Real Money, Real Families
Forget concerns, try greenlight investing

Potential readout (cuz it’s attention-getting): “Investing is actually a huge potential green light in your life because it’s fun to be rich, not actually as hard as you think, easy to start, and doesn’t take a lot of money to get started.”

By Luke Erickson

I recently read “Greenlights,” an autobiography by actor Matthew McConaughey. By the way, am I the only one who has to Google Matthew McConaughey’s name every time I write it so that I spell it correctly? Thank goodness for Google’s search suggestions. The second I spell Matthew Mc the rest of his name just autofills and I never have to actually spell it. (Mental note, invest in Google otherwise I’ll have to learn how to spell again.)
In McConaughey’s book there are a slough of good-hearted one liners and quotes, or as he calls them, “Bumper Stickers.” One that I like a lot goes like this, “The problems we face today eventually turn into blessings in the rearview mirror of life. Yesterday’s red lights lead us to green lights today.”
In our personal financial journeys, investing is often a huge red light we’ll encounter.
For example, you might hypothetically be going about your day, come across an issue of the Idaho Family Magazine, open it up and start reading some fun stuff on how to spell Matthew McConaughey, and then get slowly sucked in and blindsided by an article on…investing!
“Red light! No fun, too hard, I don’t understand it, and I don’t have enough money anyway.”
But that was yesterday’s red light because you haven’t read this article yet. What you’ll learn in the next few paragraphs will show you that investing is actually a huge potential green light in your life because it’s fun to be rich, not actually as hard as you think, easy to start, and doesn’t take a lot of money to get started.
First concern: Investing is no fun.
Can you keep a secret? I’m a finance professor and I don’t think investing is all that fun either. Sure, I work with people who can’t get enough of it. I understand the power and potential of it. But I don’t want to spend my hobby time reading about the stock market or keeping up with the latest market trends. It’s an essential piece of a successful personal finance plan, but it’s not all that exciting to me and I don’t want to give up much of my fun time to do it. If you do? More power to you. If not, there’s still hope for you! Lots of it, because it’s not only possible, but likely that you’ll do very well in the market without a lot of homework on your part. – “Greenlight!”
Second concern: It’s too hard.
Investing in something means you either own part of it (like a stock) or gave it a loan (like a bond). You can buy shares of your favorite companies, which means you can actually own a tiny part of that company. Love Coke? Buy a share. Love Disney? Apple? Tesla? Buy shares of those too. If you believe in their products and especially if you buy them yourself, it’s a great place to start. And once you become a part owner of a company you love, you can take some pride in that fact.
For example, if you bought a share of Texas Roadhouse (TXRH), which is currently about $81 a share, that would make you part owner in the restaurant…albeit a very very very small owner. Like very small, BUT an owner nonetheless. And next time you visit that fine establishment that you helped create, and your date comments on how delicious the rolls are as you both slather them in melted cinnamon butter, you should stand and loudly proclaim, “As part owner of this fine establishment, you are very welcome.” Then turn to everyone else in the restaurant and say, “You are all, VERY welcome.” Then take a bow and then take your seat. No, you don’t need to explain yourself. They may not appreciate you, but you’ll know. The waiter will still hand you a check for your meal. But you’ll know: Part-owner baby!
Give companies you like a little money. You already do it anyway when you purchase their products. But buying shares could actually get you some money back. – “Greenlight!”
Third concern: I don’t understand it.
If I went back in time 200 years to the year 1822, I’d probably start talking about the future, how great our cars are, and our smartphones, our televisions, our refrigerators. Then people would start asking me how to make them. And I’d be like, “Ummmmmmm, well…in 2022 all these things have screens and microchips so maybe we should start there???”
Yeah, I’d be completely useless because while I have some pretty basic understanding of these things, I mostly just know that they work and I could never actually explain how to build them.
Are stocks much different? You don’t need to know all the details of the company to invest in it. You mostly just need to know if what the company does works, if people like what it does. Sure, full-time investors do research to figure out about 500 indicators of whether or not a company has growth potential, but that’s their job, and frankly most of them don’t do much better than you could do on your own. You mostly just need to know if you and your friends will keep buying from this company. If so, it probably means other people like it too and it will grow and make you money. – “Greenlight!”
Fourth concern: I don’t have enough money.
Online traders like E-trade, Scottrade, Acorns, Robinhood, etc., have made it very easy to start investing with a very small amount of money. Sometimes less than $100. If you’re telling me you don’t have enough money to invest, you’re also telling me you don’t have enough money to take the family out to dinner once a month. You have enough. It’s just a matter of priorities.
Also, employers offer 401(k)’s with index funds, which is just a collection of the everyday companies that you buy stuff from – yes, like Coke, Disney, Apple, and Tesla. They also offer a match, which is extra money from your employer to invest. Yes, extra money is a good idea. – “Greenlight!”
McConaughey (yes I had to look it up again) shared in his book the following thoughts, “The question we need to ask ourselves is: What is success to us? Your answer may change over time and that’s fine…Prioritize who you are.”
For most of us, investing is not the end, but rather a means to an end. It can help buy us time, peace of mind, comfort, and security. It’s an essential part of a successful financial plan. Concerns are normal. But they are also potential blessings. If you take a little time to work through your concerns, one day you’ll look back and see your concerns for what they really were: Opportunities. Greenlights.

Luke Erickson, Ph.D., AFC®, is an associate professor of personal finance for the University of Idaho. He works and lives in the Treasure Valley; @drlukeerickson (Instagram) or erickson@uidaho.edu.

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