I could write this article the usual way -- by showing you how to turn your thousands into millions through investments in solid, well-known companies. Monsanto (NYSE: MON ) , for example, has returned an average of 23% annually over the past five years, while over the past 20 years, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ ) has averaged 14%, and EMC (NYSE: EMC ) has averaged 30%. Not too shabby.
But can such returns turn your thousands into millions? Yes, eventually. A single investment of merely $10,000 would turn into $1 million in around 26 years, if it grew at an annual average of 20%. But that's a fairly steep rate to count on for your stock investments -- a number to which only a select few master investors can aspire. It's safer to have more conservative expectations -- perhaps closer to 10%, the stock market's historical average annual return over most of the past century.
A fine balance
So what should you do if you don't want to wait 50 or more years to make millions? Here's one option: Take a few chances.
With most of your money, you shouldn't take crazy risks. Consider socking much of it away in a broad-market index fund, such as the Vanguard 500 Index (VFINX). That low-cost fund should earn you close to the market's historical return over long periods of time. You might also try S&P 500 Depositary Receipts, an exchange-traded fund also known as SPDRs. Either of these options will instantly invest your money in 500 major American companies, such as Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) , Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B ) , and Cisco Systems.
But once you've done that, take a few chances, and supplement your index with growth-stock picks. That's what I'm doing in my own investment account. I don't want all of my money in an index fund, because I'd like my portfolio to grow faster than average. Instead, a chunk of my nest egg sits in a variety of individual stocks.
This strategy should help moderate volatility, and it can also allow you to do well with carefully chosen stocks. It helped me turn $3,000 into $210,000.
Aiming for the stars
Such outsized returns, which Fool co-founder David Gardner has referred to as "the highest possible returns, period," are too tempting for me to ignore. That's why I'm still on the lookout for young, dynamic companies that are breaking the rules as they grow and prosper. (Even if you spot a Rule Breaker after it has begun ascending, there's a good chance it's not too late to make some good money on it.)
The kinds of companies I'm talking about are tomorrow's Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) and Oracle. Think about how different the world was before them. We couldn't imagine having little handheld devices with which to communicate. Big companies were often on their own, struggling with growing databases.
Even Ford was a Rule Breaking company once, too, daring to make a luxury item available to the masses at an affordable price. Just try to imagine a world without cars.
Find a few rockets
Seeking out and investing in Rule Breakers requires patience and entails risk. However, just one growth rocket has the potential to supercharge an otherwise stodgy index strategy.
If you're interested in investing in some of the greatest stocks of the next generation, consider our Motley Fool Rule Breakers service. You can try it free for 30 days, including full access to all past issues and every previous recommendation. Headed by Fool co-founder David Gardner, Rule Breakers pays special attention to cutting-edge fields such as biotech, alternative energy, and nanotechnology. Check it out to learn more.
This article was originally published on July 7, 2006. It has been updated.
Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Chesapeake Energy, and Johnson & Johnson, and an S&P 500 index fund. Berkshire Hathaway, Chesapeake Energy, and Monsanto are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Berkshire Hathaway and Ford Motor are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Johnson & Johnson is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Chesapeake Energy, and Oracle. The Fool is investors writing for investors.