Becoming a titan of business does not require giving up your personality or humor, as Charlie Munger proved repeatedly in his long and successful life.
Many of the quotes below come from annual meetings of Berkshire Hathaway and are chronicled in CNBC’s Warren Buffett archive. Those events — sometimes called “Woodstock for Capitalists” — allowed Berkshire shareholders to ask Buffett and Munger questions about the company. They also gave the investing titans a chance to share wisdom and jokes, often at their own expense.
Here’s a collection of some of Munger’s funniest quotes and life advice, starting with his musings on aging and the proper goals for your own funeral.
“What you don’t want to be is like the man who, when they had his funeral, the minister said ‘now’s the time for someone to say something nice about the deceased.’ And nobody came forward. And nobody came forward. He said ‘surely somebody can say something nice to say about the deceased.’ And nobody came forward. And finally one man came up and said, ‘Well, his brother was worse.'”
“Sometimes when I am especially wistful, I think ‘Oh, to be 90 again.’“
Munger was an active commentator on different investing topics until the end, including more modern topics like cryptocurrencies and artificial intelligence. But some of his sayings fell somewhere between the categories of general business and personal life advice.
“If you mix the mathematics of the chain letter or the Ponzi scheme with some legitimate development like the development of the internet, you are mixing something which is wretched or irrational or has bad consequences with something that has very good consequences. But you know, if you mix raisins with turds, they’re still turds.”
“You particularly want to avoid evil or seriously irrational people, particularly if they are attractive members of the opposite sex. That can lead to a lot of trouble.”
Munger, who was a practicing attorney and hedge fund manager before joining Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway, was often self-deprecating when discussing his professional success.
“Competency is a relative concept. … What I needed to get ahead was to compete against idiots. And luckily there’s a large supply.”
“Warren, if people weren’t so often wrong we wouldn’t be so rich.”
“I did not intend to get rich. I wanted to get independent. I just overshot.”
Given his longevity and success, Munger was often asked questions about how to live a happy and fulfilling life, regardless of professional success. Over the years, Munger showed the ability to answer that question both sincerely and with a streak of humor.
“Life is more than being shrewd at passive wealth accumulation.”
“You don’t have a lot of envy, you don’t have a lot of resentment, you don’t overspend your income, you stay cheerful in spite of your troubles. You deal with reliable people and you do what you’re supposed to do. And all these simple rules work so well to make your life better. And they’re so trite.”
“The first rule of a happy life is low expectations.”
“That’s the way I got married. My wife lowered her expectations.”
The specter of death or illness did not take away his humor, as shown after Buffett was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“I probably have more prostate cancer than he does. I don’t know because I don’t let them test for it.”
Munger’s good humor carried on into the final year of his life. In one of his final public appearances at the 2023 Daily Journal shareholder meeting, Munger reflected on aging with his typical mix of practical advice and sharp wit.
“I’m eating this good peanut brittle. That’s what you ought to do if you want to live to be 99. I hate to advertise my own product, but this is the key to longevity.”
“So far, I’ve had plenty of decline, but I’m pretty shrewd about the way I handle it. And so far the results have not been that bad in my old age. Now, my sex life would be a different subject.”
“I step out of my bed these days and then sit down in my wheelchair. So I am paying some price for old age. But I prefer it to being dead. And whenever I feel sad about being in a wheelchair, I think well you know, Roosevelt ran the whole damn country for 12 years in a wheelchair. So I’m just trying to make this wheelchair thing last as long as Roosevelt did.”