SOMETIMES OUR BEST investments can be a great guide to what not to do—even better than our worst investments. Consider three of my best:
1. Master limited partnerships. In 1999, I read an article by Paul Sturm in the much-missed SmartMoney magazine. It was a comprehensive review of a security I hadn’t previously heard about, namely master limited partnerships (MLPs).
The two decades since have made the unique commonplace.
THERE’S A LITERARY rite of passage that requires every financial blogger to write at least one article about free money. Far be it for me to break with this tradition.
Titling an article “free money” will catch most readers’ attention. After all, we all want something for nothing. You know what they say: “Money found is twice as sweet as money earned.” It’s also a topic that’s a bottomless well of ideas limited only by the creativity of the writer.
WHILE READING the great books on investing, studying financial theory and reviewing our investment performance are essential to becoming a better investor, sometimes it can be useful to learn from the mistakes of others—because what not to do can be even more important than what to do. As Otto von Bismarck may have said, “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”
Which brings me to me.
MY FIRST JOB AFTER college was as an officer in the U.S. Navy. I was an engineer on a nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Albuquerque. While I didn’t make the Navy a career, it left one indelible imprint on me: the need to understand how things work.
Before ever setting foot on the Albuquerque, I spent more than a year learning exactly how nuclear power propelled a submarine, everything from how to operate a valve—it isn’t as simple as you think—to how the reactor worked on a sub-atomic level.
IF YOU’VE EVER rented a car, you’ll inevitability have heard the collision damage waiver (CDW) sales pitch. It sounds something like this: “I assume you want us to protect you bumper to bumper on the car, right?”
If you say, “yes, please,” then—for anywhere between $10 and $30 a day—the rental car will be covered for losses due to theft or damage, except for damage to certain portions of the car. Hint: Read the fine print.
IN SEPTEMBER 2017, my wife and I sold our home, our car and almost all of our earthly possessions. What remained fit in a storage pod measuring 12 feet by eight feet by eight feet. We then spent the next three years traveling across four continents and staying in more than 200 rooms. Along the way, I learned a few things about booking lodgings that could make your travels a little cheaper.
We used Airbnb 40% of the time and Booking 35%.
ONE OF THE GREATEST business books I’ve ever read is Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In it, he postulates the idea that, while things that become damaged by stress are considered fragile and things that resist stress are considered resilient, “there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile,” things that become stronger due to stress. So, he coined the word “antifragile” and then wrote an entire book about the subject.
WHEN I NOTICED my iPhone 3—that’s not a typo—had a small black spot on its screen, I started thinking that maybe I needed to replace it. Maybe. It was a difficult decision. It was the first smartphone I’d ever owned and, since 2010, it had served me well.
I liked it because it was small. It had a cool retro steampunk vibe that occasionally turned heads. “Is that an iPhone? That’s the smallest phone I….” Best of all,
MY WIFE AND I decided at the end of 2016 to sell our house. Selling a home is the biggest transaction most of us will ever make, and yet—in my experience—almost all home sellers spend too little time trying to find the right real estate agent.
Folks might interview two agents at most and many interview none at all, instead hiring based on a friend’s recommendation. I realized there must be a better way.