A few months ago I had the pleasure of hearing Sarah Newcomb speak at a recent Morningstar ETF conference.
She was extraordinary.
Although I only caught the last 20 minutes of her talk, she had my mind racing in a variety of directions by the end of the discussion. I stopped by after the lecture and asked her where I could learn more. Sarah kindly handed me a signed copy of her new book and said, "Here you go!"
Loaded: Money, Psychology, and How to Get Ahead without Leaving your Values Behind is a fascinating look at humans and our odd relationship with money.
Newcomb's message is that financial issues don't have to ruin our lives. We can leverage research from psychology and create financial plans that are both satisfying and sustainable over the long-haul.
What I like about the book
I tend to gravitate to research related to behavioral finance. Behavioral finance -- as I understand it -- examines the intersection of psychology and market frictions to explain puzzling asset pricing questions (e.g., why does the value premium exist?). My naive thought was that Sarah's book would have some unique wrinkle on behavioral finance. Turns out her book has very little to do with psychology and how it relates to asset pricing, and lot more to do with psychology and how it relates to financial planning--a subject I know little about, and where I tend to defer to others with much higher financial planning IQs. For context, when asked for advice, my general financial planning proposal works as follows: "Spend less than you make. We're finished here."
The book starts with an impressive statement: The American Psychological Association says that, "Regardless of economic climate, money and finances have remained the top stressor since our survey began." Sarah emphasizes two elements of the quote:
- "The top stressor," and
- "Regardless of economic climate."
Money causes stress for a lot of folks. And excess stress is bad for our health for a variety of reasons: depression, relationship strain, poor judgement, etc.
Sarah's book walks through a variety of methods covering how to reshape our feelings about money, so we can minimize stress associated with it.
In fact, as I read the book I felt like I had my own personal psychologist who was walking me through all the ways in which money can sway my emotions.
She really boils the problem down to its essence on page 70, when she says that the "greatest barrier to good financial behavior is our tendency to care more about today's desires than we do about our future needs." Next, she highlights three components of the problem. First, impulsiveness, or the desire the have something...NOW. Obviously, we need to curb this behavior, when possible. Next is psychological distance, or how far away something feels. Ideally, we minimize this distance so our current self and our future self get the same treatment. Finally, she talks about the concept of the "construal level," or how we mentally view something in either a very detailed way, or in broad brush strokes. So we might underestimate how we will save for our kids' college tuition since it is way out in the future and the concept is very abstract.
Overall, this is a solid book, and financial planners and client-facing advisors should definitely give it a read. However, investors -- many of whom don't find financial planning matters that stressful -- might get bored at times. For example, the initial sections of the book present multiple stories from different angles on how and why people get stressed over money. Powering through these sections is important if one is looking to serve folks who do get stressed out by money, but that doesn't make it any easier to read.
Loaded delivers a lot of information and evidence-based treatments to help financial planners and DIY investors better cope with the stresses and emotions involving money. There is the concept of "advisor alpha," which relates to an planner/advisor's ability to add value to a client, by serving as a behavioral coach and helping their clients make better decisions. Loaded is a great place to start developing and growing advisor alpha.