10 Warren Buffett Quotes Every 20-Year-Old Needs to Hear

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What could a man born in 1930 have to say to someone born in 2004? Well, as it turns out, a lot. Warren Buffett is one of the richest men in the world, with a net worth of over $137 billion. But equally remarkable to his ability to accumulate money is his commitment to giving it away. Buffett started “The Giving Pledge,” whereby billionaires promise to give away at least half of their wealth before they die to worthwhile causes. Bill and Melinda Gates are among those who have joined the pledge. This effort shows Buffett to be not only a man of financial acumen but one with a sense of social responsibility and compassion for his fellow human beings. So, on multiple grounds, Buffett is a worthy role model for today’s 20-somethings.

The internet is full of pithy, down-to-earth Buffett wisdom. We’ve perused it and selected some quotes that seem particularly applicable to the stage of life of people born between 1995 and 2004, otherwise known as Gen Z.

Similarities Between the Silent Generation and Gen Z

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Despite some differences in skill areas and ideological commitments, the Silent Generation and Gen Z have some similar characteristics.

The Silent Generation

People born between 1925 and 1945 are called the Silent Generation. This was a time of economic depression and two world wars. People coming of age in those years learned to work hard without expecting immediate gratification. In fact, for some there might be no reward at all for their work, but they would still sacrifice for their families, communities, and country. This generation’s quiet, steady devotion to doing their duty earned them their nickname. 

Gen Z

At first glance it may seem Gen Z has little in common with this experience, but there’s more than we might think at first. Between 1995 and 2004, the country has been involved in multiple military conflicts, mostly in the Middle East. At home, news of school shootings and shooting drills have traumatized students across the country so that school doesn’t feel like a safe place to be. A global pandemic robbed some of them of proms, graduations, and other milestones. And economic turmoil, including the skyrocketing price of a college education, has given many of them a cynical outlook on the world and their own future. Moreover, this is a highly idealistic generation with commitments to diversity and inclusion, environmentalism, and other big causes. Though the Silent Generation may differ with them sharply on some of these issues, the point is that both generations care deeply about ideas and principles and are willing to sacrifice for them.

1. “Tell me who your heroes are, and I’ll tell you who you’ll turn out to be.”

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When we move past childhood, we probably need new heroes.

Why is it relevant?

  • People in their 20s often idolize celebrities and sports figures who are about their age but similarly inexperienced in life.
  • We tend to become more like those who we spend time with. If we are not intentional, this can cause us to drift from our goals.
  • Appropriate heroes of childhood may be different from heroes of adulthood who help us move forward.

Think about it

Young adults have discovered not only that Santa and Superman aren’t real but that their parents, teachers, and other role models are not always the heroes we thought they were, either. Rather than responding with cynicism, we can be more intentional in our 20s about selecting new role models, mentors, and friends who have the qualities we need not only for professional success but to grow into everyday heroes ourselves.

2. “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

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It doesn’t take criminal activity to destroy a reputation. One ill-conceived photo or post will do it.

Why is it relevant?

  • Intense brain development doesn’t end until age 25. People in their 20s can make misjudgments that will cost them later.
  • For a generation of selfies and social media, photos or information carelessly posted online can come back to haunt us. 
  • Peer pressure from friends can be especially strong as we are still forming a mature individual identity.

Think about it

It takes foresight and self-control to stop oneself from saying or doing rash things in the heat of the moment. Many people never master this skill and leave a trail of destruction behind them. Moreover, sometimes a photo or post that is innocent enough and culturally appropriate at the time it was posted can later be taken out of context, or culture can change so that it gives quite a different impression. What’s one to do? Not putting oneself “out there” too much can help, like a poker player keeping their cards close to their chest until they’re ready to play them.

3. “Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

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What habits are holding you back?

Why is it relevant?

  • Habits started in young adulthood can still be overcome but will become more difficult to break as time goes on. 
  • Good habits formed in young adulthood can set us up for success in the future.
  • Some habits that don’t seem like serious problems can become serious over time. 

Think about it

It’s essential to notice bad habits and nip them in the bud as soon as possible before they become too hard to break. One strategy is to replace bad habits with good ones. Instead of stress-eating, for example, how about stress-exercising? Fortunately, on the flip side, good habits can be just as difficult to break as bad ones. Some behaviors become so routine, so encoded in our muscle memory, that we do them automatically. Being aware of what our habits are, and what we want them to be, is the first step.

4. “The most important investment you can make is in yourself.”

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Health, education, and mental coping skills are all examples of areas where we can invest in ourselves and reap the benefits for a lifetime.

Why is it relevant?

  • While finishing college and starting careers, 20-somethings also need to develop healthy lifestyle habits.
  • Others might place so many demands on us that we neglect our own needs, especially for rest and recreation.
  • Before spending time and resources on an activity, we can ask ourselves how it will help our personal development.

Think about it

It’s been said that the 20s and 30s are the stages of life when we’re digging ourselves deeper into a hole, and the 40s and 50s are when we can start digging ourselves out. Some people do incur substantial debt for education, buying a house, and the expenses of raising children in these younger years. While it’s better not to be in debt at all, if we do have to borrow, it’s best to make sure our resources are going into things that truly do enhance our lives and help us grow, not mindless consumption that sets us further back from our targets.

5. “It’s better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours, and you’ll drift in that direction.”

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If you want to be better at golf, hang out with someone better at golf. If you want to be better at life, hang out with someone better at life.

Why is it relevant?

  • After high school, we have to form new circles of academic and professional associates.
  • Some previous relationships may be dragging us away from our goals and will have to be cooled off or stopped altogether.
  • We should find mentors and associates who can help us not only with professional skills but also with character traits such as integrity.

Think about it

Research scientists living for extended periods of time in Antarctica have gradually developed a new dialect called Antarctic English with its own distinctive vocabulary and pronunciations. It goes to show that we tend to become like the people we spend a lot of time with. Knowing this, we can take a sober look at our friend group and even our extended family and ask if we want to become more like them? And if not, who do we want to be like and how do we get them in our lives more?

6. “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.’”

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Saying “no” doesn’t have to be a mean thing. It’s just saying, “thanks for the opportunity, but I just don’t have the bandwidth for that right now.”

Why is it relevant?

  • Some young people can be easily manipulated or guilted into doing things by family or friends.
  • We have more energy in youth but may also overestimate how much we can accomplish and get burned out.
  • It takes practice and skill to learn to say “no,” and stick to that answer, without hurting our relationships.

Think about it

Setting boundaries is one of the most fundamental skills we can develop to keep our relationships healthy and nurturing rather than toxic or draining. Children are often disciplined for saying “no” to their parents, which can sometimes lead to an overly compliant adult who doesn’t know how to stand up for themselves. A maturing young person can work through what their goals are, what it will take to get to them, and what activities are and are not helpful in getting there. Then, it’s a matter of politely declining anything that does not fit in those parameters. 

7. “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”

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You can be appropriately “fearful” and perfectly safe at the same time.

Why is it relevant?

  • It’s hard to go against the crowd when they’re all jumping on the bandwagon of an investment or trend.
  • If we go against the grain and invest at times when a lot of people are pulling their money out, we may get rewarded big time later.
  • The 20s are a time to grow in confidence in ourselves as individuals, taking good advice, but not depending on others to think for us.

Think about it

In this quotation, Buffett is talking about bucking the herd mentality in the stock market. Some people act like gamblers in the market, placing their bets and just hoping things will go their way. Buffett’s approach to investing is more methodical: buy undervalued stock in stable companies that regularly pay dividends and steadily increase in value over a long period of time. Sell stock only when the price is high or even overvalued. It’s a tried and true strategy that especially pays off for long-term investors, like 20-somethings saving for retirement, who have 50 years for the market fluctuations to average out to solid gains.

8. “The stock market is designed to transfer money from the active to the patient.”

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There’s money to be made in the stock market, but it goes to those who have the right mentality.

Why is it relevant?

  • People in their 20s have been goals and dreams, but usually do not have many resources yet.
  • It can be tempting to move money from one investment to another to try to maximize profits.
  • In reality keeping our money in a sound investment that pays steadily can be a much more reliable money-making strategy.

Think about it

Time is on the side of Gen Zers. They will reap the rewards if they keep their expenses low and steadily save their money in well-chosen stocks. Losses usually come when an impatient investor is chasing returns. Doing so often means being one step behind the market, as it has shifted again by the time you hear the news. Far better to put in place a long-term strategy and stick to it. Maybe even set up an automatic investment plan, and rather than follow it every day, ignore it and live your life. Most likely, if your investments are keeping you up worried at night, you have the wrong investments.

9. ”The most important quality for an investor is temperament, not intellect. You need a temperament that neither derives great pleasure from being with the crowd or against the crowd.”

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Why is it relevant?

  • Young investors with a business education may get discouraged when the theory they learned in the classroom does not produce automatic success in the real-world marketplace.
  • In an attempt to be independent, some young people build an identity around conforming to a group; others around rebelling.
  • As young people move through their 20s they can start to develop a more mature perspective that is open to outside influences but not enslaved to them.

Think about it

Buffett is big on being your own independent person rather than part of a big mob making mindless, emotion-driven decisions. This is advice that can resonate well with young adults who don’t want to be told what to do. The flip side of this is that in a youth-oriented culture, inexperienced people may ignore sage advice from those who really do know what they’re talking about by virtue of education and experience. Why repeat someone else’s mistake if we can learn from it? 

10. “Price is what you pay; value is what you get.”

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Why is it relevant?

  • Cash-strapped, Gen Zers are always looking for good deals. 
  • Just because something is cheap does not make it a good deal. 
  • We need to consider the value of our time and the opportunity cost of making one choice over another. 

Think about it

Paying the lowest price for something will not always save you money. The lowest-priced car may need a lot of repairs. The lowest-priced plastic surgeon may leave you with a different face than you bargained for. And the lowest-priced education might not get you the job you want or the ability to do it even if you get it. You can research how to fix your own car and do it imperfectly, or you can save all those hours and effort and pay someone else to do it while you do a job you are competent at to make more money. Understanding the difference between the price fo something and the actual value of it is key to spending wisely and creating a more stress-free life.


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