Turning $500 into $1 million may seem like a fantasy, but it's certainly possible, at least theoretically. Transforming such a small amount into a fortune would likely involve some combination of high risk, time and blind luck. After all, if there was an easy path to $1 million, everyone would take it. However, some basic investment principles can increase your chances for success.
The Stock Market
A common debate revolves around whether you can consider the stock market to be simply the biggest legalized casino in the world. If you choose only highly speculative investments, that may indeed be the case. However, many investors are surprised at the immense power of compounding returns that can be achieved with even moderate risk-taking in the stock market.
The long-term average annual return of the U.S. stock market is about 10 percent per year. Using a handy statistical tool known as the "Rule of 72," you can calculate that a 10 percent annual return will double your investment just about every 7.2 years. So, can this power of compounding returns turn $500 into $1 million? If you've got the time, it certainly can.
For $500 to reach $1 million, your investment would have to double about 11 times. If your investment earns a 10 percent average annual return and doubles approximately every 7.2 years, it will take about 79.2 years for your $500 to reach over $1 million. While the stock market doesn't move in a straight line and its returns are not guaranteed, this example shows that you can indeed reach your $1 million within a single lifetime with just a long-term average return.
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While the average human lifespan in the U.S. continues to lengthen, you might not be able to wait 79.2 years for your $500 to turn into a $1 million. In that case, you're likely going to have to increase your risk-taking. For example, by fishing in the more speculative end of the stock market, you could double your money rapidly. Since it takes about 11 doubles to reach $1 million, you'd have to find 11 stocks that double to get you to your goal. This is a risky strategy that has a highly unlikely outcome, but it's certainly possible.
One path to $1 million is to invest in a boom-or-bust field, such as oil and gas speculation. While investing at the wrong time could wipe out your entire investment, getting in at the start of a boom could result in a huge financial windfall. While you're not likely to be able to buy any oil or gas production facilities or refineries with just $500, you can find investment partnerships where you'd be a small partial owner. As with speculative stock investments, however, you'd likely have to put all your money in different investments over and over, with all of them working out for you, an unlikely proposition.
Probably the ultimate speculative path to $1 million is via buying lottery tickets. While you're far more likely to be hit by lightning than to win the lottery -- National Geographic pegs the odds of winning the $1 million Mega Millions second-prize at 1 in 18.5 million -- a small investment in a winning lottery ticket could easily push you over the magical $1 million mark. Of course, nothing is impossible. One Canadian man was both hit by lightning and won $1 million in the lottery.