Social justice warriors often claim that wealth disparity in this country – which they call “economic inequality” – is due not to education, skill, hard work, persistence or risk-taking… but to “luck.”
They have to make this argument if they want to persuade more people to accept their remedy: radically higher levels of income redistribution.
Taking money from those who earned it and giving it to those who haven’t isn’t everyone’s idea of what’s “fair,” especially since state and federal taxes can easily take up more than half your annual income.
To counter those who want to keep the fruits of their own labor, the mainstream media label them greedy, selfish, uncaring… and, of course, “lucky.”
How much does luck or good fortune really have to do with it? You be the judge…
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, three-quarters of households in the top income quintile have two workers. Less than 5% of those in the bottom quintile do.
For every hour worked by a bottom quintile household, a rich household works five.
Is it luck that one household works five times more than another – or is there a better, alternative explanation?
Most of us work, of course, but many don’t save.
In my last column, I mentioned that nearly 80% of Americans live from paycheck to paycheck. Half say they would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency.
Those who are physically or mentally disabled and unable to work deserve our sympathy not our condemnation.
I support social welfare programs for the truly needy.
But that doesn’t describe most of us – U.S. median household income hit a record $61,372 last year.
Let’s imagine that you and I are two hypothetical families earning this median income – and watch how our behavior can radically change our economic circumstances.
I’m a spendthrift, blowing every penny I make each year.
You, on the other hand, are a bit more prudent. You regularly save 4% of your monthly income – $190 a month – through a Roth IRA.
Let’s further stipulate that you invest it in a plain-vanilla S&P 500 index fund that generates nothing more or less than the average long-term return of 10%.
After the first decade, with dividends reinvested, you have $36,830. I have zero.
As you can see, things are already unequal.
In 20 years, you have $131,865. (Finding $400 for an emergency is not a problem.) I have nothing.
In 30 years, you have $378,361. (I still have nada.) And in 40 years, you have more than a million dollars.
And it’s tax-free. (Let’s remember you were smart enough to invest in a Roth IRA, where distributions are tax-exempt.)
Bernie Sanders – who loudly proclaims that he does “not have millionaire or billionaire friends” – will stand at the podium and condemn you.
But he will warn me about Wall Street greed and “the rigged economy” and ask for my vote.
After all, it’s simply not fair that you have so much – and I have nothing.
In reality, of course, you may not have 30 or 40 years to save and invest. In that case, you need to save more or earn a higher rate of return… or both.
If you saved 10% of your income a month rather than 4% and invested in the higher-returning Russell 2000 Index of small cap stocks, for example, you would have $107,699 in 10 years and $442,197 in 20 years.
You would be a millionaire in less than 27 years.
Amp up the savings or returns even more, and you’ll be there quicker still.
In short, it’s your behavior rather than luck, fortune or “the breaks” that ultimately determines your financial well-being.
What can you do – specifically – to accelerate your wealth accumulation?
- Upgrade your education or marketable skills to maximize your income.
- Live beneath your means. (When your outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep becomes your downfall.)
- Save as much as you reasonably can, while still living a balanced life.
- Invest those savings in the world’s highest-returning asset: a diversified portfolio of high-quality stocks.
- Minimize your investment costs.
- Tax-manage your portfolio – as with a Roth IRA to avoid the prying hands of the IRS.
- Let your money compound as long as possible.
- Try to stay married. (Not always possible, in some cases, but divorce is far more likely than a bear market to halve your portfolio.)
Is this really achievable?
Indeed it is. As a former money manager, I’ve watched hundreds of clients do just that.
They weren’t lucky. They had a plan. They stuck to it. And they reaped the rewards.
With time and discipline, you can too.