5 myths of personal finance (plus: stupid advice)

45 Comments

4 12 1

What are the most common mistakes in personal finance — especially among blog readers?

I recorded a 30-minute interview with Flexo and Tom over at the Consumerism Commentary podcast with extensive notes below. It’s called Stupid Financial Advice + The 5 Myths of Personal Finance.


Stream the interview or download my melodious voice here.

Notes:
[00:00] Introduction from Flexo
[00:50] Interview with Ramit Sethi about stupid financial advice
[01:50] — The Reddit community
[03:27] — Frugality
[05:09] — Big wins
[08:03] — Knee-jerk behavioral change
[09:41] — The “buy and hold” strategy
[13:10] — Financial magazines leading up to the recession
[16:48] — Finding decent financial advice
[19:01] Ramit’s five myths of personal finance
[20:01] — Myth #1: Personal finance advice is only about spending less than you earn

– Sort of meaningless pablum that lets people feel better about themselves but get nothing done
– And you can just see that’s true by asking a few questions: Are you happy with your finances? How much do you spend on eating out and loans? What’s your system for getting ahead? What are your goals?
– Just knowing a fact doesn’t make it implementable. As we say in persuasion, “informational influence is one of the least persuasive methods available”
– Make it tactical: How do you get the right accounts? Dominate your credit card? Automate your money? Pick the right investments? Handle money and relationships?

[21:33] — Myth #2: Personal finance is about more will power

– If I just try harder…
– Reminds me of weight: If I just try harder to diet…
– Every choice has a cost. Trying to save on 50 things vs. 5 things…
– How has that worked for you over the last 1-2 years? 10 years? Most of us are fat and in debt
– It’s about building systems that handle your weaknesses so you can exploit your strengths. Automate, earn more, cut costs

[22:55] — Myth #3: You can’t save any more money

– Yes you can
– We under-report how much we eat, just as we under-report how much we spend
– You can’t out-frugal your way to rich
– Saving: CEO
– Tracking is #1
– Setting goals is #2
– Automation is #3
– Earning more is #4

[25:18] — Myth #4: Everyone is like you

– MSN readers criticizing my frugality tips, saying frugality is about a lifestyle choice
– “Ridiculous to spend $28k on weddings”
– Silo effect: Sites like Reddit make you surround yourself with people who (1) don’t know anything, (2) act like they do, and (3) they ALL have the similarly kooky opinions!
– Solution is to read multiple CREDIBLE sources

[27:43] — Myth #5: Frugality will make you rich

Myth: “I can save $10 by not buying that book! Ha Ha!”
– Pay for value
– Not just sticker price, but value
– Why it’s crazy for people to try to find these extreme deals on books. If you implement even 1 tip, you’ll save/earn 1000x the money
– Same people who don’t pay end up spinning their wheels
– Would it be worth it to buy a $10 book that has saved people thousands? Scrooge for a few bucks/month if it helps you earn $300/month? Or to buy a course at a community college for $500?
– Focus on value, not cost

[30:26] End

Random notes

BUY AND HOLD

- Unprecedented what’s happened, lot of people to blame (including ourselves)
- But there’s a knee-jerk reaction: BUY AND HOLD DOESN’T WORK!
1. Ok, so what does?
2. The people who pull out of the market now are going to face another, more serious phantom risk: Running out of $. (SEE BELOW)

AVAILABILITY HEURISTIC

- We tend to overvalue what’s easily remembered — so you might say, “VWs are terrible cars” when in fact Consumers’ Reports prove otherwise (I do this)
- People are freaking out and removing their money from the market — driven by fear, not educated moves
- Change asset allocation. Change regular contribution amounts. Diversify. Earn more. But PULLING YOUR $ OUT? Worst thing you could do
- And people will face another fear they don’t know today: Running out of money. Not as obvious as losing 40%, but you can’t do much when you’re 82 and out of $
- Focus on the most important things and work, step-by-step, to hit them

BUY AND HOLD 2

- Compare equity returns to any other measure and you’ll see over the last 70 years have shown equities to return the best. PAST PERFORMANCE IS NO GUARANTEE…
- But I prefer to use data unlike the other handwavy arguments that involve the gold standard, doom and gloom, and tin cans

Listen to the interview here:

Download MP3 here.

Stop reading and start doing. Thousands of people have already bought my book and dominated their personal finances. If you haven’t already bought my book for about $10 (Amazon), take 10 seconds to do it and learn how to turn all this information into a 6-week plan to dominate your personal finances. If not now, when?

(Make sure you forward your receipt to iboughtthebook@iwillteachyoutoberich.com for a bunch of bonuses, including something new coming up soon.)

4 12 1

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45 Comments

4 12 1
 
  1. These are interesting thoughts but mostly lacking in substance. Spend less than you earn isn’t some personal finance lesson, it’s the basis for all of personal finance. To knock it is to knock even your own book where you help people reduce their monthly expenses through your somewhat innovative tactics. Regardless of how you do it, even you are helping people to spend less than they earn.

    Additionally, if you help people to make more money you’re helping to widen the margin for earning more making the spending less relative to earning power easier.

    Spend less than you earn is above and beyond THE personal finance lesson. No it won’t get you out of debt and it won’t introduce compounding interest into your world, but if you aren’t doing myth #1 from the start you’re doing PF all wrong.

  2. One of the biggest issues I have with PF is how the lesson of “spending less than we earn” is internalized and applied by many. I would agree it’s a part of the foundation but not “the foundation”.

    I believe another part of the foundation is make more money than you need. Awww…what a concept! This philosophy forces one to ask a fundamental question: how do I continue to create/add value for others so that it may increase my cash flow.

    After we master this foundation, we should then move to the tactics that were suggested in your notes: “How do you get the right accounts? Dominate your credit card? Automate your money? Pick the right investments? Handle money and relationships?”

    Spending less is a great lesson to master but in todays economic world we need to add some other lessons to the curriculum of PF

  3. “Spend less than you earn” isn’t simply a call to frugality – that’s what people with blinders on think. It’s a call to a lot of things:

    + increasing your income – get a better job, earn more, and spending less than you earn becomes substantially easier.

    + stabilizing your income – diversifying your income streams and investments stabilizes and grows your income.

    + reducing debts – debts are a required payment that make it more difficult to spend less than you earn, since you’re spending on debt repayments.

    — just for starters. “Spend less than you earn” is a call simply to focus on your gap – the difference between what you bring in and what you spend. There are countless moves you can make to increase that gap, psychological, mechanical, and otherwise.

    “Pablum”? If those concepts are pablum, most of your site is pablum.

  4. Ramit,
    Great interview. It was very beneficial to hear you re-enforcing many of the same things that I’ve been hearing over the past few months. It’s amazing how many of my friends still don’t get it. One of my friends recently turned down the opportunity for investing in a duplex (way, way below market with solid long term tenants and in a great area) but then turned around and spent the same amount remodeling his basement. Somehow a flatscreen and a kegorator was a better investment than a property with a 20 year record of generating positive cashflow. Now if he would have put the money in some other investments because I realize real estate is not for everyone then maybe I wouldn’t be so disappointed. Another friend only does 3 year car leases for him and his wife because he doesn’t want to worry about car maintenance. Seriously, is it that hard to hit up Jiffy Lube every 5,000 miles?

  5. Many people think that cutting expense is the only way to build savings and reduce debt. That’s not true. One of the basic principles of personal finance is to spend less than you earn. Most people focus on the former because it can be easier to look at ways to reduce your bills.The great thing about that principle is that there’s another part: earning more money.

    If you’re a new college graduate and you don’t have a job lined up or your job is basically to pay for your bills, then seriously consider freelancing. It can build your skills, network, and your income.

  6. [...] If you have 30 minutes Ramit has 5 myths of personal finance.  Link [...]

  7. [...] the original here: 5 myths of personal finance (plus: stupid advice) | I Will Teach … Related [...]

  8. I think you’re completely misusing and inappropriately maligning the term frugality.

    Tight-wad, cheap-ass, penny-pincher.

    Those would all be appropriate terms for people who don’t make informed purchasing decisions – they make sticker-price decisions.

    Wikipedia defines frugality as a practice of acquiring goods and services in a restrained manner, and lists the following:

    “Common strategies of frugality include the reduction of waste, curbing costly habits, suppressing instant gratification by means of fiscal self-restraint, seeking efficiency, avoiding traps, defying expensive social norms, embracing cost-free options, using barter, and staying well-informed about local circumstances and both market and product/service realities.”

    So get it right. Whatever you want to call it, seeking to maximize how far your dollar goes and to restrain your spending to a level within your means are all the habits of a frugal person. Ignoring value, quality, and durability in favor of a low cost option are the habits of price-sensitive hyper-consumers, not the frugal

  9. Ramit,
    I’d like to see a real defense of buy-and-hold on your website. If such a huge part of your advice to people is to be believers in the stock market, then show them WHY.

  10. To clarify my point…
    It may be true that equities have outperformed over a 70 year period, but that is not a good enough reason – owning stocks has been an inferior strategy for the last 40 years.

  11. Andrew,
    If the podcast, Ramit already touched on that issue. Basically he said anyone that doesn’t believe in buy and hold after it’s worked for 70 years…so me something that has worked. Gold? Tin cans?

  12. @Andrew

    If you say that owning stocks has been an inferior strategy for the last 40 years, then show us WHY?

    What are you comparing it too? Inferior to what?

  13. Am I the only one enjoys seeing Ramint and Trent go at each other?

    I think it comes from different connotations of the word frugal. While Ramit’s stance is to look at only big things (practical for many) Trent’s stance is to look at all things.

  14. To people ragging on Ramit for myth #1 … I think what Ramit was referring to is that sometimes people make comments on blogs (or even the bloggers themselves do this) in response to someone’s problem/question and say “Oh just spend less than you earn, that’s all you have to do, it’s so easy, ta ta, bye!” If it were that easy wouldn’t everyone do it?

    Obviously it’s NOT that easy and people who are looking for guidance want to know a little more detail. Ramit then goes on to say ‘make it tactical’. When I was learning, the blogs/books that I found most helpful were the ones with actual, doable advice. “Start tracking every penny that you earn? Okay, that’s an easy first step, I can do that.” And then working from there, through all the steps.

    When someone responds with “oh just spend less than you earn and that’s all there is to it” that’s not a constructive or helpful comment.

  15. Spend less than you earn isn’t a myth, it is a requirement at ANY pay level. If a person makes $1,000,000 dollars a year but spends $1,000,001 they will still be in debt and not getting ahead financially. Plenty of people get better jobs to “make more money”, but when their lifestyle inflates along with it, they are back in the same place they started.

  16. [...] more here:  5 myths of personal finance (plus: stupid advice) | I Will Teach … July 24th, 2009 in Uncategorized, finance, loan | tags: advertising, book, consumerism, [...]

  17. I think Ramit’s point isn’t that “spend less than you earn” is a myth, it’s that “‘spend less than you earn’ is all you need to do to master your own money and it’s that easy” is a myth. That’s what I got out of the interview.

  18. Hi Ramit. First time commenting on your blog. The biggest gem that stuck out at me from your interview was this: We must consciously and wisely invest in ourself and our own consciousness. For me, the money I’ve spent attended personal development courses and camps has already given me 100′s of times of ROI. Also, thank you for telling people to make more money! My God it’s so much easier to make $1000 than to save it!

    I can feel your Warrior energy…the part that cuts through bs and gets the job done. Keep it up.

  19. I am a cheap bastard. Very cheap but recently quit my job and decided to spend US$80K on getting a masters degree from a prestigious university. I still dont buy coffee at starbucks….never bought a brand new car…but still live well.

  20. [...] Sethi adds an interview on the Five Myths About Personal Finance at his blog over at I Will Teach You To Be [...]

  21. I really don’t spend much for myself. Like once in a while. 1 t-shirt, I’ve been using it for 6 years. I never bought a brand new car, eat cheap, drink cheap beer and still I like this kind of style

  22. I’m happy to see Ramit defending buy and hold investing.

    I think the main problem with buy and hold is people think all they have to do is buy and hold stocks and wait.

    But people really need to think of it as buy and hold a diverse group of asset classes that fit your risk tolerance and time frame (aka asset allocation)… then when your holdings become out of whack with your allocation… rebalance. Shift your assets from aggressive to conservative as you approach the date you need the money. This will limit your risk of suffering big losses when you actually need the money.

    -Gen Y Investor

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  24. I really enjoyed this. I recently picked your book at Borders and it was a great read with lots of good info.

    I hear the 1st myth all the time. It is like a broken record. I hum along and someone tells me I shouldn’t buy something because it’s too expensive, when I know I can extract value out of my purchase.

    There is always more to “spend less than you earn.” You have to find ways to increase your income as well.

    I have friends that are so cheap that they won’t even tip at a restaurant. I find it almost disturbing to see this happen. I feel horrible when I go out with them. I try to avoid them as much as possible.

    I was recently laid off from my job and I am very comfortable with my finances because I have been reading your book and other books on personal finance. My colleagues that were working with me are in bad shape right now. They can’t keep their heads above water because they spent way too much on things they did not need and bought things on credit. I look at them and shake my head but I don’t fault them for getting into that situation. It is just a lack of education in public schooling on managing your finances.

    I hope everyone can learn and grow mentally. I am trying to help my friends organize their finances and make an expense report for them so they can track what they spend. It’s sad to see that people who are struggling are not willing to give up some luxuries in their life. Cable TV, for example, or renting movies at blockbuster, eating out, etc. I look at them and scratch my head.

  25. The key is to apply all of the points. Not pick and choose one over the other. Everyones situation is different, so your approach to better personal finance is an individual think. Knowledge is what will help you in the long run.

  26. Each additional thing we have to focus on increases the odds that we’ll do nothing.

    Ramit, love this point you make. It speaks not just to the importance of “big wins” but also why “buy and hold” still makes so much sense. In this world of choice overload, paring back to focus on the most important decisions (and sticking with them) is a serious financial power tool indeed. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  27. The big problem is that the word frugality means different things to different people. For some, the meanings have positive connotation; for others, it’s negative. They might not even be talking about the same thing.

  28. @Ramit

    Can we say that Buy and Hold is not a good strategy for some conditions like current markets . There are times when its traders markets and not Investors market . These can be times when a small timing change can make hell lot of differernce in the returns .

    Manish

    • Trent: Agreed.

      Manish: Sure, we can say that…if you can tell me exactly when it’s a “traders market” and when its an “investors market.” And show us evidence of your strategy working in the past.

  29. A lot of the proper mindset that you mention fills the pages in The 4-Hour Work Week. If we perceive tasks to be complex and far too long a time frame to work with, we eventually gravitate to a less efficient or worse product or outcome. I think he called it Parkinsons Law but i cannot remember. This most definitely can pertain to “buy and hold”.

    I think one can attribute this to the fact that information “wants to be free”. There is just far too much of it, far too many oppinions, and far too many options; this is why i suggest to stick to Ramit’s strategy as it has worked for me. :)

  30. Paid off my VISA today! Have enough money for tuition this year! Applied for limit raise and tomorrow i shall open up an ING Direct savings account!
    I love you sexy muhahaha

  31. Yeah, thanks for the advice. I’ll stick with frugality AND earning more. Best of both worlds. Kudos on the book also; I spent an afternoon at Borders reading it. Sorry I didn’t actually buy the book, but like you say its better not to PAY for things you can get for free….lol.

  32. I think the idea of “spending less than you earn” is a really good one. As Trent Hamm points out, this doesn’t mean “Oh, I earn $4300 a month, so I’d better only spend $4000.” (Although that’s a good start.) The concept should also encompass finding ways to earn more money.

    The economic downturn has forced me and my husband to re-examine our spending patterns. We’ve decided that we don’t want to stop going out to dinner entirely…it’s a very social, fun event for us. But we need to cut back elsewhere AND earn more money to make up for what we’ve lost.

    I recently was given an advance copy of Loral Langemeier’s new book, “Put More Cash in Your Pocket,” and it really inspired me to find a quick way of earning more cash. I’m working to start a tutoring business!

  33. RS,

    Flawed logic: pulling your money out is bad.

    Lesson. Basic market lesson. Market goes down 25%, it has to return 33% to get me back to square one. Market goes down 40%, it has to return DOUBLE that 66% to get me back to square one.

    You are looking at it wrong… sure there are V-shaped recoveries (we may be experiencing one), but those who had flexible asset allocations and CPPV (common proportional portfolio values), raised cash/flew to quality before the $h%t hit the fan – as things got worse – before the major losses of September and then started buying into the rally in March and have made a killing.

    Stick to money saving tips… those are good. Investment advice… eh, you haven’t convinced me.

  34. Good post, thanks for unvailing some myths here. Take Care!

  35. Ramit,
    My challenge to you remains: tell people WHY investing in the stock market is such a great idea. You have to do a better job defending buy-and-hold – well, maybe you don’t – but if you’re advising buy-and-hold as I think you are, then you probably do.
    I saw your comment (#36), and I’ll hazard a guess as to what that chapter you wrote says…does it talk about the disastrous consequences of missing the “10 best days?”
    I’ll put my two cents out there in the meantime:
    First off, responding to the comment that said I had to show WHY the stock market is so terrible, that I had to show them an alternative better than “gold and tin cans,” I’ll say this: BONDS HAVE OUTPERFORMED STOCKS OVER THE LAST 40 YEARS.
    As a more immediate and perhaps more painful example, we were hitting stock market levels in March 09 that we hadn’t seen since 1996. Therefore, A SAVINGS ACCOUNT OUTPERFORMED THE STOCK OVER THAT TIME PERIOD. And, of course this says nothing of the difference in volatility between a savings account and the stock market.
    Ramit, anybody, somebody, give a good defense of buy-and-hold. I’ll listen.

  36. One thing:
    I visit your website, but I have not read your book. So, if you do defend buy-and-hold in your book, then apologies for the harsh tone above.

  37. Hey guys, check out this sweet Q&A I found all about saving money and frugality…it’s cool, it’s with a journalist from thepopfix.com and the founder of youngandfrugal.com…it’s worth a look!

    http://thepopfix.com/2009/08/03/bowen/

  38. Andrew is right in post 36. Not just bonds, but even treasuries have outperformed stocks over the last 40 years.

    I haven’t read the book, but the “traditional wisdom” you subscribe to has not worked and will not work in the future (Dollar Cost Averaging, Modern Portfolio Theory, Asset Allocation – from Wall Street’s point of view).

    Let’s stop and think about it…DCA is trying to time the market. It is just a type of diversification strategy. However, you can time the market and make/ protect your money.

    When we all saw real estate at its peak (or close to it), someone that prescribed to the Modern Portfolio Theory (along with DCA) they MUST put a portion of their portfolio into real estate. The same with financials…as Bear Sterns, Merril, Lehman all were about to fail, who DCA’d into them?

    That is why the old models of “DCA, Buy and Hold, MPT” are all out the window. You can get stable returns with little to no risk without exposing you entire portfolio to the whims of Wall Street…as the models of old require!

    • I explain this all in detail in my book.

      Chris: There are so many things wrong with that comment I don’t even know where to begin. In short: If you vary time periods, you can get the result you want. I notice you didn’t link to any data supporting your assertion that bonds have outperformed. Can you link to those so we can see some data, not just opinions? And then can you adjust it two years backward and two years forward (run a basic simulation for good/bad future results)? Watch what happens — I can easily use that data to prove whatever I want, so you want to pick a reliable data set and be very conscious about your time-period selection.

      Second, DCA is explicitly acknowledging that you can’t time the market. And asset allocation is why you pick multiple asset classes — so you don’t get stuck in something bad in the short term (like real estate) but also so you don’t let today’s anguished cries cover up tomorrow’s opportunities. Again, this is covered in my book, which takes about 2 hours to read.

  39. Ramit,

    You seem like a nice guy with young credentials who likes to help people save a little money. I appreciate and respect that.

    RESOURCES: Journal of Indexes April 2009. Rob Arnott wrote an article on why bonds beat stocks with plenty of additional resources he sites for the case. He also is a well respected advisor to many funds including Claymore, Schwab, PowerShares and over a dozen more. He has influence on investment strategy to tens of billions of dollars.

    I will go one step further and suggest that the stock market as a way of passive investing is for lazy people. The simple philosophy of handing over your money for some person or organization to “manage it” for a fraction of 1% is ridiculous. To make your money grow you have to actively manage it. Know what you are investing in and when the leadership of the company is not doing their job, find another investment.

    The one problem that I see is that most investment advisors/stockbrokers/financial gurus suggest that you invest your long term money in the market. As we all saw last year, every major asset class lost money. Investments should also include income producing real estate, small business ownership, notes, etc. The reason your typical financial advisor doesn’t recommend this type of investment is that they don’t get paid to do so. The investment world is bigger than stocks and bonds.

    I am checking your book out from the library and will give it a review. Even with our differences, I think you are on the right track and people can learn from some of your ideas.

  40. [...] Hoehn’s video had notes breaking the 9-minute vlog into chapters. So did Ramit Sethi’s post on 5 myths of personal finance. Now if only it were a bit easier to USE those chapter breaks. This, [...]