I Spent a Day Living Like Billionaire Warren Buffett. Here's What Happened.
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
Warren Buffett didn’t become the fourth-wealthiest person in the world by taking impetuous risks — and he’s nothing if not consistent.
He stops by the same McDonald’s breakfast every morning, according to reports and interviews. He spends 80 percent of his workday doing the same thing: reading. He plays bridge most days after work. And he sticks with the same bedtime.
Comparatively, my everyday life as a twentysomething journalist living in New York is decidedly lacking in routine. I don’t even take the same train to work every morning (you may have heard gripes about the city’s unreliable subway system), my workdays vary greatly depending on the piece I’m working on (like this one), and as much as I might try, I never go to bed at the same time (sorry, mom).
So when I decided to spend a day living like the billionaire investor, I knew it’d be a challenge.
Wake and make money
The first momentous task: waking up at 6:45 a.m. Listen, I’m a gym-after-work kind of person — plus the night before I started this challenge, I’d stayed up until 1:30 a.m. with a friend watching the new Netflix reality show Love Is Blind. To wit, I hit snooze a couple of times. (Don’t blame me — blame the show’s “villain” for her antics!)
Buffett reportedly arrives at work around 9:30 a.m. when the markets open. I usually get in earlier than that, so I had a lot of time to kill. I puttered around my apartment a bit and found a list of songs he’s referenced in the past to get me fired up on my commute.
Buffett famously pays for most things in cash. (He told Yahoo! Finance, “It’s just easier.”) Conversely, I usually avoid carrying it at all costs (since it’s not reflected in my bank balance, it feels to me like Monopoly money). But today was different: I was no run-of-the-mill millennial — I was worth over $86 billion! So what could be more natural than paying in exact change? I rooted through my jar of loose coins and counted out a selection of quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies to prepare me for my McDonald’s visit.
En route to recreate Buffett’s famous breakfast habit, I listened to a George Jones song he references in Berkshire Hathaway’s acquisition criteria: “A line from a country song expresses our feeling about new ventures, turnarounds, or auction-like sales: 'When the phone don't ring, you'll know it's me.'"
Every day, Buffett makes the five-minute drive to McDonald’s and orders one of three items: two sausage patties, a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich or a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. He decides which based on how prosperous he’s feeling, so that morning he’ll tell his wife the corresponding meal price ($2.61, $2.95 or $3.17), and she’ll put that amount in his car. If Buffett orders two sausage patties, he’s feeling down on his luck. On a good day, he’ll splurge on a bacon, egg and cheese.
I opened the door of McDonald’s with my plastic bag of coins in hand and was immediately faced with a problem: As a vegan (insufferable, I know), I only had one real option under $3.17. The markets were heading into correction territory as part of the indexes’ worst week since the financial crisis, so I undercut even Buffett’s cheapest order, going with a single hashbrown at $1.95. (Good thing I didn’t go to a Manhattan McDonald’s, or almost nothing would’ve been in Buffett’s price range.) I painstakingly counted out some quarters and dimes (it's been a while since I did math) and went outside to photograph the bag for the story. In typical New York fashion, a guy on a scooter mockingly yelled, “Ooh, she’s got fresh McDonald’s!” (To be honest, I deserved it for looking like I was Instagramming my breakfast.)
I rolled into work just as the markets opened, timed perfectly because I trusted the MTA subway system would fail me as usual. Buffett famously drinks five cans of Coca-Cola every day, so my coworker Matt bought my first, and I paid him back with six quarters.
Buffett has been known to treat his friend Bill Gates to McDonald’s for lunch, so I tapped the most natural replacement: my boss, Dan Bova (suckup alert!). The midtown Manhattan lunch rush meant we had to try two different McDonald’s locations before ordering our copious amounts of fries. It was an unexpected bonding experience for us to eat food together that typically served as a hangover cure. At this point, the Coca-Cola was starting to make me a little nauseous. Definitely wasn’t going to make it to five cans.
Mental pushups and ukuleles
I set aside part of the afternoon to simply sit and read, emulating the man who spends as much as 80 percent of his workday doing the same. He once reportedly said, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.” Buffett says the amount of time he spends reading and thinking helps him avoid impulse decisions in business. Interestingly enough, it resulted in me not experiencing the usual 2:00 p.m. crash, and I felt energized to think more creatively after giving my mind an outlet. I’ll definitely be exploring this further as an afternoon coffee alternative.
One of many differences between Buffett and myself: He successfully learned to play the ukulele in college, while I still haven’t learned to play one chord using the one I acquired in my junior year. The dusty instrument finally had its moment in the sun, though, when I tried to recreate Buffett’s 65-plus years of experience and “serenaded” my coworkers. (They grimaced and clapped politely.)
My attempt at bridge, which Buffett reportedly plays for as much as eight hours a week, went similarly (and ended up with me perusing Bridge for Dummies online). Buffett told The Washington Post: "It's a game you can enjoy when you are in your 90s, and you are seeing a different intellectual challenge every seven minutes. It's the best exercise there is for the brain."
Dining for dollars
After work, I went to dinner with a friend who also used to be a personal finance journalist. (If I’m Warren Buffett for the day, the dinner conversation had better revolve primarily around investing, money and long-term goals.)
The Berkshire Hathaway CEO’s approach to investing is just as steady as his daily routine: He’s a staunch believer in a long-term strategy that follows the market and minimizes investment fees, as well as a proponent of value-based investing: seeking out easy-to-analyze companies that demonstrate strong long-term growth potential. Buffett actively advises against trying to “beat the market” or placing trust in an actively managed fund.
At dinner, my friend and I talked about building up our emergency funds, amping up investments, paying down high-interest debt and how money dynamics affect relationships. It felt good to talk about our long-term goals and where we saw our money taking us five or 10 years down the line — especially since we’re beginning to be able to act on the advice we used to give people for a living.
Closing the books on Buffett
On my commute home, I listened to another of Buffett’s most-referenced songs, “Some Enchanted Evening,” with his favorite kind of milkshake in hand (strawberry). I ran the last few blocks to my apartment to make it into bed by his famous 10:45 p.m. lights-out time (usually I’m a past-midnight kind of girl), slept soundly and woke up feeling energized and ready to take on another day.
My last task as Buffett carried over into day two: Stopping by his boxed chocolate company, See’s Candies, in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. I picked up his favorites: peanut brittle and chocolate walnut fudge (which can sometimes be seen alongside him in company meetings). And of course, I paid with my remaining handful of change.
Twenty-four hours as Warren Buffett may have taken a physical toll — I’m nowhere near becoming a McDonald’s regular, and even as an Atlanta native, I’m far from his level on Coca-Cola consumption. Mentally, though, I felt energized and rejuvenated after giving my mind the space to be creative (via my afternoon reading break) and the rest it required (the wonders of eight hours of sleep!). As for Buffett’s money mindset? Although I may never get used to carrying cash, applying his future-minded outlook to the market dip kept me calm.
Investing aside, using Buffett’s long-term lens to look at life seems like a healthy way to see past hills and valleys, cut out the noise and focus on what’s really important. And, of course, a strawberry milkshake in hand doesn’t hurt.