What can you learn about investing from the bunny hill of a ski lodge? That’s the teaser to encourage you to read to the end of today’s post, in which I thought it might be fun to share parts of my own financial path in the form of an “interview” with myself. But truly, this isn’t about me or my children’s first ski adventure, which we’ll get to in a moment. After reading our story, I want you to think about yourself. How have your and your family’s own experiences shaped your relationship with your wealth?
Reporter Brown: How long have you been interested in finance?
Greg Brown: When I was 12 years old, I bought my first mutual fund with income from a paper route. My dad helped, but he left the final decisions to me. I was fascinated right away about the workings of the market, and have remained fascinated to this day.
RB: So you became a financial planner straight out of high school?
Greg: Nope, that’s not what happened. As an undergraduate, I got a degree in mechanical engineering. I enjoy tinkering with things, whether it’s a car engine or an investment portfolio. After college, I joined Dell computers for a while. I enjoyed technology (I still do), but it bugged me that I couldn’t see the end results of my work–I didn’t have a direct connection with those buying the product. I needed that human interaction. So I went to graduate school at the University of Chicago and got a master’s degree, with an emphasis on public finance and an internship with the Chicago Fed.
RB: So that’s when you became a financial planner?
Greg: Well, almost. It was exciting to attend the University of Chicago, the alma mater of many of today’s most respected financial economists. But my experience there taught me that I wasn’t cut out for the bureaucratic pace of the public or academic sectors. After graduating, I joined Morningstar, where I became a mutual fund analyst. I figured I could still do good things for people but from the more “happening” private sector.
RB: Okay, so then …
Greg: Yes then, in 2011, I founded Pathway Financial Planning. But I don’t regret any of my past experiences. As a Morningstar analyst with an engineering mindset, I saw for myself the intricacies of all the moving parts within all sorts of investment products – the good, the bad and the occasionally horrifying. What seemed like a winding road at the time has led me to the belief structure behind the advice I offer today. It’s why I feel it’s so important for people to heed evidence over emotions, to emphasize cost control over fancy products, and to always ask questions when they don’t understand.
RB: By the way, how did you come up with your firm name?
Greg: My mom suggested Pathway. It’s simple, which I like. It also speaks to how important it is to start investing when you’re young – in your 30s-40s, or even sooner. Like my own parents, who helped pave the path for my future, we owe it to our own children to do the same – to think about their future as well as our own.
RB: Let’s talk about your kids. C’mon, you know you want to.
Greg: Oh alright, if you insist. A couple of weeks ago, we took five-year-old Alyssa and three-year-old Marcus skiing for the first time. As the “Magic Carpet” conveyer belt carried Alyssa up the bunny hill, she kept looking back at me for security – and losing her balance. After a few spills, she got the idea. She would have to trust herself and not look back. It didn’t take long before she and Marcus were ready for the four-person chairlift to the big part of the mountain. “Daddy, we want to do THAT!” My wife and I hesitated, but agreed. First, we skied with them between our legs. Then, we used a homemade “harness,” so they could feel like they were skiing by themselves, but I could still control their speed. (That engineer degree comes in handy.) There has got to be an investment lesson in there somewhere, right? Either way, it’s a good story.
Say, that was a fun interview, even if I suspect “Reporter Brown” was throwing softballs. So what’s the investment lesson from the bunny hill? Like learning to ski, creating a sound pathway toward building and preserving wealth can be fun and fulfilling if you take it one step at a time:
1. Use sound academic evidence to help you determine what actually matters in investing – and what does not.
2. Keep it simple by focusing on the things that matter and ignoring the things that don’t.
3. Avoid behavioral traps that knock you off the path.
If my blog has a mission, it’s to hit these three points over and over again. And then repeat them. The way I see it, information can be shared in short bursts. But knowledge – understanding and internalizing that information until it’s your own – that takes some time.
Think about your own time on the financial slopes of life. What spills would you prefer to move past? Which achievements have further enhanced your life? If we can help you brainstorm on these and other inspirational ideas about your financial plans, I hope you’ll be in touch with us to share your own stories.