Does the Stock Market Favor the Rich?

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Some people think that the stock market favors investors who started off rich. But in my opinion, the stock market is one of the few ways that ordinary people can make themselves rich.

A CBS News poll from May found that 64% of Americans think the stock market unfairly benefits the rich, while only 23% think it's fair to all.

Rich people do have one advantage: more money to invest. If you're worth $10 million, and you earn a 10% return on stocks, presto -- you've just made another $1 million! You and I can't collect a million bucks so easily. But over time, even our small contributions add up.

Proof positive
There are lots of great examples of the power of patient, steady investing. Witness Warren Buffett, who wasn't born rich, and who began investing in stocks as a preteen. Less-well-known examples are even more abundant:

  • Genesio Morlacci. This 102-year-old former part-time janitor and dry cleaner accumulated $2.3 million from years of working, saving, and investing. He left his fortune to Montana's University of Great Falls.
  • Thomas Drey, Jr. This retired teacher spent a lot of time researching companies at the Boston Public Library. Upon his death, he shocked the library by leaving it $6.8 million.
  • Florence Ballenger. Ms. Ballenger was another teacher who lived frugally but well (often traveling around the world). Through investing, she and her husband accumulated more than $6 million.

Wealth for less
If anything, recent years have made the stock market more open than ever to non-wealthy investors. Where brokers once charged exorbitant commissions to buy stocks only in lots of 100 shares or more, many brokerages now offer fees of $10 or less per trade, and let investors buy a single share or less. Even investors with very limited means can enroll in dividend reinvestment plans ("Drips") or direct stock purchase (DSP) plans, bypassing brokers to buy shares directly from the company for as little as $20 or $50 at a time.

For best results, you should save and invest as much as possible. At the very least, consider the ease of broad-market index funds, which mimic the overall market. A 401(k) or other retirement plan at work can make such investment easier than you think; your contributions (and any employer matching contributions) are likely invested in an index fund, if not a target-date fund that combines stocks and bonds.

The absence of a seven-figure net worth won't leave you at a disadvantage in the market. If anything, the stock market favors disciplined and sensible investors. Just ask any of the people who started out as small fries, and now rank among the world's wealthiest.

We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian appreciates your feedback. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.

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