What's the Point of Investing?

Editor's note: We're finishing our special five-day series with Steve's thoughts on the meaning of money... and why you should probably save more of it. This essay originally published in DailyWealth in 2008. And while iPhones have become less of a status symbol since then, Steve's message remains true today.

Also, the markets are closed tomorrow, so we won't publish DailyWealth. Look for your next issue on Wednesday, January 2.


"Nice to meet you... Hang on a sec... Let me text my husband."

My wife and I stood there waiting. The girl busily tapped out a text message on her new iPhone.

She wasn't so quick with the typing, but we knew what was going on... She was just showing off that she owned a $500 cellphone – hot stuff in rural Georgia.

We saw her arrive... She drove a black Suburban of some sort, with enough chrome to make a Detroit drug dealer blush.

She and her husband were young... probably in their late twenties. He was apparently a builder in Georgia. Of course, homebuilding in Georgia died several years ago... But even though their income must have been down, their spending hadn't changed.

These aren't the only people out there sporting an iPhone and a blingy black Suburban. What's going on here?

Me? I don't have an iPhone... or a blingy Suburban... But I probably have one thing these conspicuous consumers don't: The house I live in is fully paid for.

I handle my money differently. I could buy an iPhone or a Suburban tomorrow. I wouldn't need a penny of debt to do it. But I won't... Why? Because I know those things won't make me the slightest bit happier. I'd be the same dolt I was before... only I'd be $50,000 poorer!

It took me a while to get to this point in my life. But I'm glad I made it... I'm at the point where I can buy what I want. But I don't. It's an important point to reach.

I don't try to keep up with the Joneses. I'm doing the opposite, actually. I'm downsizing. I'm reducing my "stuff."

Think about this... What good is all this stuff, really? You can't take it with you when you die... Legendary newsletter writer Doug Casey says it best:

"I've never seen a hearse with luggage racks."

Doug is extremely wealthy... and has been for a while. But he doesn't drive around a decked out Suburban, chatting on an iPhone.

My friend Bob Bishop is a wealthy guy like Doug. Bob wrote the excellent Gold Mining Stock Report newsletter for a few decades. He retired a couple years ago. Bob decided to sell some of his extraordinary possessions... for no particular reason that I could see. He didn't need the money. And they weren't really taking up space. I asked him why he was selling. He said...

After a while, you don't own your stuff... Your stuff owns you. Steve, you're young... so you're probably in the accumulation phase. Me? I've been there. Now I want to downsize and simplify. I don't need all this stuff.

Bob can buy anything he wants. But, like Doug, he doesn't drive a blingy Suburban, and I doubt he's got an iPhone. It's just stuff!

This brings me to the point of this essay... What's the point of saving money anyway? What's the point of investing?

When you get older (if you're not already older!), just what are you going to buy with that money you've saved?

Jonathan Clements gave a good answer to this in his farewell column for the Wall Street Journal in 2008. (Clements wrote more than 1,000 columns for the Wall Street Journal.)

Clements says your savings "can deliver three key benefits." Even better, he says, "You can enjoy this trio of benefits even if you don't have great wads of cash." Here's how:

  1. "If you have money, you don't have to worry about it."
  2. "Money can give you the freedom to pursue your passions."
  3. "Money can buy you time with friends and family."

When I think about it, these three things are exactly what Doug and Bob are doing with their lives. The great thing is, it doesn't (usually) take millions of dollars to spend time with friends and family or pursue your passions. You don't need a fortune to live well.

But in order to get there, the Georgia-homebuilder couple needs to skip out on "his and her" bling-mobiles.

The quicker you grasp this about saving versus spending, the quicker you'll be able to start living like Doug and Bob... even if you don't have millions of dollars in the bank.

You might think it's hard to stop buying ultimately useless stuff... You might think it's hard to stop keeping up with the Joneses.

But actually, it is quite liberating... And even better, you'll be financially free much quicker. So give it a try...

Good investing,

Steve

Further Reading

"This was one of the most important investment lessons I ever learned," Kim Iskyan says. Find out why the assets you own could cost you something surprising right here: What I Learned From a $125 Million Investment Lesson.

"When you see family members make a life-changing mistake, you learn that you don't want to go through that yourself," Steve writes. "The problem is, we are fooled by experience." Learn more about how to avoid these investing and spending mistakes right here.

Market Notes
HIGHS AND LOWS

NEW HIGHS OF NOTE LAST WEEK

Not many… It has been a tough month for the market.

NEW LOWS OF NOTE LAST WEEK

AT&T (T)… telecom
CBS (CBS)… media
JPMorgan Chase (JPM)… financial services
Wells Fargo (WFC)… financial services
Goldman Sachs (GS)… financial services
Citigroup (C)… financial services
Chevron (CVX)… oil and gas
ExxonMobil (XOM)… oil and gas
Royal Dutch Shell (RDS-A)… oil and gas
Ford Motor (F)… cars and trucks
Fiat Chrysler (FCAU)… cars and trucks
American Airlines (AAL)… airline
Southwest Airlines (LUV)… airline
Lockheed Martin (LMT) … “offense” contractor
Northrop Grumman (NOC)… “offense” contractor
3M (MMM)… manufacturing
Altria (MO)… tobacco
Philip Morris (PM)… tobacco
JC Penney (JCP)… dying department store
Build-A-Bear Workshop (BBW)… customizable teddy bears