Psychology of Money: Morgan Housel

Morgan Housel uses short stories to show that “how you behave is more important than what you know” when it comes to financial success. The underappreciated soft skills of money are conveyed through short stories that help us make better financial decisions.

Favourite Lines

“History never repeats itself; man always does.”

Your personal experiences with money make up maybe 0.00000001% of what’s happened in the world, but maybe 80% of how you think the world works.

It should surprise no one that many of us are bad at saving and investing for retirement. We’re not crazy. We’re all just newbies. Same goes for college. The share of Americans over age 25 with a bachelor’s degree has gone from less than 1 in 20 in 1940 to 1 in 4 by 2015.⁷ The average college tuition over that time rose more than fourfold adjusted for inflation.⁸ Something so big and so important hitting society so fast explains why, for example, so many people have made poor decisions with student loans over the last 20 years. There is not decades of accumulated experience to even attempt to learn from. We’re winging it.

If you give luck and risk their proper respect, you realize that when judging people’s financial success—both your own and others’—it’s never as good or as bad as it seems.

When judging your failures I’m likely to prefer a clean and simple story of cause and effect, because I don’t know what’s going on inside your head. “You had a bad outcome so it must have been caused by a bad decision” is the story that makes the most sense to me. But when judging myself I can make up a wild narrative justifying my past decisions and attributing bad outcomes to risk.

You’ll get closer to actionable takeaways by looking for broad patterns of success and failure.

Having a strong sense of controlling one’s life is a more dependable predictor of positive feelings of wellbeing than any of the objective conditions of life we have considered.

Control over doing what you want, when you want to, with the people you want to, is the broadest lifestyle variable that makes people happy.

Controlling your time is the highest dividend money pays.

Humility, kindness, and empathy will bring you more respect than horsepower ever will.

Wealth is What You Don’t See

We tend to judge wealth by what we see, because that’s the information we have in front of us. We can’t see people’s bank accounts or brokerage statements. So we rely on outward appearances to gauge financial success. Cars. Homes. Instagram photos. Modern capitalism makes helping people fake it until they make it a cherished industry. But the truth is that wealth is what you don’t see. Wealth is the nice cars not purchased. The diamonds not bought. The watches not worn, the clothes forgone and the first-class upgrade declined. Wealth is financial assets that haven’t yet been converted into the stuff you see.

The only way to be wealthy is to not spend the money that you do have.

Wealth is an option not yet taken to buy something later. Its value lies in offering you options, flexibility, and growth to one day purchase more stuff than you could right now.

Building wealth has little to do with your income or investment returns, and lots to do with your savings rate.

Personal savings and frugality—finance’s conservation and efficiency—are parts of the money equation that are more in your control and have a 100% chance of being as effective in the future as they are today.

Wealth is just the accumulated leftovers after you spend what you take in. And since you can build wealth without a high income, but have no chance of building wealth without a high savings rate, it’s clear which one matters more.

Learning to be happy with less money creates a gap between what you have and what you want—similar to the gap you get from growing your paycheck, but easier and more in your control.

People with enduring personal finance success—not necessarily those with high incomes—tend to have a propensity to not give a damn what others think about them.

Having more control over your time and options is becoming one of the most valuable currencies in the world. That’s why more people can, and more people should, save money.

Do not aim to be coldly rational when making financial decisions. Aim to just be pretty reasonable. Reasonable is more realistic and you have a better chance of sticking with it for the long run, which is what matters most when managing money.

If you view “do what you love” as a guide to a happier life, it sounds like empty fortune cookie advice. If you view it as the thing providing the endurance necessary to put the quantifiable odds of success in your favor, you realize it should be the most important part of any financial strategy.

Imagining a goal is easy and fun. Imagining a goal in the context of the realistic life stresses that grow with competitive pursuits is something entirely different.

The End of History Illusion is what psychologists call the tendency for people to be keenly aware of how much they’ve changed in the past, but to underestimate how much their personalities, desires, and goals are likely to change in the future.

Research shows people from age 18 to 68 underestimate how much they will change in the future.

Compounding works best when you can give a plan years or decades to grow. This is true for not only savings but careers and relationships. Endurance is key. And when you consider our tendency to change who we are over time, balance at every point in your life becomes a strategy to avoid future regret and encourage endurance. Aiming, at every point in your working life, to have moderate annual savings, moderate free time, no more than a moderate commute, and at least moderate time with your family, increases the odds of being able to stick with a plan and avoid regret than if any one of those things fall to the extreme sides of the spectrum.

The trick is to accept the reality of change and move on as soon as possible.

‘I have no sunk costs.’” Sunk costs—anchoring decisions to past efforts that can’t be refunded—are a devil in a world where people change over time. They make our future selves prisoners to our past, different, selves. It’s the equivalent of a stranger making major life decisions for you.

Embracing the idea that financial goals made when you were a different person should be abandoned without mercy versus put on life support and dragged on can be a good strategy to minimize future regret. The quicker it’s done, the sooner you can get back to compounding.

Every job looks easy when you’re not the one doing it because the challenges faced by someone in the arena are often invisible to those in the crowd.

Most things are harder in practice than they are in theory. Sometimes this is because we’re overconfident. More often it’s because we’re not good at identifying what the price of success is, which prevents us from being able to pay it.

thinking of market volatility as a fee rather than a fine is an important part of developing the kind of mindset that lets you stick around long enough for investing gains to work in your favor.

Few things matter more with money than understanding your own time horizon and not being persuaded by the actions and behaviors of people playing different games than you are. The main this…is going out of your way to identify what game you’re playing.

“For reasons I have never understood, people like to hear that the world is going to hell.” – Historian Deidre McCloskey. Pessimism just sounds smarter and more plausible than optimism.

Growth is driven by compounding, which always takes time. Destruction is driven by single points of failure, which can happen in seconds, and loss of confidence, which can happen in an instant. It’s easier to create a narrative around pessimism because the story pieces tend to be fresher and more recent. Optimistic narratives require looking at a long stretch of history and developments, which people tend to forget and take more effort to piece together.

I mostly just want to wake up every day knowing my family and I can do whatever we want to do on our own terms.

Independence, to me, doesn’t mean you’ll stop working. It means you only do the work you like with people you like at the times you want for as long as you want.

My investing strategy doesn’t rely on picking the right sector, or timing the next recession. It relies on a high savings rate, patience, and optimism that the global economy will create value over the next several decades. I spend virtually all of my investing effort thinking about those three things—especially the first two, which I can control.

No matter how we save or invest, I’m sure…we’ll always do whatever maximises for sleeping well at night.

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