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- If you were to invest $5,000 per year for 30 years in a portfolio that averaged 5% per year, you’d end up with around $332,000.
- If you were to invest $5,000 per year for 30 years in a portfolio that averaged 6% per year, you’d end up with around $395,000.
- If you were to invest $6,000 per year for 30 years in a portfolio that averaged 5% per year, you’d end up with around $399,000.
- If you were to invest $6,000 per year for 30 years in a portfolio that averaged 6% per year, you’d end up with around $474,000.
That’s the “miracle” of compounding. Sure, investment returns matter a lot, but as you can see from the examples above, how much you save can matter even more! The good part about compounding savings and investment returns is that slow and steady really can win the asset accumulation race in a big way. You might not think you could ever save up $474,000, but do you think you could save $6,000 this year?
Recently my wife and I have been looking at houses, and nothing gives me more indigestion than looking at how much a house costs. I’m not talking about the sticker price; I’m talking about how much a house costs over the life of a mortgage. For those of you who have bought a house, this is usually the number that shows up in the top, right-hand corner of one of your loan documents indicating the total amount expected to be paid over the life of the loan. Once interest is baked in on a thirty-year loan, it’s horrifying to see the difference between the initial sales price and what you will actually end up paying. Interest payments alone could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars! The bad part about compounding interest on a home loan, car loan, student loan, and certainly credit cards is that you keep trying to pay off principal, but you keep getting charged interest. It’s like you have a hole in your bucket. I’ve tried Pepcid, Pepto, and Tums, and the only thing that seems to work is paying off more debt at a faster pace.
The ugly part of compounding has to do with the relationship between money and purchasing power. If you have $100,000 in cash and you bury it in the backyard, when you dig it back up, what do you have? That’s right, $100,000. The problem is that while your money was safely hiding underground, there’s a pretty good chance that the cost of goods and services went up (inflation). Think groceries, health care, and education expenses. You might still have the same amount of money, but you are actually poorer than you were because you can no longer buy as many goods and services as you used to since they are now at a higher price. Said another way, your purchasing power has gone down. I don’t see a lot of people burying money in their backyards, but I do see people hold on to exorbitant amounts of cash or an alarming amount of low-interest CDs and bonds. I don’t ever want to take away someone’s “cash blanket,” and I firmly believe that bonds have a place in most people’s investment portfolios to help provide for short-term liquidity needs, reduce overall volatility, and act as an income-producing alternative to stocks. However, just like chocolate cake, too much can be a bad thing. If you have too much invested in cash, CDs, or bonds, your minimal investment returns can lag the rate of inflation, and, compounded over time, you can lose purchasing power even if your assets are slightly growing or staying about the same.
That’s the good, the bad, and the ugly truths about compounding.
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