2021-01-26 18:00:00 +0000

TL;DR: Read this Book, when…

  • you want to start investing money, but don’t know how
  • you want to confirm your investment mindset
  • you enjoy reading a financial adviser’s view on investing money

Book Facts

  • Title: The Psychology of Money
  • Authors: Morgan Housel
  • Word Count: ~ 80,000 (ca. 5 hours at 250 words / minute)
  • Reading Ease: easy to medium
  • Writing Style: easy to medium language, short chapters, a few financial terms
  • Year Published: 2020

Overview

The Psychology of Money is about how we think and feel about money, and how that affects how we act about our money.

It’s an easy read with chapters that can be finished in a lunch break (just the way I like it). Each chapter tells a story about how people act and why they do so, with some anecdotes by the author himself.

The author was a financial adviser, so he’s learned a bit in his time.

The book doesn’t give concrete investment advice, but communicates a clear mindset that is beneficial for investing.

Notes

Here are my notes, as usual with some comments in italics.

1 - No One’s Crazy

  • we’re all biased by our lives - everyone thinks and acts differently and we all have good reason to
  • “We all think we know how the world works, but we’ve all experienced only a tiny fraction of it.”
  • we can’t really take advantage of history, because reading about history is not the same as experiencing it
  • also, the history of saving money is very short - not much to learn from (this is what I find frustrating about the software industry, as well, by the way)

2 - Luck & Risk

  • “Nothing is as good or bad as it seems”
    • success or failure always has to do with luck or risk
    • but we don’t talk about it because it’s rude to imply that someone else’s success has been luck
  • “Not all success is due to hard work, and not all poverty is due to laziness.”
  • we should focus more on broad patterns than on individual stories about success of failure

3 - Never Enough

  • some people that own unimaginable amounts of money risk everything to get even more money
  • “There is no reason to risk what you have and need for what you don’t have and don’t need.” (This strikes me as a very healthy mindset when working with your money)
  • “Life isn’t any fun without a sense of enough” - you can never enjoy the status quo if you always want more
  • social comparison is a game you can’t win unless you’re the richest person in the world (which you probably aren’t)

4 - Confounding Compounding

  • “You don’t need tremendous force to create tremendous results.”
    • the ice ages started because every year, a bit more snow was left over from last winter which eventually compounded to a thick layer of ice
  • Warren Buffet got a return of about 22% on his investments every year on average - he’s only as wealthy as he is today because he’s been doing it forever
  • “The most powerful and important book [about investing] should be called ‘Shut Up and Wait’”

5 - Getting Wealthy vs. Staying Wealthy

  • getting money is a very different skill from keeping money
    • getting money requires taking risks
    • keeping money requires humility and paranoia about not losing what you have
  • the key to successful investment is survival - stick around long enough to let the compunding work for you
  • be financially unbreakable instead of going after the big returns
  • allow for error in your financial planning to become financially unbreakable
  • be short-term paranoid to keep your wealth and long-term optimistic to grow it

6 - Tails, You Win

  • “An investor can be wrong half the time and still make a fortune.”
  • we overreact when things fail, even though it won’t make a dent in the long run (I invested a (for me) serious amount of money into index funds a couple weeks before the stock market crashed due to COVID-19 in early 2020 … I almost overreacted by selling with a loss, but it’s good I didn’t)
  • anything successful is the result of a “tail event” - an event in the “long tail” of events in a distribution curve that are rare, but have an immense impact
  • do something a lot to be rewarded with such a tail event (this speaks my heart and has inspired me to write about it in this newsletter)
  • 4 in 10 publicly traded companies experience a catastrophic loss from which they don’t recover
  • very few companies have stellar growth, most because of a single or a few products that outperform all others by orders of magnitude - but that’s enough to win with if you have a diversified portfolio
  • “Your success as an investor will be determined by how you respond to punctuated moments of terror, not years spent on cruise control.” (i.e. don’t sell every time you experience a hiccup)
  • “Tails drive everything.” - tail events have the strongest impact on your investment strategy

7 - Freedom

  • happiness means being able to do what you want, when you want, with who you want - i.e. controlling your own life
  • we’re working more with our heads than with our hands today, so we tend to take work with us everywhere - this means less control over our lives
  • “Controlling your time is the highest dividend money pays.” (while my blog started out as a platform for me learning things, I’m now growing it to bring me that dividend)

8 - Man in the Car Paradox

  • when we see a driver in an expensive car, we’re usually impressed by the car and not by the driver - we imagine ourselves driving that car instead of admiring the driver’s achievements
  • “No one is as impressed with your possessions as much as you are.”

9 - Wealth is What You Don’t See

  • wealth is the expensive car that you didn’t buy
  • being a millionaire is the opposite of spending a million dollars
  • “Wealth is an option not yet taken to buy something later.”
  • what we see is richness, not wealth - money spent on cars, houses, and other visible things

10 - Save Money

  • getting money is largely out of our control - saving money is not
  • reducing lifestyle bloat is often easier and has more potential than increasing income
  • savings are the gap between your income and your ego - more humility will raise your savings rate
  • saving money gives you flexibility to take opportunities you would otherwise have to decline - a lower paying, but more rewarding job, learning something new, retiring early, …

11 - Reasonable > Rational

  • being rational about investments means to be passionless
    • it means you might sell a stock when it’s going down instead of keeping it and making more with it in the long run
  • being reasonable instead of being rational (i.e. allowing a bit of passion) helps you sleep at night
  • being strictly rational will get you in uncomfortable situations

12 - Surprise!

  • “Things that have never happened before happen all the time.”
  • it’s dangerous to use history as a guide for the future
  • history tells us how people behaved under greed and stress, but not about trends - these will always be surprises

13 - Room for Error

  • “You have to plan on your plan not going to plan.” (that’s what I preach in every software project where I’m asked for estimates)
  • “Room for error lets you endure a range of outcomes” - instead of only one
  • don’t invest all your cash - having some in the bank gives options during surprises
  • take risks with one portion of the money and be terrified about losing the other portion
  • avoid a single point of failure (also something that we do when building software)
  • you don’t need to save money for a specific reason - how can you know today what you’ll need the money for in the future?

14 - You’ll Change

  • as a child we want to drive a tractor, but later we don’t
  • the “End of History” illusion is believing that we won’t change as much in the future as we did in the past - the History lies behind us and we’ve learned all there is

15 - Nothing’s Free

  • we pay for high dividends with high volatility
  • trying to get high dividends without high volatility is the equivalent of grand theft auto - you’re not paying the price for it and if you get caught, you lose a lot
  • if you try to make high gains without paying the price of uncertainty, it will bite you later
    • example: Every quarter, General Electric wanted to have their revenue look just a bit better than the forecast, so they wouldn’t pay the price of uncertainty in front of their investors - they did that by pulling some of next quarters revenues into this quarter - this only went well for so long
  • viewing volatility as a fee rather than a fine makes it easier to live with it

16 - You & Me

  • short-term trading and long-term investing are very different games - don’t take advice from a short-term trader if you are investing long-term
  • bubbles happen when long-term investors start taking cues from short-term traders

17 - The Seduction of Pessimism

  • optimism is the best attitude for most people because things are getting better for most people most of the time
  • pessimism is taken more seriously than optimism - when someone says the stocks will rise, they are ignored, but when they say the stocks will fall, we sell
  • financial bad news are expecially impactful because money is a topic that touches everyone
  • “Progress happens too slowly to notice, but setbacks happen too quickly to ignore.”
  • we pay attention to failures more than to successes

18 - When You’ll Believe Anything

  • stories are the most powerful force in finance - more powerful than tangible facts
  • you’ll believe just about anything when the stakes are high
  • we tell ourselves stories to explain things we don’t understand

19 - All Together Now

  • “Less ego, more wealth.” - save more money
  • manage your money so that you can sleep well
  • the longest lever to increase your wealth is to increase the time period in which you save
  • use money to gain control over your time

20 - Confessions

  • what works for the author (but may not work for others):
    • buying a house without a mortgage because the feeling of owning the house is worth more than the lost revenue from higher-return investments (looking at the Sydney property prices, I don’t believe I will ever be in the position to pay for a house in cash …)
    • keeping 20% of all assets in cash for unexpected expenses instead of investing it
    • investing only in a handful of index funds because they have the highest odds for long-term success
  • “There is little correlation between investment effort and investment success.”

Conclusion

While the book didn’t contain any mind-blowing revelations about money (at least for me), it was an entertaining and interesting read that confirmed me in my thinking about money.

I will continue to invest in index funds and maybe invest a little play money into single stocks for short-term trading.

The main takeaway for me was the fact that rare “tail events” are mainly responsible for investment success. That’s something I only have control over when I keep investing, so I’ll do just that.

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