Remember to Remember in Life and Investing

This Memorial Day weekend let’s make sure we take time to remember all of the important things in life. First, let’s make sure to remember all those who lost their lives defending this great nation. Without the brave members of our armed forces, their committment, their resolute patriotism and their willingness to sacrifice, America and the world would be far worse off. The U.S. military is clearly one of the great guarantors of freedom. America’s military, flawed as all things human are, has indisputably been a catalyst to over a billion people beginning to live in democracies and get out of poverty in recent decades. We should never forget the good that facing evil has brought to our volatile, but improving world. 

I also think we need to take time to remember everything else in life that is important: God, family, friends and our communities. So often we forget the little things. As I get older I am reminded of that too often. Part of what we must remember is how to invest. Not just investing in markets, or real estate, or our businesses, but investing in ourselves and those we love. The more educated we become, the better we take of ourselves and the more we help each other, the better our lives and the world become. Our time on earth is short, in these loud times, let’s remember to reach out and pull together, not push apart.

America is Great

Most summers for the past 15 years, I have taken at least one cross country drive. Usually I take two. I’ve seen about two-thirds of the states in America from the window of a car now. I’ve spent at least a couple days and up to several weeks in over two dozen states now. I’m sure that is no record, but I feel as if I’ve learned everytime that I traveled by ground and seen America from the ground up. I strongly encourage Americans to jump in their cars this summer and drive around to other states. 

The first places I would recommend to drive to are New York City, Washington D.C. and South Dakota. I’m not sure folks would think South Dakota would flow out of the keyboard right after New York and Washington, and I certainly don’t mean to dismiss any of the other great places I’ve been, but South Dakota is just an amazing place.

I first went to South Dakota with my brother, nephew and my two kids. We hiked the Badlands, stopped at Wall Drug, saw a Corn Palace, drove the Black Hills, went to Crazy Horse and of course, visited the greatest monument in the world, Mount Rushmore. If you haven’t been to this part of the country, you don’t know what you’re missing. There is so much to do and see and think about, it really is a bit overwhelming. The bison and other wild life are majestic. Of course, just feeding the feral donkeys is a thrill too. And don’t under any circumstances skip the Purple Pie Place. I don’t know if they have air delivery of their pies around the country, but if they don’t, they should.

One of the best things about South Dakota is how many people who work there are from other countries. They come for the summer to help in the National Parks (which under no circumstances should we let fall into ruin or be over run by development) and other businesses during the busy summer tourist season. I’ve made a point of talking to them as much as I could, so much so, that my daugher has given me eye rolls and called me “such a weirdo.” The thing that always strikes me is that no matter what transgressions the United States has made, and let’s face it, we’ve made many, we are still viewed as The Great Nation and the Land of Opportunity. 

Driving to New York and Washington D.C. are two of my favorite drives as well. I love driving through Ohio and upstate New York. Once you are in New York City, you have to visit the 9/11 Memorial. Be prepared to cry. You’ll also cry at Arlington National Cemetary outside of Washington D.C. And you’ll remember when you’re crying. And that’s good.

You can experience America’s greatness in so many places. I’ve found it at home in Milwaukee, in our southern suburb of Chicago, in the northern woods of Wisconsin, in the Ozarks, along highways in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Iowa, at an ice cream stand in Vermont, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, in Florida and Texas and almost everywhere else in between. I’ve always flown out west to Arizona, Nevada, Washington and California, but plan a really long drive next summer. Although I took a train from Seattle to Portland and that was awesome. What I am trying to say, is go meet Americans. It’s enlightening and I think good for your soul and America’s.

Sometimes, a lot of times really, I think we as Americans, forget all the different things that made America great and that we are indeed still a great nation. There is no need to make America great again. We never stopped being great. That doesn’t mean we don’t need vast improvement. Let’s remember what the great Vince Lombardi said when he first walked into the Green Bay Packers locker room:

“Gentlemen, we are going to relentelessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process, we will catch excellence. I am not remotely interested in just being good.”

Forgetful Investors

So, here I’ll transition into some investment thoughts. Lombardi hit it on the head for that too. We can not make perfect investments. We can only strive for perfection to try to reach excellence.

I bring that up because so many financial advisors, newsletter publishers and pundits (trifecta for me) are trying so hard to convince you that they are perfect. None of us are. And neither are you or anybody else who picks investments. If you never forget that, you will be much better off for it.

One of the things that prevents investors from being excellent is that they forget lessons of the past. By forgetting those lessons, or if you are young, never having taken the time to study history, then you are indeed doomed to repeat the past – the good and bad. 

The lessons that I am starting to fear have been forgotten are from the not too distant past. Things that just happened from the early 1980s to 2008 are repeating themselves. 

Our politicians are once again talking about implementing policies that directly caused the shrinking of the middle class and the financial crisis. It’s pretty astounding to me that we fall for the rhetoric time and again. If you haven’t read “Understanding the Slow Growth Forever Global Economy” yet, please do, and you’ll understand what I am getting at. The short of it is that, if our leaders do decide to pull growth forward from the future, then there will be a hole in the future. And that’s not good. Do we want to repeat 2008-2010?

With the stock market at new highs, I also see people chasing performance on their investments. Folks are worrying that they are “missing it.” I wrote a whole article about “I’m-missing-it-itis” on MarketWatch a while back. Just remember this, if you chase something and it turns around, you’re going to get run over.

With investments, eventually, always, valuations matter. It’s just that valuations don’t always matter right now. That’s why I respect price trends in the markets. Sometimes riding a bull market that’s blowing a bubble is the best thing you can do – for a while. Just remember, if you don’t know what something is actually worth and prices get past that point, then the snap back will be fast and violent when it happens. Remember to take precautions from waking up limit down. Knowing about what things are really worth under normal conditions is a must for any real investor.

Remember not to get “research remorse.” What the heck is that? It’s the psychological bias of wanting to buy an investment after you have done the research on an idea. You feel that because you spent time and effort on the work of learning about an investment, that you should buy it. Don’t fall for that mind trick. Doing the research is just doing the research. Go into it willing to be disappointed. And if you are disappointed, don’t buy it. Think of the money you will have saved by not buying a mediocre or worse investment precisely because you did the research.  

Finally, I think this is the most important thing for investors to remember: say NO a lot. In fact, say no to about 90% of investment ideas. Virtually every investment gets recommended by somebody at some point. That doesn’t mean it’s a good recommendation. Consider the source. Then, go back and do the research willing to be disappointed.

If you take the approach of saying no, or at least, not now, to most investment ideas, and are willing to do the hard work of research without a preconceived action to follow, you will do much better. When you finanlly say yes to an investment, it’ll feel really good and probably be a lot safer than if you had been saying yes to everything. 

Your erstwhile traveler,

Kirk Spano


P.S. The Purple Pie Place does ship pies. I just ordered a couple. 

P.P.S. I plan to be at the Purple Pie Place in October as I take a vacation in South Dakota and swing over to Glacier National Park in Montana too. If anybody will be in that part of the country and is willing to buy me a slice of pie, I’d be happy to chat with you.

P.P.P.S. Thank you Jake for fighting the bad guys.


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