By Morgan Housel
People usually get better at things over time. We're better farmers, faster runners, safer pilots, and more accurate weather forecasters than we were 50 years ago.
But there's something about money that gets the better of us. If you look at the rate of personal bankruptcies, financial crises, bubbles, student loans, debt defaults, and savings rates, I wonder whether people are just as bad at managing money today as they were in previous generations, maybe even worse. It's one of the only areas in life we seem to get progressively dumber at.
Here are 77 reasons why people are awful at managing money.
1. You let your political views guide your investments without realizing that the market doesn't care who you voted for or which cable news outlet you find more honest.
2. Your definition of "long term" is the time between now and the next bear market, whenever that is.
3. You suffer from the Dunnig-Kruger effect, lacking enough basic financial knowledge to even realize that you're making mistakes. People's lack of understanding about things like compound interest and inflation can lead them to believe they're making good financial decisions when in reality they're tripping over themselves with failure.
4. For every $1 raise you receive, your desires rise by $2 or more.
5. You spend lots of money on material stuff to impress other people without realizing those other people couldn't care less about you. You'd be shocked at how few people care where your purse was made or how much noise your car makes.
6. You are unshakably certain about things you know very little about, particularly regarding monetary policy.
7. You have never been able to predict what the market will do next. This doesn't deter you from trying to predict what the market will do next.
8. You don't learn vicariously from other people's financial problems. By the time you get the hang of making smart money decisions, your life expectancy rounds to zero.
9. You think you're young, invincible, and don't need health insurance. Then icy sidewalks, moving cars, and rapidly dividing cells prove you wrong.
10. You get upset when you hear on TV that the government is running a deficit. It doesn't bother you that you heard this on a TV you bought on a credit card in a home you purchased with a no-money-down mortgage.
11. You take out $200,000 in debt to earn a degree in a subject you're not interested in, doesn't offer marketable job skills, and for which you have no intention of working in -- all by age 22.
12. You're part of the roughly half of Americans who can't come up with $2,000 in 30 days for an emergency, even though you're also part of the roughly 100 percent of Americans who will need to come up with $2,000 in 30 days for an emergency at some point in your life.
13. The single largest expense you'll pay in life is interest. You'll spend more money on interest than food, vacations, cars, school, clothes, dinners out, and all forms of entertainment. You do this because you don't save enough and demand a lifestyle you can't actually afford. The future owns your income.
14. You're thrilled that the credit card you're paying 22 percent interest on offers 1 percent cash back on all purchases.
15. You spent the last five years arguing why Keynesian/Austrian economists were all wrong. The S&P 500 spent the last five years rallying 177 percent.
16. You think dollar-cost averaging is boring without realizing that the purpose of investing isn't to minimize boredom; it's to maximize returns.
17. You work in a stressful job in order to make enough money to have a stress-free life. You see no irony in this.
18. You're a pessimist in a world where far more people wake up in the morning trying to make things better than wake up thinking we're all doomed.
19. You try to keep up with the Joneses without realizing the Joneses are buried in debt and can probably never retire.
20. You think $1 million is a glamorously large amount money when it's what most people will need to cover their definition of a pretty mediocre retirement.
21. You associate all of your financial successes with skill and all of your financial failures with bad luck.
22. Rather than admitting and learning from your mistakes, you ignore them, bury them, make excuses for them, and blame them on others.
23. You anchor to whatever price you bought a stock for, without realizing that the market neither knows nor cares what you think is a "fair" price.
24. Your perception of history extends back about five years. This leads you to believe things like bonds are safe, the average recession is as bad as 2008 was, and we're in a new normal of high unemployment.
25. You come from a low- or middle- income household, don't qualify for scholarships, and think it's reasonable to attend a private college.
26. You aced your SATs and went to an Ivy League school. You think this qualifies you to be a financial genius without realizing that the single most important skill in finance is control over your emotions, not control over a Greek formula.
27. You say you'll be greedy when others are fearful, then seek the fetal position when the market falls 2 percent.
28. You worship "legendary" investors whose only real skill is marketing themselves. Their career track record probably lags a money market fund.
29. You think you can be a successful day trader when the hedge fund you're competing with can read a news report, figure out what it means, and place a trade, make a profit, and exit that trade in literally the time it takes you to click on said news report.
30. You let confirmation bias take control of your mind by only seeking out information from sources that agree with your pre-existing beliefs.
31. You think you're too young to start saving for retirement when every day that passes makes compound interest a little bit less effective.
32. You spend a month researching the best washing machine, then invest twice as much money in a penny stock based solely on a tip from a person you don't know and shouldn't trust.
33. You're investing for the next 50 years but get stressed when the market has a bad day.
34. You're willing to work hard for $15 an hour, but too lazy to spend four minutes to fill out your company's 401(k) paperwork that could result in thousands of dollars of free money from matching contributions.
35. You think you're doing great by building up an emergency fund that covers three months of living expenses when the average duration of unemployment these days is more like nine months.
36. You check your brokerage account more often when the market is going up than going down.
37. You size up the potential of investments based on past returns, rather than investments that (A) you understand, (B) have a competitive advantage, (C) fit your goals, and (D) sell for an attractive valuation.
38. You take something as mind-numbingly complex as the global economy and try to distill it down into small, elegant sound bites.
39. You don't respect the idea that "do nothing" are two of the most powerful words in investing.
40. You purchased investments from a guy wearing boat shoes with no socks, a blue shirt with a white collar, or suspenders. This rarely ends well.
41. You feel especially smart after last year's 30 percent market rally without realizing that you had nothing to do with it.
42. You surround yourself with 18 hours a day of live market TV in a game that requires decades of doing almost nothing but waiting.
43. You seek advice from a doctor to manage your health, an accountant to do your taxes, a lawyer to manage your legal problems, a plumber to fix your plumbing, a contractor to build your house, a trainer to help you exercise, a dentist to fix your teeth, and a pilot to fly when you travel. You wouldn't consider doing it differently. Then, with no experience, you go about investing willy nilly, all by yourself.
44. Hindsight bias fools you into thinking you saw the last financial crisis coming. Worse, this fools you again into thinking you'll be able to predict the next one.
45. You think financial news is published because it has useful information you need to know. In reality, it's published only because the publisher knows you'll read it.
46. You forget that the single most valuable asset you have as an investor is time. A 20-year-old has an asset Warren Buffett couldn't dream about.
47. You don't realize that the guy giving advice on TV doesn't know you, your circumstances, your goals, or your risk tolerance. He doesn't really care about you, either. He just wants to be seen on TV.
48. You have a financial plan without realizing that life neither knows nor cares about your plan. Whatever your plan is today, reality will surely look far different tomorrow.
49. You start saving a little bit of money. Great! It's better than nothing, but I see a lot of people who are proud of their savings when in reality it's an infinitesimally small percentage of what they'll need to retire. As the saying goes, "Save a little bit of money each month, and at the end of the year, you'll be surprised at how little you still have." If you think saving 30 percent or more of your income is insane, run the numbers. It might be close to what you'll need to retire happy.
50. You think it's impossible to live on less than $35,000 a year without realizing that literally 99 percent of the world does, even adjusted for purchasing power parity.
51. Your definition of a middle-class lifestyle is a 3,000-square foot home, more bathrooms than family members, three SUVs, private colleges, annual trips to Hawaii and Vail, Evian water, and yoga lessons. (Seriously, just stretch in your own living room.)
52. You can't acknowledge the role luck plays when making the occasional successful investment. (Also true when worshiping investors who made one big call that happened to be right.)
53. You suffer from hard-core belief bias. It's the tendency to accept or reject an argument based on how well it fits your pre-defined beliefs, rather than the objective facts of the situation. Pointing out that inflation has been low for the last five years is still met with suspicion by those who believe the Federal Reserve's actions must be causing hyperinflation.
54. You think the hybrid car is a better financial deal because it gets better gas millage, even though it costs $10,000 more than a comparable gas-engine model. You'll probably need to drive for a decade before the hybrid upgrade pays for itself, but in reality you'll trade the thing well before then.
55. You hate finance, think it's confusing, and don't want anything to do with it. You do, however, love money. You see no irony in this.
56. You think the stock market is too risky because it's volatile, without realizing that the biggest risk you face isn't volatility; It's not growing you assets by enough over the next several decades.
57. You've never been to a poor country, robbing you of the realization that the world doesn't care how entitled you feel, what you think is "fair," or what a real financial hardship is.
58. You think blowing money on frivolous stuff impresses people, when in reality it makes you look like an insecure, pompous, jerk. (This is particularly common among young people who come into money for the first time.)
59. You're unable to realize that a 10 percent return for 20 years generates more money than a 20 percent return for 10 years. Time can be a more important factor than return when building wealth -- and it's the one thing you have control over.
60. You don't respect the mountains of evidence showing that once basic needs are met, the amount of happiness each additional dollar of income provides diminishes quickly. This causes you to spend most of your life chasing "the number" you think will make you happy, but probably won't.
61. You think paying your financial adviser and other money managers 2 percent a year seems reasonable, without realizing that it'll probably eat up one-third or more of your long-term returns.
62. You think of the stock market as numbers that go up and down rather than an ownership stake in real businesses with real assets.
63. You think renting a home is throwing money away when for many it's one of the smartest financial decisions they can make.
64. Your investment decisions are guided by what the economy is doing, when the two really have very little correlation.
65. When planning for retirement, you don't realize that your life expectancy might be 90 years or more. Retire at 65, and you could spend more than one-third of your life living off your investments.
66. You're unable to have a good time going for a hike, a bike ride, a swim, reading a book, or anything else that's free (or cheap). Having cheap hobbies is a large, yet hidden, asset on your personal balance sheet.
67. You work so hard trying to make money that you don't have time to think about, or plan, your finances. This is the equivalent to spending so much time buying exercise equipment that you have no time to exercise.
68. To paraphrase Carl Richards, you ignore history, basing your actions on your own very limited experience.
69. You worry about things you can't control, and things that are not relevant to your own finances.
70. You went to college at age 18 not because you were ready but because everyone else was. It's probably one of the most expense things you'll ever do, and you totally caved to peer pressure.
71. You think that not changing your opinion about markets, the economy, and your investments is somehow noble, when it's really just shutting your brain off to the reality that things are always changing.
72. You ignore that how elderly Americans who have seen it all view money is almost the opposite of how most young Americans view money. This goes back to not learning vicariously.
73. You're uncomfortable with the idea that the biggest news story of the next decade is almost certainly something no one is talking about today, and the big stuff everyone is talking about today is probably meaningless.
74. You underestimate how fast a company can go from "blue chip" to bankrupt.
75. You don't realize that when you say you want to be a millionaire, what you probably mean is that you want to spend a million dollars, which is literally the opposite of being a millionaire.
76. You're unaware that the business models of the vast majority of financial companies rely on exploiting the fears, emotions, and lack of intelligence of its customers.
77. You nodded along to all 77 of these points without realizing I'm talking about you. That goes for me, too.
Morgan Housel's columns on finance and economics appear on The Motley Fool on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Read more at The Motley Fool: