A while back, Physician on FIRE discussed the dream of a $10 million dollar portfolio. It’s certainly doable, but for most physicians, the likelihood of achieving this goal is mostly up to your investment returns.
But let’s take it a step farther in this post — could you become a billionaire physician through clinical work and savvy investing alone? Let’s run the numbers and find out.
The Investment Return Needed To Become A Billionaire
You’ll never become a billionaire as a physician through clinical work alone. You’ll need to combine a huge savings rate with big investment returns. You can calculate the necessary investment return by playing with the Future Value (FV) function in Microsoft Excel.
It turns out that a 15% return over 50 years will give you 1000x your original investment. So if you can amass a one million dollar portfolio by the age of 35 or 40, and achieve a 15% return over 50 years, you’ll end up with a billion dollars by the time you are 85 or 90.
A 15% return over 50 years is very hard, but it has been done before. Warren Buffett’s firm, Berkshire Hathaway, has returned 1,000,000% over the 52 years, which equates to a 19% annualized return. As a result of his investment prowess, Buffett is currently worth over $80 billion dollars.
Billionaires Concentrate Their Investments
In order to achieve a 15-20% return, you’ll need to throw diversification out the window. If you have a diversified portfolio, you are “doomed” to average returns. Average returns will not make you a billionaire.
Andrew Carnegie, a billionaire when being a millionaire was a big deal, has a famous quote about diversification:
“Put all your eggs in one basket, and then watch that basket.” – Andrew Carnegie
When you look at the billionaires on the Forbes list, most of their wealth is derived from a single source. Most founded or have significant ownership in a single company that hit it big. Even if not directly invested in a stock per se, they were heavily invested in a single or a few companies that performed very well.
It’s Really Hard To Crush The Stock Market Over A Long Period Of Time
If you need to “only” achieve a 15% return over a 50 year period to go from a millionaire to a billionaire, it highlights how difficult it is to achieve significantly above average returns over a long period of time.
The historical return of the S&P 500 since 1928 is approximately 10%. When you look at the volatility of the stock market, it can feel like achieving a 15% or 20% return in the stock market is possible. You may even think you can do it, if you do enough homework. After all, we all know stocks that have performed really well in recent years, such as Apple, Starbucks, or Amazon. But picking the next Amazon for the next 50 years is really, really hard.
And looking at the relatively short list of billionaires, only a select few have been able to achieve these kinds of returns. And in their quest for above-average stock market returns, how many people have had their returns eroded by taxes, transaction costs, and commissions?
Physicians Shouldn’t Need Big Returns To Achieve Their Financial Goals
As long as you adjust your expectations, physicians should have no trouble living a comfortable (perhaps even lavish) lifestyle and save enough money for retirement. Becoming a billionaire really shouldn’t be the goal in life.
After all, being a billionaire is kind of overrated. Just ask Notorious B.I.G. and Minecraft founder Markus Persson. And besides, with inflation, being a billionaire in 50 years is not going to be as cool as it might seem now. In 50 years, trillionaire might be the new billionaire.
If you take the simple, “boring” approach to saving and investing and avoid the most common investment mistakes, you’ll end up with a lot of money. Maybe not a billion dollars, but probably more than you’ll need for a comfortable retirement.
What do you think? Have you ever thought about being a billionaire? Do you think it is achievable for a physician on clinical work and savvy investing alone?