You remember it fondly, but with an inexplicable cringe. You’re curled up on the lounge in your Culture Club PJs. The Love Boat Christmas Special is on. Mum and dad have just returned from a key party at the neighbour’s house. Mum plonks down beside you and gives you a big hug.
“Mum, do you think I can be like Captain Stubing and sail a cruise ship when I grow up,” you ask. She feigns shock, “Of course, my special one, you can be whatever you want to be”.
You believe her.
OK, maybe you weren’t wearing Culture Club pyjamas. Maybe you didn’t idealise Captain Stubing. Details aside, many Gen Xers will remember some version of the Baby Boomer’s ‘your special’ approach to parenting.
We grew up believing the world would be ours.
We stormed into adulthood expecting to thunder down our amazingness on an awaiting, awe-struck world, which would burst open like a giant Kinder Surprise filled with money and mansions and hot people lining up to have sex with us. We thought life would bring unrestrained joy, and tireless validation and praise. It would be like one long hug from mum.
Then, well, life happened instead.
An entire generation was left wondering, “What the fuck, mum?”
Turns out, we’re not special. We are in fact, and by definition, normal.
Take a moment here, it you need it. I went fetal for days when I came to this realisation. Mind you, I held onto the specialness illusion well into my 30s.
The good news is that you can still get everything you want in life, even though you’re not special. I’m assuming that by now you’ve grown out of the need for mansions and conga lines of hot-people sex, and that your material ambitions are more centred around financial independence and the freedom that it buys.
The path to financial independence and early retirement is now an eight-lane freeway built by Baby Boomers, and increasingly trafficked by Gen Xers. The freeway onramp is financial literacy and good financial advice.
But first, we Gen Xers need to unlearn our unspecialness.
We Cannot Predict the Future
You know the fine print no-one ever reads on investment brochures? Look under the graph showing how amazing the investment performed. It says, “Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results”. In other words, the graph has nothing to do with what will happen to your money when you invest it in the unforgiving market behind the pretty infographic.
It doesn’t matter how well an investment vehicle has done in the past. It’s like flipping a coin. Twenty heads in a row doesn’t mean the next toss will be a head.
Think that’s an unfair assessment? Try this simple bit of Google research. Remember the global, economy-crushing, recession that unfolded from 2007 and cost $12 trillion? Yup, the one we’re still paying for a decade later. Now, jump on Google and see if you can find five people that predicted it. Don’t forget to look among the most brilliant financial minds on the planet.
Slim pickings, huh?
If the experts can’t predict a global financial meltdown, what chance do we have of predicting market fluctuations? And how can you avoid the classic investor mistake of buying high (in the hype stage) and selling low (in the abandon ship stage)?
We Are Not Financial Geniuses
In fact, not even financial geniuses are financial geniuses. Studies (there’s several, but try this one) show managed funds (funds where highly-paid financial geniuses invest your money) are regularly outperformed by the market itself. Investing in the top 500 companies on the stock exchange, regardless of which companies they are, will literary earn you more money than investing in a professionally managed fund.
Before you race off to put all your cash into the S&P 500, have another quick read of the We Cannot Predict the Future section…
The “We Are Not Financial Geniuses” rule is particularly important when deciding which investment approach is right for you. The stock market is no different from betting on horses if you don’t know what you’re doing. Professional advice will help take the gamble out of investing.
Much-hyped options like Self-Managed Super Funds sound like a sure-fire way to make a fuck-load of riches, but unless you are a financial genius (see above), or are getting advice from a decent financial adviser, they can be a real easy way to lose your nest egg – quickly via bad investments or slowly via out-sized administration costs
We Don’t Know Things Other People Don’t
This one is shocking: those Top 10 Hot Stock Tips we read about in Rich As Fuck magazine are not a secret. Or top. Or hot. They’re just companies being promoted in a magazine. Or they’re ass-plucks of one of the magazine staffers. There’s a good chance those ‘hot’ stocks will overvalue when every mum and dad investor that subscribes to Rich as Fuck magazine buys them. Inevitably, the stock crashes back to reality as greed subsides into fear.
I think what mum meant when she said we’re special, was that we’re special to her. We’re her special little man or mummy’s little girl. Fortunately, to be financially independent or to retire early, we don’t need to be special. To get started, take a look at our post on Four Things to do Before you See a Financial Adviser.