people recommend having an emergency fund of three to six months of living expenses in an easily accessible savings account. If you're a freelancer or work with irregular income, you might save up to a year's worth. A solid cash cushion is a good resource should you have an emergency or should an investment go wrong.
There are plenty of effective ways to save money. Plenty of online banks offer savings accounts with decent APYs. Check out the CIT Savings Builder, which offers 1.00% for a minimum deposit of only $100.
And even if you've got the bare minimum to start, microsavings apps can help you get the ball rolling. Acorns lets you round up on purchases and invest your spare change. You probably won't get rich from it, but it will get you in the habit of saving.
2. Diversify your investments
Keeping all your eggs in one basket is a bad idea. If your one basket breaks, all your money disappears. Spread your investments around to protect yourself from catastrophe.
Real estate crowdfunding platforms have created some exciting opportunities for investors. They let you profit from this sector without having to get your hands dirty doing fix-and-flips yourself. While a lot of opportunities are available only to accredited investors who meet certain criteria, some platforms such as Fundrise offer exchange-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs) that trade like stocks and are available to anyone.
3. Buy and hold
And if you are going for stocks, make like Warren Buffett and invest for the long haul. Buy and hold is the Oracle of Omaha's sage advice. Let your money grow over the course of years to build substantial wealth.
Today, investing is easier than ever, thanks to a plethora of online tools. Among them are robo advisors, which can give you personalized investment advice for much less than what a traditional advisor charges. Betterment is one of our favorite robo advisors, requiring no minimum investment charging low fees and offering a variety of taxable and retirement accounts.
4. Consistently contribute
Compound interest will take you far when it comes to investing in stocks, but consistent contributions will take you farther. Continually adding to your savings and investments means that you have both interest and contributions working for you. If you max out your IRA every year (at $5,500 a year) for 30 years, your contributions alone will be $165,000.
Personal Capital is a personal finance service that can help you make sure you're investing enough to live a comfortable, rich retirement. It gives you a complete view of your finances so you can make sure you're on track to meet your goals. It's free to use, but if you have a minimum of $100,000, you can also sign up for a paid account that will include comprehensive wealth management services.
Wealth is important for many reasons. Getting rich quickly would be great, but it also can open you to great loss. Getting rich slowly will take you far and will give you a comfortable life. Luckily, there are plenty of tools to help you get there.