Cryptocurrencies may be taking a hit, but Dogecoin (CRYPTO:DOGE) has been an unstoppable force in the crypto world lately. Despite its most recent downturn, its price is still up by more than 12,000% since this time last year.

It's easy to look at numbers like this and imagine how much money you could make. After all, if you'd invested just $1,000 in Dogecoin one year ago, you'd have more than $120,000 today.

However, Dogecoin carries a lot of risk, and it can be a dangerous investment. The S&P 500, on the other hand, is a much safer alternative -- though its returns come nowhere near what Dogecoin has earned over the past few months.

So, which option is more likely to make you a lot of money over the long run? Can Dogecoin help you "get rich quick?" Or should you take the slow-but-steady approach? Here's what you need to know.

Shiba Inu dog against a yellow background.

Image source: Getty Images.

Looking beyond the numbers

It can be easy to get caught up in cryptocurrency fever and only look at the numbers. Dogecoin has earned a 12,000% return over the past 12 months, while the S&P 500 has "only" earned returns of around 40% in that timeframe.

Based on these numbers alone, Dogecoin seems like the obvious choice if you're trying to get rich. But it's critical to look beyond the numbers and examine the investment itself. Ask yourself what advantages this investment has over the alternatives and why it may or may not succeed over the long term.

Why is Dogecoin surging right now?

Dogecoin was created in 2013 as a joke based on an internet meme, which hurts its credibility right out of the gate. It also doesn't have much (if any) real-world utility right now. The vast majority of merchants don't accept crypto at all, but the ones that do are more likely to accept Bitcoin than Dogecoin. Without widespread adoption, it will be nearly impossible for Dogecoin to keep growing.

It's also important to think about why, exactly, Dogecoin's price has been skyrocketing. Whenever an investment's fundamentals don't match its price, that's a red flag. Despite Dogecoin's lack of real-world uses, its price has increased faster than most of its competitors. That's a sign that something fishy is going on.

In Dogecoin's case, its price has been artificially inflated by investors trying to make a quick buck. In many ways, Dogecoin is similar to meme stocks like GameStop and AMC. Both of these companies saw their stock prices skyrocket despite the fact that the businesses themselves were failing. Online investors were promoting the stocks to inflate their stock prices, only to sell their shares later and make a profit.

Dogecoin has gone through a similar process. After retail investors and celebrities like Elon Musk promoted the cryptocurrency, its price soared. That kind of growth isn't sustainable, though, and Dogecoin's price has already plummeted by more than 40% since mid-May.

Stock market crash with shadow of a bear in the background.

Image source: Getty Images.

Is the S&P 500 a better option?

While it's possible to make a lot of money with Dogecoin, you're likely to lose more than you gain. Unless Dogecoin develops a serious competitive advantage in the crypto industry, it's unlikely to succeed over the long run, and you may lose everything you invest.

The S&P 500 may be less glamorous than cryptocurrency, but it's a tried-and-true investment. It includes 500 of the largest and most stable companies in the U.S., which provides instant diversification and limits your risk.

Since its inception, the S&P 500 has earned an average return of around 10% per year. Of course, there will be years when you experience lower-than-average returns or even losses, because even the S&P 500 isn't immune to volatility.

However, by investing in the S&P 500, you're almost guaranteed to see positive returns over time. Despite all of its crashes over the years, it's always recovered from each and every one of them. You may not experience explosive returns overnight, but you're also far less likely to lose everything like you might with Dogecoin.

Also, given enough time, it is possible to get rich with the S&P 500. Say that you're investing $300 per month while earning a 10% average annual return. Here's approximately how much you could accumulate over time:

Number of Years Total Savings
10 $57,000
20 $206,000
30 $592,000
40 $1,593,000

Data source: Author's calculations. 

Patience is key when investing in the S&P 500, and it will take time to accumulate a significant amount of money. However, it's a far less risky investment than Dogecoin. While you won't get rich overnight, you're much more likely to see consistent growth over time. And when it comes to investing, slow but steady wins the race.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.