Are You Gambling or Investing?

Posted on September 1, 2011 at 10:27 AM PDT by

Are you saving money to travel, buy things you want, help the charities and people you love, send kids to college, stop working, or just plain relax?

If so, consult your favorite Wall Street broker, mutual fund, or become a stock picker yourself. Either way, within 20 years, say goodbye to 33 percent of your money and many of those dreams.

How could this be true? Most people confuse investing with gambling. Gamblers try to “beat the house.” Investors want to be “the house.” Imagine a casino in Las Vegas called World Markets Casino. World Markets offers all kinds of gaming options—blackjack, poker, roulette, craps, slots—along with great food, entertainment, and well-appointed rooms.

Guests have a lot of fun at World Markets—the excitement of gambling, the thrill of winning and losing. Some come in with various “systems” like statistical models and card counting systems to beat World Markets. Others talk to God. Poker players have their favorite seat.

There was a Grandma who dropped a quarter in a slot machine and won $250,000. Another person who had never played blackjack hit 21 in his first hand, made $50,000, and proposed and married his girlfriend all in one great evening.

It’s fun being at World Markets—just look at the posters and marketing brochures.

But most guests don’t just play, win, and leave. They continue playing and that’s what World Markets counts on. Like all casinos, it has special “house” odds. Sooner or later World Markets will win more money than it will lose due to human nature and statistics. Depending on the game and how wagers are placed, the casino earns up to a 35 percent commission from the winnings. It is impossible to do consistently, but guests come year after year to try to beat the house.

Suppose you buy stock and invest in the imaginary World Markets, Inc. (WMKTS). Investors care about one thing only: making money. They’re not concerned with having fun or discussing the night they had the “hot dice” at the craps table. They could care less if they ever hear the noise of a winning pull at a slot machine. They just want to know that they’ll make money year after year after year.

World Markets investors never know from night to night where they’ll make money. Some nights there’s a guest with a streak of luck on the craps table and the casino loses money there. But that same night, perhaps World Markets is making money on blackjack. On nights where guests are beating the house on all tables, the casino is still picking up antes from the poker tables, and making money on food, hotel rooms, and entertainment.

World Markets investors are “the house,” and ultimately those investors always make more money investing in the house than its guests who are trying to beat the house. It’s just a statistical fact.

But how is it that most people invest their own money as if they were gamblers at World Markets, instead of investors?

Most investors attempt to “beat the house” of world asset markets—U.S stocks, bonds, real estate, foreign stocks, emerging market stocks—by picking stocks on their own, giving their money to a broker who they believe is a good “stock picker,” or investing in a mutual fund that has a great track record.

But reams of studies from experts have confirmed that investors do worse than the house by the money they spend trying to beat it. Investors leave an average of 2 percent of their money every year at World Markets and pay more taxes because buying and selling stocks creates taxable income. Over time, due to mathematical laws such as compound returns, investors can lose 33 percent of their money over 20 years—just like a guest at World Markets Casino.

So how do you become an investor in World Markets instead of a gambler? Buy and hold a collection of exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

For every $100,000 invested, you’ll pay $200 in yearly fees, instead of $2,000 in fees to money managers, financial advisers, and broker commissions. You can invest like smart investors and endowments at Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford. You’ll never have to pick a stock or mutual fund again. And you can dial the risk levels of your portfolio up or down to whatever level you feel comfortable.

Be the house, not the guest.