There are a lot of issues expected to take center stage during the upcoming elections. Marijuana, immigration, economic growth, and national security are all hot-button topics. But one sticking point that's held true for decades which a vast majority of voting Americans want addressed is the increasing income gap between the wealthiest 1% and everyone else.
According to a report published by the Economic Policy Institute that examined income inequality between the top 1% and everyone else between 1917 and 2012, the share of all income held by the top 1% has grown from 9% between 1973 and 1978 to 22% as of 2012. This marks the highest share of income heading into the hands of the richest Americans since 1928, when 24% of all income was being funneled into the hands of the richest rich.
The top 1% have investing lessons to teach, if you're willing to listen
Income inequality like this certainly isn't celebrated by blue-collar workers, but Warren Buffett, arguably the most successful investor alive today, and the CEO of megacap holding company Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A)(NYSE:BRK-B), had a clear message for lower-income workers in an op-ed column with The Wall Street Journal:
"No conspiracy lies behind this depressing fact: The poor are most definitely not poor because the rich are rich."
We in the 99% may view the 1% as greedy, money-hoarding capitalists who'd just as soon step on those less fortunate to make an extra buck. However, this proves false in almost every instance. Sure, we have the Bernie Madoffs and Martin Shkrelis of the world who reaffirm the belief for some of the 99% that the rich shouldn't be trusted. But for each bad apple there are an even greater number of positive contributors to society and general humanitarian causes.
Whether it's Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg pledging 99% of his personal stock (currently a $45 billion value) to charity over this lifetime, Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing twice sharing his multimillion-dollar bonus with his employees, or the hundreds upon hundreds of CEOs nationwide who offer incentives for their employees to give back to those in need in their local communities, the vast majority of the wealthiest Americans are great people, as well as leaders and innovators. Best of all, if you're willing to pay attention to how they manage their money, you could pick up a few pointers that could improve your own financial situation.
In no particular order, here are four investing lessons the top 1% implement with their own money.
1. The rich think about budgeting differently than you do
One of the biggest differences between the 1% and everyone else is their mentality behind budgeting.
Not everyone lives their life according to a budget, but it might surprise you to know that many of the world's richest people live well below their means, with some even budgeting their annual spending. For instance, Warren Buffett still lives in the same house he purchased back in 1958 for $31,500. The man is worth in excess of $70 billion but sees no need to flaunt his wealth in a megamansion. US News also notes that actress Keira Knightley has been living on a $50,000 annual budget per year since 2012 despite a net worth of $50 million as of 2014.
But, it's more than just budgeting. As author and business leader David Wood has discussed, it's about viewing your budget surplus as an expense rather than an asset. Most people look at $200 extra at the end of the month as all the more reason to take a vacation, or make that anniversary dinner with your special someone extra special. The rich, however, view a surplus as an expense, and thus they tend to pay themselves first via investments, savings, charitable giving, and so on. Investing in themselves is mandatory on a regular basis, which isn't necessarily the case with the 99%.
2. They save more efficiently than you
Another big difference between the 1% and everyone else is that the wealthiest Americans save a lot of money. The wealthiest are bringing in more income than the average American to begin with, so we'd expect them to be able to save more on a nominal basis. But where the rich really shine is in their ability to save a higher percentage of their annual income relative to everyone else.
As noted by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, authors of The Distribution of Wealth, Capital Income, and Returns since 1913, the bottom 90% of income earners save an average of 4% of their annual income. Americans in the top 10% to top 1% range tend to save 12% of their annual income. But Americans in the top 1% save a whopping 38% of their annual income.
How are they able to do this? Simply put, most wealthy individuals tend to live well within their means, they understand the importance of prudent money management, and they funnel the money they do spend into things that will better themselves. They invest in stocks and bonds, they pay for and attend seminars that could expand their knowledge as it pertains to investments or their jobs, and they buy books that can expand their knowledge and imagination. They use their ability to budget and save as a stepping stone to better themselves in order to keep the cycle going.
3. They're long-term-minded
While the 99% are trying everything under the sun to get rich – from buying a lottery ticket to playing daily fantasy sports sites – the rich aren't doing much of anything. The reason? The rich understand the value of time and compounding better than the typical worker, and they use it to their advantage.
Warren Buffett once said the following about stock ownership: "If you don't feel comfortable owning something for 10 years, then don't own it for 10 minutes."
Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway first began buying shares of beverage giant Coca-Cola all the way back in 1988 and now boasts 400 million shares in its portfolio. In similar fashion, Buffett began gobbling up shares of Wells Fargo in Berkshire's portfolio starting in 1989. Berkshire now owns nearly 471 million shares, or 9.2% of all outstanding shares. These are brand-name companies that pay steady dividends that Buffett would possibly hold for many more decades to come. Buffett's lesson to the investing world is simple: Buy quality companies that you know and understand and hang onto them. It's as simple as that.
4. The top 1% diversifies their income stream
Last, but not least, the wealthiest Americans aren't solely reliant on a single income stream. It's rare that you'll see a rich American that's devoted all of their eggs to one basket. Instead, the rich rely on multiple income streams to drive their wealth higher and hedge against weakness from a single income stream.
For instance, the typical worker probably relies on wages from their job for the vast majority of their income. This may not be true for the richest Americans. Rental income, dividend income, royalty deals, income from loans, and bond interest, are just some examples of ways the wealthiest Americans can generate income beyond just their salary (should they hold a job). It probably goes without saying that the rich are also keen innovators and usually blaze their own path in the business world.
It might seem like adding new sources of income would be impossible for low-income or even middle-class Americans, but it's actually easier than you think. For instance, it can be pretty easy to turn a hobby into a money-making adventure. Buying yard sale items and reselling them on eBay nets an average profit of 462% according to Signs.com. If you love playing the guitar, why not offer to give lessons? You can even consider selling your crafts these days on Etsy to make extra money.
The avenues to diversify your income and improve your financial outlook are available, you just need to be willing to take the initiative to get the ball rolling.