It's not often you find investing advice geared specifically toward teens and young investors. Financial literacy is rarely included in high school and college curricula. It comes as no surprise, then, that the average 2014 college graduate carries $33,000 in student loan debt.
And yet teens and young investors have the biggest advantage of any in the market: time. This includes time to learn and become comfortable with the stock market but also, most importantly, time to reap the rewards of great investments over the long term.
In that spirit, I've selected four quotes from Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, that contain especially important lessons for the beginning investors. Buffett -- who started investing when he was 11 years old -- has long been viewed as an investing sage, and he's one of the world's greatest investors. He believes in buying great businesses and holding them for the long haul, and his disciplined investing methodology has helped grow the share price of Berkshire Hathaway from just over $11 in 1962 to more than $192,000 today.
These quotes provide a basic investing framework -- straight from the Oracle of Omaha himself -- for young investors looking to get a head start on their financial future.
1. On the power of time
Time is the friend of the wonderful business, the enemy of the mediocre.
Great businesses flourish over time. Mediocre businesses, however, will likely flounder in time. In his 2001 letter to shareholders, Buffett wrote, "You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out." Similarly, when times get tough, we can often recognize truly great businesses. The challenge is to build a portfolio made up of the best companies! Great businesses can expand and grow for many years, rewarding patient investors (like Warren Buffett) in the process.
Just as time is the friend of a wonderful business, time also happens to be one of the greatest advantages for an investor. This is especially true for young investors who have many years to invest and reap the benefits of compounded returns.
Let's illustrate the power of compounded returns with an example. Say you stuff $100 under your mattress, and each year for the next five years you add another $50. After five years, you would have $350 (and a rather lumpy bed). However, if you instead invested that money in the stock market and it returned 5% each year -- well below the historical average of the S&P 500 -- you would have $417.72 after five years. If you kept this up for 10 years, you would have more than $800! Compounding returns are a wonderful thing, but they require time to have maximum benefit for investors.
2. On buying and holding
In fact, when we own portions of outstanding businesses with outstanding managements, our favorite holding period is forever. We are just the opposite of those who hurry to sell and book profits when companies perform well but who tenaciously hang on to businesses that disappoint. Peter Lynch aptly likens such behavior to cutting the flowers and watering the weeds.
Look for businesses that seem poised to compete and grow for many years. Most importantly, if those businesses become great investments, don't rush to cut your gains short. Great investors like Buffett and Lynch measure gains in years and decades, not days or months.
3. On looking to the future
I never attempt to make money on the stock market. I buy on the assumption that they could close the market the next day and not reopen it for five years.
Find great businesses you would feel comfortable owning if the stock market shut down for five to 10 years. Short-term market movements are impossible to predict. Focus your investing energies on identifying quality businesses of which you would like to be a co-owner for many years.
For instance, during 1988 and 1989 Buffett invested just over $1 billion in Coca-Cola. Buffett was impressed by Coca-Cola CEO Roberto Goizueta and the growing global presence of the Coke brand. Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway still owns these Coca-Cola shares 35 years later, and they have gained more than 1,200% in value in the process.
Moral of the story: Focus our investments on businesses you're confident holding for many years, regardless of the short-term patterns of the market.
4. On keeping your cool and avoiding the herd
In October 2008, following a 25% drop in the S&P 500 (in one month) and the early stages of the Great Recession, Warren Buffett wrote the following (emphasis added):
A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful. And most certainly, fear is now widespread, gripping even seasoned investors. To be sure, investors are right to be wary of highly leveraged entities or businesses in weak competitive positions. But fears regarding the long-term prosperity of the nation's many sound companies make no sense. These businesses will indeed suffer earnings hiccups, as they always have. But most major companies will be setting new profit records 5, 10 and 20 years from now.
Even the most successful businesses will stumble from time to time. The key for investors -- especially younger investors who have a significant investing time horizon -- is to look beyond the daily headlines and focus on the long-term strengths of a business. This is certainly easier said than done, especially when things turn sour as they did in 2008, but it is well worth the effort to develop discipline and focus on finding (and investing in) companies poised to deliver results over the long term.
Foolish bottom line
Investing need not be intimidating for young investors (or investors of any age, for that matter). By studying and following the wise words of great investors like Warren Buffett, we can position ourselves for investing success in the years ahead. Start your investing journey today and you will be happy you did.