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A review of The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel

Reviewed by Karen Wilson

Morgan Housel provides some sage commentary on how our behaviour affects our financial outcomes. Our individual worldviews, the times we’ve lived through, and our experiences invariably colour the investment and spending decisions we make.

He cautions against trying to duplicate another individual’s path to success and advises that people rather focus on broad patterns of success. For Housel, this translates simply to living below his means, not succumbing to greed or rampant materialism to impress others, maintaining risk at a level that lets him sleep at night and trusting compounding to do its work over the longest time possible. He illustrates his points with true stories, including one about the (mis)fortunes of Richard and Ronald. One man was Harvard educated, had an MBA and retired early from an executive position with a prestigious firm. He borrowed heavily to expand one of his showpiece homes – with eye-watering monthly maintenance costs. The other man held two lowly jobs his entire working life, lived in the same 2-bedroom house, and invested the little he could save into blue chip shares over several decades. One man slid into bankruptcy after the 2008 financial crisis; the other died in 2014, leaving $8 Million. These are extreme examples, but they make his point.

The author asserts that money is governed by odds and not certainties, therefore everyone should “Plan on your plan not going according to plan”; things do go wrong because of unforeseeable events or risks (there is a quirky little anecdote about field mice vs German tanks in the book), so have a margin of safety. He advocates a life-long savings habit, even if you are not saving for anything specific, because enough money will give you options and flexibility when you need it.

Some other takeaways from the book: Luck and risk are both real and hard to identify; Less ego, more wealth; Define the cost of success and be ready to pay it – because nothing worthwhile is free. The book is an easy read, with mention of many well-known figures – including a few financial felons. And on the topic of luck, would Bill Gates be where he is today if he had gone to a different high school? Read the book, and you decide.

A copy of The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel is available in our Chartered Client Library.

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