1. Money

Lessons from a Secret Multi-Millionaire

How Anne Scheiber Amassed $22 Million From Her Apartment

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In the mid 1940’s, Anne Scheiber retired from the IRS where she worked as an auditor. Using a $5,000 lump sum she had saved, and a pension of roughly $3,150, over the next 50+ years, she built a fortune from her tiny New York apartment that exceeded $22,000,000 upon her death in 1995 when she left the funds to Yeshiva University for a scholarship designed to help support deserving women. Here are some of the lessons we can learn from this ordinary woman that achieved extraordinary wealth.

1. Do your own research

Sheiber was burnt by brokers during the 1930’s so she resolved to never rely on anyone for her own financial future. Using her experience with the Internal Revenue Service, she analyzed stocks, bonds, and other assets. The result: She owned only companies with which she was comfortable. When markets collapse, one of the best ways to stay the course and maintain your investment program is to know why you own a stock, how much you think it is worth, and if the market is undervaluing it in your opinion.

2. Buy shares of excellent companies

When you’re really in this for the long-haul, you want to own excellent businesses that have durable competitive advantages, generate lots of cash, high returns on capital, have owner-oriented management, and strong balance sheets. Think about everything that has changed in the past one hundred years! We went from horse and buggies to cars to space travel, the Internet, nuclear knowledge, and a whole lot more. Yet, people still drink Coca-Cola. They still shave with Gillette razors. They still chew Wrigley gum. They still buy Johnson & Johnson products.

3. Reinvest your dividends

One of the biggest flaws with both professional and amateur investors is that they focus on changes in market capitalization or share price only. With most mature, stable companies, a substantial part of the profits are returned to shareholders in the form of cash dividends. That means you cannot measure the ultimate wealth created for investors by looking at increases in the stock price.

Famed finance professor Jeremy Siegel called reinvested dividends the “bear market protector” and “return accelerator” as they allow you to buy more shares of the company when markets crash. Over time, this drastically increases the equity you own in the company and the dividends you receive as those shares pay dividends; it’s a virtuous cycle. In most cases, the fees or costs for reinvesting dividends are either free or a nominal few dollars. This means that more of your return goes to compounding and less to frictional expenses.

4. Don’t be afraid of asset allocation

According to some sources, Anne Scheiber died with 60% of her money invested in stocks, 30% in bonds, and 10% in cash. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept of asset allocation, the basic idea is that it is wise for non-professional investors to keep their money divided between different types of securities such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, international, cash, and real estate. The premise is that changes in one market won’t ripple through your entire net worth.

5. Add to your investments regularly

Regular saving and investing is important because it allows you to pick up additional stocks that fit your criteria. In addition to the first investment Scheiber made, she regularly contributed to her portfolio from the small pension she received.

6. Let your money compound uninterrupted for a very long time

Probably the biggest reason Anne Scheiber was able to amass such as substantial fortune was that she allowed the money to compound for of half a century. No, that doesn’t mean you have to live the life of a monk or deny yourself the things you want. What it means is that you learn to let your money work for you instead of constantly striving to scrape by, barely meeting expenses and maintaining your standard of living.

To learn about the power of compounding, read Pay for Retirement with a Cup of Coffee and an Egg McMuffin. With only small amounts, time can turn even the smallest sums into princely treasures.

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