Rule No. 1: Never lose money. Rule No. 2: Never forget rule No. 1.
Warren Buffett is one of the greatest investing and business minds today. But aside from his exponential investing success, Buffett is probably most famous for his humorous insights, colorful commentary and wise advice. It’s part of what makes him a perfect fit to be a finalist for the 2015 “Best Money Expert” competition, presented by GOBankingRates in collaboration with Ally Bank.
Buffett’s quotes are always entertaining, but some of them provide the perfect insights into how money works and what it really takes to grow wealth. This collection of 10 quotes represents the best pieces of personal finance advice Warren Buffett has ever given.
1. Never Lose Money
Warren Buffett’s No. 1 piece of advice for 2016 is one he follows as closely as he can: “Rule No. 1: Never lose money. Rule No. 2: Never forget rule No. 1.” This rule applies readily to investing — if you’re working from a loss, it’s that much harder to get back to where you started, let alone earn gains.
2. Get High Value at a Low Price
“Never lose money” is an even smarter rule when paired with another Buffett principle: “Price is what you pay; value is what you get,” Buffett wrote in the 2008 Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letter. Losing money can happen when the price you’re paying doesn’t match the value you’re getting — like when you’re paying high interest on credit card debt or spending on items you’ll rarely use.
Instead, be like Buffett and practice frugality by looking for opportunities to get more value at a lower price. “Whether we’re talking about socks or stocks, I like buying quality merchandise when it is marked down,” Buffett wrote.
3. Form Healthy Money Habits
“Most behavior is habitual,” Buffett said in a 2007 address at the University of Florida, “and they say that the chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” Habits are changeable, but the earlier you start the better.
“I think the biggest mistake is not learning the habits of saving properly early because saving is a habit,” Buffett said. Pay attention to money habits and work to strengthen those that help your finances, and break those that hurt your finances.
4. Avoid Debt, Especially Credit Card Debt
Warren Buffett built his wealth by getting interest to work for him instead of working to pay interest the way many Americans in debt do. “I’ve seen more people fail because of liquor and leverage — leverage being borrowed money,” Buffett said in a 1991 speech at Notre Dame. “You really don’t need leverage in this world much. If you’re smart, you’re going to make a lot of money without borrowing.”
Buffett is especially wary of credit cards. His advice is to avoid them altogether. “Interest rates are very high on credit cards,” Buffet once said in a news release. “Sometimes they are 18 percent. Sometimes they are 20 percent. If I borrowed money at 18 or 20 percent, I’d be broke.”
5. Keep Cash On Hand
Another key to ensuring security is to always keep cash reserves on hand. “We always maintain at least $20 billion — and usually far more — in cash equivalents,” Buffett said in the 2014 Berkshire Hathaway annual report. Buffett credits these reserves with helping Berkshire Hathaway stay afloat throughout the Great Recession, even as so many other businesses floundered.
Businesses and individuals alike might get an itch to put liquid cash to work through investments. “Cash, though, is to a business as oxygen is to an individual: never thought about when it is present, the only thing in mind when it is absent,” Buffett said. “When bills come due, only cash is legal tender,” he continued. “Don’t leave home without it.”
6. Invest in Yourself
“Invest in as much of yourself as you can. You are your own biggest asset by far,” Buffett said, according to Inc.com. He echoed those sentiments in a CNBC interview when he said, “Anything you do to improve your own talents and make yourself more valuable will get paid off in terms of appropriate real purchasing power.”
Those returns are big, too. “Anything you invest in yourself, you get back ten-fold,” Buffett said. And unlike other assets and investments, “nobody can tax it away; they can’t steal it from you.”
7. Learn About Money
Part of investing in yourself should be learning more about managing money. As an investor, much of Warren Buffett’s job is limiting exposure and minimizing risk. And “Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing,” Buffett once said, according to Forbes. The more you know about personal finance, the more security you’ll have as you minimize risks.
The lesson from this Buffett quote, then, is to actively educate yourself about personal finance. As Buffett’s partner, Charlie Munger, put it, “Go to bed smarter than when you woke up.” Buffett’s formula for this is simple: read a lot. “That’s how knowledge builds up, like compound interest,” he said, according to The Week.
8. Trust a Low-Cost Index Fund for Your Portfolio
While much of Buffett’s wisdom and advice borders on the philosophical, he has also provided some actionable tips that nearly anyone could apply. For the average investor, for instance, Buffett likes index funds. “Put 10 percent of the cash in short-term government bonds and 90 percent in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund,” he wrote in his 2013 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders.
This is advice Buffett has given for years. “If you invested in a very low-cost index fund — where you don’t put the money in at one time, but average in over 10 years — you’ll do better than 90 percent of people who start investing at the same time,” Buffett said at a 2004 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting.
9. Give Back
“If you’re in the luckiest 1 percent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 percent,” Buffett said at a 2007 political fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. And as a top member of that 1 percent himself, Buffett makes it a point to put his money where his mouth is.
This past July, Buffett donated $2.8 billion in Berkshire Hathaway stock to five charities. He is also a founder of The Giving Pledge — along with Bill Gates — which is a promise that more than 130 billionaires so far have made to give their fortunes away. While you might not be a billionaire, you can still enrich your life and others’ by giving back.
10. View Money as a Long-Term Game
“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago,” Buffett once said — and it’s true. Planting and nurturing the seeds of financial success now will lead to shade to enjoy later in life, like freedom from debts, a secure retirement or the ability to cover college costs for your children.
Such a long-term view of money is central to Buffett’s investing decisions. In his 2014 letter to shareholders, he said people should “invest with a multi-decade horizon … Their focus should remain fixed on attaining significant gains in purchasing power over their investing lifetime,” rather than on moments of stock market volatility or economic crisis.
Keep reading: Building true wealth and financial security takes time, and you’ll likely encounter financial challenges along the way. Sometimes they’re avoidable; sometimes they’re not. But viewing your finances and a lifelong endeavor can help you stay on-course despite those hardships and give you a financial foundation that will last. Just make sure you’re keeping these 10 money lessons from Warren Buffett in mind.