Advice from an Average Joe Who Invested Well


I was reading an article in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance about six people that have done really, really well investing. They’re not billionaires, but they’ve done really well. I thought it was a pretty cool idea to feature some average Joes.

The first person featured was a guy named Brett. Kiplinger’s focused at first on his strategy, his returns, how big his nest egg is, what he focuses on, etc. It was all great reading. But the part that stuck out to me was Brett’s advice at the end:

First, cut back on luxuries so you’ll have more to invest. Next, bounce stock ideas off tough critics…Finally, make time at home to research stocks by throwing out your TV.

I liked the first part about living within your means because he didn’t just end there. He didn’t say, “live within your means because it’s the right thing to do” or “live within your means because you really don’t need all that extra stuff.” He said live within your means so you’ll have more to invest. There’s purpose behind that principle, and I like that.

I attract (and continue to try and do this even more) people to this website who are interested in learning how to budget effectively. I’ve written before about how budgeting is really your foundation to financial health. But what Brett’s short comment so aptly points out is that the budget is only the foundation.

You still need to build something.

So when you’re effectively living within your means, budgeting, telling your dollars what to do, maximizing the power of your hard-earned dollars, you need to be doing it for a reason. One reason should be investing. While the article highlights mainly stock market investing, there was one person featured who made a lot of their money in real estate. There are diverse ways to invest your money. Thomas Stanley in The Millionaire Mind makes the point that a lot of millionaires invest in what they know a lot about already. Are you a retailer? Then you’re probably a darn good investment analyst for retail stocks. Are you a realtor? Then why the heck are you not buying properties that are bargains? Your network and information is so valuable! Are you a stay-at-home Mom? What stores do you frequent and why? What products do you and your friends purchase and why? Do you patronize some businesses that have a lot of potential?

Live within your means and invest in what you know.

On to the second point. Brett tells beginning investors to throw away their TV. Been there. Done that. Never looking back.

When my wife and I first married we didn’t own a TV. We also lived in a basement apartment where the kitchen and living room were combined, and our bedroom was–small. Our rent was dirt cheap though and we were able to save money as a result. I’m sure we looked pretty destitute to some. We didn’t have a couch for the first little while either.

Some people from our church anonymously dropped off a TV, VCR, and some VHS movies one night. We were surprised by the generosity of these anonymous givers.

We kept the TV for a while and enjoyed watching BYU football during football season (though their season wasn’t much to brag about). We got used to the TV. I’d flip it on to see what was on. We’d watch programs now and again. I noticed I began watching more of it actually. I probably got up to about an hour a day. One Saturday was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I decided I’d watch The Abyss, which is a great movie, but when the network takes an already long movie and inserts tons of commercials into it, it lasts four hours. I sat in front of the TV for four hours on a beautiful Saturday!

Later that night we decided the TV had to go. We sold it to a guy and grabbed some Chinese food with the proceeds.

That was several years ago and we haven’t looked back since. I know it may appear that I’m getting off-topic a bit, but bear with me.

When we knew our first baby was on the way, I began stressing about money quite a bit. Keep in mind, we’d been using YNAB since Day One of our marriage and as a result, had saved a good amount of money. I was still stressed though. I was working a part-time job while going to school and Julie had been the breadwinner, working full-time. We both really wanted her to be able to stay home and be a mom when the baby came, so I knew her income was completely out of the question.

For several weeks I would crunch numbers different ways, trying to figure out if we could live off of savings, avoid borrowing money, and still have me working just part-time. I started throwing in variables like me working 30 hours per week instead of 20 and it wasn’t looking so bad.

Well, when you don’t have a TV around, I think you have more time to be productive. Shortly before the baby came, I decided to look into selling YNAB to make some extra money. Friends had expressed an interest in it, and I thought it might fly (for the record Julie didn’t think anyone would every buy it, boy was she wrong!).

I had more spare time than the next guy because I didn’t watch TV. Really. People watch way more TV than they think they do. That time adds up.

As a result of having that extra time I was able to learn 1) how to code macros in Excel, 2) write web pages, 3) code rudimentary PHP, 4) a bit about how search engines work, 5) more about writing, 6) online marketing, 7) customer service, etc. The list goes on. The most satisfying thing about the whole ordeal is that I’ve been able to meet a whole bunch of new people, strike up new friendships and business relationships, and help a lot of people budget.

I’ll also be the first to tell you that I possess no extraordinary skills whatsoever. I’m your very average Joe, working toward being a Jack-of-all-trades apparently.

No, not having a TV was not the sole reason the website came into being, but I can’t just write it off either. I talk to my peers every day who are still in school, starting their first real job, etc. and they all express the same lamenting wish for more time. A quick way to give yourself more time is to sell your TV and grab some Chinese takeout.

While Brett meant to use the saved time for stock research, I see it as much more far-reaching than that. Look for places where you truly waste time and try and eliminate those from your life. Fill the wasted hours with something meaningful and productive. You just never know what will come of it.