Which matters more for building wealth: Your saving rate or your investment returns?

My name is Zach, and I write at Four Pillar Freedom, where I tend to tackle financial topics through data visualization. While J.D. is on vacation, I offered to explore one of his favorite topics: the effects of saving rate versus investment returns.

Albert Einstein supposedly once said that compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world.But does data actually support this claim?

In this post, I explore the nature of compound interest, how long it takes to become an important factor in wealth accumulation, and whether or not it actually matters much for people who hope to achieve financial independence in a relatively short time.

What matters more: your saving rate or your investment returns?

Accumulating Wealth in the Early Years

Suppose your goal is to achieve a net worth of $1 million. If you invest $10,000 every year and earn a 7% annual return on your investments -- which is a reasonable assumption for long-term stock market returns -- you'll accumulate $1 million in about 30.7 years.

The chart below shows exactly how long it would take to reach every $100,000 net worth milestone, using the assumptions of a $10,000 annual investment earning a 7% annual return:

Notice how each $100,000 net worth milestone takes less time to reach than the last. In fact, it's mind-boggling to see that it will take youlongerto go from $0 to $100,000 than it will to go from $600,000 to $1 million:

The first $100,000 takes the longest to save because you don't receive much help from investment returns early on. The time it takes you to go from $0 to $100,000 is mostly dependent on the gap between your income and your spending.

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More about...Investing, Retirement