Here is an insightful ForbesLife interview by Warren Buffett in their “When I was 25″ series. The article is primarily about how he ended up starting the investing partnership that eventually became Berkshire Hathaway. But what I didn’t know was that before that happened, he actually was ready to settle down in early retirement when he was 25 years old, content to invest just his own money:
The thing is, when I got out of college, I had $9,800, but by the end of 1955, I was up to $127,000. I thought, I’ll go back to Omaha, take some college classes, and read a lot—I was going to retire! I figured we could live on $12,000 a year, and off my $127,000 asset base, I could easily make that. I told my wife, “Compound interest guarantees I’m going to get rich.” [...]
I had no plans to start a partnership, or even have a job. I had no worries as long as I could operate on my own. I certainly did not want to sell securities to other people again.
Adjusting for inflation using CPI, $127,000 in 1955 would be about $1,100,000 in 2012 dollars. Spending $12,000 a year in 1955 would be just about $100,000 a year today. A 9% portfolio withdrawal rate is pretty high, but then again he’s Warren Buffett.
If he had gone the early retirement route, I’m sure he’d still be a comfortably rich Nebraska family man today, but given his quiet lifestyle we probably wouldn’t know anything about him. In fact, Buffett had already turned down an offer to be a partner in the hedge fund that Benjamin Graham founded. But events conspired to let him manage other people’s money without the pressures of salesmanship or marketing, and $50 billion later he’s one of the richest people alive.
I already knew from reading his biography The Snowball that he was quite the young entrepreneur and by 16 years old he had already accumulated over $58,000 in 2012 dollars ($5,000 in 1946). This was from many different micro-businesses including delivering newspapers, selling everything from gum to car washes, and owning pinball machines. He already knew that the faster he earned that money, the more time he would have to let compound interest do its thing. After moving back to Omaha, he even rented a house at first instead of buying so he wouldn’t have to commit any of his precious capital.
In any case, interesting that his initial goal was early retirement and career freedom, not necessarily doing whatever he could to accumulate more money. I look forward to the other articles in this series.