Investments, Balance, Compound Interest

Some shrewd businessmen ready to negotiate some future interest payments in Landruk, Nepal.

My first paying gig was probably for something like mowing the lawn at my family’s house or helping my grandparents feed cows on their farm. I’m pretty sure I was paid some exorbitant amount like $0.50 USD for a day’s worth of work. But regardless of the remuneration received, I’d save part of it. I’ve always been a saver.  Funny, just this very second I thought back about that paper savings “passbook” I had when I was a kid. The bank teller would hand write my hefty deposits in the appropriate column then hand it back to me where I’d oooooh and ahhhh over the official-ness of the document. And then, on the day when I’d see the word “interest earned”, well, let’s just say for a fervent saver, seeing an extra $0.25 USD for  doing absolutely NOTHING was nothing short of euphoric!

When I got to university my path of study took a dizzyingly circuitous route, but eventually I was able to focus long enough to settle on two degrees and two minors (started in architecture but settled on finance, accounting — minors in mathematics and interior design). The truth of the matter is that I first gutted out accounting classes long enough to accumulate sufficient credits to graduate. That route seemed the path of least resistance at the time, but soon the thought of scribbling numbers in little boxes for the rest of my life made me want to stab my eyes out.

By dumb luck, I’d accumulated quite a few credit hours in finance and that seemed to have more outside-the-box concepts and thinking attached to it. Therefore, I stayed an extra semester and wrapped up that degree too. Maybe it was still the thought of all that magical compound interest on investments that lured me onto the rocks like a siren of the sea and I changed career aspirations…or the fact I ran out of tuition money and needed to graduate, pronto…or just decided I needed to quit eating boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese so much.

My favourite finance professor’s name was Dr. Oris Odom. Stodgy and finance-esque on the outside, but uber cool dude at heart. Wicked smart too. On our last day of classes, I, along with a few fellow students invited Dr. Odom to the local pub to have a beer and thank him for being what I still consider the most influential academic educators I’ve ever had, ever. In those final conversations I eventually asked Dr. Odom if he has any sage investment advice for us aspiring financiers as we headed out into the cold, cruel world. His response was just as succinct and prophetic as his lectures. He said, “Yes. Never invest in anything you have to feed or put gasoline in”.

And with that, I entered life after university.

Now, almost three decades later, the path through my work career has been just about as circuitous as my journey through university was. Initially, I jumped right into the finance world, made some solid dinero, drove the “right car”, lived in the “right” neighbourhood, invested diligently (just like I always had), prostituted myself to The Man and clawed my way up the corporate ladder and not surprisingly…was miserable as hell.

It didn’t take long before my Libra, ENFP (Myers-Briggs) personality started rebelling against this lopsided, unbalanced life and we decided to make a huge leap of faith. We quit our jobs, sold everything and moved to Colorado. We took massive pay cuts (but we still invested and saved a portion of what we made!), knew absolutely no one out here other than ourselves and had no clue what the outcome of the adventure would be. It was the perfect scenario for making a new start on investing in life, not just in the financial accounts.

It didn’t take long to realize that when it comes to the important things in life, less is really more. Colorado fit our lifestyle and philosophies and soon we had more true friends than we’d ever had. We actually enjoyed our jobs since our employers professed and practiced the principle of work/life balance. We eventually caught back up to the salaries we left behind but this time it was different…we’d found the life balance so making the money didn’t seem as though it was bowing to The Man anymore.

We’ve always been travelers and we’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunities to go gallivanting all over the globe as we have. I guess you could say we’ve “invested” a lot of time doing this. Granted, our style of travel isn’t suited to everyone since we eschew “tour” or “group” type things and strike off on our own with not much more than a passport, a handful of plane tickets and a backpack. We feel comfortable being uncomfortable, so it works. The other nice thing we’ve found about our travel style has been we spend very, very little money. Some people feel it reckless and awful, I say efficient and adventurous. Small investment with huge payoff potential. For you finance geek types, this probably has a beta of 1.5+ with high, short term volatility potential.

So, just like the money I sock away each payday, I also invest heavily in the world of world travel and in experiences and the interaction with different cultures and people. My passport is now my paper “savings passbook” of old. Every stamp in my passport is another investment in my life account. The most amazing thing about investing in travel off the beaten path is the enormous amount of compound interest I earn. I have a “life”investment account bulging with DNA changing experiences, friends all over the world, multiple languages, crazy foods, silly stories, etc. etc.  The payoffs for the small dollar travel investments have been staggeringly high.

I check in on my financial things from time to time to make sure I’m still on the right track, but there’s not a day goes by where I don’t think about my investments in the places I’ve seen and the things I’ve experienced in my travels. I use those experiences in my everyday life. When I think things seem hectic or chaotic at work, I think no further than about how chaotic it was wading through the throngs of shouting people in Kathmandu as we tried to buy a ticket for a “locals bus” when I didn’t speak the language and had not a clue how the process worked. You just figure stuff out and not get all lathered up over shit you don’t immediately have the answer to or likely can’t control.

I also like getting those travel interest payments when I least expect them. Sometimes when I’m in an Asian or Mexican supermarket here in Colorado I’ll see or hear something that will take me back to a specific place in my travels and the memory will be just as vivid as the day it happened.  My favourite place is still Pacific Ocean Market. The strange letters and symbols on all the products, the smells, the languages….ah, it takes me back to Asia every single time. I could, and do, spend hours in the there just walking around collecting interest payments on prior travel investments.

What made me think about all this was last week when I was at work and everyone in our department was having a lunch to celebrate the retirement of a lady who’d been employed there for almost 20 years. Yikes, that’s like me — 20 years! The good thing is everyone in my department is pretty awesome and I actually like going to work most days and hanging out with them. Again, I vowed back in the day to never to be miserable in a job, ever again, and I’ve held to that.

My boss’s boss, Rob, is a very, very smart dude and I assume has done very well for himself in his career (I’ll just bet he’s a saver too). I’ve worked for lots of smart people in my life but unfortunately some of them have been so snooty about their book intelligence they failed in the interpersonal and life skills arena. Maybe they walked the same path I did right out of university, clawing their way up the ladder, but weren’t able to jump off before they got too high to turn back. Fortunately, Rob is not one of these people. He’s someone who from the first day I interviewed with him I knew there was something groovy about him. I just had that feeling in my gut. And we’ve talked off and on over the years about all kinds of stuff but it wasn’t until this retirement luncheon where I finally knew where that gut feeling about him came from.

Rob and I were sitting next to each other while we ate and were talking about a couple of friends of mine who are currently cycling around the world investing in their own life experience accounts (Emily Chappell, http://thatemilychappell.com and Eleanor Moseman, www.wandercyclist.com). Check them out, seriously. Anyhow, he then told me about a family member of his who was planning a cycling trip from here in North America down to the tip of South America. Super cool adventure and naturally my mind drifted off to scheming something like that for myself, but I digress. All of a sudden, he got this deep, contemplative look in his eyes, a look that maybe something he hadn’t thought about in a while was paying some interest on his experience account. Maybe the teller had written in his “experience savings passbook” and handed it back to him!

After he humourously contemplated whether the statute of limitations had sufficiently passed and it was now safe to talk, he proceeded to tell me this amazing story about how back in the day he and a friend had once bought a Datsun B210 for $500 USD, packed it with beer and fly rods and drove from Colorado out to California, up the coast all the way to Fairbanks, Alaska…and back. As he recounted many of the stories from this adventure, I could see the fire in his eyes burning hotter and hotter with every word as he obviously took himself back to the trip. Man, I just love seeing the payoff of those experiences continue years after the initial adventure was made, still earning enormous interest on that small investment in simplicity. It’s like digging through a forgotten chest in the attic and discovering some old, dusty war bonds your grandma had bought a hundred years ago and are now worth a fortune.

I like Rob. I knew there was something about him all along and I was stoked I got to share in that unexpected interest payment.

On Dr Odom’s advice, we’ve generally not invested in things that require gasoline or need to be fed and things have turned out quite well. More importantly though, we’ve managed to invest heavily in travel and kept our life portfolio well diversified and can now reap some valuable dividends — compounded daily.

I think it’s about time to open a new account and invest in some more far away travel.

Roam around. Ski fast. Pedal hard. Climb high. Live big.

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