Investing Is a Lifestyle: How to Play to Win

“Invest in yourself, you are your own greatest asset.” -Said every parent to their child.

When we think of investing we usually think about ‘get rich quick’ schemes like stocks, bonds, mutual funds, coinage/bullion/precious metals and gems, etc. I’m here to show you a much higher quality of investing.

I rank investments based on realized value. Value, for me, is a combination of physical products mixed with memories and experiences. In short, I believe the first place to start investing is by working to pay off debt, this is for two reasons:

  • Interest, especially on large purchases like homes and autos can cost more than the items themselves
  • Eliminating debt makes for a stable platform to fall back on

Am I saying don’t invest money? Not at all! But consider your risk and control over the things you invest in. I’m going to use two friends of mine, Joe and Alex, to compare and contrast their lives to give you a better picture of how very different things have been for two very similar people:

Joe, 33 years old, single, military veteran, works in sales earning $60,000/year and bought his home in 2008 for $125,000. Joe did a debt-consolidation refinance on his home after graduating college and currently owes $157,000 on his home with his auto and all other debts paid off. Joe has $9,000 in a savings account and $33,000 invested into a Roth IRA. Joe is also living in Denver, CO with one of the highest costs of living around the country.

Sounds great right? Why can’t we all be like Joe? We can, but here is what else you need to know about Joe:

  • Savings: Joe went for three years without a car, riding his bike and using public transit to save enough money for a down payment ($10,000) on a home while working three jobs at the same time and sharing a one-bedroom apartment with a friend where Joe lived in the living room so he could put money into savings every month. He also had an employer-sponsored 401K where he saved $30,000. He rolled over his 401K into a Roth IRA at a time in his life when he knew his tax burden on this contribution would be low because of his low annual income.
  • Opportunity: Joe bought his house right after one of the largest housing collapses in our nation’s history and currently has approx. $150,000 in equity in his home because of the real estate market rebound
  • Benefits: Joe’s military service helped him pay for almost all of his college tuition
  • Shared expenses: Joe has a renter paying half the monthly cost on his home, and his home has a 3.5% interest rate

Joe is an average, every day guy who worked smart and hard, saved his money, and put himself in the right positions so he could take advantage of opportunities when they came around. He is planning to have a child with his girlfriend who is working as a teacher, and she will maintain her employment after they have a child so they can both benefit from dual incomes.

Alex is another case entirely, let’s look at him: Alex is 37, has been serving in the US military for over 14 years where he has earned himself the rank of E-6 and is earning approx. $70,000/year, plus Alex gets many benefits including healthcare, food, clothing allowance, etc. Alex is married and his wife worked at a restaurant until they just recently had a child this last year.

How is Alex doing compared to Joe?

  • Savings: Alex has almost no money in savings. Alex bought a home for $212,000 in 2017 when the housing market has been leveling out. Even though he locked in at a similar 3.5% interest rate as Joe, Alex didn’t put any money down on his home, and with interest being such a large part of his mortgage he has only approx. $20,000 in equity in his home. Alex also made poor choices to purchase brand new vehicles that cost more than he could reasonably afford (they cost so much that he wasn’t putting money into savings or investments each month). Alex has had to utilize debt-forgiveness services three times in his life which unfortunately also depleted his 401K leaving him with almost no retirement savings. When he had a credit score over 720 he failed to maximize his credit value through travel points and thus ended up spending a considerable amount of money on travel instead of using points to help cover these costs.
  • Opportunity: Alex missed the opportunity to buy a home when the housing market was at its lowest. If he had he could potentially have over $100,000 in equity today, as well as a much smaller monthly payment. Lower monthly payments would have meant more money available to put into savings and investments where he could have accrued another $40,000 total.
  • Benefits: While Alex did have military assistance for college he did not maintain his student-status and therefore is now paying on student loans but still has not earned his college degree. No college degree means Alex will not have the same earning potential when he finishes his military service. See, even though he is in the medical field in the military he would need a college degree to work in the same capacity as a civilian veteran.
  • Shared Expenses: Alex is not only providing for his wife and child but unfortunately does not have a renter helping with their monthly living costs.

When we look at these two young men in terms of money Joe is light years ahead of Alex. Assuming nothing changes here is how they are likely to differ by retirement:

  • Joe will pay off his home 9 years before Alex.
  • Joe and his girlfriend Uniqque are are benefiting from dual-income, dual retirement plans, and a renter.
  • Assuming they maintain consistent earnings on income and investments Joe and Uniqque will possibly accrue $500,000 more than Alex by the time they are at the age of retirement (let’s say age 73)
  • Joe and Uniqque have been considering increasing their principle payments on their home. If they can pay off their home five years early this will save them an additional $60,000 in mortgage expenses

Does Alex live a more exciting life than Joe and Uniqque? Not at all. Joe and Uniqque live an active lifestyle where they enjoy hiking, cycling, running, group fitness, and team sports. Also they enjoy traveling and take an average of three trips per year around the US; they use credit card points which saves them an average of $500/year even when considering the annual card fees. Also they stay disciplined to eat healthy; drinking only on occasion and cooking at home to save money from eating out, which they enjoy doing on occasion and on vacation.

Summary: Live an investing lifestyle where you find ways of enjoying life while saving and investing your money. Put together your monthly budget (see my article) and compare where your current lifestyle is leading you financially, as well as how changes in your investing lifestyle can lead to big changes in your future.

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