Book Summary: "The Psychology of Money" by Morgan Housel

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Introduction

Doing well with money has little to do with how smart you are and a lot to do with how you behave. And behavior is hard to teach, event to really smart people.

1. No One’s Crazy

Few people make financial decisions purely with a spreadsheet. They make them at the dinner table, or in a company meeting. Places where personal history, your own unique view of the world, ego, pride, marketing, and odd incentives are scrambled together into a narrative that works for you.

We all do crazy stuff with money, because we’re all relatively new to this game and what looks crazy to you might make sense to me. But no one is crazy—we all make decisions based on our own unique experiences that seem to make sense to us in a given moment.

2. Luck & Risk

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.

The more extremene the outcome, the less likely you can apply its lessons to your own life, because the more likely the outcome was influenced by extreme ends of luck or risk.

The trick when dealing with failure is arranging your financial life in a way that a bad investment here and a missed financial goal there won’t wipe you out so you can keep playing until the odds fall in your favor.

3. Never Enough

The hardest financial skill is getting the goalpost to stop moving. Social comparison is the problem here. “Enough” is not too little. There are many things never worth risking, no matter the potential gain.

4. Confounding Compounding

If something compounds—if a little growth serves as the fuel for future growth—a small starting base can lead to results so extraordinary they seem to defy logic.

When compounding isn’t intuitive we often ignore its potential and focus on solving problems through other means. Not because we’re overthinking, but because we rarely stop to consider compounding potential.

5. Getting Wealthy vs. Staying Wealthy

Keeping money requires the opposite of taking risk. It requires humility, and fear that what you’ve made can be taken away from you just as fast. It requires frugality and an acceptance that at least some of what you’ve made is attributable to luck, so past success can’t be relied upon to repeat indefinitely.

Compounding doesn’t rely on earning big returns. Merely good returns sustained uninterrupted for the longest period of time - especially in times of chaos and havoc - will always win.

Conservative is avoiding a certain level of risk. Margin of safety is raising the odds of success at a given level of risk by increasing your chances of survival. Its magic is that the higher your margin of safety, the smaller your edge needs to be to have a favourable outcome.

A barbell personality - optimistic about the future, but paranoid about what will prevent your from getting to the future - is vital.

6. Tails, You Win

A lot of things in business and investing work this way. Long tails - the farthest ends of a distribution of outcomes - have tremendous influence in finance, where a small number of events can account for the majority or outcomes.

Most public companies are duds, a few do well, and a handful become extraordinary winners that account for the majority of the stock market’s returns.

When you accept that tails drive everything in business, investing, and finance you realize that it’s normal for lots of things to go wrong, break, fail, and fall.

7. Freedom

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

8. Man in the Car Paradox

People tend to want wealth to signal to others that they should be liked and admired. But in reality those other people often bypass admiring you, not because they don’t think wealth is admirable, but because they use your wealth as a benchmark for their own desire to be liked and admired.

9. Wealth is What You don’t See

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 that you could right now.

The world is filled with people who look modest but are actually wealthy and people who look rich who live at the razor’s edge of insolvency. Keep this in mind when quickly judging others’ success and setting your own goals.

10. Save Money

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

Investments returns can make you rich. But whether an investing strategy will work, and how long it will work for, and whether markets will cooperate, is always in doubt. Results are shrouded in uncertainty.

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.

Saving is a hedge agains life’s inevitable ability to surprise the hell out of you at the worst possible moment.

When you don’t have control over your time, you’re forced to accept whatever bad luck is thrown your way. But if you have flexibility your have the time to wait for no-brainer opportunities to faill in your lap. This is a hidden return on your savings.

If you have flexibility you can wait for good opportunities, both in your career and for your investments. You’ll have a better chance of being able to learn a new skill when it’s necessary. You’ll feel less urgency to chase competitors who can do things you cna’t, and have more leeway to find your passion and your niche at your own pace.

11. Reasonable > Rational

Reasonable is more realistic and you have a better chance of sticking with it for long run, which is waht matters most when managing money.

The reasonable investors who love their technically imperfect strategies have an edge, because the’re more likely to stick with those strategies.

12. Surprise!

Things that have never happened before happen all the time.

The majority of what’s happening at any given moment in the global economy can be tied back to a handful of past events that were nearly impossible to predict.

13. Room for Error

Margin of safety - you can also call it room for error or redundancy - is the only effective way to safely navigate a world that is governed by odds, not certainties.

Room for error lets you endure a range of potential outcomes, and endurance lets you stick around long enough to let the odds of benefiting from a low-probability outcome fall in your favor.

Having a gap between what you can technically endure versus what’s emotionally possible is an overlooked version of room for error.

You can plan for every risk except the things that are too crazy to cross your mind. And those crazy things can do the most harm, because they happen more often that you think and you have no plan for how to deal with them.

14. You’ll Change

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.

We should avoid the extreme ends of financial planning. Assuming you’ll be happy with a very low income, or choosing to work endless hours in pursuit of a high one, increases the odds that you’ll one day find yourself at point of regret.

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.

15. Nothing’s Free

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 to work in your favor.

16. You & Me

When investors have different goals and time horizons - and they do in every asset class - prices that look ridiculous to one person can make sense to another, because the factors those investors pay attention to are different.

Bubbles form when the momentum of short-term returns attracts enough money that the makeup of investors shifts from mostly long term to mostly short term.

Bubbles do their damage when long-term investors playing one game start taking their cues from those short-term traders playing another.

17. The Seduction of Pessimism

Optimism is a belief that the odds of a good outcome are in your favor over time, even when there will be setbacks along the way.

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 development, which people tend to forget and take more effort to piece together.

18. When You’ll Believe Anything

The more you want something to be true, the more likely you are to believe a story that overestimates the odds of it being true.

Everyone has an incomplete view of the world. But we form a complete narrative to fill in the gaps.

When planning we focus on what we want to do and can do, neglecting the plans and skills of others whose decisions might affect our outcomes.

19. All Together Now

Go out of your way to find humility when things are going right and forgiveness/compassion when they go wrong. Because it’s never as good or as bad as it looks. The world is big and complex.

Less ego, more wealth. Saving money is the gap between your ego and your income, and wealth is what you don’t see.

Manage your money in a way that helps you sleep at night.

If you want to do better as an investor, the single most powerful thing you can do is increase your time horizon.

Become OK with a lot of things going wrong. You can be wrong half of the time and still make a fortune, because a small minority of things account for the majority of outcomes.

Use money to gain control over your time, because not having control of your time is such a powerful and universal drag on happiness.

Be nicer and less flashy. No one is impressed with your possessions as much as you are.

Save. Just save. You don’t need a specific reason to save.

Define the cost of success and be ready to pay it. Because nothing worthwhile is free.

Worship room for error.

Avoid the extreme ends of financial decisions.

You should like risk because it pays off over time. But you should be paranoid of ruinous risk because it prevents your from taking future risks that will pay off over time.

Define the game you’re playing, and make sure your actions are not being influenced by people playing a different game.

Smart, informed, and reasonable people can disagree in finance, because people have vastly different goals and desires.

20. Confessions

For most investors, dollar-cost averaging into a low-cost index fund will provide the highest odds of long-term success.