Xavier Jared

TwoShay

Two brothers on personal development, philosophy, and being awesome

Awesome Investing

Xavier,

This post is about how I invest money. I have a fair chunk of assets, but I dislike the traditional approach of chasing ROI. I prefer a holistic approach that considers my investments in the context of my overall well being and happiness. This often means some of my investments don’t align with classic profit motivated advice, of the type you’ll find in countless books on the subject.

Let’s start with how I don’t invest.

Common advice for personal finance is to invest in “blue chip” shares such as BHP or the banks. Often overlooked is what “investing” actually means. It is giving a company your money with a vote of approval for them to turn that in to more money in a way they see fit. As such, any investment needs to match the values you live by in other areas of your life. If you are anti-mining, investing in BHP doesn’t make sense. If you don’t eat meat, investing in McDonalds is incongruent. If you bought big on BP when they tanked after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to cash in on the subsequent rebound, you are part of the problem, not the solution.

Even if you only invest in companies you support, unless playing the stock market is an avid hobby for you, it is just not worth the distraction. Markets are volatile and susceptible to unpredictable fluctuations and manipulations, where professional traders do their job Really Fucking Well and makes loads of money while you just sit and watch and hold and hope that the 10-year trend holds its line. The real estate market is the same.

Focus on values, not ROI

For the most part money—and trying to turn it into more money—is a distracting game, but there is virtually no way to live in a modern economy without playing some part in it. I have money in a bank account, and I live in Australia so I have a compulsory superannuation account. I am striving for these to require as little of my attention as possible. I haven’t achieved this yet, but I’ll tell you about the current state of affairs and where I see them heading.

I own some shares but mostly as a legacy; I plan to sell them. Currently I own around $4,000 of NAB and Bendigo Bank shares given to me as coming of age gifts. The NAB ones are well over five years old. At purchase they were $24 each, they travelled up to near $40, now they are back at $26. I just watched and sat and held. I did own a few thousand dollars of BHP shares (again, gifted), but I transmuted them into shares in some carbon sequestration companies mostly out of anger. They haven’t gone so well but it beats funding the strip mining of our natural resources and cultures.

I have around $60,000 in the bank, a large chunk of it in short term deposits, simply because I don’t have a better place for it. I imagine the bank performs Questionable Investment Activities to give decent interest on that amount. Long term I need to do something with this but honestly have no idea what. It is nice to have some amount of savings in the bank, but it doesn’t really contribute that much to my sense of security. I quit my job, ostensibly to “live off my savings” for a while, but they kept going up.

My super is at $25,000, and is (well, once the forms go through) invested through Cruelty Free Super, a great fund manager that only invests in companies that do not contribute to the torture of things (a frighteningly rare attribute).

Since I have investments in the system and see no reasonable way of extracting them in the near future, I have begun aligning them with my values, eliminating one more source of dissonance that stresses me out.

Spend less than you earn

This isn’t an investment tip—yet. Stay with me. Obviously there are two ways to spend less than you earn. Let’s look at the first: spending less: I’m not saying be a cheap miser, rather just don’t spend it on crap you don’t value. I decline invitations to the cinema these days because sitting in a dark room, not able to talk, surrounded by the stench of popcorn is no longer an activity I particularly enjoy. Not only that, but dropping out of the mouse wheel of higher earnings, higher spending, ultimately makes you happier. Or at least, frees up cognitive surplus to work on being happier. The following graph has been cited hundreds of times, but it is worth repeating. Unless you are below the poverty line, if you are not happy with your current income, increasing it is not going to help.

Money doesn't buy happiness

The second way is more relevant to investment: earn more. As an investment target, your earning potential is a winner. If you can always make more money, it doesn’t matter how much money you have. This usually means knowing more things, and knowing more people. The more you know, the more difficult problems you can solve for people, and the easier it to get them to give you money. And the more people you know, the more opportunities you can create for people to give you money.

You can invest in this directly through educational courses, tutoring, conferences, and the like, but for most people the bottleneck will be time. It takes time to learn new things, it takes time to network. This is great if you are accumulating monetary savings, as they can be spent (invested) to create more time for yourself. This can be done by dropping back to part-time work, taking time off, or by paying other people to do things for you (washing, cleaning, cooking, etc…).

I did this last year when I quit my full time job. I drastically expanded my contact base by running a workshop across the US and Europe, which directly lead to a published screencast—an excellent source of passive income—and a deepened knowledge of the field that has led to futher work (on my terms) at higher rates.

I have also spent the time I bought working on my stilt walking, which led to performing at the Woodford Folk Festival last year—at very lucrative pay aside from the benefit of attending the festival as an artist—plus many more sweet gigs coming up this year.

MANTIS!
I rocked this costume.

My investments in myself have the net result that I am wealthy in the true sense of the word — my life is sustainable. As a side benefit I make far more money than I need, but take away my savings and move me to another country and I can still provide for myself, stay happy, and generally just keep on keeping on. That is worth more than any stock.

Big ups to Steve Hopkins for inspiring this article, reading a draft, and helping make it far better than it otherwise would have been. He is a champ and you should go check out his blog The Squiggly Line.

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