Don't let all of those stock investment choices fool you …

People new to the world of finance are often blinded by all the options available for investing in the stock market:

– Direct investments in stocks – but which ones? Growth? Value? Invest far and wide? Or only in a few?

– Trading stocks or options – how to value and trade? Fundamental Analysis? Technical Analysis?

– Investing in packaged products – Mutual Funds? Index funds? ETF’s? REIT’s?

I wrote a post recently that summarized these options; here I simply want to add a little more info …

Investopedia Says:
The building of a factory used to produce goods and the investment one makes by going to college or university are both examples of investments in the economic sense

This means that the true definition of an investment is something that makes a little money now, or more likely a lot of money in the future.

Therefore, while I say that there are three sensible ways to invest in stocks, there are only two investment methods recommended by Warren Buffet:

1. Buy and Hold low cost, diverse Index Funds (check out Vanguard‘s web-site, and others) – this is a long-term, low risk (if your holding periods are 20 – 30 years) strategy that can help you fund a normal retirement.

“By periodically investing in an index fund, for example, the know-nothing investor can actually out-perform most investment professionals” W. E. Buffett – 19932.

2. Invest in a FEW stocks in companies that are (a) undervalued (b) have a large margin of safety (c) that you love and (d) are prepared to HOLD until the rest of the market decides that they love them, too (at which point you can cash out or keep holding for the long/er term). I never attempt to make money on the stock market … Only buy something that you’d be perfectly happy to hold if the market shut down for 10 years.” W. E. Buffett

Anything else is SPECULATING i.e. the process of selecting investments with higher risk in order to profit from an anticipated price movement.
Investopedia Says:
Speculation should not be considered purely a form of gambling, as speculators do make informed decisions before choosing to acquire the additional risks. Additionally, speculation cannot be categorized as a traditional investment because the acquired risk is higher than average
Lots of people have made a ton in trading stocks and options (e.g. George Soros, but he was smart enough to know to quit gambling when you are ahead) – the key is to be able to make informed decisions …… my question to you is, how informed are youif you are merely following the herd, reading the popular press, drawing trends on a graph  using the same trends that millions of other investors are looking at, doing a rudimentary analysis of the same sets of financials that every analysts worth his salt is poring over?

In short, what is the ‘special sauce’ that you are applying that will let you buck the trend and speculate successfully, like George Soros?
 A public-opinion poll is no substitute for thought … let blockheads read what blockheads wrote.” W. E. Buffett
And, buying most high-cost Mutual Funds or other packaged products is not investing either …
“We believe that according the name ‘investors’ to [people or] institutions that trade actively is like calling someone who repeatedly engages in one-night stands a ‘romantic.’ “ W. E. Buffett

So, take Warren’s advice: unless you have a strong reason to do otherwise, stick to one – or both – of the only two ways of investing in stocks and, over the long-term you are very likely to outperform all but the luckiest of those speculators out there …

Cash is an investment, too

Aspiring ‘investors’ tend to laugh at low-return strategies like keeping money in CD’s or paying down mortgages – and, as a long-term investing tool (now, that’s a tautology) they do suck.

But, as a short-term ‘money parking’ tool there’s nothing better … and there’s no time like the present to dust off those borin’ ol’ Ramseyesque strategies, as this article from the Tycoon Report suggests:

The most successful investors in the stock market aren’t always invested in stock. They’re only invested when the odds weigh heavily in their favor.

You must have the discipline to know when to stay out!  For most people, this is one of the easiest concepts to grasp, yet the hardest to follow.  This is something that comes with experience. It’s something that most people have to learn several times throughout their investment life.  

People ask: “When do I know when it’s the right time to be in or out?”  The answer is: If you’re asking that question, it’s time to stay out.

Otherwise, find an account or stable investment vehicle that offers you a nice interest rate.  You can look at Treasuries, Certificates of Deposit, money market accounts or a bank or broker offering a relatively high-yielding interest rate.

The point is to sit in something safe while you wait for trades with a high probability of success to present themselves. 

Savvy investors are willing to sit in a risk-free interest bearing account for years if need be, and you should get comfortable with taking the same stance.  What’s likely tied for first place on the individual investor’s list of most common mistakes is the notion that if you’re not in the market, you’re not making money.  Anxious and over-eager investors force trades at the wrong time, mainly because they’re afraid of missing the next big gain.  

Fear of missing the next winner is a killer.  Professional investors know that cash is a trade too.

I love that last line … that’s why I ripped it for the title to this post!

Right now, I am sitting in cash … and, I have been totally out of the market for a few weeks now even though there was a rally in between.

I am waiting for the right time – read: after the market starts climbing again (I’m happy to miss the absolute bottom) and I am sure that represents a longer-term trend OR until I find a stock that I feel won’t go much lower even if the market doesn’t rally for a while.

Same applies for real-estate, although I am actively looking for deals right now … residential isn’t my preference (I have plenty of exposure to that sector) as I am totally out of commercial right now and would like to get back in if the cash-on-cash returns improve a little (as they should as the recession takes hold, then eases a little).

Having said that I am in cash … it isn’t in your ordinary Mid-West Bank deposit account or CD … it’s legally earning 7.5% interest, hedged against the falling US dollar.

That’s why it’s often true that the rich get richer … because they have more investing options.

Still, the principle applies: sometimes, it’s OK to stay in cash or [AJC: perish the thought!] temporarily pay down a mortgage.

Gold and Silver is God's Money!

Just gotta love Robert Kiyosaki … he has a way with sensationalizing the really, really boring subject of money:

Hope you enjoyed this latest installment of my Video on Sundays Series – for the entertainment value as much as (more than?) the ‘educational content’ …


Oops … I just broke The 20% Rule!

 Casting Call


Last days for ‘pre-applications’ to become one of my 7 millionaires … In Training! Click here to find out more …


If you’ve been following this blog, you will know that I have a radically different approach to owning your own home than the Dave Ramsey’s of this world who advocate paying off your own home early:

To be fair, Dave and I are actually saying two different things:

1. Dave Ramsey is saying not to carry any personal debt at all – INCLUDING your own home, since it doesn’t generate an income. And, there are certainly many who advocate this approach.

2. I am simply saying that the EQUITY in your own home shouldn’t exceed 20% of your Net Worth.

Now, if your house is worth more than 20% of your Net Worth, and for most people it will, then by definition I am saying that not only is it OK to borrow the rest … you HAVE to borrow the rest!

When you are old and gray, then Dave Ramsey’s approach is fine … but, when you have a plan to retire wealthy, your home – and, your ability to borrow against it – become key.

So, when I told you in a recent post that my house was worth $2 Million … my wife and I actually met BOTH my criteria and Dave Ramey’s as we paid cash and the house fit well within the 20% Rule for us.

As it happens, I can’t stand to see a ‘dead asset’, so we agreed that I could take a substantial line of credit against the house (more than 50% of the current value of the house as a HELOC) and use it to fund some investments … I recommend this approach, even if you fit within the 20% Rule, because you should be maximising the amount that you have invested at any point in time …

… of course, as you get closer to retirement, you may choose to wind back again – as Dave Ramsey suggests – I haven’t, but that’s just me 😉

Now for a ‘small problem’ … a few days ago, we bought a house worth more than twice as much as our current house … at least, it had better be worth more than twice as much, because that’s what we paid.

This means that we have temporarily broken the 20% Rule … d’oh!

It’s not as bad as it sounds, but I wanted to share this story so that I could walk you through our thinking process, because it will be inevitable that you go through a similar process as you gradually step-up your lifestyle (the side-benefit for all of those who read this blog … we hope!):

1. We are taking a very conservative view of our Net Worth: I tend to discount the sale value of any businesses and similar risk-assets that we may have, when calculating our Net Worth, as they can be taken away.

With these ACTIVE assets included, we are well within the 20% Rule, and very close to it even when only counting PASSIVE assets (a MUCH more conservative way to view Investment Net Worth that we will discuss in future Making Money 301 posts).

2. We paid cash for the house (well, we have only put down the deposit, so far, but will pay cash at closing).

The remedy?

Simple: as we did with our current house, we will take out a home equity line of credit and use that for  investment purposes.

This means that we have effectively shifted the borrowed portion of the equity in the house from the personal side of our ‘ledger’ (bad) to the investment side of our ledger ‘good’ …

Used this way, borrowing is a positive tool to be used to advance your financial position, which is why I disagree with the Dave Ramsey approach for those who need to step up their lifestyle and have a solid reason for doing so [read: driving desire to achieve some Higher Purpose in their lives] …

… or, if you prefer the Dave Ramsey approach, simply wait before buying the house.

Financial choices abound!

BTW: to be ultra-conservative, we may instead simply use, say, 50% of the equity in this new house (perhaps more, certainly no less) to secure further income-producing real-estate investments (rather than stock purchases) that we intend to hold for a VERY LONG TIME.

As our Net Worth rises, will we pay down that loan (i.e. HELOC)?

We could … as we would again ‘fit into’ the 20% Rule. But, we probably won’t – because the 20% Rule is a minimum standard and there is nothing wrong with investing more, particularly in conservative, long-term buy-and-hold investments.

I see holding such investments, and borrowing a reasonable proportion to fund them, as less risky to my financial future than the typical ‘save and never borrow’ approaches … but, only because my financial future has to be reasonably BIG … certainly more than a simple savings approach could ever achieve.

That’s how we deal with upgrades to our living standards … perhaps, it’s a model that you can follow, too?

Add to: | blinklist | | digg | yahoo! | furl | rawsugar | shadows | netvouz

People will usually trade equity for peace of mind …

There was a bit of to/fro on a recent post that I wrote about applying the 20% Rule; one of my readers pointed to a contra-view on an excellent blog by 2million who advocated paying down his home mortgage, whereas I advocate not to (as long as you always ‘fit’ into the 20% Rule), so I wrote to $2mill and asked him to clarify his position.

$2million wrote back and said:

I previously posted an analysis that I did that showed i would earn an after tax return of 6.7% on the mortgage prepayment your commenter is referring to (due to being able to cancel PMI).  I am only chasing returns — not paying off my mortgage — I felt this was the best no-risk investment for our cash savings.

Now, I have written recently about this very subject – why the small gain in reducing interest rates is offset by the huge benefit of leverage, particularly when applied to an appreciating asset such as your own home – but, so many people still choose to pay down their mortgage instead.


I think that $2million speaks for most people who recommend or follow this approach when he says:

Feels good to paydown mortgage emotionally, but have always recognized its not the best return for the investment.

“Feels good emotionaly” a.k.a. ‘peace of mind’ – perhaps one of the most motivating statements in the business world …

… how many $20,000,000 mainframes have IBM sold because ‘buying IBM’ would give the CIO ‘peace of mind’?

It is also truism in the personal finance world that people make decisions emotionally, then look for rational reasons to support their decision … it’s why it’s very difficult to change the way that people think … first, they have to WANT to change.

It’s why it is said that you have to “win their hearts THEN their minds will follow” …

Jason Dragon [great name!] was the commenter on both $2million and my posts; he wrote me an interesting e-mail the other day:

In the investing club I belong to we have a saying.   “People will usually trade equity for peace of mind” and it is so true.  This is the reason you can get a house for 60 cents on the dollar because someone is 1 payment late and scared.  It is also the reason that people don’t invest like they should. It just boils down to the fact that most people are too risk adverse. 

This is one of the best times in history to see emotion-driving-rationality at work: look at the emotions that pushed the markets and real-estate so high all the way through towards the close of 2007 … to be followed by an equally emotional ‘crash’.

Sure, there were economic reasons for both … but, the emotional swings were much, much larger than the rational/economic swings on their own could justify.

Where the heart goes … the mind will follow; it’s why I say on my About page:

If your target is just an amount like $1 Million in 15 years, then you do NOT need to read this blog – you will get far more benefit for your time invested in reading here, here, and here, or probably ANY of the places listed here.

… there’s no reason to waste anybody’s time … if they don’t need $5 mill. – $10 mill. in 5 – 15 years, then why bother reading a blog about the rationality of ignoring much of the Common Wisdom surrounding Personal Finance?

But, for those who have the burning need to break through and be truly financially free – Jason has some more words of wisdom:

One nugget of info can change your life. It is much easier to live below your means if you increase you means. You do need to control costs, but spend more time increasing income than controlling costs and you will be ahead in the long run.

Jason, it’s true: one nugget of info can change your life (little did I know it at the time, but it did for me) …

… but, first your heart has to be receptive to that change!


PS  2million did later explain that he put money into his mortgage as a temporary savings strategy – as it offered a better rate of return than other savings or debt repayment options available to him. 2million is a blogger after my own heart, who intends to pull that money out to buy his 3rd investment property soon.

Is this the future of money management for children?

I know that there have been a number of posts on other blogs about a new savings product called SmartyPig.

I initially dismissed their site [AJC: particularly because they USED to have a $25 fee – now gone … site is now totally FREE – and they didn’t offer a ‘cash out’ option – now also gone … you can get your money back as a wire transfer to your bank or as a Debit Card] … but, reviewed their FAQ’s, I really believe that they have something interesting here.

 What triggered my second look was an e-mail that I received today from Jon Gaskell, one of the co-founders of SmartyPig:

I had a very interesting conversation last week. It was with a young lady saving for a down payment on her first home with her fiancée. They want every penny they can scrape together funding that goal – especially the presents she is anticipating receiving when she finishes up graduate school later this spring. 

They thought they had found the perfect way to reach this goal faster when they stumbled upon SmartyPig, she told me. They were really excited about the public contribution piece and the social nature of SmartyPig. They thought the widget would draw attention and letting friends and family members know about their goal would keep them focused.

The next day, when my business partner, Mike Ferrari, and I spoke to a mother who is using SmartyPig to not only teach her 10- and 12-year-old sons how to save “in a cool way,” but is using SmartyPig to help them save up for their cars when they turn 16. 
When our site update is complete, the customer will have a third option when he or she has reached their goal: an ACH transaction back to their checking or saving account.

There you have it, a quick’n’easy way to set up a specific account to save up for a specific goal – whether large (e.g. a car) or small (e.g. an iPod) … in fact, that is the advantage that SmartyPig has over typical bank accounts [AJC: SmartyPig is supported by a bank, hence all deposits are FDIC Insured]:

It is easy to separate money into ‘pockets’ for specific savings goals.

I’m not sure what their future plans are, but I see a big future for them  – in addition to the Adult-saving-for-‘stuff’ market – I see a particularly big opportunity in the kids market.

Most kids’ allowance sits in cash … for example, we divide our kids allowance into two: Savings and Spendings, which means that we would need to open at least two Smarty Pigs accounts for each child, with one having a Goal of ‘Retirement’. Actually, our kids are smart enough to roll their retirement savings into my Scottrade account, so they are fully invested in my stock portfolio … but, for most people, simply having an account where kids earn interest on their money is a big step ahead of sitting in cash in the top drawer of their bed-side table! 

From a marketing perspective [AJC: I simply can’t help myself!], the founders of SmartyPig COULD gain tremendously by writing two books:  

1. SmartyPig – Sensibly Spending Your Way to Wealth – this would be a Making Money 101 book squarely aimed at breaking down the debt and credit-card mentality. Any personal finance blogger worth her salt could ‘ghost write’ or, even better, co-write this with them. 

2. SmartyPig for Kids – which would lay out a simple – naturally, SmartyPig-supported – process for dividing money earned by doing chores etc. into Savings and (possibly, more than one) Spending/s accounts. It would lay out a basic money-management philosophy for children to follow that will help lay the foundation for a consumer-debt-free, savings/investment-driven adult life.

The children’s angle, I believe will be where the growth is for SmartyPig, as their product (with some, minor modification) solves a real need …

… but, the account balances involved will be small and the demographic (i.e. children) will not be as lucrative, so some some additional ‘smart marketing’ will be required to drag the parents along for the ride.

Now, I haven’t tried SmartyPig myself, yet, so please don’t consider this an endorsement until I (well, more likely my children, as I don’t really need to save for ‘stuff’ any more) have tried it …

On the other hand, if you have tried it already, please let me know what you think!

Meet the applicants!

7 Millionaires ... In Training! 

Recently, I sent out a Casting Call for what I call my Grand Experiment … a real attempt to create 7 Millionaires in just 7 Years!

My desire is to ‘prove’ that my methods for real wealth are replicable – naturally, not by everybody, but by anybody with a dream, a desire, a will, and a way. If you supply the first three, I will help light the way …

I am surprised, not to mention a little humbled, by the fantastic response, just from my own readership base (supplemented by a few mentions in other blogs, even though I haven’t yet ‘announced’ this project to the blogger community or the wider-media).

Starting today, I am going to feature some of the best applicants … and, I will announce my short-list early next month at

Now might be a great time to sign up for regular e-mail updates – that way, when something does happen, well you’ll be amongst the first to know! You can sign up by clicking here:

Subscribe to 7 Millionaires … In Training! by Email

Whether you choose to apply … whether you are selected to become one of my 7 Millionaires … In Training! or not … I hope that you will join in this Grand Experiment by reading and commenting (we want YOUR advice!) and by participating in the various activities that will be going on …

Now you have two free blogs to help you reach your full financial potential … Good Luck!

Contrary to popular opinion, paying off your mortgage is the dumbest move you can make …

I wrote a post a long while ago … actually, it was my 5th-ever post – some say that I should have stopped there 😉 – about the classic Rent or Buy dilemma for your own home … and, I just (!) received an interesting comment to that Post from Joy:

That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard – borrow against your house (aquire more debt) to invest??? Paying off your house early and being debt-free allows you to do whatever you want with your income, THAT’s truly the way to wealth.

Now, Joy is not alone: I recently read a post by Boston Gal on her blog that talks about Suze Orman’s  advice which also is to pay off your home loan early:

Believe me, I have thought about trying to pay off my mortgage early. But since I have an investment condo which is mortgage free (yeah! paid that one off in 2007) I have been a bit hesitant to use my current excess cash to pay extra toward my primary home’s principal.

 Now, this sparked a whole series of comments, including this comment from ‘Chris in Boston’ who said:

This is interesting. Usually you hear from personal finance people that its best to take on the longest fixed rate mortgage you can afford. This allows you to tie up as little cash in a non liquid asset as possible (slowly building equity). Also allows you to protect that pile of cash from the effects of inflation. The house is bought in today’s dollars and paid off over 30 years in today’s dollars.

Sure, when you own a property you have to compare it to owning any other investment – cost/benefit; risk/reward; all the usual stuff. You also need to compare the costs of holding it (including interest) against the costs of investing elsewhere.

But, this last piece in Chris’ comment is THE critical point: “the house is bought in today’s dollars and paid off over 30 years in today’s dollars”.

You see, the one thing that makes owing a property, even your own home, very different to any other investment is that it can be easily financed … almost completely (remember the sub-prime crisis?).

This leads to a whole swag of benefits that I don’t think that you can get anywhere else … benefits that simply cannot be ignored by the typical saver / investor.

Here’s why …

When you mortgage a house, you and the bank enter into a partnership (typically the bank is an 80% partner and you are a 20% partner going in), but you are not in the same position:

1. You have access to ALL of the upside … so as inflation and market conditions push the value of the property upward over time, you gain 100% of the increase, the bank gets none of it.

Let’s say you buy a property for $100,000 today; you put in $20,000 deposit and the bank puts in $80,000 as an interest-only loan (forget closing costs for now) … in 20 years, if it doubles to $200,000, your share of the ‘partnership’ is now $120,000 and the bank’s is still $80,000.

You are now 60/40 majority owner of the real-estate venture! In fact, even as 20% ‘owner’ you have total control over all the decisions related to the real-estate – as long as you pay the bank on time.

2. Sure you pay the bank interest on their $80,000 share … but this is fixed (you did take out a fixed interest rate, didn’t you?!).

At 8% interest rate that’s approximately $6,400 per year … this year.

Why only this year? Because the same inflation that is increasing the value of the house (and you get to keep 100% of that increase) also decreases the effective amount that you pay to the bank; as each year goes by, the bank gets less and less in real dollars and your salary goes up.

The price of bread, milk and gas may go up, but the bank’s interest rate never will because it’s fixed!

3. You either get 100% of the value for the payments that you make to the bank (call it ‘rent avoidance’ if you live in the property) or you take 100% of the income if you decide to rent it out … all as 20% minority ‘partner’ going in. The bank on the other hand, gets their $6,400 and ONLY their $6,400.

4. The government gives you tax breaks and incentives to do all of this!

Here is my advice …

Look at everything that you own as a business: if it’s your own home, separate the ownership of the property in your mind from it’s use …

… for example, even if it’s your own home, treat yourself as your own tenant and figure the rent that you would otherwise had to pay when doing the sums.

Then evaluate the investment against any other investment or ‘business’ … and ask yourself:

– What ‘business’ gives you pretty damn close to 100% control for only 20% initial investment?

– What ‘business’ lets you in for only 20% initial investment, but then gives you all of the upside?

– What ‘business’ gives you only one-time multiplier on your initial investment on the downside but a five-time multiplier on the upside?

– What ‘business’ grows in your favor (and not your “partner’s” favor) merely by the effects of inflation?

By all means, pay off you mortgage and your lines of credit as you reach your financial goals and are set to retire …. you have plenty of money and just don’t need the stress, right?

But, if you’re still trying to get rich(er) quick(er)?

If you own a home, don’t pay it off … use the upside to help you buy more and more of these wonderful, one-of-a-kind, almost-too-good-to-be-true ‘businesses’ …

If you have other sources of income (businesses, investments) don’t spend it or reinvest all of it … use some of the spare cash to help you buy more and more of these wonderful, one-of-a-kind, almost-too-good-to-be-true ‘businesses’ …

That’s my advice to you, and to Joy, but only take it if you want to be rich!

The optimism of the young …

When you are just starting your working career – or perhaps you are still studying for your career – it can be hard to think of anything more exciting and fun than working at a job that you love.

So, when I talk about retirement – as I do from time to time – I can imagine that a large chunk of my audience is looking for the ‘close window’ button?

Well, don’t!

[AJC: Also, keep reading this particular post even if you AREN’T young … I have included a lot of back-links, because I want you to review some of the ground that we have covered so far, with this blog .. the idea of Future Vision is THAT important to your financial success!]

Recently, I suggested that most people fail financially, not because their dreams are too big, but because their dreams are TOO SMALL!

Now, this seems counter-intuitive, therefore some of the comments were interesting … the one that I felt expressed the counterpoint the best was from Alex, who said:

I don’t plan on quitting working anytime soon. My “retirement” is to retire from working 9-5 and work for myself. I wouldn’t call that work since I know I will enjoy it, if not, I can always pick a new thing to work on. Life is simple and fun if you have more choices right?

I responded:

It’s my thesis that one day working will no longer be fun, for any of us … if you agree that it’s possible that you will one day feel the same way, then it’s your job NOW to decide WHEN that will be, WHAT you’ll be doing instead of working, and HOW MUCH it will cost to do it – and, if you’re no longer earning money, WHERE will it come from?

The younger that you are when you get this, the more chance that you have of either:

1. Achieving a larger goal, given enough time, than your friends and peers, or

2. Achieving a more modest goal, but much earlier than your friends or peers.

Simply applying Making Money 101 principles as outlined in this blog will, given enough time, compound your savings to a large’ish sum. Not anywhere near large enough for me – but, that’s another story – if that provides enough for you … great … you’ll have a reasonably stress free (but, long-working) life.

But, if you aspire to an unconventionally wealthy and rewarding lifestyle, where you have replaced work with even more rewarding activities, while you are still young enough to enjoy them (e.g. 29, 39, or – hope YOU don’t need to wait THIS long – 49 years old!) then you will need to sit down and dream your large dreams NOW …

… then wake up, splash some cold water on your face and get straight to work applying my Making Money 201 principles!

If you do, you will soon be keeping your very large nest-egg safe with my Making Money 301 principles – and, at a much earlier age than me or most others.

I’m 49 y.o. – officially retired – and I think that’s WAY TOO OLD!

So will you, if you just sit back and wait because you are still young, and still excited about your work or your business or your whatever … if you follow my advice, these will still be your fun and exciting means to a much more valuable end, so …

… start now!


PS If you are a ‘young adult’, Ryan at Bounteo has a great series specifically focussed on investing for young adults … why don’t you check it out, and let me know what you think?