Be the Millionaire Next Door

We don't advocate greed at Motley Fool Hidden Gems, but we also know you're not averse to becoming financially independent. This article will give you a road map to becoming a millionaire.

Our search for the world's best small companies is about both financial reward and investment mastery. Over the first three years of the service, Tom and his guest analysts have generated cumulative gains of 32% versus S&P 500 returns of 17%. While that margin of victory may not be sustainable, we're strong in our belief that market outperformance in thoroughly researched small- and micro-cap stocks is the most efficient way for individual investors to make millions and master business and investing.

These stocks are truly neglected by the large institutional investors that own the vast majority of the S&P 500, and that's good news for us.

Our aim is to explain to our members each month precisely how to orchestrate that success, and exactly what sorts of companies to own. If you haven't researched small businesses such as Hidden Gems Watch List denizens CNET Networks (Nasdaq: CNET  ) , Intevac (Nasdaq: IVAC  ) , Rogers (NYSE: ROG  ) , and Credence Systems (Nasdaq: CMOS  ) , you're missing companies that we think have the potential to be some of America's greatest of tomorrow. CNET, for example, owns a number of valuable Internet properties. And while there are some yellow flags, such as the current cyclical ad markets, the company deserves a spot on your Watch List and ours.

We encourage you to look into these businesses at your own pace. But to really win with these investments, you have to understand the precepts that have created extreme wealth and erased financial concerns for average people like Theodore Johnson, Hetty Green, Peter Lynch, and Anne Scheiber. You must learn to emulate their behavior.

In our opinion, it all starts by being a patient, long-term owner of high-quality, low-profile, small companies. Every one of those qualifications counts:

  1. Patient
  2. Long-term
  3. Owner of
  4. High-quality
  5. Low-profile
  6. Small companies

Tap those ruby slippers and say that 10 times quickly.

As you master these precepts with us, some of you may earn millionaire status through regular savings and investment anywhere from 12 to 30 years down the line. It's important, though, that you mix a formula for non-temporary success.

Learn from Shelby Davis' dynasty
Our dual roles are to teach you the principles, then do the heavy research lifting for you. We want to relieve you of the necessity of sorting through the more than 10,000 small-cap stocks trading on the U.S. exchanges to find the very best -- companies like Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFMI  ) and Texas Instruments (NYSE: TXN  ) , both of which grew from relative obscurity. Whole Foods was started in 1978 with one store in Austin, Tex., that employed 19 people. TI was a small company that tried to help prospectors search for oil underground in the 1930s. They've since grown and diversified to become $9 billion and $50 billion companies, respectively, making their long-term owners quite wealthy in the process.

But finding the greatest small companies is only half the battle.

The other half is captured beautifully in the investment career of Shelby Davis Sr., who was featured in John Rothchild's book, The Davis Dynasty. Davis formed a philosophy that helped him turn a $50,000 account into $900 million over his lifetime. How? By constantly buying new stocks and rarely selling any. For example, he bought into Chubb very early and rode it to simply unbelievable returns. Davis treated investing and ownership like a game -- a very serious game, mind you, but a game nonetheless. He stayed within his areas of expertise, didn't worry about whether the market was overvalued or undervalued from one year to the next, and methodically saved and invested new money each month.

That's your commitment -- to save and invest perpetually. Our commitment in Hidden Gems is to try to earn you something on the order of 15% yearly returns (with very low transaction costs and most taxes deferred for a minimum of three to five years). What follows are examples of how four different investors, of different ages and financial means, and earning different levels of income, can make a million bucks. Chances are, one of these will be right for you.

Scenario 1: Start with $350 and add $350 in new savings each month. Do so for 25 years. You'll end up with $1 million.
So you're fresh out of college and just starting your first job as a cubicle vassal in the big city. Dreams of millionairedom seem as "pipe" to you as the canned air you breathe Monday through Friday. But never fear, young capitalist. Take your present savings, what's left from Grandma's graduation gift, and every month put away just 17.5% of your monthly $2,000 paycheck. In 25 years -- and my, how they'll fly -- you'll be able to afford that house on the hill.

Hint: If you're unable to find an online broker that will let you open an account with an initial stake of less than $5,000, Sharebuilder.com offers low trading fees and no account minimums. With a stake greater than $5,000, there are additional brokers that offer very low trading fees -- TD Ameritrade's IZone, for instance. The good news is that trading costs seem to come down every day.

Scenario 2: Start with $30,000. Add $350 per month for 20 years.
This is a great place to start. You can slash five years off your timeline while investing no more every month than our recent college graduate did. Just think: You put $350 a month into your retirement fund, and you'll likely be a millionaire long before you've even paid off that mortgage.

Scenario 3: Start with $100,000. Add $225 per month for 15 years.
Now we're talking. You're already 10% of the way to millionairehood, my friend. Just 90% to go, and you're set. How to do it? If you've managed to save up $100,000 already, putting away an extra $225 a month for the next 15 years should be a piece of cake. No pain, all gain. Shave five years off the 20-year plan because of your present circumstance. You're there in 15 years.

Scenario 4: Start with $150,000. Add $500 per month for 12 years.
What?! You've already got $150,000 stashed in the bank, but it's earning just 0.9% in a money market fund? Well, there's no need to be embarrassed. Wealth preservation has been the primary aim of history's greatest investors. But with retirement looming, you should earn at least a market rate of return. If you can stand the volatility of small caps and can add $500 in new savings per month, we think you can get there in 12 years.

Conclusion
The goal of Hidden Gems is simple: to encourage our members to save money each month and to help them achieve market-beating returns on their savings. We've based each of the above scenarios on a belief that we can earn about 15.5% per annum over long periods of time.

Now, you may have heard that the stock market averages 10% annual returns, and perhaps you think that 15.5% goal is pretty aggressive. It is. We're confident in our abilities. But let's assume we're wrong and that after a few more geopolitical calamities, we've earned only 10% yearly. Well, by regularly saving and investing, you'll still be a long way toward a million bucks.

The key, as we see it, is to gain complete financial independence and investment mastery by methodically saving and perpetually investing, by taking long-term ownership in sound small companies at attractive prices, and by rarely selling.

So, do you want to become a millionaire or don't you? Take a gander at Hidden Gems for one month -- for free. If you like the service, sign on for a year or two, or for life. If not, cancel with no obligation. It's as simple, and as easy, as that.

This article was originally published on Dec. 1, 2004. It has been updated.

Neither Fool co-founder Tom Gardner nor contributor Rich Smith owns shares of any company mentioned in this article. Whole Foods is a Stock Advisor recommendation. CNET is a Rule Breakers pick. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.


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