From an early age, my dad drilled into my head the lessons of compounding interest.
It was quite simple: start investing in stocks early on in life, add just a little each month, wait a while, and watch as your savings grows by leaps and bounds!
Numbers were touted about how the market had averaged 7% interest over any 30-year period in the past century. Nothing could beat such a rate for long-term growth. It was a no-brainer to invest.
So I did that. 401(k), a trading account, Roth IRA, the whole nine yards. I read books about investing and researched the companies and did many DRIPs (dividend reinvestment plans that let you buy a single stock using dollar cost averaging).
And in the past 13 years or so that I have been investing, the market has gone up and down like a sine wave, the S&P essentially remaining flat. Same for my company’s stock as well. Granted, perhaps the next 17 years will give such enormous growth that we’ll hit the 7% average over the whole 30 years, but I’m not holding my breath.
When Facebook went public, I barely even considered buying it. I knew enough to understand that Joe and Jane Smith on Main St. don’t have a chance with such IPOs. They are for the big banks to make money, the founders of the company to get rich, and everyone else to be a sucker. And sadly, that’s exactly what’s happened. Though Facebook stock has rebounded from its catastrophic drop after the IPO, it is still down 30% or more. The IPO game isn’t something little guys can win anymore.
After my enthusiasm for stocks diminished, I heard about real estate as the new hot thing. “Look at these appreciation rates! They’re through the roof.” It was easy: leverage other people’s money by putting little down to buy a house, then rent it out or flip it and Bam! you were getting rich.
So I bought three houses. Yes, that’s right: three. I was a landlord for seven years. And I bought the houses low after the recession of ’02. The houses went up for a time, until the big housing bubble burst several years ago. They dropped big time, but fortunately I had bought them well enough and had enough equity where I got out basically breaking even. Other friends of ours were not so fortunate and hit foreclosure and bankruptcy.
Granted, the real estate people say the same thing as do the stock people: “You gotta stay in the game for 30 years! That’s how to do it; slow and steady now.”
And perhaps that’s accurate, but for my personality and interests, being a landlord to multiple houses for 30 years isn’t how I want to spend my life.
Give me an acre of land anyday
What’s of real value? To my mind now, owning an acre of land where I can grow and raise my own food, harvest wood for heating my home, and other necessities is where real value is found.
Being able to rear my children where they have land to explore, animals to care for, and imagination to engage in is infinitely more valuable than some 401(k) stock number that may at any time plummet and erase all my paper gains.
Now, it’s true that I haven’t liquidated my 401(k), and that money is in equities like stocks, because for such investment vehicles equities are the only game in town, but I no longer put my trust in the stock market to give me a cushy retirement in 25 years. Instead, I would rather have five acres of land, a big garden, animals, a wood-lot and the know-how to take care of it.