There is no shortage of “finance” advice on the internet. Most of it is designed to get you from lower to middle class. What the middle class values most is security—be it in steady employment or securing a bountiful retirement.
As a reminder, that is not what this blog is about.
The greatest irony of finance advice is that the advice people give is almost never the advice they’re following. Or at least they didn’t get rich with the advice they hand out.
The Big Name Experts
Ramsey is probably the most popular of personal finance “experts.” If you’re conservative with money, you probably already know Dave Ramsey’s wisdom:
- Make a 6-month emergency fund
- Begin paying off debts, especially any high-interest debt like credit cards
- Keep two years of cash in the bank and invest the rest in a 70:30 balance of index funds to bonds, or something like that.
Maybe he’d dispute these details, but the spirit of this is accurate.
Cool. That’s fine. Emergency funds are wise—I have one. If you’re in massive debt, get out of it. And index funds works for tons of people. But the “baby steps” are not enough. The people who follow this advice by itself don’t get rich until they’re 60. Dave would probably agree, and say one should be humble and accept that.
However, Ramsey himself got rich by starting early and aggressively investing himself in real estate while still in college with no experience. I’m sure he would cheer on anyone who is running a successful business, nut I would be shocked to find out he ever invested in a venture capital fund. He’s old school. It’s just not his style. He wants people to stop being poor, which is not quite the same as trying to get them fantastically rich, though I’m sure he wouldn’t mind that by any means. If I’m ever wrong about this, I’ll happily admit it.
Tony Robbins is a smart and charismatic motivational speaker. He’s known for his energy, conferences, and coaching of top athletes, presidents, CEOs and many more.
He’s also written a few books about finance. I own one of them, Money: Master the Game. He interviews top investors like Buffet, Ray Dalio and John C. Bogle to ask about their investing strategies. If you don’t know these names, they’re actually legit investors your dad has heard of.
He talks about portfolio balancing, stocks vs gold vs bonds, and all the standard boring stuff. Robbins certainly covers some worthwhile ideas (asymmetric investment risk profiles being my favorite). But keep in mind, he’s approaching this all from the perspective of someone who already has wealth. You’re playing a different game when you’re trying to get wealthy vs. when you’re trying to preserve and conservatively grow your wealth.
He grew wealth through running a business, not passively investing. “Passive” is probably the last thing Tony Robbins knows how to be. He started his speaking business in his early 20s, put his heart and soul into it, and leads a massive industry today. He certainly protects his wealth with conventional investments, but that’s protection—not the explosive growth we’re looking for.
If you don’t know his name, he’s the founder of the eponymous corporation Schwab.com and a multibillionaire. I’ve mentioned Schwab on here before because I really liked his book Guide to Financial Independence. It’s a great read for your first book ever on personal finance, because if you know absolutely nothing, it doesn’t hurt to learn about the power of index funds.
But I hope to God you don’t stay there if your goal is to acquire serious assets long before retirement age.
In his book, he sneaks in a very telling paragraph:
“When I was 24, I didn’t have much money, and that felt like being pretty close to zero. I didn’t know everything, but I knew I wanted to get as far away from zero as I could…So I invested pretty aggressively.”
He picked high-growth stocks. Yes, individual stocks, not index funds (which admittedly wasn’t really an option back then, but mutual funds sure were). He advises young people today to be just as aggressive since they can afford the time.
Why did he write a book endorsing passive, low-cost index funds when he did the opposite? There’s no deceit here. He plainly says if you want to spend your weekends fishing, golfing, enjoying your kids and grandkids, don’t fret over your investments. Just live your life. A totally acceptable path—but not how you get rich, and especially not when you’re young.
My suspicion is he snuck in the paragraph for the ambitious young person reading his book who has the will to really pour the gas on and tolerate high risk. While one shouldn’t seek risk exposure, it’s probably inevitable for anyone seeking outsize returns.
Risk tolerance is what allows one to make unpopular investments, start businesses, and put their social reputation on the line for a bet no one else sees.
Think for Yourself
“Don’t tell me what you think, tell me what you have in your portfolio.”– Nicolas Nassim Taleb, Skin in the Game.
It’s easy to talk a big game. People posting motivational quotes on Instagram may not be wrong, but they’re not worth listening to if they are not beating the benchmark with their own life.
In other words, if someone is claiming expertise in an area, they better have repeatable results as a result of the methods they’re preaching. For example, if your friend is telling you to dump your life savings into Bitcoin, you are completely in the right to ask how much (and when) she invested herself. If she bought in five years but hasn’t this year, but you better find out why.
“Actions speak louder than words.” Experts genuinely do have good things to say. But always, always weigh their words against their actions.