Book Review: “The Psychology of Money” by Morgan Housel

The book “The Psychology of Money” by Morgan Housel has been a rage last year, that aroused my curiosity to read the book. Although this does not strictly fall into the domain of product management, I would cover it here since quite a few principles the book details out are applicable to many situations a PM faces. And it never hurts to get wiser about money matters, right?!

Cover page of the book "The Psychology of Money" by Morgan Housel

Image 1: Book Cover of “The Psychology of Money” by Morgan Housel

The rest of the article is key takeaways in a list format. The book is quite an easy read anyway, and one can start reading it from any chapter

The premise of this book is that doing well with money has a little to do with how smart you are and a lot to do with how you behave. And behavior is hard to teach, even to really smart people. The author calls this soft skill “the psychology of money”

  1. Generations behave differently with respect to their perspectives towards money since their view of money was formed in different worlds. And therefore a view about money that one group of people thinks is outrageous can make perfect sense to another
  2. Another important point that helps explain why money decisions are so difficult, and why there is so much misbehavior, is to recognize how new this topic is, mostly 20-50 year old compared to let’s say a 10,000 year old epoch when one can start discerning some behavior changes in species!
  3. Luck and risk are both the reality that every outcome in life is guided by forces other than individual effort
  4. As much as we recognize the role of luck in success, the role of risk means we should forgive ourselves and leave room for understanding when judging failures. Therefore we should focus less on specific individuals and case studies and more on broad patterns
  5. The hardest financial skill is getting the goalpost to stop moving that is to recognize when one has had enough money
  6. Some invaluable things in life are reputation, freedom and independence, family and friends, being loved by those who you want to love you and happiness. One should protect these things away from harm by knowing when to stop taking risks that could take them away. And knowing when you have enough!
  7. Counterintuitiveness of compounding may be responsible for the majority of disappointing trades, bad strategies, and successful investing attempts. Time is the most important factor here
  8. There’s only one way to stay wealthy: some combination of frugality and paranoia
  9. Applying survival mindset in real life boils down to appreciating three things 1. Be financially unbreakable to stick around long enough so that compounding can work wonders 2. Plan for the plan not going per the script. Having plan B is critical 3. Be optimistic about the future but paranoid about what will prevent you from getting there
  10. Short term paranoia is important for surviving long enough and exploit long term optimism
  11. Tails drive everything. The distribution of success among large public stocks over time is not much different than it is in venture capital
    • By accepting that tails drive everything in business, investing, and finance one would realize that it’s normal for lots of things to go wrong, break, fail, and fall
  12. If there’s a common denominator in happiness, it’s that people want to control their lives. And therefore controlling one’s time is the highest dividend money pays
    • Since controlling time is such a key happiness influencer, people don’t feel much happier now since over generations that control have diminished. One should use money to gain control over time
  13. The single most powerful thing to do better as an investor, is to increase the time horizon!
  14. If respect and admiration are the goals, be careful how one seeks them. Humility, kindness, and empathy will bring more respect than any horsepower ever will
  15. Wealth is financial assets that haven’t yet been converted into the stuff one sees
  16. Building wealth has little to do with income or investment returns, and lots to do with savings rate
  17. The value of wealth is relative to what one needs and therefore past a certain level of income, what one needs is just what sits below the ego
  18. Saving is a hedge against life’s inevitable ability to surprise at the worst possible moment. It is like taking a point in the future that would have been owned by someone else and giving it back to yourself
  19. Flexibility is perhaps one of most important competitive advantages, in the world where intelligence is hypercompetitive and technical skills are getting automated
  20. Do not aim to be coldly rational when making financial decisions. Aim to just be pretty reasonable
  21. Reasonable is more realistic and one has a better chance of sticking with it for the long run, which is what matters most when managing money
    • For example, it may be rational to want a fever if you have an infection. But it’s not reasonable and therefore we want to suppress fever anyhow even when it can be advantageous for us!
  22. The reasonable investors who love their technically imperfect strategies have an edge, because they’re more likely to stick with those strategies
  23. Anything that keeps you in the game has a quantifiable advantage. Become OK with a lot of things going wrong. Be nicer and less flashy!
  24. Acting on investment forecasts is dangerous. However, people try to predict what will happen next year. It’s human nature and is reasonable!
  25. The most important driver of anything tied to money is the stories people tell themselves and the preferences they have for goods and services
  26. Recessions have become more sporadic over time because 1. Maybe Fed is getting better at managing business cycles or extending them 2. Service industries which have dominated last 50 years are less prone to boom-bust cycles that heavy industries

Image 2: Recessions cycles have become more sporadic in the last 50 years. Credit: The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel

  1. Since economies evolve, recent history is often the best guide to the future, because it’s more likely to include important conditions that are relevant to the future
  2. Unknowns —are an ever-present part of life. The only way to deal with them is by increasing the gap between what you think will happen and what can happen while one manages to survive. The concept of room for error is important. Having a gap between what one can technically endure versus what’s emotionally possible is an overlooked version of room for error
  3. One has to take risks to get ahead, but no risk that can wipe one out is ever worth taking!
  4. The biggest single point of failure with money is a sole reliance on a paycheck to fund short-term spending needs, with no savings to create a gap between current and future expenses
  5. People are poor forecasters of their future selves. Sunk costs—anchoring decisions to past efforts that can’t be refunded—are a harmful in a world where people change over time
  6. Career, relationships and money can take years of planning and decades to grow!
  7. The price of a lot of things is not obvious until you’ve experienced them firsthand, when the bill is overdue
  8. Thinking of market volatility as a fee rather than a fine is an important part of developing the kind of mindset to stick around long enough for investing gains to work wonders
  9. An iron rule of finance is that money chases returns to the greatest extent that it can!
  10. Identify what game you’re playing and what game others are. One should make sure that he actions are not being influenced by people playing a different game
  11. Real optimists don’t believe that everything will be great. That’s complacency. Optimism is a belief that the odds of a good outcome are in one’s favor over time
  12. Money and health are the two topics that will affect everyone’s life whether one is interested in them or not!
  13. In investing one must identify the price of success—volatility and loss amid the long backdrop of growth—and be willing to pay it
  14. The more one wants something to be true, the more likely to believe a story that overestimates the odds of it being true
  15. The illusion of control is more persuasive than the reality of uncertainty so we stick to stories about outcomes being in our control
  16. Respect the power of luck and risk and one will have a better chance of focusing on things one can actually control
  17. Wealth cannot be built unless one can control having fun with the money right now!
  18. “Does this help me sleep at night?” is the best universal guidepost for all financial decisions
  19. Independence, at any income level, is driven by savings rate. And past a certain level of income your savings rate is driven by your ability to keep your lifestyle expectations from running away!
  20. Good decisions aren’t always rational. At some point one has to choose between being happy or being “right”!

The author in the last chapter diverts towards how Americans behave towards money especially the post-War generations. Sharp inequality became a force over the last 35 years, when the Americans have held onto two ideas 1. That you should live a lifestyle similar to most other Americans and that taking on debt to finance that lifestyle is acceptable

The author also prophecies that the current chaotic era of radial expectations that “this is not working any more” may go longer and can get even worse. Two weeks into 2021, I couldn’t agree more!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s