Morgan Housel recently wrote The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness. No matter how we think about it, managing our own money and trying to build wealth is a game of emotions. Here’s a summary of the main points:
Go out of your way to find humility when things are going right, and forgiveness/compassion when they go wrong. The journey of building wealth is based on risk and luck. Remind yourself that the journey of investing is filled with ups and downs and to be ready for that emotionally.
Less ego, more wealth. Building wealth is simply spending less than you earn. Richness is buying cars, houses and boats. Wealth is what you don’t see – it’s money saved/invested instead of spent. The hardest financial skill is to get the goalposts to stop moving – life isn’t any fun without any sense of “enough”.
Manage your money in a way that helps you sleep at night. If you’re finding that you can’t sleep at night because you’re risking too much investing, you need to rethink your strategy. You may know it’s the “right” strategy, but if you can’t manage it emotionally, you may need to accept a lower risk and lower return by holding a higher percentage of your net worth in cash, or choosing lower risk strategies.
If you want to do better as an investor, the single most powerful thing you can do is increase your time horizon. Time is the most powerful force for growing your wealth. Be patient, and be in it for the long game like Ronald Read and Warren Buffett. In other words, just shut up and wait!
Become okay with a lot of things going wrong. You can be wrong half the time and still make a fortune. Having money in the market means you have to accept that on some days you may lose money, even as much as 30% or more of what you have invested. But if you can use the barbell strategy and invest in some assets with huge upside potential, you can still afford to be wrong most of the time while building wealth.
Use money to gain control over your time. Money means freedom. Being able to do what you want, when you want, with who you want is one thing that having money can bring.
Be nicer and less flashy. You may think people will like and respect you more based on your possessions, but in reality being more compassionate and kind works better. Make sure that when you’re buying possessions it’s for the right reasons – spending money to show people how much money you have is the fastest way to have less money.
Save. Just save. You don’t need a specific reason to save. Saving for something like a car or a down-payment for a house is good, but save as a default strategy too. Who knows what expenses can crop up as a surprise, wouldn’t it make more sense to be financially ready when they crop up?
Define the cost of success and be ready to pay it. The cost of success in investing is the uncertainty, the doubt, and the fear of losing some of your money. But if you want to play the game you need to see those things as a fee for participating. If you’re not willing to pay it, you may be better off just holding everything in cash and settling for a 0% return.
Worship room for error. You never want to be in a position where you could lose all your money, or losses in the market affecting the lifestyle that you live. If you lose a little you can still recover. If you lose it all, you have no money left, and you’ve been ejected from the game with no bankroll to buy back in. Avoid ruin at all costs.
Avoid the extreme ends of financial decisions. The more extreme your financial decisions, the more likely you may regret them if your goals and desires change at a later date. Good investing is less about making good decisions than it is about consistently not screwing up. You can afford not to be the best investor in the world, but you can’t afford to be a bad one.
You should like risk because it pays off over time. But you should be afraid of too much risk that would ruin your chances of winning the overall game.
Define the game you’re playing. Remember that everyone has their own unique financial goals based on the lifestyle and life goals they have. You don’t even necessarily have to compare yourself to overall market returns either. Just choose a strategy that you’d be happy with, without looking at other people and what they’re doing.
Respect the mess. There’s no single right answer in building wealth. Just find out what works for you.
Want to read more on investing? Read about Benjamin Graham’s value investing philosophy.