In my 23 years as on-air stocks correspondent for CNBC, I've been asked many questions by strangers, but most of them boil down to some variant of "What do you think is going to happen to the markets?"
Remarkably, almost no one (OK, maybe one in a hundred) ever ask what I would consider to be the most relevant question: "What do YOU own, Bob?"
Josh Brown has had the same problem. A successful money manager, chief executive officer of Ritholtz Wealth Management, and on-air contributor to CNBC, Brown notes in the introduction of his new book "How I Invest My Money: Financial Experts Reveal How They Save, Spend, and Invest" that he too has been on TV a long time (9 1/2 years), "and in all of that time, not one person has ever asked me what I do with my money. Not one."
Wow. That's even worse than one in a hundred.
After writing a post entitled "How I Invest My Own Money" at The Reformed Broker blog, his friend Brian Portnoy, founder of financial wellness platform Shaping Wealth, approached him and a simple idea was formed: Let's approach financial advisers that we respect and ask them the same question.
Genius. And thus "How I Invest My Money" was born.
Over and over, there are common themes in every person's account of their wealth: low debt, frugality, aversion to buying luxury goods, index investing, college 529 plans, Roth and Simple IRAs, charitable giving, regular contribution to retirement savings (most contribute 10% or more of their income).
Here are the recurring themes:
A lot of investment professionals are not in love with investing.
It's true. Most just view it as a means to an end. Christine Benz, director of personal finance for Morningstar: "I've realized that what I am passionate about is investors, and most of them aren't passionate about investments, either. Rather, they view investments as a means to an end—a way to help pay for college for their kids or to find financial security in retirement."
Many investment professionals that employ stock pickers invest their money in passive funds.
Brian Portnoy: "Nearly all of us nearly all of the time should own stock and bond beta index funds (or ETFs), allocate to them in reasonable proportions, and then got on with life."
Morgan Housel, an excellent writer on investing and a partner at the Collaborative Fund: "For most investors, dollar-cost averaging into a low-cost index fund will provide the highest odds of long-term success."
Perth Tolle, founder of Life + Liberty Indexes: "For the most part, I hold the most low-maintenance instruments possible, such as ETFs and index mutual funds. I have skin in the game: I am extremely overweight freer emerging markets in the ETF based on my own index."
Endlessly trying to beat the markets is exhausting and not worth it.
Ashby Daniels, Shorebridge Wealth Management: "If our goals require beating the market, I believe we should revise our goals rather than attempt to do something that introduces other risks. Market returns should be good enough for our needs."
Many investment professional don't invest with their clients.
Morgan Housel: "Half of all U.S. mutual fund portfolio managers do not invest a cent of their own money in their funds, according to Morningstar."
Ted Seides, founder of Capital Allocators LLC: "During my time managing hedge fund portfolios, I was restricted in what I could own and invested most of my capital alongside my clients. Those investments were wildly suboptimal for me. Hedge funds are generally tax inefficient and assume less risk than what I wanted."
It's not about picking stocks: It's about saving.
Morgan Housel: "It's mostly a matter of keeping your expectations in check and living below your means. Independence, at any income level, is driven by your savings rate."
Ashby Daniels: "It's not going be the fund choices or any other critical decision that will determine our success. It will be our ability to live well below our means."
And keeping track of what you are spending.
Carolyn McClanahan, founder of Life Planning Partners: "I learned the most important determinant of financial independence was not how much you save—it is how much you spend."
They all own their home.
Joshua Brown: "The bulk of my net worth is in my house, with no mortgage."
Joshua Rogers: "In my experience real estate is the second most reliable way to build wealth over the very long term."
And their biggest investment is usually their own business.
Joshua Rogers, CEO of Arete Wealth: "My largest asset and biggest single investment is my own business."
They don't buy a lot of expensive stuff.
Ashby Daniels: "I believe common excesses often complicate life rather than make it more fulfilling. As they say, I never want the things I own to end up owning me. I have never cared about expensive watches, high-end cars, having the biggest house or anything like that, so I am sure it's easier for me to come to grips with this idea than others."
They don't like a lot of debt.
Ashby Daniels: "We are not fans of debt and pay cash for just about everything, cars included."
They don't worry about a few basis points.
Ashby Daniels: "I believe the quest to squeak out a few extra basis points of return is a waste of time for the typical Main Street investor, myself included."
Focus less on the fees and more on the taxes.
Joshua Rogers: "Worry less about the fees involved in investing and more about the taxes. Taxes create a drag on your investment of somewhere between 20% — 35%. Fees will never exceed 5% even at their most egregious."
Many were poor. Money was always a problem.
Ted Seides: "Money was not abundant, and it was a source of worry for my father despite my youthful impressions."
Lazetta Rainey Braxton, Co-CEO of 2050 Wealth Partners: "Growing up, money was scarce and financial investments were non-existent."
There's a big emphasis on having some fun now.
Josh Brown: "I have to balance the need to put money away for my kids when they're older with the desire to do things for them now, like family vacations."
Debbie Freeman, director of financial planning for Peak Financial Advisors: "The last component of my savings and investing habits is my absolute favorite. It is my monthly deposit into an online savings account exclusively for a dream vacation when I turn 40."
Most try to keep it simple.
Ashby Daniels: "We have three primary financial goals:
1. Prepare for retirement;
2. Pay for college for our two sons, and
3. Prepare for life's what ifs."
And finally, don't pay too much attention to financial advisors. If they're so smart, why aren't they all rich?
Joshua Rogers: "It is an acknowledged fact in the trade that at least 75% of professional financial advisors are cobblers whose children have no shoes. Wall Street is the only place where people driving a Toyota Camry advise people with Bentleys on how to manage their money."
Wait — one more thought. The most important investment is not stocks, it's you.
Lazetta Rainey Braxton: "My very first investment was in me."
"How I Invest My Money: Financial Experts Reveal How They Save, Spend, and Invest" Joshua Brown and Brian Portnoy, editors. Harriman House, 2020.