This book is a fantastic overview of a successful investment mindset and strategy. Although it explains things simply, I don’t see it as a book for beginners managing money because it’s not a “how-to” guide but more of a “financial mindset, pitfalls, and investing theory” book. It would be best placed as a follow-up to a “how-to” style of a financial advice piece. That being said, it helped me tremendously. I love it and would recommend it.
🚀This Book in 3 Bullets
Saving is more a battle in self-control and Ego than making more money. Making more money can help, but reducing lifestyle costs is an available resource at every stage of life.
Uninterrupted consistency of investing is the fuel that powers compounding and compounding is the primary driver to nearly every long-term success story.
Everybody's investment strategy is different and that’s okay just be sure to define yours and not allow people with different strategies to change your mind so easily, however, there are a few universal laws that will bold well for your success: Leave room for error in your investing (nothings completely predictable), avoid financial extremes and ruin, every strategy comes with sacrifices (know them and be prepared), and finally, make sure your strategy doesn’t require you to act rationally forever. Cause you won’t.
📜Book Summaries & Key Lessons
Financial success is not hard science, it's a soft skill. It's based more on how you behave than what you know.
Your personal experiences with money make up maybe 0.00000001% of what's happened in the world, but maybe 80% of how you think the world works.
If you were born in the 70s, the stock market increased 4 fold, if you were born in the 50s, the stock market (adjusted for inflation) barely moved.
Depending on the era, circumstances, and environment you were born into your experience changes drastically and you will have a completely different view of the world. No views will be wrong, they will just be different.
Lesson #2: Luck & Risk
The noble winner, Rob Shiller, was once asked “if you could have information to know anything about economics that you can’t know now, what would it be?” His answer was the exact role of luck in successful outcomes.
Luck and risk play incredible roles in our experience and outcomes and yet we know so little about it.
Morgan brings up two stories: One of Bill Gates who went to Lakeside Highschool which was the first and only school to have its own computer on a timeshare program. A 1 in a million chance that Bill Gates would grow up with a school that had one. Then another story of Kent Evans who also grew up at the same school and fell in love with the computer alongside Gates. He died while climbing a nearby Washington mountain - a 1 in a million chance for highschool students. Morgan brings this up to demonstrate how risk and luck can have vastly different effects on our life’s outcomes.
Risk and luck are doppelgangers.
Not all success is hard work and not all poverty is laziness. Remember this when you judge others and yourself.
Cornelius Vanderbuilt who is widely considered a success story early on was making every transaction in the illegal territory because he would do commerce in multiple states from New Jersey to New York. He hired a lawyer and won but if he had lost and gone to jail his story would be very different. It could set a dangerous precedent of that mentality, break the law and ask for forgiveness later which is risky.
The problem of only listening to the extremely successful is that they are extreme outliers and they usually have extreme luck as well. The advice they give might not be for a broad audience and it might only have worked for them.
Success is a terrible mentor, it teaches you only one right path and allows you to forget the incredible risks along the way that could have been a millimeter away from imploding any and all success.
The line between risk and success is only a millimeter thick and sometimes can only be seen with hindsight.
Outcomes are made of probabilities, rarely by sure things with 100% chances. If you purchase company stock and it does poorly for 5 years you could have made a poor decision or you could have made a good decision with an 80% chance of working out, you just happened to experience the 20% factor outcome.
Lesson#3: Never Enough
Then he tell’s the story of Rajat Gupta who came from the slums of Qatar and generated an incredible journey of growth and inspiration by becoming CEO of Mckingsley Consulting and being on the board of JP Morgan among many others. He amassed $100+ million in fortune but after the 2008 crisis, got caught with a trend of insider trades that made him $17 million across a decade. He went to prison for it. $100 Million wasn’t enough, he wanted 1 billion.
This chapter presents a lesson that most of us seek more than what is enough. As our wealth grows, so too does the power and reputation. As we obtain milestones, the goalposts constantly move and we set new, larger milestones ahead.
As long as we move the goalposts, it’ll never be enough. There is always someone generating more, making more, being more powerful, stronger, healthier. We can’t have it all. We can’t compare ourselves to others.
We have to set our own goalposts and when we have enough to live sufficiently, we have to know when enough is enough and learn to be happy with what we have.
Lesson #4: Confounding Compounding
Morgan starts the chapter with an explanation of the discovery of ice ages, at a time, the Earth was thought to have normal state of cold (iced over) and the warm periods were it’s changing events. This was because most of the long climatic history reveals large portions of earth covered in massive glaciers. It was first discovered that these massive ice shields were created by tilts of the Earth tor reduce its solar radiation causing severe winters. Then a Russian further discovered a nuance, that the tilts didn’t cause severe winters, but mildly colder summers where the snow couldn’t all be melted. Every year the winter would accumulate more and more snow and ice. After a few millennia, the snow and ice would crawl down to normally warm climates and be too large to melt away. The arrival of the Ice Ages wasn’t sudden it was gradual with compounding growth each year. They went away the same way, it just seems severe because compounding can have such extreme exponential effects.
“More than 2,000 books are dedicated to how Warren Buffett built his fortune. Many of them are wonderful. But few pay enough attention to the simplest fact: Buffett’s fortune isn’t due to just being a good investor, but being a good investor since he was literally a child. As I write this Warren Buffett’s net worth is $84.5 billion. Of that, $84.2 billion was accumulated after his 50th birthday. $81.5 billion came after he qualified for Social Security, in his mid-60s. Warren Buffett is a phenomenal investor. But you miss a key point if you attach all of his success to investing acumen. The real key to his success is that he’s been a phenomenal investor for three quarters of a century. Had he started investing in his 30s and retired in his 60s, few people would have ever heard of him. Consider a little thought experiment. Buffett began serious investing when he was 10 years old. By the time he was 30 he had a net worth of $1 million, or $9.3 million adjusted for inflation.16 What if he was a more normal person, spending his teens and 20s exploring the world and finding his passion, and by age 30 his net worth was, say, $25,000? And let’s say he still went on to earn the extraordinary annual investment returns he’s been able to generate (22% annually), but quit investing and retired at age 60 to play golf and spend time with his grandkids. What would a rough estimate of his net worth be today? Not $84.5 billion. $11.9 million. 99.9% less than his actual net worth. Effectively all of Warren Buffett’s financial success can be tied to the financial base he built in his pubescent years and the longevity he maintained in his geriatric years. His skill is investing, but his secret is time. That’s how compounding works. Think of this another way. Buffett is the richest investor of all time. But he’s not actually the greatest—at least not when measured by average annual returns.”
Billionaire Jim Simon’s Medallion Fund has raked in a mammoth gain of 66% CAGR over 30 years. He has heavily outperformed legendary investors like Warren Buffett but only has 30% of the wealth because Buffet has been at it for 75 years...
Morgan also uses the growth of memory drives as an example and how it’s grown 35,000,000X in a lifetime. No one would forsee that, maybe see 1000X but not 35 million. The last 25 years of that growth is the vast majority of it from Apples IMAC in 1999 (6GB) to now with hundreds of Terabytes.
Compounding skills, returns, and growth is the greatest power that is never intuitive to us. We can add linearly quite easily but when it comes to exponential growth, our minds just cannot wrap around it.
Lesson #5: Getting Wealthy is Different From Staying Wealthy
Morgan begins this chapter with two stories of wealthy investors (one real estate & other stocks) who got incredibly wealthy in the 1920s but both lost it for being overzealous. Getting wealthy is very different than staying wealthy and you need both.
"Having an 'edge' and surviving are two different things: The first requires the second." - Nassim Taleb (Same idea in MMA)
Then reminds the reader how Warren Buffet built his wealth by allowing compound growth to take effect for so long, never letting huge interruptions or hiccups along the way. He never over-leveraged to a point of ruin, sold everything in the 14 recession he faced or sullied his reputation with bad business deals.
The cornerstone of a good investor is sensible paranoia and survivorship. Staying around long enough to allow gains to accumulate without significant interruptions.
To appreciate the survivorship mentality you need to understand 3 things:
1. Protect your wealth haven.
2. Plan for the unplanned (You make a plan and god laughs).
Expect the unexpected and plan for it. Never trust sure things. Always work in the best margin of error and be flexible in the plans you do have (By budgeting and not over-leveraging). You can lose a lot of money because a plan went 80% right when you needed it to go 100% right. It’s not being conservative necessarily. Conservatism is avoiding risk, leaving a margin for error is elevating your chances of success given any situation of risk.
3. Be sensibly optimistic.
Optimism isn’t blindly thinking everything will go right. It’s believing in yourself and your plan enough to know that over time, things will work out better. The best thing about the margin of error is the more margin of error you have, the smaller your gains have to be to outperform most.
Lesson #6: Tails, You Win
Most influential, successful, profitable, or famous is the result of a tail event. An outlying 1/1,000 chance event.
Morgan uses art collectors to illustrate the very few winners there truly are in life. He explains how art collectors collect art like index funds choose stocks. They collect many from different sources knowing only a tiny fraction will be massively successful.
He also shares the story of Walt Disney attempting to launch Disney, which almost failed, until Snow White launched Disney into the stratosphere.
He also uses VC’s as an example - If they invest in 50 start-ups. They expect 50% to fail, 10 to do pretty well, and 1 or 2 to go bananas and drive the entire firm's profits. In a research study done, 100 out of 20,000 earned 50x or more. That's where the majority of VC returns come from.
People think VCs perform risky business and large public companies are not but this isn’t the case. The effect of tails shows up everywhere. More than half of all the public tech and telecom companies use all of their value. Among the Russel 3000 index, 7% delivered a vast majority of all the index's returns.
People working on these tail projects (Facebook/Google/Apple) have tail careers.
Over the course of your lifetime, the weight of these tail days will far outweigh your average day. How you perform in the crazy moments where everybody else is running, chaotic, or going with the herd, determines your success.
To give a specific example, how you performed in 2008 and 2009 of your investing career, largely determines your overall success as an investor.
If you’re a good investor, business leader, and financer you don’t have to be right all the time. You just have to embrace failure and act cool whenever everybody else is screaming.
He finalizes the chapter with how comedians thumb through universes of bad jokes in small clubs before they find the few tails they present at their biggest shows and specials. No matter how good they get, Chris Rock or Seinfeld, they all go through this process.
“It’s not whether your right or wrong, It matters how much you make when yo9u’re right and how much you lose when you’re wrong.” - George Soros
Tails drive everything in business, success, and investing.
Lesson #7: Freedom
A primary factor of wellbeing is a sense of control over your time. Lots of money improve your life only by its ability to increase your sense of controlling your time.
True freedom is doing what you want when you want. Even a craft of passion can feel like annoying work if something (or someone) is controlling your input and output. Psychologists term this **Reactance. “**An unpleasant motivational arousal (reaction) to offers, persons, rules, or regulations that threaten or eliminate specific behavioralfreedoms. Reactance occurs when a person feels that someone or something is taking away their choices or limiting the range of alternatives.” - Wikipedia
Lesson #8: The Man in The Car Paradox
When we see a man or woman in an exotic car we don’t usually look at the person driving. Instead, we visualize what it would be like if we got that car and someone saw us in it. But this is a paradox because when we’re the driver, other people will be looking at the car doing the same thing and not paying attention to us.
This paradox leads to a valuable insight - exotic cars and big houses don’t necessarily result in the vision we want others to see us in.
“If respect and admiration are your goals, be careful how you seek it. Humility, kindness, and empathy will bring you more respect than horsepower ever will."
Lesson #9: Wealth is What You Don’t See
Wealth is not a flashy car or diamond wristwatch. Those only give you one data point about a person. One that represents that person being $100,000 less wealthy.
You never know if someone is in over their head with a nice car or comfortably purchased it. You don’t know how many hours they’re putting into work, the freedoms they sacrificed for that car or anything else about the person.
When most people say they want to be a millionaire, its likely because they want to spend a million dollars but the actions of that would take them out of being a millionaire. Spending lots of money is a quick way out of wealth.
“There is no faster way to feel rich than to spend lots of money on really nice things. But the way to be rich is to spend money you have, and to not spend money you don't have. It's really that simple.” - Bill Mann
The only way to truly be wealthy is to spend less than you make.
Rich = current income vs. wealth = income not spent, it’s value in assets (like property, time, etc.)
Wealth lies within what you don’t see. The flashy car you don’t buy and the money you saved because of it.
Lesson #9: Save Money
During the oil crisis of the 1970s, the concern was the world was consuming fuel a lot faster than extracting it. They thought we would run out of it. The solution didn’t end up being to change sources of fuel or even to extract more from the planet. As a civilization, we just got far more energy-efficient. Today we use 60% less fuel than at that time, vehicles are more energy-efficient, boats, buildings, and planes are too.
The insight is the best way to utilize your income level isn’t always to increase it, sometimes the easiest and most effective strategy is to live within your means and reduce spending.
You are not guaranteed increases in income every year but if you reduce your spending you are guaranteed more savings.
The quantity of your wealth is dependent on the lifestyle you live. If you spend less, and save more. Than you will obtain wealth at a much lower level than somebody who spends a ton.
Spending less than you make and saving more also gives you financial flexibility. A valuable advantage in today's society where opportunities are no longer bounded by locality. If you have the time to be patient and the flexibility to wait for great opportunities, you can take advantage of the current market conditions in work and investments.
You don’t have to save for the sake of something specific like a house or a car. Just save to save. Accumulate wealth for the sake of accumulating freedom.
Lesson #10: Reasonable > Rational
Stop trying to be rational!
You can have a million research papers and spreadsheets filled with data telling you how one should act. But people can’t be trusted to consistently act rationally. And so can’t you!
We, humans, are ever-changing creatures, we’re swayed by the pressure of emotional circumstances, friend and family judgments, identity, moral, and character changes, and much more. The urge to protect one's family or impress a spouse can change our attitude toward a plan years down the road.
Even the greatest investors of our time have gone against their own advice for personal and specific reasons like family, opportunities, or simply personal excitement and interest.
Don’t make a plan that counts on you consistently sticking to rationality.
Lesson #11: Surprise!
Things that have never happened, happen all the time.
If we base our predictions on the future only on data from the past we will still miss it because economics involves people who behave in different ways depending on new circumstances and the life blood of technological innovation is its ability to disrupt and change rapidly.
Investing is a soft science, not a hard science. In Biology, you’d be able to study a Kidney or DNA 300 years ago and it would have the same characteristics today but markets are not like this. Characteristics from the past can tell you a little about investing today but not the complete picture.
When planning your investment strategy, a lack of imagination can have terrible consequences. Nassim Taleb writes in his book Fooled by Randomness of Ancient Egyptians building their towns higher than the highest previous watermarks of the Nile expecting it never to flood above the area, yet it did. In Fukushima, they built a Nuclear power plant that could withstand an earthquake in history but did not have the imagination to see a potentially bigger one.
The point is history has its benefits to provide a loose guide of what to do in certain circumstances but not much more.
The farther you go back, the less relevant specifics become, instead focus on the broader reactions and consequences of events, like human reactions and general themes. Don’t look for a step-by-step guide or particulars.
People will be in the investing space acting as prophets using hundreds of historical data points but always remember that history may match but doesn’t always repeat itself.
Singular disruptive events happen to cause a massive majority of world outcomes and these events will be random and seemingly out of nowhere. Plan for the surprise.
Lesson #12: Room for Error
Benjamin Graham “The purpose of the margin of safety is to render the forecast unnecessary.”
We always forget about leaving room for error. When analyzing home reno’s we are nearly always under budget. We follow people who give us clear black or white outcomes and avoid the people who warn, “we don’t really know what the outcome will be.”
It’s often viewed as a conservative hedge but it's more aligned with a sensible strategy.
Room for error lets you endure a range of potential outcomes and endurance lets you stick around long enough to let the odds of benefiting from a low probability outcome. The biggest gains occur very infrequently.
When planning his investments and future retirement, Housel assumes the market will return 1/3 of expectation. That is his room for error. The market will return less but NO margin for safety is 100% safe. When setting up your investment and saving strategy keep in mind your own margin for error.
“The important cousin to the margin for safety or room for error is optimism bias in risk-taking (or Russian Roulette should statistically work syndrome). An attachment to favorable odds when the downside is unacceptable in any circumstances.”
“You can be risk-loving and completely averse to ruin at the same time.” - Nassim Taleb
No risk that can ever wipe you out is never worth taking.
The odds of many lucrative things are in your favor, but the ones that have any risk of ruin are not worth that loss.
Leverage is the devil here. Taking on debt to make bigger gains. Rational optimism most of the time masks the odds of ruin some of the time. The result is that we systematically underestimate risk.
In the 2008 crash, homeowners were wiped out but people who were highly leveraged were double wiped out.
Housel gets past this by taking risks with a portion of his money and keeps the other portion as safe as possible.
Room for error also helps protect you from things you’d never imagine. The things that will likely happen in your life but you have no way to tell them. The tail things...
A good rule of thumb for a lot of things in life is everything that can break, will eventually break.
Plan on your plan not going according to plan.
Lesson #13: You’ll Change
People are poor forecasters of their future selves which has a huge impact on our financial plans.
Few of us actually know what we’ll want in the future. At every stage of our lives, we make profound decisions that our future changed self will have to live with. All of us are walking around with an illusion, an illusion that our personal history has just come to an end, and we have just recently become the people we were always meant to become and will be for the rest of our lives. We always underestimate how much we will change.
How do you not interrupt your money plan when what you want out of life changes so much?
What you do while you are young, you’ll have lots of time to reflect on while living the consequences when you’re old. This is why you should avoid extremes while financial planning and maintain balance. Living with spending a ton of money now at the whim of the future has drastic negative effects but not many positives ones, conversely, if you work al;l the time and save as much as possible, you’ll lose time of your youth you will never get back. Seek balance.
Accept the end of history illusion. You are never complete even if you think you are. Don’t be afraid to restart and regrow or change careers.
The best ability to do this is to HAVE NO SUNK COSTS. They are the devil when making life decisions.
Lesson#14: Nothings Free
The cost of staying in the market long enough to achieve successful returns is waiting through all the periods of uncertainty, crashes, and fear.
If you’re holding a long term growth stock, the price is market volatility. If you wish to hold something more stable in price and benefit from stability, then the price it’ll cost you is smaller growth.
There is a price for every strategy and you should know what your price will be before committing to a plan.
Lesson #15: You & Me
Everyone has a different strategy but most people forget that each person is playing a different strategy and they react based on someone else's position and strategy.
Before you take advice or follow the trend of the market, ask yourself, “What is my strategy?”
Reasons to buy a stock varies wildly on strategy:
If you’re holding 25 years then you might want to look macro and industry and how the company will perform in it using a disacounted cashflow model.
If you’re holding 10 years then you might look at just the foreseeable size of the industry, the companies moat, and how it will disrupt that industry.
If you’re buying 3 - 5 years, you might look at the industry, company, and managements ability to achieve its goals.
For 1 year you might be just looking at intrinsic value vs. price and the 1-year goals of management.
Day trading, you might only care about TA.
Remember that all strategies are different and what you’re willing to pay for an asset might be very different from what others are based on your strategy.
Know your strategy and know the strategy of the people you’re listening to.
If you write your mission down on a piece of paper it becomes clearer and you’re better able to remove all other advice.
Lesson #16: The Seduction of Pessimism
Bad news spreads so much faster and easier than good news or average news. Optimism is way harder to hear and believe in difficult times than pessimism in good times.
Bad news constantly gets the headlines and front pages of media because it sells so well but it doesn’t honestly represent the landscape.
Pessimism sells, optimism doesn’t.
What makes financial pessimism so natural and easy? Our biology is geared toward helping us detect and pay attention to threats. We’ve evolved to survive a dangerous environment.
Your investment strategy should take this into account and plan to be bombarded by bad news, however remember that if you were to stick with the DOW for the last 3 decades you would be up massively.
The media will always highlight a 1% loss but never a 1% gain.
Stephen Hawking once did an interview about his new book in which he was excited to share his knowledge with laymen, the interviewer asked “Are you always so excited like this?” In which he responded, “I lost all expectations at the age of 21, now everything is a bonus.” 21 is the age he realized he had a disease that would paralyze his body. Having zero expectations allows you to be ready for real and be surprised when good things happen.
Lesson #17: When You’ll Believe Anything
When you are desperate, you’ll believe in anything.
The narrative goes a long way to sway economic trends. 2008 was almost completely a narrative-based economic collapse.
The most distraught times are filled with the wildest snake oil sales. Parents will accept nearly any medicine to protect their sick child in desperation even if there is no logical proof.
In medieval times and still in impoverished parts of the world medical practices exist that only hasten the death of patients, yet hold relevance because people will believe in them.
Our internal narrative is filled with beliefs based purely on our own experience of the world and the mental models we derive from it. Most of this narrative is wrong for all of us because the world is far too complex to understand with simple narratives.
A 4-year-old girl is doing the same things and is wrong about the same amount of time as a 45-year-old. The 4-year-old is building narratives about her experience with the world based off mental models constructed by past experiences. “When daddy leaves, he can’t play with me and he’s gone all day.” She doesn’t have to know that her dad is going to work and making a salary for the family, her information is that he's leaving means he doesn’t get to play with her for the day. This happens to the older individual as well except their better at convincing themselves they have all the information.
All Together Now
Wealth is created by suppressing your ego today so you have more options in the future.
Manage your money in a way that helps you sleep at night. It's the best universal guide post for all investing.
Become okay with a lot of things going wrong. You should be comfortable with a lot of things not working because the world is radical and unpredictable.
Use the money to gain control of your time. The ability to do what you want, when you want is the best dividend money can offer.
Be kind and have humility. You may think you’ll gain respect by flashy items, but kindness and humility go much farther and is a way better strategy to manage your money.
Save just for the sake of saving. You don’t need a reason, just save. Save for a world where the economic future is wild and unpredictable.
Define the costs of success, and be willing to pay it. Most financial costs, don’t have visible price tags but you’ll experience them all the same along the way. Uncertainty, doubt, and regret are common costs in the financial world.
Worship room for error. A gap between what could happen in the future and what you need to happen in order to do well is what gives you endurance, and endurance is what makes compounding magic over time.
Avoid the extreme ends of financial decisions. You should like a risk because it pays off over time but you should avoid ruinous risk because it will disrupt compounding and could destroy you. The more extreme your decision is, the more you might regret them over time as you evolve.
Define the game you are playing and make sure your actions are not being influenced by people playing a different game.
Respect the mess. Smart and reasonable people can avoid and disagree on investments and there is nothing wrong with it.
"All subjects are governed by defined rules - be it physics, chemistry, mathematics, or any other. Finance, however, is driven by emotions and the psychology and behavior of people."
"Doing well with money has a little to do with how smart you are and a lot to do with how you behave. And behavior is hard to teach, even to really smart people."
"Controlling your time is the highest dividend money pays.”
"The freedom to do what you want, when you want, with whom you want, for as long as yo want, is true freedom.”
"Good investing is not about getting very high returns. That's not replicable over many years. Good investing is about getting decent enough returns over decades. That's when compounding turns wild."
"The hardest financial skill, and one of the most important ones, is to get the goalpost to stop moving. It gets dangerous when the taste of having more - money, power, or prestige - increases ambition faster than satisfaction."
"Rich is the current income. Wealth is income not spent. Wealth is hard because it requires self-control.”
"Happiness is just results minus expectations.”
“Money’s greatest intrinsic value—and this can’t be overstated—is its ability to give you control over your time."
“Some people are born into families that encourage education; others are against it. Some are born into flourishing economies encouraging of entrepreneurship; others are born into war and destitution. I want you to be successful, and I want you to earn it. But realize that not all success is due to hard work, and not all poverty is due to laziness. Keep this in mind when judging people, including yourself.”
"Failure can be a lousy teacher, because it seduces smart people into thinking their decisions were terrible when sometimes they just reflect the unforgiving realities of risk.”
“Arrange your financial life in a way that a bad investment here and a missed financial goal there won’t wipe you out so you can keep playing until the odds fall in your favor.”
“There is an iron law in economics: extremely good and extremely bad circumstances rarely stay that way for long because supply and demand adapt in hard-to-predict ways.”
“We tell ourselves stories to fill in the gaps of what are effectively blind spots.”
"One of the most powerful ways to increase your savings isn’t to raise your income. It’s to raise your humility.”
"Spending money to show people how much money you have is the fastest way to have less money.”
"Ordinary folks with no financial education can be wealthy if they have a handful of behavioral skills that have nothing to do with formal measures of intelligence.”
"We all think we know how the world works, But we’ve all only experienced a tiny sliver of it.”
"Your personal experiences with money make up maybe 0.00000001% of what's happened in the world, but maybe 80% of how you think the world works."
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