Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dying to be Broke

When Edward was just a child, making money was of serious interest to him.  He made his first investment at 11 years old, buying just three shares of stock for $37 each.  The stock’s value went down at first, but Edward held on.  It finally turned around, and he sold his shares for just a small profit – but regretted the decision later when the stock shot up to nearly $200 a share.  It was Edward’s first lesson on patience in investing.

By age of 13, he was running his own business.  He sold chewing gum, Coca-Cola, and magazines door to door. He also detailed cars, delivered newspapers, and distributed his own horseracing tip sheet.  And, when he filed his first tax return, he took a $35 deduction for business usage of his bicycle.

Throughout the next decade, Edward would attend college to study economics, work briefly for a professional investment firm, and purchase his first home.  Following his instincts, he sought out undervalued companies with solid management teams and strong products in order to invest in them.  He was frugal, patient, intuitive, and did his homework.  Over the next fifty years, this approach made Warren Edward Buffett the most successful investor of the 20th century.

But then what?  What does a person do when they’ve literally become the wealthiest person on earth (which Warren Buffett was ranked in 2008)?  Buy an island?  Build a spaceship?  Pay whatever it takes to get us another season of Breaking Bad?  Some of us might do those things.  Warren Buffett, on the other hand, decided to give his fortune away.

Warren never made extravagant purchases.  He and his wife certainly never wanted for anything, but they lived an essentially normal life.  His children rode the bus to school, grew up in the same house that Warren bought in 1957 (and still owns), and attended public school.  He’d talk to the family a bit about finances, but more about his general philosophy on life.  He also believed in letting his kids fail and succeed on their own, telling them things like, “You don't have to swing at every pitch,” and then leaving them alone.  In this way, he made sure that their successes would be entirely their own.

For most of his adult life, Warren had it in mind to donate his money.  As early as his late 20s, he began talking to his wife about doing so, explaining to her that there would be a lot of money coming in their life.  At the time, she laughed.  But, as years passed and his statement about the wealth they’d amass gradually became fact, they agreed to find the right avenues to give it away. 

Warren’s view is that it would actually be selfish to keep the wealth in one’s own family when there are so many people struggling in the world.  It wasn’t that he wanted to deprive his children; he simply wanted to give them just enough so that they’d feel that they could do anything, but not so much that they’d feel like doing nothing.

At the age of 34, Warren started a foundation, into which he funneled millions of dollars each year that would be directed toward a variety of charitable causes.  He also started separate foundations for each of his three children; not for their own use, but to run when they were of age, giving them each the opportunity to direct a portion of the family wealth toward humanitarian efforts of their choosing.

In 2006, Warren Buffett demonstrated the Live to Give Mindset as powerfully as anyone ever has, announcing his plan to give his personal fortune, billions of dollars, to charity.  More than 80% would go to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the world’s largest transparent charities, which focuses on world health issues and education.  He also made staggering gifts of several billion dollars to each of his children’s foundations.  At 84 years old, he is on track to have just enough left for funeral expenses by the time he passes away.

Many people spend their lives trying to get, get, get.  And yet, when you look at an example of one of the most successful individuals in history at “getting,” you see a man who, for more than fifty years, has been focusing on how to give, give, give.  You’re never too young or too old to start thinking about what you can do to serve others while pursuing your own dreams.

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams,

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