Back in the 1980’s my father, encouraged by friends and family, decided to get involved with the stock market. I’ll never forget my surprise when I discovered that he actually checked two books out of the library and started reading them. Dad never read books.
But these he did. Then he snagged a subscription to the local Herald Leader. He poured over the financial pages, weighed his options, opened a brokerage account, and invested in American Motors.
A few months after that he pulled out at a significant loss.
What can I learn from this? I’ve dug through my mind, searching for clues in hopes of learning from my dad’s mistake, and I’ve learned a lot as a result.
Two Books Do Not Knowledge Make
Dad based his knowledge on two books that he checked out from the library. I’m not even sure that he read both of them. Dad was certainly not a reader. If there is one thing I have learned in my life, it is to not base your knowledge (or your financial future) on just one or two books. The more you read, the more pieces to the puzzle you will find, and the more practical knowledge will stick in your brain.
I’ve easily gotten my dad beat on this score already. I’ve read a handful of books and I’ve got even more on the way to read and study. I’ve even working up a list of books on specific areas of the stock market to acquire and study as time and money allows.
I Have the Internet
Unlike my dad, I’ve got the Internet–and I know how to use it. I can use the Internet to do in-depth research on a company, and I have just enough bookkeeping knowledge thanks to my failed attempts at college to read the SEC filings and translate them to English. I might not be able to understand everything that I read, but I can understand enough to know whether a company is making money, has a history of turning a profit, if they have a long, stable history of issuing dividends even in financial down-turns (we’ve had several of them over the past couple of decades for reference), and whether insiders are buying or selling a particular stock.
I can also go online at any point to immediately see how my stocks are doing. I don’t have to call a broker or trust him to do what I need; all I have to do visit a website.
This is a huge advantage in itself.
I Have a Different Mindset
My family was struggling back in the 1980’s. Dad had his leg amputated early on in that decade so he had went from making big bucks by working two jobs and owning rental property to supporting us on Social Security Disability. During the stretch of time when he became involved in the stock market, he’d also lost the ability to bootleg for extra cash thanks to some legal problems he was involved in.
Because of his personal challenges, he was scared. He was darting around, trying to figure out ways to make a quick buck because he didn’t know how he was going to be able to support us otherwise. My parents may have been cheap but they weren’t necessarily frugal. As a result, they didn’t know how to live on extremely little.
I may be poor but I’m far from desperate. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’ll be just fine working a minimum wage job. I could even get a higher-paying job if I wanted one.
Most importantly, I have no one to support but myself now. My kid is grown and paying her own way in the world. I know what it’s like to worry about how to support your family, how frightening it is trying to make your money stretch as far as you can. Unlike my father I have no one to support but myself.
Instead of looking at this as “I’ve got to make money in order to survive,” I’m looking at this as “if I can figure this out I’ll be able to feather my nest so I won’t have to work so hard in the future, and I won’t have to worry if something happens that prevents me from working later on in my life.”
I also know that if I lose money that I’ll be able to survive the loss. I’ll be able to make it back. I could get a better paying job, re-open my computer repair business, promote my books a bit harder…as long as I don’t go overboard and destroy my pillow, I know I’ll be just fine, regardless of what happens.
I Have the Advantage
In looking through the past I’ve learned that I have a distinct advantage over my father. I intend to take that advantage and run with it.
What’s the worst that can happen? I lose a bit of money, end up having to work through my retirement–I’ll have to do that anyway if I don’t try, so unlike my dad I’ve got nothing to lose. Even better, if I make this work I’ll be able to help others learn how to improve their lives as well.
Looking to the Future
Now that I’ve analyzed my past, it is time to look towards my future. Time to get back to work.
Have you ever analyzed your past in order to learn from yours (or others) mistakes? Please share your stories in the comments below.