The Simple Path to Wealth by JL Collins
Read this book if you want to get your personal finances in order. In a simple, engaging way, Collins shares the basic wisdom you need to make your money work for you, not against you. You’ll walk away with a practical toolkit to achieving financial freedom with minimal effort.
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“Since money is the single most powerful tool we have for navigating this complex world we’ve created, understanding it is critical. If you choose to master it, money becomes a wonderful servant. If you don’t, it will surely master you.”
Most people ignore learning the basics of personal finance because it seems too complex or boring. But in investing a few hours in learning the basics, you can position yourself to make your money work for you, not against you. And in doing so, you can start making decisions independent of money, instead of the reverse.
Stay away from complex investments
“Complex investments exist only to profit those who create and sell them. Further, not only are they more costly to the investor, they are less effective.”
Don’t get trapped by complex and enticing financial investments. Often, the simple strategy wins, and Collins shows you this strategy throughout the book.
The only rule you need to know
“Spend less than you earn—invest the surplus—avoid debt.”
If you spend less than you earn, invest the surplus, and avoid debt, you’re already well on your way to financial freedom.
Money buys freedom
“Money can buy many things, but nothing more valuable than your freedom.”
“Being independently wealthy is every bit as much about limiting needs as it is about how much money you have. It has less to do with how much you earn—high-income earners often go broke while low-income earners get there—than what you value. Money can buy many things, none of which is more important than your financial independence.”
The best thing money can buy you is freedom. Freedom to make your own choices. Freedom to work for people you respect. And freedom to live life on your terms. Don’t sacrifice this freedom so that you can live in a fancy lifestyle that you can’t really afford.
Don’t worry about how things will work out
“One of my very few regrets is that I spent far too much time worrying about how things might work out. It’s a huge waste, but it is a bit hardwired into me. Don’t do it. The older I get the more I hold each day precious. I’ve become steadily more relentless in purging from my life things, activities and people who no longer add value while seeking out and adding those that do.”
Instead of wasting your time worrying about things that you can’t predict or with people who don’t add value to your life, focus on the precious few things in your control that matter.
Debt is not normal
“If you intend to achieve financial freedom, you are going to have to think differently. It starts by recognizing that debt should not be considered normal. It should be recognized as the vicious, pernicious destroyer of wealth-building potential it truly is. It has no place in your financial life.”
Debt is the norm in Western societies, but it’s a norm that you shouldn’t follow. Using a credit card that you pay off every month is a fine way to keep debt, but accumulating debt buying things that you don’t need is a waste of time and will weigh you down.
What a stock really is
“Publicly traded companies are companies that issue stock that can be purchased by individuals and organizations. When you buy stock in a company you own a piece of that business. The stock market is made up of all the companies that are publicly traded.”
A stock is nothing more than a small piece of ownership of a company. The stock market is made up of companies, and the holders of that stock are the owners of those companies.
Why most people lose money in the stock market
- We think we can time the market.
- We believe we can pick individual stocks.
- We believe we can pick winning mutual fund managers.
No one can reliably time the market. No one can reliably pick individual stocks over time. No one can reliably pick winning financial managers. Once you drop these pipe dreams, you can adopt a simple and effective strategy for accruing wealth.
The two stages of investing
“Your stage is not necessarily linked to your age. The Wealth Accumulation Stage comes while you are working, saving and adding money to your investments. The Wealth Preservation Stage comes once your earned income slows or ends. Your investments are then left to grow and/or are called upon to provide income for you.”
Most people think of their financial life in terms of age. You work hard and save when you’re young. You spend and relax when you’re retired. This is an archaic and limiting way to view your financial advice.
Instead, think about two stages, the wealth accumulation stage and the wealth preservation stage. When you’re working and saving, independent of your age, you’re in the wealth accumulation stage. When your income slows or ends, you enter the wealth preservation stage, which could happen if you take a small sabbatical early in your career.
The core wealth building tool
“Stocks: VTSAX (Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund). Stocks provide the best returns over time and serve as our inflation hedge. This is our core wealth-building tool.”
Collins recommends putting most of your capital in Vanguard’s Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSAX), a low-fee fund that mirrors the performance of the entire stock market. Over the long-run, stocks will be a strong investment that grows your wealth and protects you from inflation.
You can diversify your portfolio, particularly when you are in a wealth preservation stage of your life, with bonds, which serve as a hedge to inflation.
The relationship between bonds and inflation
“When interest rates rise, bond prices fall. When interest rates fall, bond prices rise. In either case, if you hold a bond to the end of its term you will, barring default, get exactly what you paid for it.”
Collins summarizes it well.
Flexibility enables you to take greater “risk”
“Flexibility. How willing and able are you to adjust your spending? Can you tighten your belt if needed? Are you willing to move to a less expensive part of the country? Of the world? Are you able to return to work? Create additional sources of income? The more rigid your lifestyle requirements, the less risk you can handle.”
If you have a flexible lifestyle, you can assume more risk. When the market goes down or your income slows, have a greater ability to cut your costs or create new income opportunities will enable you to prosper when others falter.
Why Roth IRAs are awesome
“You can withdraw your original contributions anytime, tax and penalty free. You can withdraw contributions that are conversions from regular IRAs after five years, tax and penalty free. You can withdraw as much as you like anytime to fund a first-time home purchase or to pay for college related expenses for yourself and/or your children.”
Depending on your current income, you can fund a Roth IRA with post-tax dollars. As your investment grows, not only do you have the flexibility to make withdraws on your original contributions at any time, but you can also take out your profits tax free once you reach a certain age.
How wealthy are you?
You can go to How Rich Am I? to see where your income puts you versus other earners across the world.
Track where you are with Social Security
Go to http://ssa.gov/myaccount/, and once you create an account, you can track where you stand with Social Security. You can also track the accuracy of your earnings records.
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