Patience, discipline, and humility are superpowers. We’ll talk about how this applies to investing and saving.
Unfortunately, those qualities don’t make for good headlines. Imagine reading, “Warren Buffett was patient once again, waiting for the purchase of the decade” and going on to say, “He didn’t find an attractive deal yet, but he is disciplined to his philosophy. Maybe next year he will find something.”
Very few people will read the article. It’s not sexy. Where is the financial prowess, incredible skills, and secret one-in-a-billion formula for success? Those sell.
People love reading about outliers. For example, Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, made for a thrilling story prior to her downfall. In 2015, Forbes estimated her net worth at $4.5 billion, making her the richest self-made woman in the United States. During its existence, Theranos raised over $700 million and at its peak valuation, was worth about $10 billion.
By 2016, they revised her net worth to $0. That’s right, she went from $4.5 billion one year to likely being worth less than the majority of people reading this post. What happened?
The company she founded claimed they created a portable blood analyzer that could conduct blood tests with tiny amounts of blood. It was going to be revolutionary. The problem was, it didn’t work. The tests were inaccurate.
Shortcuts were taken. People didn’t do their due diligence. The “technology” was exciting and people wanted to believe in a better way to do lab work.
Or, you could say there was a lack of patience, discipline, and humility.
In the world of investing, debt management, and personal finance, patience, discipline and humility are superpowers.
Show me someone who takes shortcuts and claims to be successful, and I’ll show you that same person 10 years later when they have a fall from grace. Show me someone who thinks they can invest and earn above average returns by trying to time the market, and I’ll show you that same person a few years later with far less money. It’s inevitable.
There will always be those people who think they can leapfrog ahead in life, but it doesn’t work that way – not without an insane amount of luck. For most of us, we shouldn’t rely on that luck.
Think back to any fulfilling achievement in your life. Did it require patience? Was discipline involved? Was the journey humbling? I’d bet all three were involved.
Investing – A Lesson on Averages
Investing requires all three, too. If you started investing in 2000, you would have experienced three years of negative returns. What if you were impatient after those three years and gave up on investing? You would have missed out on five consecutive years of positive returns. While three years can feel like a long time, it’s a drop in the hat compared to the decades you need to save and the decades you need the money to last throughout your lifetime.
On average, the stock market is up three out of every four years, but the problem is averages don’t always happen and your experience can shape your perception of how the world works.
For example, imagine you wanted to visit Las Vegas in June because it rarely rains. The average monthly rainfall during June in Las Vegas is 0.06 inches. If you visit any time in June, there are good odds you will see very little rain. However, if you happened to visit during June 1990, Las Vegas experienced 1.37 inches of rain.
While that doesn’t sound like much, it’s nearly 23 times the average amount of rain. If you only ever visited Las Vegas during that specific month and year, you would think that is normal, except it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
If you were patient and disciplined with visiting Las Vegas every year, you’d realize it hardly ever rains. It’s the same with investing.
It’s best to ignore the negative years. There will always be something happening in the world that causes you to doubt the future – world wars, oil embargos, rampant inflation, defaulting on debt, high stock valuations, loose monetary policy, and the list goes on.
One of the aspects I find most fascinating about the stock market is that you’ll often hear stock market returns have averaged about 10%; however, it has only returned between 8% to 12% six times between 1926 and 2014.
If you were expecting 10% per year, you would have been sorely disappointed. Returns are normally significantly above or below the average. That’s why investing is not easy. Basically, every year you are experiencing returns that feel anything but average. Again, patience, discipline, and humbleness are superpowers.
At any point in history, if you were patient, disciplined, and humble, you earned the long-term returns, which were very good.
You didn’t need to try to avoid the negative years. The negative years are part of the experience and part of the averages.
The year 2020 is a prime example of the importance of being humble. Who thought the entire world would basically shut down due to a virus? Who also thought the Federal Reserve would immediately lower interest rates? And then who thought the government would enact a huge stimulus package to keep the economy afloat?
I didn’t. I was certainly humbled by it all. And if most people are being honest with themselves, they should be, too.
Compounding – The 8th Wonder of the World
Compounding can work in your favor or against you. There is a reason it’s reported Albert Einstein said, “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it; he who doesn’t, pays it.”
For a moment, think about any skill you learned. It could be cooking, sewing, a sport, writing, painting, learning an instrument or any other skill you have developed. How did you get better? You worked at it. Every day. You got better. Not every day. Because sometimes you have to take a step back before going forward.
But the more you do it, the better you become. Each skill you learn builds upon the last, compounding into the skillset you have today.
If you got 1% better each day at something, you’d be amazed at how well you can do that something a year later. That’s the positive side of compounding.
Stepping back, let’s look at how it can hurt you. If you have a credit card balance of $20,000, your interest rate is 16%, and you make only a minimum payment of 3% of the balance each month, it will take you about 21 years and 11 months to pay it off.
During that time, you would have paid $35,765.64 total. You paid 1.7 times what you originally borrowed.
If you had the same scenario, but only made a minimum payment of 2% of the balance each month, it would take you over 30 years to pay it off and your total payments would be $56,448.26. You paid 2.8 times what you originally borrowed.
Most interesting, in the first year you paid $4,627.84 total, but you reduced your balance by only $1,542.59.
You can calculate your own scenarios here.
It works the same way with car loans, student loans, and any other debt. The higher the rate, the less you pay, the more you’ll end up paying. That’s compound interest working against you.
Now, let’s look at how it can help you. If you started saving $500 a month for 40 years and earned 7% per year, you would have $1,197,810.67 by the end.
Interestingly, between year 1 and 2, you would have contributed $6,000, but your growth would have been only $420. At this point, you don’t have very much money working for you. The miracle of compounding isn’t working yet. However, fast forward with 39 years of patience and discipline towards saving and investing, and the story is different.
Between years 39 and 40, you would have contributed $6,000 that year ($500 a month), but your growth would have been $83,968.92 in that year.
Let’s take it a step further and assume you kept saving $6,000 a year for 70 years – just for fun. Between years 69 and 70, your growth would have been $639,192.86. Not bad for continuing to save $6,000 a year and not a penny more.
It’s easier to make money once you have money, but for most people, the only way to do it is being patient and disciplined. The rewards are at the end – not the beginning.
A few years ago I was riding in an Uber and started talking to the driver about what I do. Whenever I mention I am a financial planner, most people open about money.
As the conversation continued, she told me how Seattle is an interesting place because many people don’t show wealth through status symbols, such as cars. She said something along the lines of, “You could have a person driving in Seattle in a 15 year old beat up Subaru who is a millionaire. It’s not like Los Angeles where people drive expensive cars, wear fancy clothes, and pricey jewelry.”
It was an interesting point. Seattle is more laid back. Walking down the street, most of the time, you can’t tell who is a millionaire and who is not.
While most people associate wealth with expensive houses, nice cars, and other material possessions, wealth is what you don’t see. It’s the humble person taking public transportation when they could drive, a recently promoted colleague who is proud and celebrates, but not by boasting and treating themselves to something they can’t afford, or the person who retired on a modest salary by saving consistently and living below their means. It’s spending in ways that make you happy.
Humility is important when it comes to money. Try imaging your life today if you were born in the 1500s in another country. Do you think you would have 0.00001% of the opportunities you have today? Or, how about growing up as a different gender? Or different skin color? How would that change your life?
If you decide to invest in an individual stock and it does well, recognize that may not always happen. If you inherit money that gives you opportunities you never had before, be thankful for it and realize that is rare. If you caught a lucky break in your career, pay it forward by helping others.
The alternative to all this is to be arrogant, conceited, and too proud. That sounds like a miserable life. It catches up with most people.
Remember that when you see someone who fits the stereotypical picture of wealth. While it looks glamorous, you’d be far better served learning how your secret, Honda-driving millionaire down the street accumulated their wealth.
Bringing Patience, Discipline, and Humility Together
If most people could consistently be patient, disciplined, and humble, I think the financial world would look far better.
I smile at the thought of financial media producing something of value – not trying to retroactively explain why stocks went up or down in the last hour, terrifying the public with scary charts in red.
It would be a world where people sleep more soundly at night when stocks fluctuate because they recognize making a change will likely only hurt them. People would internalize the power of compounding and make adjustments around spending, debt, and savings, where possible. And more importantly, the huge house, with the expensive car payment, and the desire for more, more, more would be a nightmare – not a dream.
No matter what you are trying to change in your financial life, I’m confident a healthy dose of patience, discipline, and humility will help your endeavor.