I remember when I used to feel inadequate about money and investing. I felt like I was floating in the middle of a dangerous ocean, with no wind in my sails, and I lost the directions to get home.
It was a helpless, scary feeling, because I desperately wanted to understand money and investing, but I didn’t know where to start. I imagined life would be easier if I understood how to grow money from money, but getting that knowledge felt so elusive. It felt like financial wisdom was reserved for a select club. Unless you were born into that club, or went to school for years to learn it, you’d forever be struggling, while the few people who did understand money would be passionately living their dream life.
This post is about my road to learn how money and investing works. Once I began to learn, I stopped feeling lost and afraid. I started to feel empowered. Learning was the breeze that filled my sails. Learning helped me cross my ocean of challenges, and find my dream life on the other side.
It was three years ago when I realized something had to change with my limited understanding of money and investing. I was sick of feeling lost. I was in an Alpha Group with my wife (We’re now leaders), and our group leader opened with a question to get the discussion going.
“If you could have one super power, what would it be?” She asked,
A few ordinary answers flashed in my mind: Jedi mind powers. Ninja athletic skills. Wings to fly through the universe at the speed of light. Claws and strength like Wolverine. All really cool.
But I am a trailblazer at heart, and these answers felt too generic. I thought deeper trying to find a unique answer that hadn’t been said before. When it was my turn to answer, it was like a lightning bolt exploded in my mind.
I spit the flaming-hot answer out of my mouth, “I wish I understood the art of finance better.” I said, “I wish I had financial wisdom as a super power.”
I was amazed I had shared my weakness in front of my peers. But then I was also amazed by how many people agreed with me, and wished they had that same super power. I realized all my friends knew how to be great people, but none of us confidently knew how money or investing worked.
The group discussion moved on, but my answer had electrified my mind. I wanted to learn, and I didn’t care what it would take.
I began my journey with these four tools that are essential for any new adventure to be successful:
1) FEARLESSNESS. I wasn’t afraid to learn something new. I wanted it.
2) CURIOSITY. I was hungry to explore new thoughts.
3) TEACHABILITY. Teach me, God, I thought. I was a blank slate.
4) FRIENDS. I had a network of successful friends I could tap for knowledge.
Attitude, mentality, and character MUST be your first investment to be successful with money. If you have these qualities listed above in your attitude and mentality, I promise you, there’s nothing in life you can’t do. It’s when you don’t have these things, that you will find your life stalled, going backward, or in trouble.
God must have heard my answer in group that night, because right after that, is when my adventure and training sessions began. I feel vulnerable and anxious sharing these 4 below lessons on the power of money and investing. I don’t want to share these 4 lessons to show off because I am a human with flaws like everyone else. I want to share my experiences to help other “Me’s” out there who want to learn, but don’t know where to begin.
Learning Lesson #1: Compounding interest, as Einstein stated, is the 8th Wonder of the World.
In 1980 when I was born, a family member gave me $300 worth of XCEL Energy stock for my first birthday. (Share price was $12 at the time, so a $300 investment bought me 25 shares.) I’m not sure why my family member picked that stock. I was too young to ask them. I was having a hard enough time learning how to roll over and use my hands to eat.
Since my mind wasn’t mature enough to realize the value of stock, I spent the majority of my childhood playing with my kites, bikes, and building tree forts instead. I basically forgot I even owned stock.
Once a year, I would get a letter in the mail from XCEL Energy. But since I didn’t understand financial language, it seemed boring and I didn’t pay much attention to it.
If I would have taken the time to learn more about financial language, I would have seen that dividends were being paid to me as cash. Since I was signed up in a dividend reinvestment plan, that cash was automatically buying me more shares of stock. The 8th wonder of the world, compound interest, was working for me throughout my entire childhood and I didn’t even know it.
I’m 35 years old, and now that I know how to read those financial statements I get in the mail, I see that those original 25 shares of stock were seeds that have now grown into a forest of 471 shares and growing every day without me doing anything. XCEL Energy share price is now worth around $40 a share. Do the math. You’ll see that that original $300 birthday present, is now worth $20,000. What’s that forest of money going to look like if I let it compound for another 30 years?
I don’t tell this story to promote XCEL stock. My expertise right now isn’t in individual stock picking. I just think it’s an awesome example illustrating the power of compounding interest when an investment is fertilized with time and left to grow. Albert Einstein once called compound interest, “The 8th wonder of the world.” Just hearing his opinion on it means it’s probably a concept worth some time to think deeply about.
You must develop the skill to see 10, 20, and 30 years into the future if you want to succeed with money and investing. Evaluate how your decisions today may look after 30 years of compounding time is added to them. Every time you’re about to spend money, ask yourself, “Ok, I have the cash now, but do I really need to spend it? What’s this cash going to be worth in 30 years if I save and invest it instead?” This is how financially smart, savvy, and successful people think.
After that night where I wished I had a new super power, I’ve started to think like this all the time. For example, splurging and seeing my favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings, live at their stadium is one of my favorite things to do in the fall. But before I buy NFL tickets, I think through what the experience is really worth to me. Sure, I could easily pay $300 cash for lower level, 50-yard line seats without blinking. But now that I understand how money works, I don’t just look at the sticker price of the tickets. I also look at the opportunity cost, and future value I’d be missing to attend the event.
I ask myself, How much will today’s 3 hour game cost my future-self in 30 years if I saved and invested that money instead? If that $300 could turn into $20,000, is that seat really bringing me $20,000 worth of entertainment and value?
I compare those numbers to the different choices I have available. For example, I could have just as much fun going to the game with a $50 upper deck ticket, and still make out like a bandit investing the remaining $250 I saved. In this situation, that sounds like a win-win financial decision to me! I get to have the same memories, enjoyment, and experience at the game. I also get to invest the money I saved by investing it and creating more money to buy the future experiences I want.
I always ask myself before I purchase anything, what brings me the most value from my choices? How does the current value of something, compare to the opportunity-cost that I could earn if I invested that money for the future?
Being savvy with money and investing is a delicate balance of asking yourself: How can I best maximize the experiences of today, while also maximizing the value many years from now? This is how financially wise people balance their choices in life. They find their style of enjoying today, while also planning to enjoy the most of their future. The path to your dream life is really just a series of decisions that weigh today’s value, compared to future values.
And while we’re on this subject, don’t even get me venting started about the lost opportunity cost when a 20 or 30 years old buys, or finances, a new car. Just imagine if they chose a used car instead, and invested the remaining 10K or 20K you saved. Haha. Haha. Seriously. I’m laughing at all the money you could reap if you’re still young, and can postpone buying luxury items until your seeds of investments have grown into a forest of wealth. Once you have a forest, then enjoy picking the fruit and buy whatever you want.
Making these decisions is the super easy path to reach millionaire status. Don’t believe marketing companies, and sales people, who try to make you believe it’s normal to spend huge amounts of money and accumulate on horrendous, evil debt on luxury items that can easily be replaced with quality-made, less-expensive things. Remember, the marketing companies who are selling these things want to manipulate you so they can turn your money into millions for themselves over time. I’d rather see you keep your money, so you can build your own dream, and do whatever God calls you to do with your money.
SECOND LESSON: Destroy your inexperience and fear by learning and trying.
We paid off our bad debt (Read wealth building tips here), which included a student and car loan before we were married. (I’ll write about my decision to keep my manageable mortgage at some point) After living frugally for the first year of our marriage, my wife and I saw that we had a surplus amount of cash in our checking account. (This surplus went beyond our 6 month emergency fund of cash.)
We looked at our options at what we could buy with the extra money. We could go shopping and buy more “stuff,” but after talking about it, we decided we had everything that makes us happy already. Sure, a bigger house with 2000 more square feet would be cool. But would we be happier than we are in our current home that we love that’s half that size? In fact, the energy, furniture, and tax bills for that extra 2000 square feet would probably hurt our happiness, and cause us to fight more. A new faster car would be fun, but our older cars that do their primary job of safe transportation work just fine.
What we decided we really wanted was more time and freedom to pursue our dreams, and find our purpose in life. To embark on this adventure, we knew we needed to learn how to invest. Investors learn how to make money when they’re sleeping, and we decided learning was more important to us than buying more “stuff.”
We took the surplus of cash we had, and contacted a financial advising family friend who’s owned his own business for the last 20+ years. He had a good track record with the family members I knew, so I figured getting his advice was a good place to start.
I was impressed the first time we met with him. He actually advised us NOT to invest at that time. He showed us that financial markets were at an all-time high, and there may be better investing opportunities coming later in the year after a few global events took place. For a man who is paid by closing sales and earning commissions, I was extremely impressed that he turned down an easy sale to look for better values down the road.
He advised us to hold our extra money in cash, continue to save, and wait for the dust to settle on the world stage. I felt comfortable with this advice. I at least knew buying low, and selling high is the name of the game in business, money, and investing strategies.
Six months later he called us after the global events caused the market to fall 20%. “If you still want to invest, now’s a great time.” He said.
We met him again, and evaluated several retirement and non-retirement mutual funds. Since I am self-employed, and operate my own independent sales business, I have to plan for my own retirement. Those conversations helped me learn a lot more about retirement IRA’s, ROTH IRA’s, and how they’d all impact my yearly tax payments. It was like I was learning a new language, and I was becoming more fluent making financial decisions.
We finally decided to invest our surplus money, and for the first time we walked away owning a mixture of 4 retirement and non-retirement investment mutual fund accounts we bought on our own. (FKGRX, FISEX, TEDIX, and FRDPX, for any investment wizards out there.)
Our advisers experience and timing was spot on, because a month after our purchase, the markets rebounded, and we had our first experience on how investing works. 20% return on a five-figure investment isn’t money to laugh at.
But the real reason I am telling this story isn’t to flaunt the money we made. Can you see the most important part of this story? The most important lesson is that by taking a risk and trying, we had broken the barrier of fear and inexperience. We were now active learners and people gaining valuable real-life investing experience. No matter how much you read or study, real life experience will always be the best teacher. We were now on the path of real-life learning, and the learning was providing more opportunities to grow than money alone could ever buy.
If you can learn one thing from this lesson, it’s if you want to learn how investing works this is the secret: Save some money, and just try. Surround yourself with the best advice you can get, and then just try. Once you start trying, you’ll never be inexperienced again. Trying is the path to finding your style. You may lose money in the short term, but your focus should never be on the short term anyway. If your focus is on learning and growing over the long term, then you are almost guaranteed to win no matter what your goals are in life. I think this below quote sums up what the road to wise money and investing should look like:
“Investing should be more like watching paint dry, or watching grass grow. If you want excitement, take $800 and go to Las Vegas.” Paul Samuelson.
LEARNING LESSON #3: Learn, learn, grow and try more.
Once the helpless state of inexperience is in your rear view mirror, and you are actually learning from real-life investing experience, I advise that you devote yourself to learn, learn, and learn more. There are hundreds of incredible personal finance writers out there telling stories about their good, and bad, adventures in the finance world. Let them be your guides so that you can learn from their mistakes (More on the fear of failure here) , and don’t have to learn the hard way.
Follow them on social media like Facebook, or even better, start a twitter account, and follow everyone on twitter who is writing about their adventures to understand money and investing. (Starting with @WealthWellDone of course! I’ll put my own list on here eventually, but this one at Rockstar Finance should work for now.)
Within minutes, you can start reading so many awesome financial stories that can help with your personal situation. Subjects like: getting out of debt; finding personal happiness with money; or investing, are flowing through the personal finance community like blood flows through our brains to give us life. These writers will become your friends, and you’ll find yourself on the same journey that they’re on. One of the great, eternal maxims of life is:
If you want to know who you are, look at your friends.
— Wealth Well Done (@WealthWellDone) December 19, 2016
Make smart, talented, experienced friends who understand personal finance, and it’s a great way to start building a new, smarter you.
For example, as I continued my pursuit of learning, I found this awesome writer JL Collins who showed me the way to no-load, index funds that I had been wanting to try. Read his “Stock series” here.
I was so inspired by his words, and learning more, I opened a vanguard account on my own 3 weeks ago, and bought my own VTSAX shares so I can compare this index fund to my actively managed mutual funds. By buying them on my own, I avoided the 5% or 1% annual fee a financial adviser would charge.
I have no idea if it will be a better investment, but I know one thing: I am guaranteed to experience and learn. Learning and growing is ALWAYS the path to adventure and wealth, and that’s the life I am after.
In conclusion, before I invest I always ask myself, what’s the worst that can happen? My answer: If I lose everything I’ve invested, I’ll at least learn what not to do next time. I’ll find a way to survive, and can always be happy with my hiking boots, caring wife, friends and family, and my personal relationship with God. Because these are ultimately where all my meaning, happiness, and wealth comes from anyway.
The market will go up, and it will go down. But I am not worried about the short term. It takes a time for a forest to grow from seeds. As the great investor Warren Buffet has said: “Someone is sitting in the shade today, because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
Start thinking how you can create a forest of value with your efforts. Not just a grass blade or a single tree.
A FINAL LESSON TO PONDER:
“It’s the compounding of assets, not just money, that creates true wealth.” Robert Kiyosaki. Let that sink in.
If you don’t understand how important the above sentence is to build monetary wealth, Robert Kiyosaki’s classic book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, is a great place to start.
So after all that, any thoughts? We don’t talk about money in American culture very much. I decided to talk about it, because I wish someone would have told me these things.