One morning just over ten years ago, I had an interesting conversation at the Crossfit gym. I was "rolling out" — using a foam roller to break up tissue — with the usual group of guys, when one of my buddies brought up this new thing called Bitcoin.
"Bitcoin is digital money," he said. "But it's completely private and not tied to a government."
"How does that work?" I asked. From the very first moment I heard about cryptocurrency, it didn't seem to make any sense. My friend tried to explain. We all chatted about it for a few minutes, and then we lifted heavy weights and/or sweated extensively and/or both of the above.
When I got home, I googled Bitcoin. Nothing I read made any sense to me. I checked the price. My memory is that Bitcoin was selling for $7 or $8 at the time.
Over the past decade, I've been bombarded with info about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. I've made an effort to self-educate, to learn why people consider crypto valuable and why they think it's the future of money. To this day, I still haven't found an explainer that has actually explained things well enough for me to truly understand.
This 21-minute video from Slidebean has been most effective at helping me grasp the basics of the blockchain and cryptocurrency, but it still didn't convince me that this stuff was valuable.
Despite all of this, I've found myself gradually being worn down over time. So many people endorse cryptocurrency, including people who seem to be savvy and smart. Kim's brother, for instance, is a huge advocate of cryptocurrency. He and his wife have netted tens of thousands of dollars by dabbling in cryptocurrency. (They bought a new SUV with profits from one transaction.)
So, last fall, I succumbed to the mania.
It's official: Kim and I have moved from Portland to Corvallis, Oregon. We closed on our home — a 1964 daylight ranch with fully converted basement — at the end of August, and we've spent the past six weeks moving and unpacking. I thought I'd have time to post the gory details of our purchase, but obviously that hasn't happened. We've been too busy!
The short version is this: After offering $128,000 over asking on our dream home (and still losing out to a cash offer), we came close to joining in another bidding war on a similar house. But we didn't. While other folks were bidding up a place down the street from $589,000 to $707,000, we snuck into a home we liked better for $680,000 — just $5000 over asking. We got lucky.
And while I was worried that we might experience buyer's remorse, I'm pleased to report that absolutely has not happened. We love our home and we love Corvallis. How could we not?
I get a lot of questions about money. These questions tend to vary based on the asker and her needs, but there's one question I get more often than any other: "What's a safe investment with a high return?"
For the past decade or so, I've had no answer to this question. Savings accounts and certificates of deposit are safe, sure, but they're no longer attractive investments. Since the Great Recession of 2008/2009, interest rates have remained shockingly low. This is by design. The government doesn't want you parking your money in a savings account. They want that money out circulating in the economy.
Over the long term, the stock market offers excellent returns. But when people are asking for "safe" investments, they're wanting avoid short-term volatility, which means stocks are out of the question. (And stuff like Bitcoin and precious metals are even more out of the question!)
Today, however, while catching up on my blog reading, I stumbled upon a link from Michael Kitces' weekly roundup for financial planners. The story he shared blew my mind. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Jason Zweig explains the safe, high-return trade hiding in plain sight. (This article is behind a paywall.) That safe, high-return trade? U.S. government Series I savings bonds.
These inflation-adjusted bonds are currently yielding 3.54% annually!
If you’re a newbie investor, you may have no idea what you’re doing when it comes to investing in the stock market. If so, don’t feel bad - you’re not alone. According to Gallup, in 2019, only a little over half of all Americans were invested in the stock market. But this is a huge mistake.
If you want to build wealth, especially long-term wealth, investing in the stock market is a necessity.
But why? Couldn’t you just invest in real estate, or precious metals like silver and gold, or even a new-fangled investment like cryptocurrency to reach your financial goals? While you could, you’d be missing out on one of the greatest (if not the best) wealth creators of all time.
If you’re a stockholder, you’ve likely felt the rush of adrenaline as you watch the value of your portfolio surge.
But the market doesn’t always go up. Sometimes it goes up and then spikes down, and other times it’s like riding a violently rocky ship, crashing through the waves. If the rocky waters scare you, you may decide that focusing on dividends, rather than capital gains, as a source of return may make more sense for you.
But what exactly are dividends, and how does this source of income work?
Algorithms seem to be in control of everything these days, from the ads we see on Facebook, the shows we watch on Netflix, to what we find when we search on Google.
But what if there were an algorithm that could help you invest smarter? Something that could maximize returns and minimize risk, while possessing smart features such as automatic rebalancing and tax-loss harvesting?
Especially for new investors, wouldn’t it make sense to give this a try?
Robo advisors are still a relatively new product, and yet every year they seem to grow in popularity. One such advisor, called Wealthfront, is one of the largest automatic investment and financial planning services out there.
It’s also one of the most decorated, winning the “Best Robo Advisor of 2019” award, and the “Best Robo Advisor, December 2019” award.
But robo advisors are a dime a dozen these days. Why should you Wealthfront over another company like Betterment?
One of the joys of writing a money blog like Get Rich Slowly is the continuing self-education. I'm always reading and learning about personal finance. A lot of the times -- as in the past month -- this education is about esoteric topics. I'm currently diving deep into the history of personal finance, a subject that's interesting to me but admittedly not of much practical use in the modern world. (Today in the mail, I got a book about advertising and the use of credit during the 1920s. How's that for esoteric?)
But sometimes, this self-education does have practical uses, and it's stuff that I can share with you folks so that you too can become better educated.
For instance, I have a huge blind spot when it comes to so-called "robo-advisors". When I stopped writing here in 2012, robo-advisors existed but they hadn't yet become a Big Deal. By the time I re-purchased this site in 2017, things had changed. Robo-advisors had become a major force in the investment industry -- and I was clueless about what they were.
I've remained (mostly) clueless for almost three years now. I have a general idea of what robo-advisors are and how they operate, but only in the broadest sense. During our weekly planning call on Monday, I mentioned this blind spot to my business partner, Tom.
"You should write about robo-advisors," Tom said. "If you don't know what they are, I'll bet there are plenty of readers who don't know either. Do some research, write it up, and then everybody benefits."
Tom is a smart man.
Here then is my research into the world of robo-advisors. What are they? How do they work? And who should use them? Let's find out.
Pop quiz! If I asked you, "Who invented the index fund?" what would your answer be? I'll bet most of you don't know and don't care. But those who do care would probably answer, "John Bogle, founder of The Vanguard Group." And that's what I would have answered too until a few weeks ago.
But, it turns out, this answer is false.
Yes, Bogle founded the first publicly-available index fund. And yes, Bogle is responsible for popularizing and promoting index funds as the "common sense" investment answer for the average person. For this, he deserves much praise.
But Bogle did not invent index funds. In fact, for a long time he was opposed to the very idea of them!
Recently, while writing the investing lesson for my upcoming Audible course about the basics of financial independence, I found myself deep down a rabbit hole. What started as a simple Google search to verify that Bogle was indeed the creator of index funds led me to a "secret history" of which I'd been completely unaware.
In this article, I've done my best to assemble the bits and pieces I discovered while tracking down the origins of index funds. I'm sure I've made some mistakes here. (If you spot an error or know of additional info that should be included, drop me a line.)
Here then, is a brief history of index funds.
What's the best long-term investment? Because you're a money nerd (and a GRS reader), I hope your answer to this question was, "Stocks!" If the future is anything like the past, that's the correct answer. History has shown that stocks are the best long-term investment -- and by a wide margin.
Unfortunately, most Americans believe otherwise.
As a part of its annual Economy and Personal Finance survey (conducted during the first two weeks of April), Gallup News asked 1017 American adults, "Which of the following do you think is the best long-term investment: bonds, real estate, savings accounts or CDs, stocks or mutual funds, or gold?"
- 35% of respondents said that real estate is the best-long term investment
- 21% said that stocks or mutual funds are the best long-term investment
- 17% said that savings accounts or certificates of deposit are the best long-term investment
- 16% said gold is the best long-term investment
- 8% said bonds are the best long-term investment
While acknowledging that past results are no guarantee of future performance -- let's take a look at why I think Americans haven't got a clue when it comes to figuring out the best long-term investment strategy.
The Rate of Return on Everything
The August 2019 issue of The Quarterly Journal of Economics included a paper entitled "The Rate of Return on Everything, 1870-2015". Over an astounding 74 pages of discussion, the authors attempt to analyze the long-term (145-year) rate of return on a variety of assets around the world.
The paper examines four popular investment vehicles:
- Bills, by which the authors mean Treasury bills, are short-term government bonds. At present, these are a good proxy for the rates you can earn with a high-yield savings account. (I don't think this is always the case, though.)
- Bonds, which in this case refers to ten-year government bonds (such as a 10-year Treasury note).
- Equity, which is another way to describe common stock. Here, the authors are measuring overall stock market performance.
- Housing, including rental properties.
We'll look at each of these in greater detail in a moment (and we'll look at gold too), but for now let's look at this paper's overall findings. While the authors looked at data for many countries, I'm only going to share results for the U.S. The following table shows the rates of return for these different asset classes over three different time periods. (Remember that, for our purposes, Bills are a stand-in for savings accounts.)
From this table, it's clear that equities (i.e., stocks) have been the highest return investments over long periods of time. Nothing else comes close. (Outside the U.S., this isn't always true.)
Now, while stocks provide the best long-term returns, they also come with the greatest volatility. Here's a a chart (Figure VII) from the paper that shows just how crazy the ride with stocks can be. (Also note how closely equities and real estate tracked each other until the Great Depression.)
It's this volatility that scares so many people away from the stock market. They're afraid that a sharp decline can come at any time. And that's true. But what's also true is that a prolonged bull market can occur at anytime, as we experienced from March 2009 to February 2020! If you're a long-term investor, you don't give a fig about short-term market movement.
Let's dive deeper into the long-term investment returns provided by the asset classes in the Gallup poll: real estate, stocks, savings accounts, gold, and bonds.