What a Princess Taught Me About Money. And she Ain’t No Dog, Neither.

I hold a great affinity for animals, especially dogs and specifically my Princess. There’s a primal beauty to them-and us. Our instinct keeps us alive; it’s imbedded in our internal code to protect. We are hard-wired to survive at all costs. Unfortunately, the skill set required to protect ourselves from predators is not exactly proper to employ when making investment or overall financial decisions.

I’m not exactly sure her name fits her either since Princess is far from graceful but I can tell she knows it and she’s certain I’m going to love her anyway – As I watch her behaviors I see many similarities and differences we can learn from  when it comes to managing finances. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned.

1). Occasionally we believe ourselves to be something we’re not – It’s human nature to be overconfident in our personal investing abilities. Numerous academic studies prove that over 80% of investors who deem themselves to be “successful,” or have achieved better results than the overall stock market actually experienced extremely poor overall returns. When examined closely, taking into account several variables including taxes and commissions, the majority of investors turned out to suffer from below-average return rates. It’s best to be yourself and understand how markets are humbling mechanisms. Create rules and disciplines that make sense to you and stick with them.

2). Sometimes we lose control – When Princess gets excited she has a tough time controlling her bladder. When we get excited we have a tough time making a decision and that will usually lead to a mistake. Those who make investment or financial decisions in the heat of fear or euphoria will most likely wind up in worse shape longer term.

For example, those who sold off all their stock positions in March 2009 or purchased tech stocks in the heat of the moment back in 1999, fared worst than most. Unlike Princess who can’t control her excitement, you need to step back, consult with an objective third party and create a strategy first before taking dramatic financial actions. Those individuals who make large purchases impulsively, especially on credit cards are paying dearly for their impetuous nature as the average credit card interest rate currently hovers around 15%.

3). Biting off more than you can chew is a bad, bad thing – Princess loves her toys; she also finds a way to destroy them in record time and her “daddy” keeps purchasing her new ones. Not a good financial decision overall on my part but she appears conditioned to continue since there’s always a new toy on the way.

Over the last 20 years, many bit off more debt than their households can service because of the assumption that asset prices, especially house prices would continue to increase. Households, saddled with historically large debt loads, stagnant asset prices and little increase in wages are now working slowly through household balance sheet repair. This is a long, arduous process which will take many years. It’s best now to watch spending, aggressively pay down debts and not take on any excessive debt going forward.

Princess may certainly get a new toy very soon; we don’t appear to be receiving any relief from the fiscal side (Washington & congress) or rising house prices anytime soon (at least the heated prices you remember), so it’s up to us to take responsibility now and get through an anemic economic cycle on our own.

4). When you’re done, you’re done – There are some dogs and people Princess simply does not care for and I can sense when her triggers have been hit. Recent studies show that as a generous people, we will continue to give money to family members and friends with established track records of spotty financial behavior. To preserve your own situation, it may be best to draw the line and say no.

There’s nothing wrong with encouraging others to seek different avenues for loans and gifts, especially if your current household debt levels are unsustainably high. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t make Princess a bad dog either if she feels she doesn’t “like” certain people or dogs.

Some dogs are more fashionable than you are.

Princess knows what her boundaries are.

Do you?

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