In Spending Your Way to Wealth: Setting Your Compass Course to Steer in the Direction of True Wealth, Paul Heys separates myths and untruisms about investing from facts and practical strategies that will help you learn how to save, spend, and invest wisely. Not since the Great Depression has such knowledge been so necessary as we continue to face the financial turmoil caused by the recent coronavirus pandemic.
Heys served as a vice president at Smith Barney, where he accumulated a wealth of insights about investing. He has also been a flight instructor who learned how to teach others how to do complicated, sometimes tedious things, in a thoughtful and calm manner. That background has paid off in making Spending Your Way to Wealth an easy-to-follow guide any would-be investor can benefit from. Learning how to invest properly takes some thought and, as Heys reveals in these pages, a strong ability to remain calm when the markets may not be doing what you wish.
Heys begins by meeting readers where they are. He explains that the actions people are likely to want to take when investing are normal, and he explores the psychology behind why we make those decisions. As he shows, nothing is wrong with being normal, but we want to get to “normal plus” by learning to restrain ourselves to prevent the consequences normal behavior could cause. He uses the metaphor of Ulysses and the Sirens to describe our own need for restraint. Ulysses had his men tie him to the ship’s mast when they sailed past the Sirens so he could hear their beautiful music but resist the temptation to join them, which would have resulted in his destruction. Similarly, we must tie ourselves to the mast when we invest by restraining ourselves from knee-jerk, short-term decisions that will be detrimental to our long-term goals.
Before discussing investing, Heys asks us to look at how we spend our money and how it reflects that we are normal. I particularly appreciated his introduction of the concept of “spilling.” Spilling is when we spend money beyond what we need to spend. For example, the generic brand of spaghetti sauce may meet our needs. The expensive name brand is more than we need. The difference between the price of the generic brand and the name brand is money we spill-money spent that didn’t need to be spent and that could have been saved and invested. However, because it is normal for us to think the name brand is better, we are willing to spill money on it. We also tend to do things like assume a more expensive bottle of wine is superior to a less expensive one, although Heys reveals that studies show people, when not told the price, may find that they get more enjoyment from the less expensive wine.
One of the biggest ways we spill money is with our credit cards, which allow us to buy things we don’t need or can’t afford. Heys offers tips for how to handle our credit cards, and we definitely need help because only 35 percent of people pay off their credit cards each month. The rest spill their money by only making minimal payments and thereby paying high interest rates that can make even buying the generic brand of spaghetti sauce, when charged to a credit card, multiple times more expensive than if we bought the name brand. Heys goes on to discuss the difference between price and value and how understanding it can teach us to avoid spilling. He also advocates for keeping a monthly journal to become aware of how much spilling we are doing. Most importantly, he makes us aware of how a little spilling can be detrimental to our future. For example, if we leave a light on for twenty-four hours that doesn’t need to be on, it will cost us 14 cents. Over time, that will add up-to $77,680 in a lifetime, and if that money were invested over forty years, to $367,895. Who couldn’t use an extra third of a million or so dollars? So why do we throw it away by leaving lights on? Turning off that light may mean the difference between living in the style we’re accustomed to in retirement and watching every penny.
Heys then goes on to give investing advice. It’s more detailed than I can cover here, but he explores investment behavior vs. investor behavior, he demystifies risk, and he looks at untruisms such as “Don’t invest more than you can afford to lose.” He advocates for investing long-term in an index fund-advice directly from Warren Buffett. He also reminds us how everything is relative so we should not let others determine the value of an investment-it isn’t about the price but its ability to meet our current and future needs. We don’t have to chase after an investment with high risk that could provide us with 25% returns if a lower risk investment that will provide 10% returns will meet our retirement needs. I find this advice comforting.
Most of all, I appreciated in these later chapters about investing the return to the idea that we must restrain ourselves-tie ourselves to the mast when investing. We can learn that restraint by turning down the noise. We don’t have to follow the stock market every day; we can quit listening to all the experts on TV; we don’t even need to look at our statements daily, weekly, or monthly. Quarterly is sufficient, and then we can adjust if needed. The main point is to trust that the market over time always goes up, and if we’re in it for the long-term, we will benefit from staying the course.
Altogether, Spending Your Way to Wealth is the only book I know to so fully reveal so many of the myths and misconceptions many of us have about investing. I felt relieved after reading the book because I realized what I needed to do was much simpler than many might think. I don’t have to become an expert on the stock market. I just need to find a trusted financial advisor who will help me find the right funds for me. Then I have to contribute regularly to those funds and sit back and let them grow without trying to micro-manage them. This book’s message is straightforward and more relevant than that of any other financial advice book I have read, and I’ve read many of them.
Why aren’t these things taught in our schools so we can all begin to save early? Spending Your Way to Wealth would be the perfect book to give every high school student as a graduation gift to start them on the right path. Actually, anyone interested in investing-and that really should be everyone since we will all someday need to retire-will benefit from reading this book no matter how new or seasoned they are as an investor. In addition, Heys provides valuable information at his website, including an investorship calculator to help you track what you spend against what it would be worth long-term if you invested it. Check it out.