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Why “Just Keep Buying” is The Smartest, Simplest Way to Get Rich

The BiggerPockets Money Podcast
44 min read
Why “Just Keep Buying” is The Smartest, Simplest Way to Get Rich

Dollar-cost averaging—you may have heard the term before, but maybe not its implications. According to Nick Maggiulli, it’s probably the easiest way to get rich with stocks, real estate, or really anything else. But what about buying the dip? Wouldn’t investing at historic lows be the wisest move to make when the markets take a tumble? Surprisingly, no! Don’t believe us? Listen on!

Nick’s investing theory is simple. But, the math backs it up. Doing less will make you more money—much more money. In his book, Just Keep Buying, Nick lays down the time-tested, proven ways to build wealth without being an expert day trader, cryptocurrency coder, or stressed-out landlord. This simple system of investing will allow you to build an almost unspendable nest egg without being glued to the market charts and graphs all day long.

But maybe stocks aren’t your thing. Maybe you’re chasing hundred-millionaire status? Don’t worry, Nick also gives his take on achieving monumental money goals without following the same path as everyone else. No matter where you’re at in life, this is an investing lesson worth learning as early as possible!

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Mindy:
Welcome to The BiggerPockets Money podcast show number 347, where we interview Nick Maggiulli and talk about money and investing.

Nick:
I have actually never looked at the market to try and decide when to put money in. I just buy regardless. I don’t care about that because I’m doing this for the long term. If I’m going to be investing for the next 40 years, in my early 30s now, I’m doing this for the next 40 years. Why do I care about the price right now?
Look at the price 40 years ago. Do you think people are… People are probably equally obsessing over that day and now it doesn’t matter. It’s like the annualized returns are like whatever, 7.7 versus 7.8 or whatever it is. I don’t know what the exact 40 year return was, but it’s like that’s how small the difference is over getting right in at the perfect time or not.

Mindy:
Hello, hello, hello. My name is Mindy Jensen and with me as always is my equities super fan, co-host Scott Trench.

Scott:
The only thing I like more than equities is the bonds that we have with you, listeners.

Mindy:
Scott and I are here to make financial independence less scary, less just for somebody else, to introduce you to every money story because we truly believe financial freedom is attainable for everyone, no matter when or where you’re starting.

Scott:
That’s right. Whether you want to retire early and travel the world, go on to make big time investments in assets like real estate, start your own business or just buy investments for the entirety of your life. We’ll help you reach your financial goals and get money out of the way so you can launch yourself toward your dreams.

Mindy:
Scott, I am super excited to talk to Nick Maggiulli today. He is the author of a new book called Just Keep Buying, which is kind of my philosophy for investing. Buy up, buy down, buy. Buy, buy, buy.

Scott:
Yeah. Nick is a money nerd, expert authority, in my opinion, in the same vein of Michael Kitces, Bill Bengen and some of these other guests that we’ve had like Jim Collins on the show. I think he’s a fantastic knowledge center for the world of investing.
I learned a lot from him both from his book, Just Keep Buying and from the conversation we had today. I can’t wait for you guys to hear it and think he’s just a rockstar in this space.

Mindy:
Nick Maggiulli is the chief operating officer and data scientist at Ritholtz Wealth Management, where he oversees operations across the firm and provides insights on business intelligence. He is a huge numbers nerd, so he will fit right in with the rest of us here.
He is also the author of Just Keep Buying: Proven Ways to Save Money and Build Your Wealth. Nick, welcome to The BiggerPockets Money podcast.

Nick:
Thanks for on, Mindy. Thanks Scott.

Mindy:
I’m super excited to talk to you. I just finished your book and I have a lot of questions. First of all, I have a lot of praise. I love it. Yay. I have a problem with you putting Chapter 14 all the way at the end instead of at the beginning, “Even God can’t beat dollar cost averaging.”
This is my absolute favorite chapter because not only do you make this very bold prediction, you’re like, “I want to read more about this.” You back it up with numbers and data, kind of your thing, to prove that dollar cost averaging is not the way to go when you’re investing, to save for buying the dip. Actually, let me let you explain that a little bit better.

Scott:
Yeah. Could you explain why you shouldn’t wait to buy the dip and why even God can’t time the markets perfectly?

Nick:
Yeah, so in the thought experiment, I give you two choices. You can either buy stocks every month and this is just 100% stock, S&P 500 US stock portfolio, or I’m going to tell you the lowest point between two all-time highs and you can buy all those. Basically, you buy the lowest point between two all-time highs. You buy the dip basically. So for example, the most recent, the biggest recent dip was obviously March, 2020. You would’ve known about that ahead of time. You could’ve saved cash, waited for that bot then instead of buying every single month.
Most of the time if you do that, like 80% of the time, you actually outperform if you’re just buying every month, versus someone who even knows the future and knows where the dip is, knows where the bottom is. Of course, there’s some other things in the simulation that don’t make it-

Scott:
Why is that?

Nick:
Why does that happen? It basically happens because the market tends to go up over time and those dips, when they do occur are usually at a higher point than where you could have bought originally. Now, I’ll give you an example to explain this. I actually wrote a blog post called Just Keep Buying literally four years to the day before the book came out.
Actually, no. I’m sorry, five years to the day before the book came out. At the time all of these people were saying, “This doesn’t work because valuations are too high and the market’s overvalued.” This was in 2017. Early 2017 I was hearing this criticism, if you had just held cash, people said they were going to buy the dip. “I’m going to wait until the next big crash.”
Let’s say you held cash and you held and held and held from 2017, 2018, 2019, et cetera. And then you bought on the exact day of the bottom, March 23rd, 2020 during the COVID crash, which is the biggest most recent crash that we’ve had.
If you had bought exactly on that day, you still would’ve bought at prices 7% higher than the prices you could have gotten early 2017. That’s why buying the dip doesn’t work because those big dips are rare and because they’re rare and they don’t happen that often, most of the time when you buy a dip, that dip is happening at a higher price point. So you can imagine this line, you’re going up into the ride overtime and every time it dips, it doesn’t dip back to where it was originally.
Because of that, you end up buying it a higher average price over time. The better thing to do most of the time throughout most of history is to just buy every single month. The evidence then is overwhelming.

Scott:
And we’re assuming that that God can time the bottom of the market, but he can’t perfectly time the top and the bottom. Because obviously if he sold right before the dip and then bought again and then did it every time on a daily basis, you could do that but that’s preposterous. I like your framing much better.

Nick:
Yeah. You’d have a trillion dollars by the middle of the year or something. I remember someone did an analysis like that. If you found the top performing stock every day and just day traded it, and you could do that, you would have a trillion dollars within half a year or something. But obviously no one knows that.

Scott:
Yeah. We’ll all listen to their podcast whenever someone can figure that out. That sounds great.

Mindy:
Yeah. They better not tell anybody. They’re just going to sit on that.

Scott:
So using that as a framework, can you explain the concept of Just Keep Buying at its root level, the thesis for your work here?

Nick:
Yeah. The phrase I use in the book is the continual purchase of a diverse set of income producing assets. That is the mantra of the book. If I had to say what does Just Keep Buying about, it’s about that. It doesn’t tell you exactly what to buy. It tells you a little about when to buy, Just Keep Buying over time. But the core component is just income producing assets.
I can’t tell you, “You need to buy real estate.” Or, “You need to buy stocks.” Or, “You need to buy bonds.” Because I’ve seen people get rich in all these asset classes. I don’t think there’s any correct way to build wealth. I think there’s a general path or general framework you can use, but I don’t think it’s like you have to own real estate. There’s real estate people that say stocks are a scam. They really believe US Stocks are a scam. There’s stocks people who think real estate is stupid.
I think both of them are wrong. I think they’re both ways are valid ways to build wealth because they’re income producing assets. I believe in a diversified approach. I try to own a little bit of everything and that’s generally worked very well for me so far.

Scott:
Awesome. Would that advice change at all for someone who wanted to be more aggressive with their portfolio and get wealthy faster? Would you recommend going into one asset class over the others or how do you think about that?

Nick:
Well, I guess it depends on the risk. I mean, what risk you want to take. Actually, if I do write a second book, it’s going to be about that question which is like, okay, if you just want to be a millionaire, have a couple of million dollars or something and have a decent retirement whatever, you can follow Just Keep Buying.
If you’re trying to become a hundred millionaire, this is not going to get you there unless you have a super, super high income. And that’s the truth. You can’t go buy the S&P 500 ETF day in day out with a day job and get to a $100 million. It’s just not there. If you’re trying to get to a higher wealth level, the tactics have to change completely. And it’s almost always going to be something involving some sort of business ownership.
So you’re going to have to start a business, you’re going to have to take a lot of risk or you’re going to have to build some sort of brand that can actually end up paying you that much money. Those things are very, very difficult to do, which is why they’re so rare. But I think the tactics would change. I don’t know if your portfolio allocation actually is the real differentiator there.
I think it’s more about your labor choices and your income choices, how you build income is going to be more important than like, “Oh, maybe I should go all in on a penny stock or something.” Yes, there are people that got very rich doing that, but that’s very rare. I don’t think the portfolio is really the differentiator if you’re trying to get to very high levels of wealth like that.

Scott:
Awesome. That’ll be the next title, just build a business in 2024 from Nick. Okay. Walk us through the next kind of phase here. I’ve decided I want to do that. How do I begin tweaking that, accelerating that or deciding on my asset allocation?

Nick:
Yeah, I think it all comes back to risk. And so you have to figure out, okay, which assets… You have to do a little bit of research, which assets have a riskier profile and which ones are less risky. And so generally that’s stocks versus bonds or real estate and stocks and all these versus bonds, things like that.
But there’s different ways you can diversify and there’s no right answer. We can start with… I think everyone should just start with a very standard portfolio, whether that means a 60/40 or an 80/20 or whatever works from you. Just start with some portfolio based on your age, based on risk metrics and then build from there, expand from there. Because I don’t want to get… I can tell you what I have, but I don’t know if that’s going to necessarily work for you. I’m mostly equities.
I have I think 10% in bonds, maybe 5% in bonds, I can’t even remember right now. But I’m mostly equities and I’m split between developed and US equities, my equity share and then I have another 10% of my portfolio in REITs. I’m like yeah, 70% equities, 10% in REITs, 5-10% in bonds. And then the other 10% is non-income producing assets. So that’s things like crypto.
I own some art and I also own a little bit very, very small share of a couple of private businesses, which I don’t consider income producing even though they’re technically like stocks because they haven’t produced income yet. That’s how I look at. If I had to break it out, 85% or 85-90% of my assets are income producing and the other 10% are not. That’s why I say if you want to play around with non income producing assets, you can, I just don’t recommend them for the bulkier portfolio.

Mindy:
You have a fairly diverse portfolio. What are some examples of income producing assets other than the equities and the REITs?

Nick:
You could get into farmland. That’s not something I have done yet, but I plan on doing at some point. You can technically do that through REITs. There are farmland REITs out there, which is the easiest way to get in. But if you want to find an individual property, there are services online where you can crowd fund that basically. It’s like a GoFundMe except for a farm and all the investors go in, you become partners and you own the farm and everything and I don’t want to name any names, I don’t have any affiliate relationships, but you can look them up and there are plenty out there.
That’s an example. You can buy royalties. That’s another thing. Let’s say there’s a song you really like, you can own that royalty stream for five years, 10 years, however long and it will pay you over time based on how many people listen to something.
That’s all. I think that’s more of ego investing with royalties like, “Oh, that’s cool.” If you’re just really into music, that would be a cool way to earn money. That’s another thing I like to think about. So there’s a lot of different ways you can do that.
But yeah, those are just a handful I can think of. I think real estate is a bigger asset class than just like there’s investment properties that you can do Airbnbs. And then in addition to that, there’s like as I said, private investments, investments in businesses, whether you’re an owner operator or you’re actually operating the business or you’re just someone who’s giving capital and trying to provide some guidance in some way.
Or you can just be a completely silent partner where you give capital and provide no guidance. There’s a lot of different ways that this can be done. But yeah, those opportunities are usually reserved for people with more wealth and as you get older and stuff. I still am barely kind of dabbled into those. I think as I get older, I’ll start doing a little bit more of that.

Mindy:
How diverse do you recommend? I hear that comment a lot. “Oh, you need to diversify your investments.” But nobody ever gives a specific amount. Nick, give me specific numbers. How do you diversify an investment?

Nick:
That’s a great question. What is diversified? Some have argued and I think this is fair, that you can be relatively diversified with the portfolio of 25 stocks. If they’re in different sectors and stuff. You could be diversified on your equity sleeve with that. Now, of course that’s not going to get everything right. Farmlands vary different. It’s not really correlated with traditional markets.
The other thing to remember in diversification, it’s really like okay, how many… I break all assets at the end of the day down into risk assets and non-risk assets. Most assets, like the things we were talking about, income producing assets are risk assets. Because of that, when markets crash, they tend to all move together. Not all of them completely, but usually when things crash, it’s not good for real estate, it’s not good for stocks, it’s not good for farmland, et cetera.
They usually all fall together. Because of that, I think realizing that in the bad times, diversification only exists between your non-risky and your risky assets. And then in the good times, the diversification shows up because every asset class is getting a different return stream.
So some may do very well. Like right now, energy stocks are doing incredibly well because of all the energy crisis stuff going on. But they didn’t do that well at the beginning of COVID because no one was buying oil. So it’s a very interesting thing that you can see high volatility in a certain sector. And so by being diversified, you’ll pick up on those and you’ll pick up some of the upside and you’ll also get some of the downside over time.

Scott:
We’ve talked about the word risk with a couple of these assets and you just used the word volatility. What’s the difference and how should I think through that?

Nick:
I guess volatility I would say is a measure of how much a price moves over time and risk, I think… There’s so many different ways to define risk. My way of defining risk is when you need to spend money and you can’t. That’s true risk to me, because at the end of the day, why are we investing or doing all this? So we could live the lifestyle we want in the future?
And so if in the future we need to spend money on something to survive or do something, maybe you need to pay for something and you don’t have money, that’s risk. The question is at what point, what assets do you need to own so that you don’t have a risk of not having funds to live the life you want? That’s kind of how I think about risk versus volatility is just literally, it’s a numerical measure of how much a price moves for a given asset.

Mindy:
Speaking of risk and volatility, I don’t know if you saw the stock market last Friday, but it was a little squidgy. How do you get over yourself and continue to invest anyway when you’re waiting for the bottom, you’re holding off on investing, maybe Friday was supposed to be your day to put money into the stock market and then you see it going rather whampy. I can see people saying, “I’m waiting just for it to go down a little bit more, a little bit more.”

Nick:
Most of the time, I’ve actually never looked at the market to try and decide when to put money in. I just buy regardless. I don’t care about that because I’m doing this for the long term. If I’m going to be investing for the next 40 years, I’m in my early 30s now, I’m doing this for the next 40 years, why do I care about the price right now?
Look at the price 40 years ago. Do you think people are… People are probably equally obsessing over that day and now it doesn’t matter. It’s like the annualized returns are like eight point whatever, 7.7 versus 7.8 or whatever it is. I don’t know what the exact 40 year return was, but it’s like that’s how small the difference is over getting right in at the perfect time or not. I don’t obsess over that at all.
I don’t think that really is going to affect my financial life in any way, me, whether I bought on Friday or not. Looking at this and caring. The second thing you brought up Mindy, about waiting for the bottom, this is kind of gets back to even God can’t be dollar cost averaging.
The whole premise of that is not to do that because it’s very likely that you’re not going to be able to time it and the market’s going to take off. The example I have and I use is March 2020, it was the perfect example. I knew so many people who were like, “I’m going to wait this one out.” Within six months, we were at all-time highs. It’s like, “Are you still waiting it out now?”
I remember all these people telling me I was stupid to say just keep buying in March and April and yet we hit all-time highs once again. I’m not saying that’s going to happen here. Right now, we’re down what? 20-something percent maybe or maybe 18%. I don’t know the exact number right now, but we could be down that much a year from now, two years, five, 10 years. It has happened before. It is not impossible for us to still be down 20% a decade from now.
I do want to tell people, this is not perfect. But over the long haul, if you’re diversified across many asset classes, to think that every asset class on the planet is still going to be down 10 years from now, I think is very unlikely. If so, we probably have bigger issues in the world than what’s going on with our investment portfolio. It’s a call option on the future really. It’s like, “Well, what if the stock market goes to zero?” Then it’s not going to matter. It’s not going to matter what you did. You’re going to have to have guns and canned goods and all sorts of other things to survive. Your investment portfolio won’t matter.

Scott:
I think that’s a fantastic answer and I think that most folks who are listening to BiggerPockets Money would completely agree with that framework. I think what a lot of folks… Here at BiggerPockets Money, we’re talking a lot about early financial freedom and the ability to retire early and begin withdrawing from your portfolio. For example, early in life or I’m about to hit traditional retirement age, how do I catch up really quickly and get there at that point?
I think your premise works perfectly. I completely agree with everything you just said. While I’m trying to accumulate wealth, I’m going to invest in asset classes that are likely going to be way more valuable, particularly relative to inflation 40 years from now and I don’t really care about the puts and takes along the way.
But if I’m about to withdraw from my portfolio or am withdrawing from my portfolio, I think you have a scary situation here in 2022. Let’s zoom back like three months or maybe six months to January, February, March and say okay, it’s January, February, March. Bond yields are at all-time historical lows. They’re clearly about to come back up.
Inflation is super high. The stock market is at all-time highs from an evaluation standpoint. Real estate prices skyrocketed 40% in many of the most popular markets around the country over a two-year period. What do I do at that point in time? We’re still, even later in the year, the stock market’s only down 17% year-to-date. Bond yields are clearly still likely to continue rising if we believe Jerome Powell last week.
Inflation’s still high so I can’t even put it in cash. I don’t like Bitcoin because that lost 60% of its value. How do I think about that portfolio when I am setting it up for a withdrawal?

Nick:
When you’re setting up for withdrawal… So I think you guys had Michael Kitces on the podcast and he’s done some great research on withdrawals and how retirees go through retirement. What he found, and I can probably send you guys the article after, is it’s not usually a bad year that really messes with the retirees. It’s a bad decade. You have to go into a really… One or two years doesn’t really, if you have a 30 year plan, you’ve saved up enough for that using a 4% rule, et cetera, you’re generally fine.
Remember, this was run even through periods of high inflation. So the ’70s and all that, you’ll generally be okay. If we go through a bad decade, that’s where it can really hurt you. I say right now I don’t think we have enough to worry about yet. Now, I’m not saying not to worry at all, but at the same time, if you’re withdrawing, you have other things.
I think my real advice is think outside of your portfolio. I know this is a money podcast, but there’s a lot of other things we can do. Let’s say you’re like, “I’m going to pick up a part. If inflation’s gone up, maybe my costs have gone up significantly. Maybe I’ll pick up a part-time job to do something. Or maybe I will find a way to cut back on spending.” That’s usually what retirees do. If you actually look at the data, they just generally try to match their spending with their income.If they have an income of $1,500 a month, let’s say they only have social security, they’re going to match their spending to that $1,500. Even if they had a portfolio… Let’s say they had actually more than social security. Let’s say they had a portfolio that could pay them, let’s say another couple of $100 a month, let’s say $300 a month.
So they have $1,800 in total income. They would spend 1,800. Even though they could be drawing down that portfolio every month, they generally don’t do that and the data shows they don’t do that. They’re income matching. I think the main thing is think outside of the portfolio. What other things can you do to offset these trying times and whatever that means. If that means getting cheaper hobbies or that means cutting back somewhere or I don’t know. I’m trying to come up with ideas here, but I think there’s more to your life than just, “Oh my portfolio.” And exactly how much money I have every single month.
I know that’s one thing, it’s important. I’m not saying it’s not, but there’s a lot of other… You have a lot of more flexibility than you think and if you start to really analyze your situation, I think you’ll discover that.

Scott:
You said something really interesting there where you talked about how people are income matching and are not actually withdrawing their portfolio. I’ve informally pulled members of the community and found that while the 4% rule is touted as this, when you get to 4% rule, you’re done.
The fact of the matter is that in order to achieve the 4% rule in a 60/40 stock-bond portfolio, I’ve got to start selling off my equity position at a regular basis. I think less than 5% of the respondents are actually doing that. The people who are actually FIRE are selling off equity positions to fund their…
People who just aren’t comfortable with that mentally it seems and are instead spending income that their portfolio is generating with that. Could you elaborate on that point you just mentioned around income matching and what the data shows there and where you found that?

Nick:
Yeah, so I think it’s chapter two of the book I talk about why I don’t think people need to save as much. People don’t want to save as much as you think and everyone’s always like, I’m not saving enough, not saving enough. Besides social security, we can put that aside for now. Yeah, most retirees, only one in seven retirees with an actual portfolio, so this is beyond social security, are actually withdrawing principle.
The other six out of seven are doing exactly what you’re saying, Scott, which is like they’re living off the dividends and the interest or the investment earnings and they’re just living off of that or they’re living off of… Most of them are living off of less than that and then reinvesting more.One of the most common things we hear is, for example, people that have to do RMDs, once you’re over 70 or I think 72 or something like that, 70-and-a-half, whatever it is, you have to start withdrawing. Required minimum distributions by the way, RMDs for the audience. The government forces you to start withdrawing money out of your portfolio.
Well, so many people, they take money out and they just end up reinvesting. It’s not like they, “I need to spend this now.” They end up just reinvesting it again. So it’s very ironic that the government’s forcing you to do this and then you end up reinvesting the money anyway.
I do think that retirees, because they’re worried about long-term care, they’re worried about all these sorts of risks, so they end up basically matching their spending to whatever income they have in retirement. And that’s the data shows that pretty clear and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon. Instead of thinking about, “I need a million dollars in retirement.” You can just be like, “Okay, well how much income am I going to have in retirement? And that’s basically what I’m going to spend to.”
So it really kind of takes the stress out of retirement saving if you really think about it because even people with no retirement savings and just social security somehow manage to get by. I’m not saying they’re living a great life, but they make it by somehow on $1,500 a month, which is what the average benefit is paying.

Scott:
Six out of seven people, perhaps more in the early retirement community if I were to guess, are not withdrawing principle from their portfolios. The 4% rule, we can talk about how great it is all day, but in practice nobody’s following it is the reality of what’s happening there.

Nick:
Yep.

Scott:
And then, I have required minimum distributions from my 401(k). Typically, not my Roth IRA at that point in time. This is what we’re talking about, pretax retire retirement accounts here. Doesn’t that put me at a major risk?
Isn’t that a vote in favor potentially? If you’re starting really young and you have a really high savings rate, doesn’t that put a vote in favor of the Roth IRA instead of the 401(k) because I’m going to most likely be forced to take a huge distribution or massive distributions that are going to put my income in a high bracket retirement. How would you think about that if I’m an aggressive saver in the FIRE community for example?

Nick:
Yeah, I think that’s a really complex question. I’m not just trying to cop out of that because there’s so many factors going into this. Really, what you’re trying to do, if you’re really trying to optimize perfectly your tax situation over time, you want to pay the lowest taxes as you can throughout your life. If that means early in life you have lower income, you expect to have higher income later, you should probably do the Roth because you’re paying the lower tax now and as you grow your income, you move into a traditional.
But then there’s this other factor which you just brought up with RMDs, which is an issue. But then there’s also another… I can throw another layer on top of this, which is your state income tax. So if you have to pay state. For example, I’ve lived in basically California and New York for the most part most of my life. Because of that, I’m paying state income tax.
But if I know I’m going to retire in Florida, I should do pre-tax now so I could be paying less later. I’m not going to have to pay state income tax when I’m pulling that money out because there’s no state income tax there. These are all hypotheticals and I can keep adding other layers on top of this. This is why talking about taxes is so difficult. I generally think most people Roth early and then into pretax is probably better.
I think it’s better to actually have both accounts because there’s more flexibility. You have options. When you have both of them, you have options. I generally recommend doing both or at least if you’re only going to do one, just do pre-tax because you can always play the tax games later. You can find tax games later. Once you’ve already paid the tax, you can’t pay the tax. That’s the only downside to that. But I think most people, if they’re entering trajectory look like the average person, you’re going to want to have pay Roth early and then pre-tax later.

Mindy:
I like to recommend that people do the Roth for as often as they can because hopefully, their income will increase to the point that they’re no longer eligible to participate or contribute to the Roth IRA. That is an interesting dilemma and we’ve had that debate on the show multiple times.

Scott:
It was just a fantastic answer, Nick. That was really good. I’m learning a ton from you today. It’s just fantastic.

Nick:
I think it’s just really tough. It’s a tough thing. That’s why I hate writing about taxes because it’s so individualized. Like, “Well, what about this case where I’m doing…” I’m like, “Well yeah, that was genius that you did that, but I can’t generalize, I don’t know your situation to apply to everybody.”
So there’s always going to be exceptions. This is why taxes so tough to write about in my opinion. That’s why. It was the hardest chapter for me to write on in the book because I do talk about these trade-offs that are in there, but it really depends on a lot of stuff. For example, I’ll give you another quick story.
I have some friends who during our working years, they all went pretax and I said, “Well, why are you guys doing pretax?” They said, “Because, we’re all going to get our MBAs and when we’re in our MBA, we have no income really so we’re going to then convert them to Roth then when our taxes are…”
When we have no income so it will convert at the lowest rate possible, because we’re not working. I was like, “That’s kind of genius.” That’s even another layer if you’re like, “I know I’m going to get an MBA or I know I’m going to have a couple years where I’m not working.” You can use those non-working years to then convert all your traditionals to Roths and the much lower tax bracket than you would ever pay during your normal working years. That’s another layer I can add to this in terms of complexity.

Scott:
That’s awesome. Nick, going back to our discussion earlier when we were talking about how very few people are actually selling off their equity position at a 4% rule portfolio with 60/40 stocks-bonds. How would you go about constructing a portfolio that could fund retirement today?
Let’s say you had $2 million. What would be something that you’d do if you were 35-40, had that wealth and wanted to max maximize the length of your retirement and the amount of income you could live off of during that. How would you think through that and how would that be different than the Just Keep Buying portfolio?

Nick:
I think they can definitely be very similar. I think if you’re doing something that’s a much longer… You need to think about longevity. I think that’s the most important thing is figuring out longevity. Especially if you’re retiring early and you’re like, “Oh, I’m going to retire for 50 years or something.” It’s much tougher. This is even without the 4% rule.
As you said, we’re not withdrawing money, I’m just living off my income. The thing is inflation slowly is going to in theory, raise your asset prices, which will help. But if inflation goes up, if your particular inflation rate for whatever you consume goes up more than the assets do, like this year’s a particular example where assets are actually down and inflation’s up, you’re going to be in a tough spot there, especially if you do this for 50 years.
I think the thing with that is to always just be vigilant about what’s happening in the economy and how this can change and you’re like, “Where can you fail?”
And so figuring out ways to mitigate that, whether that means you always know that you can go back to work if you had to. That’s an example. I’m not saying you need to go back to work, you need to stress over that at all. But when you’re trying to plan for 50 years, it is very different than planning for 20 or 30 years. I know that seems like… It’s only an extra 20 years, but the amount of stuff, you can just imagine the error bars on our prediction of the future just gets more and more massive as we go further in time.
Going out to 50 years to be like, “I’m going to be able to live this forever. 50 years.” You have no idea how much it’s going to change. Imagine someone in 2019 with that idea like, “I have all these Airbnbs in this perfect location. What could go wrong?”
And then COVID happens and you get wiped out and so you had this long plan to do all this stuff and then now none of that happened as a result. So it’s really tough to perfectly plan for it.
In terms of portfolio, I would say I have to get more assets that I think are longer duration things that I know will be… Of course you’re going to want to own stocks, of course you’re going to own that. You’re probably going to have a little bit less bonds, especially with yields where they are now. Maybe you can reincorporate them later, but you have to watch that.
I’m not sure if yields will ever come back to what they were like in the ’80s or anything like that. That’s another thing to keep in mind. I would probably have some farmland in there. I just think there’s something about farmland. Land is a scarce resource and so that’s going to be something that I think is always going to have some sort of value.
And then outside of that, I don’t think the portfolios are any different. I think it’s the tactics you use with that portfolio and how you think about your financial situation going to the future are different. I think it’s more of a personal decision than it is about your portfolio.
Once again, we kind of talked about that theme earlier. I think early retirement is far more a personal choice and about what you do with your day to day and your enjoyment in your life. It’s going to matter far more about those things than like oh, what’s exactly in your portfolio,

Scott:
Nick, when you think about debt repayment, what is a level of debt that… When I think about it, I think, okay, 4% or lower interest rate, probably not going to pay that off. I’m probably going to invest instead.
Five, six, 7% kind of this gray zone and north of 7%, I’m going to go ahead and pay that off. There’s something there to me that then brings investing in bonds back into the fold. If I can get an 8% or 9% yield on a debt fund, that’s pretty good compared to the stock market return, which is going to be in that 8-10% range and I’ve got a much lower risk profile on that debt. Secondarily on that point, if I’ve got a seven or 8% mortgage, for example, I’m a real estate investor and I buy a rental property, rates are in the 7% right now. Maybe a little higher and likely to go north.
How does that change the math or how I should think about my portfolio allocation and investments? I do have to react at some point to those interest rates changes, even though, like you said, they’re not quite where they were in the 1980s.

Nick:
Yeah, of course you have to react. That’s why I’m saying we can’t always have a fixed portfolio like, “Oh, I’m perfectly set for the next 50 years.” I don’t believe in that. I think too much information’s going to change. Too many factors are going to change where you’re going to have to react and move things around.
Yes, of course if you can get 8% in a bond or something, which I don’t think there’s any bond paying that right now. So if you can and if it’s truly a really safe asset, yeah, that’s a great idea to do that and to maybe not have as much equity risk. But yeah, if you’re really going for the long term, you have to have I think a much more diversified portfolio than someone who’s even going a little bit shorter term because you don’t know what’s going to happen.
If you think about… There’s a great book called Wealth, War and Wisdom. Barton Biggs talks about all of this and he is talking about… He really talks about investing during World War II and how he shows how equity markets do go to zero or temporarily the German equity market, Japanese, things like that, things didn’t really work out really well.
But for the most part equities do well and they’re really interesting to think about investing for a very long timeframe and how is that different than investing for, as I said, a shorter timeframe. That’s my take there.

Mindy:
Okay. Nick, way back on episode 120, we asked Michael Kitces what he would do with a lump sum of money. Let’s say that you just inherited a $100,000. Would you invest it all at once or would you try to dollar cost average your way into the market over a period of time? What would you do?

Nick:
I would put it all in right away. I know that sounds very risky and it can be at times, don’t get me wrong. But the data overwhelmingly shows, and this is true across basically every asset class, I show this in the book, I go through bonds, I go through stocks, I go through international stocks, I go through gold, I go through Bitcoin even and I show generally for someone that is putting all their money in now, they are going to outperform someone who’s putting it averaging in over time.
I know you call it dollar cost averaging. I don’t like using that term here because that definition is not the definition I like of dollar cost averaging. Just to remind the audience, there are two definitions for dollar cost averaging. The original from Ben Graham is just buying every time you have money.
So for example, buying in your 401(k) every two weeks, that’s called dollar cost averaging. However, what Mindy just described is also called dollar cost averaging, but it’s very different because you have a large sum of money and you’re slowly buying into the market. And so I don’t agree with that because it takes you longer to get invested. The main principle you have to remember is you should invest as soon as possible.
Behaviorally, there’s another layer to this. The only time when lump sum under-performs the averaging method are slowly kind of waning into the market is when the market’s dropping. That’s the time when you’re least enthusiastic to want to buy anyways. It’s like oh, the market’s going down.
Imagine you have a $100,000 and it’s January, 2020. I put all my money in right away. You say, “I’m going to slowly start putting it in.” February happens, “Oh my gosh. What the heck’s this COVID thing.”
March happens now you’re like, “Oh my gosh, this is really scary. I’m going to wait it out.” And so a lot of people would’ve done that. The one time when you buying slowly would’ve outperformed me and you didn’t even take advantage of it. I’m not saying that you’re going to do that, but there are people that will do that. I don’t recommend it because even the times when it’s supposed to outperform a lump sum, people don’t follow it. It’s like damned if you do, damned if you don’t type of thing.

Scott:
That’s what Kitces said too.

Nick:
Great. Glad, we’re in agreement.

Scott:
Nick, how do you feel about Bitcoin and NFTs? You mentioned them very much in passing there as part of the Just Keep Buying philosophy. But you didn’t mention them as part of the portfolio that you’ve articulated there. Do you think there’s a place for those or are they something you’re personally interested in?

Nick:
I mentioned them slightly. I’ve talked about crypto generally and I think having a little bit in non-income producing assets such as art or crypto or Bitcoin or NFTs, whatever you want, those can all work. I don’t think you should have a large amount in those because we still don’t know what they are yet.
We don’t have the… They don’t have the history that a lot of these other asset classes have. So because of that, we don’t know. It’s so funny because when I first started talking on podcasts about my book and stuff, there was a lot of people that said, “Well, income producing assets. Crypto.”
There’s all these things like yield farming. You’ll get paid yield if you just lend your crypto. And I was like hey, there’s a lot of risks we don’t know. I don’t think we should be doing that because it just doesn’t make sense to me that someone’s paying you 20% a year when treasuries aren’t paying that. They’re paying a 10th of that or something or even less.
So I’m like, “Where does this come from?” And they’re like, “Oh it comes from…” And so people had all these explanations and this and that. I’m like, “I wouldn’t touch it.” Because I just think there’s unknown risks we don’t know what’s going on. And then we’ve now seen a lot of these schemes blow up because they were not obviously as safe as we thought and there was hidden risk there.
My take on a lot of this is we still don’t know. I’m not saying not to own any. I personally own some Bitcoin and some Ethereum, but that’s it. I’m not saying you can’t own NFTs. I actually own one or two NFTs, but they’re very, very small. There wasn’t a high end NFT or anything. I’m not saying you can’t do it, I’m just saying be cautious when you’re going into it because this is still uncharted territory as far as I’m concerned. So I would say to hold some of it, but not a lot. I have 2% in crypto as of right now.

Mindy:
2%. 2%. I would like to reiterate that.

Scott:
Used to be 4%. Just kidding.

Nick:
No [inaudible 00:35:58]. It’s funny. So actually, I’ll tell you this story. One of my most viral tweets ever, I bought Bitcoin at like 8,000. It went up to 52 at one point and I sold half of it and I said, “Selling half my Bitcoin. Ask me anything.” It was just a firestorm of responses. Half the people said, “Great trade.” The other half said, “You’re an idiot, how are you going to explain this to your grandchildren?” All these funny jokes. And they were actually pretty funny. I actually enjoyed it.
I think they all meant good fun. But there was clearly the most polar responses. And the only reason I did it was just a rebalancing. I went from 2% to 8% of my portfolio or something outrageous. And I was like, “I can’t do this. I have to sell this down.” So I sold some of it down.
That said, I have not since had to re-buy it because how everything is, it’s basically back at 2%. But I think the main takeaway there is just like yeah, we don’t know what it is yet. I still own some of it. I’m actually semi-bullish on it. I think some of the value in it is it’s like a private bank and it’s wealth that can’t be taken.
My bank account, in theory, the US government could freeze. They could take all my securities, everything, but as long as I know my seed phrase, my Bitcoin’s my Bitcoin. I think there is a value that is outside of just traditional ways of thinking about finance and I think there is value there. And that’s kind of how I look at it. And it’s not the way that most people look at it just trying to make money. I think there’s value in just having a literal unseasonable store of wealth. That’s my take there.

Mindy:
Okay, individual stocks, Bitcoin, I think a lot of people are doing Bitcoin because it is so hyped up. We had individual stocks like Game Stop and what was the movie theater one?

Scott:
AMC.

Mindy:
AMC. The people like hyped up like crazy and rose or generated really crazy, not returns. They bid up the price and then they all got out and then it collapsed again. You say don’t buy individual stocks. I agree with an asterisk next to it, but I want to know why you feel this way about individual stocks.

Nick:
There’s two different arguments we can make about this. The traditional argument I’m guessing most of your audience has heard, or a lot of the audience has heard at some point was you’re probably going to underperform. Most professional money managers who are active funds, active managers trying to pick stocks, underperform after fees after a three to five year period. If you want to look these up, they’re called SPIVA Reports, S-P-I-V-A, you can look them up for basically any equity market on the planet and you’ll see, most of the time, most managers underperform.
So if professionals with resources and it’s their full-time job to do this underperform, what chance do you have? That’s the traditional argument. It’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with the argument. I like it, but my argument’s a little different and it’s the second argument, which is I call the existential argument, which is how do you know if you’re any good at this?
In most things in life, the feedback loops are pretty small. The example I give, if I went onto a basketball court with LeBron James and let’s say LeBron James wasn’t famous and we started playing basketball, you would know within minutes that I don’t have talent and he does. You could tell quickly.
If you asked a computer programmer to write a program and do something, you could tell within minutes, is it working, is it not working? The feedback loops are so quick, either there’s an error, it does what you want it to do or it doesn’t. You can kind of get the feedback quickly. With investing that feedback loop is massive. I would say it’s at least a decade if not longer. I’m saying you can get feedback more quickly if you’re doing day trading, but it’s very difficult to do that for a long time and show that you’re good.
Because the feedback loops are so long, especially I’m guessing most of your audience is not day traders, but more long term investors, you’re not going to know if you’re actually good or lucky for a long time. I hear tons of people who tell me, “Oh well, but I own this one stock and look. I’ve done so well.”
It’s like, “Yeah, well if you take that one stock out, how well have you done with all the other picks?” And if you have done well with the other picks, then maybe you have talent. Remember, there are about 10% of people have talent at this right after fees or even after all taking into account all that.
However, the other 90% probably don’t. That’s my question to you is how do you know if you’re good? Because you can’t know, why waste your time doing all this when you can do something you can clearly add value? I clearly add value as a data scientist compared to a stock picker. I know I can add value because I can create charts, I can do stuff that people value versus I can pick stocks I have no idea if I’m good or not.
That’s kind of my argument against stock picking. It’s more of the existential thing. How do you know if you’re good? Why are you wasting your time doing this? I’d rather you do something that really capitalizes on your true strengths.

Mindy:
I love that explanation. Thank you.

Scott:
Nick, at the end of your book, you kind of conclude with a very powerful concept about why you’ll never feel rich. Could you explain that concept and help folks maybe overcome that? What are some tools to overcome that feeling?

Nick:
Yeah, so the story I use in the book is on Lloyd Blankfein, who’s the ex-CEO Goldman Sachs and who is billionaire, actually a billionaire, and he was being interviewed and he said, “I’m not wealthy. I’m just like, well-to-do.”
This is a billionaire and asked someone who has a billion dollars said this. As a normal person, you’re like, “What? This seems crazy to me. How can you say that?” However, when you realize, who does this guy hang out with? Who does his friends include? David Geffen, Jeff Bezos, et cetera, all these people who are much, much richer than him. So when your best friends have a 10 or a 100X net worth difference than you can feel like you’re not really that wealthy. So you can really get into these bubbles.
I started to say okay, well I know that seems ridiculous, but I bet you probably feel the same way about your wealth. I bet me, you and most of the listeners here are probably very similar. Now, let me give you an example.
On a global scale, if your net worth is $100,000, you’re in the top 10% of the world. I would say the top 10% is generally rich. I would say 90% of people, you’re better than that. I would say that’s generally rich on a global scale. And now you’re going to say, “But Nick, that’s not fair. You can’t compare me to these random people on the world. Maybe a farmer in I don’t know, Asia or Africa or whatever. That’s not fair to compare me to them.”
But I’m going to argue that Lloyd Blankfein is using the same logic about why we can’t compare him to us. He’s like, “Oh, you can’t compare me to those average people. I hang out with these people.”
So the issue is we’re always comparing ourselves to our relative social circle. And so Lloyd Blankfein is comparing himself to all these multi multi-billionaires, comparing ourselves to other, mostly, I’m guessing, this podcast is mostly for Americans. So that’s who we’re comparing ourselves to.So if you think about that, we’re always comparing ourselves into our social circle. And over time, especially if you gain more wealth and you start hanging out with different types of people, you join a country club, you do this, you do that, your social circle’s going to change and you’re always going to be able to point to someone richer than you. That will never stop happening.
I think the only way to overcome that is think about where you would be relative to yourself. If you could rerun your life 1,000 times or 10,000 or however many times, in how many of those worlds are you better off than now, how many worse off?
I think you have to compare it to yourself because if you start comparing it to peers and other people, you’re never going to feel rich. You’ll always find someone richer. As successful as I am, I can always point to someone that’s more successful until you’re the most successful person, the richest person in the world.
You see the problem with that, it’s one of these things where you have to really spend some time and just kind of really ground yourself and what actually matters. You have to define, “Okay, this is…” Even though I’m not a millionaire, I would consider myself rich relative to the world.
I would consider myself a rich person or a rich citizen of the earth. I don’t say that to brag or anything. I say that because if I don’t consider myself rich, I’ll always feel like I’m not rich and then I’ll have to keep chasing money and that leads to all sorts of problems. So I think we need to just redefine how we view ourselves and realize how much privilege and how much advantages we had relative to other people on the planet. I think that’s my way of looking at it. Of course, not everyone’s going to agree with that, but I think it’s a better way of looking at it than constantly one-upping yourself.

Scott:
I think that that’s a fantastic framework and really thought-provoking concept that you just shared with us. I also wonder aloud if that problem certainly exists in the financial independence community, but maybe is a little bit more mitigated because the goal for most folks, I think who are trying to achieve financial independence is not to be the richest person in the group.
It’s just enough to cover their middle or maybe upper middle class lifestyle, that they’re sustaining and there’s a little bit better of a job of maintain the goal post. That’s what feeling rich is about. I wonder if there’s an opportunity there for the FIRE movement, the financial dependence community to maybe have less risk of falling victim to this really messed up worldview around, am I rich or not when I’m a billionaire or 10 millionaire or a 100 millionaire or whatever. The circle never ends and I think you’re right.

Nick:
Yeah, I agree. I actually have a comment on that because I remember reading a post, remember, this is N=1. This is one person’s experience. I don’t want to say the whole FIRE community is like that. That’s definitely not true for the record.
But there was someone who did FIRE, retired early, him and his wife retired early. They were doing everything fine, but a lot of their friends weren’t on FIRE. So they kept getting more income, they started going in more fancy vacations, this and that. There was sort this filling of missing out, FOMO type of stuff started happening. That created tension in the relationship. And then on top of that, by chance, the person who was writing about this, he’s a male, he started having medical issues that he did not think he was going to have and that was very expensive.
So then he had to jump out of FIRE and start working again. I’m not trying to scare anyone with horror stories. If you’re around a bunch of people that are also doing financial independence, that’s very easy, because you guys are all agree not to spend as much money. There’s a lot of social norms there that will be pro-social for all of you guys, but if your friends are not FIRE and you are, it can get really scary, especially as things start to progress.
Keep that in mind as you’re kind of on that journey. I think that’s really important. I think just hearing his story was super important for me because even though I don’t plan to do any sort of financial independence stuff, it does make me realize the types of risks that you have to think about.
He had no idea. He thought him and his partner were on the same page, but after they started seeing all their friends posting all these crazy vacations all over the place, then it was like, “Oh, why can’t we do that? I know we can afford it.” And so it sort of becoming attention in the relationship and that wasn’t obviously good for them.

Scott:
Yeah, that’s really, really interesting concept. We should probably talk to more people who have been FIRE for a long time and see if that or have maybe gone back to work and see if this is a common thread.

Mindy:
I wonder if social media has anything to do with this. You see people on Facebook posting and how long has Facebook been around? Like 15, 20 years now. You see them posting only the good side of their life. Look at all these fancy things that happened to me, and they don’t show you the crappy parts of their life. And you think, “I need that too. I need that too. I’m never going to be as rich as they are.”
Well, maybe they just went on some big trip with points and they did all of these… There’s lots of ways to save money and still have a really great life. But this is good to hear because I do live in this weird little Phi bubble where I live in Longmont, Colorado. Mr. Money Mustache is my neighbor. There’s a lot of financial independence people in this town that move here specifically because he lives here too.
I have a huge network of financial weirdo friends who never spend any money. You kind of described it perfectly. We do cheap things and we have all kind of agreed that we’re not going to spend any money on anything. That’s not really the way it goes. We all spend money on things that matter to us. But really, we’re in Colorado. We get to go hiking for free all the time and we get to do all these amazing things for free because we live in this amazing state.
It’s just… Like nobody’s keeping up with the Joneses in this community. You know what? They kind of are. “Oh, I retired at 35, I retired at 33, I retired at 32.” It’s a different kind of keeping up. It’s not the spending so much. But that was an interesting way to look at it.

Scott:
Thank you. Nick, this has been absolutely fascinating. Thank you for a lot of thought-provoking frameworks for us. I know there’s lots of ponder here and really, really enjoyed your book, Just keep buying. We’ll be recommending that to everybody and really appreciate your time today.

Nick:
Thank you both. Thank you, Scott. Thank you, Mindy. I appreciate it.

Mindy:
Thank you, Nick. It was great to talk to you. We’ll talk to you soon. Okay, Scott, that was Nick Maggiulli. That was an amazing show. I loved what he had to say about the different philosophies and the different ways to look at growing your wealth. I had a really good time talking to him.

Scott:
Yeah, I think he’s really mastered his frameworks for investing in and wealth building. I think they’re really strong. I agree almost completely with him. I, instead of having 2% in Bitcoin, have 0% in Bitcoin of course. But those are really minor deviations, and he’s probably more right than I am on those.
I really respected the way he fought through all of that. By the way, he did mention to us after the episode that the reason he arrived at a 2% Bitcoin allocation is because he ran a very sophisticated portfolio analyzer tool looking for risk adjusted returns across various asset classes over the past decade and arrived that a 2% Bitcoin allocation was an appropriate allocation on a risk adjusted basis.
Really fascinating concept there. You can view that blog article that he’s posted at ofdollarsanddata.com. We will link to that in the show notes here.

Mindy:
I love how he divided assets into risk assets and non-risk assets. I haven’t heard anybody explain it in quite that way. That was really, really powerful to explain that instead of having such a diversified portfolio just for the sake of diversification, you have it diversified by risk.

Scott:
I think that that’s a really important concept. I do wonder if he’ll change his tune when he comes out with his Just Build a Business book for a hundred million dollars in wealth. Because he’s right, you cannot diversify your way to $100 million in wealth unless you earn an extraordinary income or own a business, in which case you’re not diversified because most of your wealth is in the business. I think it’s a really interesting concept there and really would look forward to exploring that concept as well at some point.

Mindy:
Okay. Scott, this episode had a ton of information and we threw a ton of stuff at our listeners. Let’s give some action items that our listeners can take away. Number one for me would be to check out ofdollarsanddata.com and the book, Just Keep Buying by Nick Maggiulli.

Scott:
The second tip would be to write out a one page document, keep it to one page, that supports your investment philosophy, and then review your portfolio and confirm that your portfolio actually matches your investment philosophy.

Mindy:
Number three is to write yourself an email. Write your future self an email. What does feeling rich look like to you in 2025? Remember to adjust for inflation. And then in 2025, read that email.

Scott:
And then laugh at yourself or congratulate yourself. If you haven’t pulled a Lloyd Blankfein.

Mindy:
I think you’ll laugh at yourself, but it’s a good exercise. It gets you thinking. It isn’t just a one-off, just, “Oh, I’m going to be super rich.” Really, really think about what it feels like in three years, four years, three and a half years. Wow. It’s getting really late.

Scott:
Yeah. Maybe write yourself an email for 2027.

Mindy:
2027. So in five years, what does feeling rich look like to you? Go from your position now and where do you want to be in five years? What will it feel like to be rich then? Okay. Scott, should we get out of here?

Scott:
Let’s do it.

Mindy:
From episode 347 of The BiggerPockets Money podcast, he is Scott Trench and I am Mindy Jensen saying take care, Polar Bear.

 

 

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In This Episode We Cover

  • Dollar-cost averaging vs. buying the dip and which will make you more in the long run
  • How to invest with a falling stock market, high interest rates, and higher bond yields
  • Individual stocks vs. index funds and who should pick which type of investment
  • Cryptocurrency, NFTs, and investing in alternative assets
  • The downside of diversification and why it won’t help you build a big portfolio
  • Why even billionaires don’t feel like they’re rich enough
  • And So Much More!

Links from the Show

Books Mentioned in this Episode

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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.