Wednesday, February 12, 2014

why people are awful at managing money

People usually get better at things over time. We're better farmers, faster runners, safer pilots, and more accurate weather forecasters than we were 50 years ago.

But there's something about money that gets the better of us. If you look at the rate of personal bankruptcies, financial crises, bubbles, student loans, debt defaults, and savings rates, I wonder whether people are just as bad at managing money today as they were in previous generations, maybe even worse. It's one of the only areas in life we seem to get progressively dumber at.

Here are 77 reasons why people are awful at managing money.

3. You suffer from the Dunnig-Kruger effect, lacking enough basic financial knowledge to even realize that you're making mistakes. People's lack of understanding about things like compound interest and inflation can lead them to believe they're making good financial decisions when in reality they're tripping over themselves with failure.

4. For every $1 raise you receive, your desires rise by $2 or more.

5. You spend lots of money on material stuff to impress other people without realizing those other people couldn't care less about you. You'd be shocked at how few people care where your purse was made or how much noise your car makes.

13. The single largest expense you'll pay in life is interest. You'll spend more money on interest than food, vacations, cars, school, clothes, dinners out, and all forms of entertainment. You do this because you don't save enough and demand a lifestyle you can't actually afford. The future owns your income.

14. You're thrilled that the credit card you're paying 22% interest on offers 1% cash back on all purchases.

15. You spent the last five years arguing why Keynesian/Austrian economists were all wrong. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) spent the last five years rallying 177%.

16. You think dollar-cost averaging is boring without realizing that the purpose of investing isn't to minimize boredom; it's to maximize returns.

17. Your work in a stressful job in order to make enough money to have a stress-free life. You see no irony in this.

18. You're a pessimist in a world where far more people wake up in the morning trying to make things better than wake up thinking we're all doomed.

19. You try to keep up with the Jonses without realizing the Jonses are buried in debt and can probably never retire.

21. You associate all of your financial successes with skill and all of your financial failures with bad luck.

22. Rather than admitting and learning from your mistakes, you ignore them, bury them, make excuses for them, and blame them on others.

23. You anchor to whatever price you bought a stock for, without realizing that the market neither knows nor cares what you think is a "fair" price.

27. You say you'll be greedy when others are fearful, then seek the fetal position when the market falls 2%.

30. You let confirmation bias take control of your mind by only seeking out information from sources that agree with your pre-existing beliefs.

31. You think you're too young to start saving for retirement when every day that passes makes compound interest a little bit less effective.

32. You spend a month researching the best washing machine, then invest twice as much money in a penny stock based solely on a tip from a person you don't know and shouldn't trust.

33. You're investing for the next 50 years but get stressed when the market has a bad day.

34. You're willing to work hard for $15 an hour, but too lazy to spend four minutes to fill out your company's 401(k) paperwork that could result in thousands of dollars of free money from matching contributions.

39. You don't respect the idea that "do nothing" are two of the most powerful words in investing.

41. You feel especially smart after last year's 30% market rally without realizing that you had nothing to do with it.

42. You surround yourself with 18 hours a day of live market TV in a game that requires decades of doing almost nothing but waiting.

45. You think financial news is published because it has useful information you need to know. In reality, it's published only because the publisher knows you'll read it.

46. You forget that the single most valuable asset you have as an investor is time. A 20-year-old has an asset Warren Buffett couldn't dream about.

50. You think it's impossible to live on less than $35,000 a year without realizing that literally 99% of the world does, even adjusted for purchasing power parity.

51. Your definition of a middle-class lifestyle is a 3,000-square foot home, more bathrooms than family members, three SUVs, private colleges, annual trips to Hawaii and Vail, Evian water, and yoga lessons. (Seriously, just stretch in your own living room.)

52. You can't acknowledge the role luck plays when making the occasional successful investment. (Also true when worshiping investors who made one big call that happened to be right.)

53. You suffer from hard-core belief bias. It's the tendency to accept or reject an argument based on how well it fits your pre-defined beliefs, rather than the objective facts of the situation. Pointing out that inflation has been low for the last five years is still met with suspicion by those who believe the Federal Reserve's actions must be causing hyperinflation.

56. You think the stock market is too risky because it's volatile, without realizing that the biggest risk you face isn't volatility; It's not growing you assets by enough over the next several decades.

57. You've never been to a poor country, robbing you of the realization that the world doesn't care how entitled you feel, what you think is "fair," or what a real financial hardship is.

58. You think blowing money on frivolous stuff impresses people, when in reality it makes you look like an insecure, pompous, jerk. (This is particularly common among young people who come into money for the first time.)

59. You're unable to realize that a 10% return for 20 years generates more money than a 20% return for 10 years. Time can be a more important factor than return when building wealth -- and it's the one thing you have control over.

60. You don't respect the mountains of evidence showing that once basic needs are met, the amount of happiness each additional dollar of income provides diminishes quickly. This causes you to spend most of your life chasing "the number" you think will make you happy, but probably won't.

62. You think of the stock market as numbers that go up and down rather than an ownership stake in real businesses with real assets.

63. You think renting a home is throwing money away when for many it's one of the smartest financial decisions they can make.

64. Your investment decisions are guided by what the economy is doing, when the two really have very little correlation.

66. You're unable to have a good time going for a hike, a bike ride, a swim, reading a book, or anything else that's free (or cheap). Having cheap hobbies is a large, yet hidden, asset on your personal balance sheet.

68. To paraphrase Carl Richards, you ignore history, basing your actions on your own very limited experience.

71. You think that not changing your opinion about markets, the economy, and your investments is somehow noble, when it's really just shutting your brain off to the reality that things are always changing.

72. You ignore that how elderly Americans who have seen it all view money is almost the opposite of how most young Americans view money. This goes back to not learning vicariously.

74. You underestimate how fast a company can go from "blue chip" to bankrupt.

75. You don't realize that when you say you want to be a millionaire, what you probably mean is that you want to spend a million dollars, which is literally the opposite of being a millionaire.

76. You're unaware that the business models of the vast majority of financial companies rely on exploiting the fears, emotions, and lack of intelligence of its customers.

77. You nodded along to all 77 of these points without realizing I'm talking about you. That goes for me, too.

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