ALBERT EINSTEIN CALLED it the 8th Wonder of the World — and it’s been a source of wealth building for many of the world’s richest people. And yet, the power of compounding interest is still one of the most misunderstood concepts in business and investment.
The power of compounding applies to business ownership just as surely as it does to investment decisions. Investors like Warren Buffett have built their fortune on businesses that offer a strong return on investment that can then be reinvested back into those businesses, or other businesses, that can continue to deliver similar returns. Compounding has allowed him to build an initial capital of less than $1 million back in the 1950s into a fortune of over $70 billion today.
So how does it work? Well, I’m sure you’re aware of the leverage that can be achieved by reinvesting your returns to create still larger returns. What many people underestimate, however, is the power of how compounding can build up returns very quickly.
The graph above shows the impact of $1,000 invested in year one and earning a rate of 8 percent per annum — not an unrealistic return, and certainly less than most businesses would be expected to return given the risk. Over the first 30 years, the impact is gradual, as the investment slowly grows to a level of $10,062, or ten times the initial investment.
At this stage, a tipping point is reached. Over the next 30 years, it again grows ten times to reach $101,250 by year 60. And again, the next 30 years shows a growth of ten times, but now the investment grows in excess of $1 million by year 90 — all from an initial investment of $1,000. In just the next ten years, from year 90 to year 100, the investment doubles in size, adding the equivalent in that ten-year period to what was achieved in the first 90 years combined!
Now 100 years is more than the lifetime of most people, but the point is still well illustrated, and this example does not take into account the addition of extra capital. If the investor had added another $1,000 every year for 100 years, the total sum reached by year 100 would reach just over $29 million!
This example shows the power of compounding, the benefit of continuing to invest more money each year which then compounds and, most importantly in my opinion, the power of starting early. This point is best illustrated by comparing someone who starts investing an annual amount from age 20 and stops at age 28 versus someone who doesn’t start until 28 and continues to invest that same amount annually until they are 55. If both people earned the same rate of annual return, who would have the most money at 55? Believe it or not, the person who invests from age 20 and stops at age 28 is still able to achieve a higher level of wealth than the person who starts later but invests for longer, even though the later person paid more money in. The power of compounding can make up for the first person no longer investing from age 28 onwards.
Both your business investment and personal investments need to consider the power of compounding when you make your decisions. You work hard for your money — there’s no reason your money can’t be working hard for you.