When I hear “personal finance and investing,” in my mind I see a long, dark path of thick, swirling gray fog filled with numbers and balance sheets floating in the turmoil. Some lucky people seem to be able to easily find a path through that fog. Long ago, I stopped trying to learn to be one of them. I was never one for numbers. They swim in my mind and, though I can usually catch them and force them into submission, it’s never pleasant. And yet . . . this book is about my personal journey from financial illiteracy to becoming an educated investor. No one is more surprised than I am that I wrote a book about succeeding in personal finance and investing.
If I can do it, then truly, anyone can.
I learned how to invest on my own. I have learned what is called “Rule #1 Investing” from my father, and from the wisdom of Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett, who originally coined the phrase. I’ve learned the theory, strategy, and practice of investing. And to all that, I’ve added what might be the most crucial element to keep me sticking with it after the novelty wears off: investing my money so it will make an impact on a Mission I support.
Allocating your money according to your own values, and supporting companies worthy of your investment is reason enough to learn this practice and this method of investing. It’s a way to vote with your money for the future you want. I realized that if I wanted to vote my personal values with my personal money, I was going to have to overcome my inertia and my fear and do it myself.
A lot of this book is about fear: how I deal with it, and how other people investing in the stock market act on it. Voting for a Mission with my money made me feel passionate about investing, but I still felt afraid of stepping into that gray fog. Many economists and investors, including my dad, think the United States is imminently headed for another recession and market decline. But crucially, I’ve learned to use my own fear to identify when other investors are scared so I might capitalize on their fear in the markets. In these chapters, I will implore you not to overlook what fear can tell you— being cautious is not a bad thing. But, equally, I implore you not to overlook the power fear gives you.
For example, I experienced the panic around the market crash of 2008, and it made me terrified of investing. But I’ve learned that a market crash is a natural part of the economic cycle that is going to happen whether I want it to or not. Regular market declines are inevitable. I also learned that even though it may seem counterintuitive, a crash is our best chance to leapfrog into financial freedom by buying wonderful companies on sale at bargain-basement prices. It’s the investment equivalent of getting designer clothes for half of what they would have cost at the department store. These are the kinds of lessons that have given me power and understanding over my fear and allowed me to transform my life financially.
My dad and I have created an Investing Practice that anyone can do, no matter your age, income, job, or inherent math skills, which is set forth month by month. Each month of the year has a focus, along with detailed actions and exercises that support it. Most of the specific monthly tasks will take very little time, while others, such as the months practicing research, will take more diligence. Your time is limited and valuable, just like mine. This practice is meant to fit into the lives of all of us working full-time and struggling to manage everything that has to be done outside of work, and I know it’s a lot. This Investing Practice is designed to integrate into your life, not detract from it. Remember that this is your practice and you should adjust it to do what works for you.
This is my experience alone. What happened to me is unique to me and my circumstances, just as your Investing Practice and what happens to you will be unique to you and yours. Practice makes perfect—but nobody’s perfect. There is beauty in how our practices differ. Noticing and honoring what is easy for you and what is difficult will support your own Investing Practice much better than blindly following exactly what I did.
My experience gives you a barometer by which to gauge your own financial situation, along with the investing resources of the calculations, checklists, and worksheets provided in the appendix. Once you have your bearings, take your practice where you want it to go. Make the practice of investing your own, and you will have something that stays with you your entire life, a powerful skill that no one and nothing can take from you. I hope it compels you to think about your finances differently—not as a means to an end but instead as a source of happiness and freedom.
“Happiness doesn’t always feel happy,” Gretchen Rubin wrote in The Happiness Project about small goals like flossing daily or decluttering shelves. When it comes to something as life-changing as financial freedom, I think differently. My practice of investing has created the deep happiness that comes from my authentically making the life I want, and that happiness feels passionate, big, and free. May your Investing Practice be successful beyond your wildest dreams. That kind of happiness always feels happy.