April 13, 2024

This common money belief could cost you ‘millions of dollars’ – NBC Los Angeles

Investing in the stock market and gambling at a casino can both theoretically make you rich — and both come with risk. But that doesn’t make them the same.

Still, some people see them that way. “When I think of [investing], I think of gambling,” 37-year-old Halima told Ramit Sethi on his “I Will Teach You to be Rich” podcast in December. She and her husband, David, applied for Sethi’s show because they have over $500,000 in debt (a large portion of which is the mortgage on their home), but David, 33, wants to retire early. Their last names were not used.

The couple delegates all the financial decisions to David because Halima doesn’t have a lot of financial literacy, they told Sethi. And although David already regularly invested a portion of his own salary, Halima was wary of starting to invest in her own retirement accounts.

“I don’t like to take money and put it into something that I don’t truly understand,” she told Sethi on the podcast.

Her belief that investing is the same as gambling is common. In fact, 55% of people said investing is as risky as gambling in a 2019 MagnifyMoney survey. But that belief could wind up costing you “literally hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars,” Sethi said.

Here’s why although investing has similarities to gambling, experts still recommend it as a key way to build wealth. 

You can’t win if you’re too afraid to lose

“The people who believe [investing is like gambling] are worried that they’re going to lose money by investing,” Sethi said. “But they’re actually losing hundreds of thousands of dollars that they could have had if they had sensibly invested.”

It’s true that you don’t always make money on investments, and you can’t always predict the outcome before you’ve put money down. But that doesn’t mean you need to be wary of all types of investing.

When Sethi says investing is far safer than actual gambling, he doesn’t mean speculative investments such as cryptocurrency or a new business venture. By sensible, he means using investing strategies that have stood the test of time, such as keeping your investments diversified, leaving your money invested for as long as you can and choosing investments with an appropriate level of risk.

You don’t have to be an expert to do this. Mutual funds and exchange-traded funds make it easy for novice investors to get their money in the market with lower risk than trying to pick individual stocks. That’s because when you invest in mutual funds or ETFs, you’re essentially buying a basket of shares of various companies, giving you broad exposure and decreasing the likelihood that one poor-performing stock will tank your whole portfolio.

The stock market has its dips, but it has always bounced back. And generally speaking, someone with money invested in the stock market will be better off in the long run than someone who just held onto their cash.

One reason is because cash loses purchasing power over time due to inflation. Anyone who pays attention to prices can tell you the same $20 does not go as far at the grocery store today as it did in 2019.

Stashing money in a savings account that earns a little interest is a step up. But with a national average interest rate of less than 1% on regular savings accounts, according to Bankrate, it’s still not enough to beat inflation.

The S&P 500, on the other hand, has seen average annual returns of 10% over the last 50 years. So even in a “bad” year, you’re probably better off having some of your money invested rather than all in savings.

The chart below shows the difference in returns between a traditional savings account and the S&P 500 for a $100 deposit over 10 years.

Sethi said he understands that not everyone learns about investing growing up. Some people may have even heard messages like “investing isn’t for us” from family members.

But with a number of user-friendly and low-cost ways to start investing available, everyone who wants to build wealth can find a method that works for them.

People who say investing is like gambling “don’t understand that by investing in an index fund, you’re essentially buying a share of 500 of America’s best companies,” Sethi said. “And they don’t understand that by taking a long-term view, one in which stocks have typically returned over 7% for the last 70-plus years, that they can change their socioeconomic future.” 

The good news is, David had helped Halima start investing with “baby steps” prior to coming on Sethi’s podcast. David suggested Halima contribute 10% of her income toward her 401(k), but she was more comfortable starting with 1%.

It’s difficult to change your mind and attitude about something you’ve believed your whole life, Sethi said. But when it comes to investing, the proof is out there. The sooner you start, the more your money can grow.

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