“I hate to invest in things I don’t understand, so from the age of 18 to 28 I invested in the thing I understood best: myself. My investment involved spending enormous amounts of time studying computer science, marketing, sales, accounting, the basic skills needed to operate a business, and IT management practices. In the first 3 years after finishing university I had spent $25,000 on computer books (crazy, but true). I am sure some RE bull observers would say that I would have been better off buying a house and watching it appreciate in value but they would be wrong because I loved every minute of reading hundreds of books on all things comp sci, IT management and geo politics. End result I have a consulting business where I am tax optimized, and only work 100 days of the year, generating 140K to 200K of revenue per year while being able to live anywhere in the world, so I effectively own my job.
My obsession with finance and economics was born around 2007 when I decided that I would stay in Vancouver. The plan was to live in Vancouver, enjoy the great outdoors, start a family, buy a house, and put what I learned into hitting a home run with a product based business (still swinging for the home run; have not hit it yet).
What really pissed me off is that, even though I had done something totally crazy [in a good way] compared to the average 28 year old (starting out as an immigrant kid with no connections and no money and lots of student debt), I still could not afford to buy a house in Vancouver. At this point I owned some commercial RE in Ontario and had cash accumulating in the bank at a healthy rate. My definition of affordable is minimum 25% ideally over 50% down payment and prices close to fundamentals.
My obsession with finance and economics became an addiction in 2008 as the world economy was blowing up. As of now I estimate that I have spent over 3,500 hours reading finance and economics books, and blogs. For fun, I wrote the CSI exam to see if I had learned enough, and I had no trouble passing it.
After 3,500 hours of research I have learned how to tell if something is a bad investment. The problem is that I have no idea what the [current] good investments are, other than my business, and myself.
I don’t have enough money to afford the seriously good money managers that know what they are doing and I know that the financial advisers at the banks and insurance companies really don’t know anything that I don’t know and will probably not advise me on anything and just sell me some product from their company.
It also seems to me that the markets are fundamentally corrupt and rigged against those who don’t have servers in the stock exchanges, or friends in government, or 100 million +.
Buying a house and putting all my money into it would have freed me from dilemma of figuring out what to do with my savings because I would have worked to pay off the house in 5 to 8 years and get mortgage free.
Now it seems to me that my options for my money are:
A) Put my money into a grossly overvalued housing and lose lots of it – I have worked too hard to let that happen.
B) Put my money into the fundamentally corrupt politically rigged and manipulated public markets.
C) Keep it in cash and let the bank gamble with it and loan it to fools who buy over valued real estate while my taxes “guarantee” the loans (current strategy)
D) Spend it
E) Try my hand at investing and see if I learn anything useful (I like learning and creating things not buying things in hope of selling them for more not really who I am the game just does not appeal to me but maybe I could grow to like it)
F) Invest it in my business and work to increase my revenue to $300K per year while only working 60 days per year. Use increased time and cash flow to search for business model with a personal 25 million + exit where I bootstrap the business from the ground up.
G) Raise money from investors for a business idea that I have developed business models for, then work 60 hour weeks 50 weeks of the year, be in perpetual raise capital mode, baby sit investors, lose my time to learn and grow, and then maybe exit if my interests are still aligned with the interests of the investors by the time an exit opportunity shows up.
H) Keep learning more and see if I learn anything new to change my mind about what my options are.
I) Leave Vancouver and hope that by doing so I don’t end up being obsessed about finance and economics any more.
Now that I have written this rather long post, it seems to be too personal and revealing to post online. But … I share my story for sake of contributing to this blog’s effort to capture the impact of the housing bubble.
So, without the Vancouver housing bubble I would have probably spent 3,500 hours working on building my business instead of getting addicted to learning everything I can about finance and economics.”
Thanks, ‘ams’, for sharing your illustrative story so openly. You are by no means alone, as the pressures applied to you through these profoundly abnormal times have been felt by many of us. And the perversion of behaviour you describe has also affected many; each in their own way. Witness the very existence of this blog as just one small example.
A few thoughts:
1. The speculative mania in housing has distracted many from usual productive activity. This is just one of the many ways in which asset bubbles misallocate resources.
2. Despite ‘austerity’ talk internationally and nationally (BOC Governor Mark Carney, etc), economic pressures continue to punish the prudent. ‘ams’ still feels pressure to use his accumulated wealth in an arguably unwise fashion: to speculate, to buy overvalued assets, or to squander it (spend unnecessarily).
3. The speculative mania in Vancouver RE was very clearly underway by 2007, and it was prudent of ‘ams’ to avoid the market then. Price action in the four years since then has punished him psychologically. This is a common phenomenon in bubbles.
Having said all this, if one lives through abnormal times, and if one is naturally drawn to examining one’s own behaviour and the behaviour of those around you, isn’t it normal to be fascinated by these massive social forces, to study them, to document them, to discuss them, to attempt to take advantage of them? Isn’t that a particularly human thing to do under the circumstances? – We are all to a certain extent products of our times. The results of ‘ams’s 3,500 hours spent studying ‘finance and economics’ are perhaps as much an important part of who he is as his business career, or the business that he has built, or any other valued aspect of his life.