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Warren Buffett’s Investment Mindset

Warren Buffett, the “Oracle of Omaha,” is one of the world’s most successful investors. Below are five rules that illustrate how he thinks about investments. Following all of them will dramatically improve your odds of investing success.

1. Rule #1: Never lose money. Rule #2: Do not forget rule #1.

“Never lose money” is a philosophy for investing. It means something simple: There’s no such thing as “play money.” You don’t go out and speculate without any back up or research. You remain disciplined, whether your account is up or down. No casino attitude. There’s no such thing as the house’s money. It’s ALL your money, and it’s all to be protected.

Think of an investment this way: If you are 30, and you have an investment and throw it away, you’re not only losing the whole portfolio, but also you are permanently destroying all of its future value to you. True, you’re not Warren Buffett — each nickel becoming $130 over 40 years is, for most people, extremely unlikely.

2. It takes 20 years to build a reputation, and five minutes to destroy it.

In investing as in anything else in life, if you have passion and ability without integrity, you cannot go far. Youngsters nowadays are very aggressive and impatient, which can hurt both their intellectual development and their lives. Being aggressive means you haven’t done enough research and gone through the thought processes before making the buying decision, perhaps ultimately meaning you’ve chosen the wrong stocks. Being impatient means if you sell a star stock holding too early, like if you sold Tencent (SEHK:700.HK) when it rose 100% from its IPO price, you’ve missed the 500x profit that it could have brought you in the past 15 years.

3. If you don’t plan to own a stock for 10 years, don’t own it for even 10 minutes.

A lot of retail investors invest only in the ticker, not in the company behind it. When Warren Buffett invests in companies like Coca-Cola, he has well-founded reasons to do so. But if you don’t understand those reasons yourself, and simply buy because Warren Buffett did, you might sell at the wrong time and lose money. Always know why you’re buying a stock, what makes it a great company, and why it’s worth holding for the long term. And if you can’t make that case to yourself or others, don’t buy.

4. Buying outstanding companies at a reasonable price is better than buying mediocre companies at an extremely cheap price.

The stock market is one of the most competitive markets in the world, with lots of smart and aggressive people participating. Chances are, they collectively know a lot more than you do, a fact you ignore at your own peril. Individual stocks often get cheap for very good reasons, and if you buy stocks just because they’re priced low, you could easily see that price fall even farther. If you truly want to pursue bargains, you need to find great companies, wait until the whole market crashes, and then pick up your favorites while they and everything around them are selling at rock-bottom prices.

5. The best holding period for a stock is FOREVER.

Long-term investments offer you a compounding effect that could be extremely rewarding. If you put in $1 to investment and earn an average of 10% per year on that dollar, in 40 years that same dollar would be worth a little shy of $50. Incredible! You do not need to earn a lot every year, but the snowball effect is, tremendous. (For more on the miracle of compounding, see “Change Your Life With One Calculation.”)

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Disclosure: Johnny Chan does not own shares of any companies mentioned. Motley Fool Hong Kong is not licensed by the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission to carry out any regulated activities under the Securities and Futures Ordinance.