Financial success is an abstract concept that can mean different things to different people. Investors are used to thinking of financial success as a diverse portfolio of stocks, commodities, real estate and angel investments in startups.
The biggest risk in this type of investment strategy is relying on somebody else to turn a profit. Many people are passionate about things they don’t have time for, and it can be easier to let someone else take the baton. A more prudent investment strategy may be to invest more time and money in turning a personal passion project into a product or company.
Traditional investments depend on either sheer luck or the success of the entire market (there’s also insider trading, though black-hat investment methods are a quick way to end up in white-collar prison). This strategy leverages the movement of the entire market to overcome the financial shortfalls inherent in individual investments.
Although the risk is low when managed correctly, each traditional method has downfalls that equate to time and control:
The stock market is a big game. An investor is paying for a share of stock, which in turn entitles the investor to a share of the profits in the form of dividends and price appreciation. How much would you pay for a dollar of earnings? The average historical price-earnings ratio for a stock has been around $15.35, but it has ranged anywhere from $7 to $30. Getting caught buying a stock high and watching it fall is very expensive, and it’s determined by nothing other than the mood of the investor community.
Gold, oil and other commodities are dropping, so they may not be the solid long-term investments they seem to be. Commodities don’t produce value on their own. Oil could completely crash if solar takes over, and an investor wouldn’t have any control over it. Commodities’ value is simply a reflection of their scarcity.
While it is possible to find great commodity investments outside the U.S., interest rates point to the dollar getting stronger.
3. Real estate
Real estate is one of the few investments with equity that can be leveraged for larger profits. The issue with leverage, however, is that investors actually own less -- someone else is borrowing a majority. Small changes in the marketplace can wipe a person out. Similar to commodities, the investor doesn’t have control.
Investing in startups differs from normal stocks in that it’s possible to gain a larger stake in the company, though only majority shareholders have any real control. Startup leaders can have enough passion for the brand to grab people’s attention, and while these can be smart investments, they represent a gamble on untested entrepreneurs and ideas.
These four types of investments make it very easy to claim financial success, but they’re hard to prove, especially given the prevalence of investment bubbles and the other false positives inherent in depending upon others.
Thus, for the individual, the personal idea is critical.
Money can be replenished, but the human condition is really about time. How people spend their time -- and what they pay attention to -- eventually translates into dollars.
Spending this time focused on individual passion projects can lead to true financial success. Investors will be much happier focusing their money on their own ideas rather than discovering that an investment they didn’t care for tanked. Don’t worry about what other people want or what the national mood is.
Ideas are important to collect and log. James Altucher has a great exercise for forcing ideas, and executing these ideas is the path to a successful project. Investing time in this process can be more valuable than a financial investment, because it creates both a long-lasting project for the world and a fulfilling life for the entrepreneur -- who will then have control over his money and his role.
European and American governments are working to resolve complicated financial issues as corporations struggle to maintain profits and handle disruptions wrought on the system by startups.
In a system this complicated, the best bet is sometimes on oneself.