Unique Advantage Monthly Client Email – Oct. 3, 2023
By Kyle J Christensen, Principles-Based Planner & Founder
Work: To exert oneself physically or mentally especially in sustained effort for a purpose or under compulsion or necessity.
Earn: To receive as return for effort and especially for work done or services rendered.
Invest: To commit money in order to earn a financial return.
What if overcoming our nature is required in order to be successful with money? What is it about our nature that works against us?
I think most people would agree that if a person wants to achieve optimum health, they can’t eat anything and everything they want or that looks appetizing. I think most people would agree that to achieve optimal health a person must have a certain amount of “self-control” when it comes to eating. I think most people would agree that to achieve optimal health a person must exercise regularly, even (or especially) when they don’t feel like it. They can’t just sit and sleep all day.
For most (probably close to 99%) of us, moving, exercising, eating right, studying, learning, working, and overall doing stuff that’s difficult, is against our nature. Most of us are subconsciously wired to be on the lookout for the easiest path. If you aren’t naturally that way, then you are an anomaly. We’re a little like water in that respect. Water naturally seeks lower ground and the easiest path forward (I’ve rarely seen water go uphill without something pushing it uphill).
Why does it matter that we admit this natural instinct within us? What does it have to do with money?
Well, if you owned a financial institution and you wanted people to constantly give their money to you so that you could hold on to it and use it for long periods of time, you might try to appeal to the laziness in people. You might try to show them how “easy” it is to build wealth through your business. Telling people that building wealth is something that requires a lot of hard work and knowledge might be a turnoff (or bad advertising). So, as the owner of the financial institution, you’ve got to make it look and sound as easy as possible, and thereby appeal to the base natures of people, which is to learn nothing new and put forth as little effort as possible. But do financial institutions really stoop that low? Do they actually lie and tell us that becoming financially free will require almost no effort or knowledge on our part? Absolutely! Almost every one (I can’t think of one that doesn’t, but I’m trying to give the benefit of the doubt here).
How do they promote laziness and appeal to our base natures? First, they make contributions to their accounts as non-thinking as possible (autodraft, direct deposit, automatic transfers, and automatic reinvestment of dividends). They’d hate to have you make any conscious decision here. Automatically means “unconsciously” (Merriam-Webster). They tell us “Everyone can do it. You don’t have to know anything” (Peter Lynch, famous former manager of the Fidelity Magellan Fund). They even make something called “Target-Dated Funds”, which are mutual funds that automatically reallocate your funds over time as the years progress towards your supposed retirement date. These funds require even less thought than any others (they also charge the most). In other words, you don’t even need to make any allocation choices for your money over time. They’ll do that for you! You just set it and forget it!
What do you need to do in order to make your money perform well? Nothing. Zip! Zero! Nada! How nice does that sound? Doesn’t that sound fantastic? You just work in your day job and then “save” (I put this in quotes because although Wall Street calls this action “saving”, it is not, based on the definition of the word. It actually more closely resembles the definition of the word gamble. Look it up!) into your company’s retirement plan or your IRA. This happens automatically. You don’t have to evaluate any of your investment decisions (other than when you initially sign up to choose the funds that you want the money to go into) and voila! Just let it ride. Don’t look at your account statements ever, especially when the market is tanking (here’s a recent article saying exactly that). Don’t find out the names or backgrounds of any of the fund managers who are investing your money. Don’t find out what particular stocks and bonds your funds are investing in. You’re just supposed to leave it and do nothing…other than add more money to the account every time you get paid. Doesn’t that sound easy?
“Yeah, but I pay people to manage my money for me, just like I would pay a plumber to fix a pipe in my home. Are you saying that we can’t rely on professionals to manage our money in the market, to make investment decisions for us?” Here’s the thing about the plumber. If the plumber failed at his job, when would you find out? Would it be decades from now, or more likely within a few days or even hours? When do you find out whether the “professional” money manager was successful or not with your money? If you aren’t supposed to look at your account until you are 65 or 67, then how do you know whether they’ve succeeded or not before then? Pretty tough. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the research (all of it) that exists says that they (the “professional managers”) really can’t succeed at what they purport to being able to do. Don’t believe me? Watch this documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkOQNPIsO-Q “Well, that’s an old documentary! Things might have changed or improved since then.” Sorry, nothing suggests that that’s true, that Wall Street has changed anything, or that money managers are somehow better than they used to be. What has been proven is that retirement plans and mutual funds have worked INCREDIBLY well for Wall Street and their 600,000+ securities reps. They’ve made TRILLIONS! Meanwhile, here are the actual statistics from Vanguard (updated as of June 22, 2023):
Avg balance of a 401(k) for someone 65 and older in the U.S. = $232,710
Median balance of a 401(k) for someone 65 and older in the U.S. = $70,620.
These are numbers based on roughly 5 million Vanguard 401(k) accounts (https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/investing/the-average-401k-balance-by-age).
Who would say that those numbers signify a good amount of success for the individual investor in those plans?
So, what do we need to do then, if we want to be successful with our money? Well, have you heard the phrase “Choose the harder right than the easier wrong”? It’s a great phrase and points to what we need to do in order to be successful with our money (and pretty much everything else in life).
First, success in money requires work. I love that the definition of the word work includes “mental”. It’s not just physical. Knowledge is required for success in money. It always has been and always will be. That means learning has to take place. Decisions must be conscious, not unconscious.
Gaining knowledge requires time. Time is our most precious and limited resource, and none of us truly know how much of it we have. It’s not a renewable resource, and no matter how smart or rich a person is, that person cannot add a minute or second to the resource. Sure, a person’s time can be shortened by making dumb choices (or by others making dumb choices), eating the wrong things, not exercising and so on. Only God really knows how much time a person has available. Because our time is limited and we aren’t really sure how much of it we have, we are reluctant to give it up (except, ironically, for tons of wasteful things – i.e. check out the average screen time adults and teenagers spend per day and per week). So, if someone comes along and tells us we can get rich without investing our time, we seem to be all ears. But it’s complete pie in the sky thinking and truly, we don’t believe it. We know that nothing we have in our lives that’s worth having comes without time and effort. Sacrificing time to learn, which is unnatural, is required for success with money.
Work. Yes, it’s a four letter word. And yes, we naturally try to avoid it (most of us normal people do anyways). But we know that work is required for success in sports, in academics, in our jobs or professions, in our relationships, and everything else. Money is no exception to that rule (or principle). Note that the word invest means “to earn a return”. Note that earn means “to receive for effort and especially for work”. Putting forth effort (work), which is unnatural, is required for financial success.
Accountability. Another word too many people try to avoid. It’s so much nicer to be able to blame other people for our success and failure than to point the finger at ourselves. So, that’s another thing that’s appealing about what financial institutions are promoting. “Give us your money and we’ll be responsible for investing your money.” And they even have a fancy term for it. A “fiduciary”, which is someone who is supposed to act in the client’s best interest over any other interests (including their own). Given the outcomes of 401(k)’s and IRA’s, which abound in the millions upon millions of accounts, and have existed for over five decades, we should have a clear answer to that question. And we do! They are clearly doing what’s best for the financial institutions and not you. Otherwise, we would have record numbers of people becoming financially free, and that’s simply not the case. Personal accountability, which is unnatural, is required for financial success.
I could go on and on with more principles that are unnatural, but are nevertheless required for financial success, but I’ll stop here. You get the picture. The same things that are required for success in any other worthwhile endeavor in life are also required for financial success. Success is unnatural. Few people achieve it. Really, only the ones that embrace the fact that success requires unnatural thinking and behavior will achieve it. And to that end, I hope this article has helped you. I hope that it will help you see the lie for what it is, and the truth for what it is. And as they say, “the truth shall make you free.”