This probably won't come as a shock, but Americans are stressed. And while that condition has plenty of sources, if you're not wealthy, the odds are good that some of your chief stressors involve your financial situation.
So for this episode of Motley Fool Answers, Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp are joined by Pete Shalek, the co-founder and CEO of Joyable, which he describes as not just an app, but an end-to-end mental health solution that helps people improve their emotional well-being. They'll talk about stress and anxiety generally, some techniques to reduce it, and the specific intersection of money and anxiety. But first, they talk about the very worst way you can celebrate your higher 401(k) balance -- and it's one that too many of us are choosing.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Feb. 6, 2018.
Alison Southwick: This is Motley Fool Answers. I'm Alison Southwick, and I'm joined, as always, by Robert Brokamp, personal-finance expert here at The Motley Fool.
Robert Brokamp: Hi, Alison!
Southwick: In this week's episode, we're exploring ways to reduce anxiety and stress with the help of Joyable's CEO and founder, Pete Shalek. We're also going to talk about the trend of people raiding their 401(k) because the balance is just too darn high. And then -- surprise -- we're going to play a rousing game of Would You Rather? Bro and Rick didn't know this was coming.
Brokamp: It's a surprise!
Southwick: All that, and more, on this week's episode of Motley Fool Answers.
Hey, Bro, what's up?
Brokamp: Hi, Alison! Yes, today we're going to talk a little bit about the 401(k) games people play.
We all know the stock market has been doing very well. Many people have 401(k) balances that are looking pretty good these days. I ran across an article that was in The Washington Post called "Hold tight or splurge? Booming retirement accounts are making that a tough question." The article is by Todd Frankel and Thomas Heath.
What they did was, among other things, talked to a few financial advisors and got some interesting stories about what people want to do with their new 401(k)s. For example, take out $20,000 for a vacation. And because this person isn't 59 1/2, they're paying taxes and the 10% penalty. Another person wanted to take out $75,000 to give as a loan to their son to buy a house. The article quoted a financial advisor named Jamie Cox who works for Richmond-based Harris Financial Group. He said, "I've seen more money requests for extraneous items in the last six weeks than I have in the last five years."
This is something probably attributable to something economists call the "wealth effect." People want to spend more as their wealth goes up. There's evidence about this...
Southwick: It also just makes sense.
Brokamp: It does.
Southwick: I don't know that a behavioral economist really needs to sit on this one for a while.
Brokamp: It does. It does makes sense, to a certain degree, as long as it is responsible. It's been noticed that when their financial wealth goes up, meaning stocks, it's probably even stronger. The evidence adjusts when it comes to your house. One study found that for every dollar your house increases in value, your spending goes up six cents.
Brokamp: And it goes the other way, too. Another study found that for every dollar that your house drops, you've cut your spending by 10% or 10 cents. So, to a certain degree it does make sense, but it obviously goes overboard.
Raiding your 401(k) before you're retired, just because it's gone up, doesn't necessarily make a lot of sense, and there are other wacky things that happen when the good times are still rolling. For example, the savings rate goes down. Just recently, the Bureau of Economic Analysis showed that the U.S. savings rate fell to 2.4%...
Brokamp: ... in December, and that is the lowest since 2005. Now the way they calculate the savings rate is a little funky. For example, if you buy a car, they assume that you just paid for the car right then and there but, of course, most people don't. They spread out the monthly payments over three to six years. But still, part of why the savings rate last month was low is because a lot of people went out and bought more cars.
Also, credit card debt is now over $1 trillion, the highest ever, according to the Federal Reserve. Good times are going, so why don't I borrow more money to spend more money? It doesn't quite make sense.
For me, whenever the market returns above-average returns, it's like a loan. We all know that the stock market returns, on average, 10% a year. Over the last five years the S&P 500 has returned, on average, almost 16% a year. At some point the market takes some of that back. To be spending your retirement money before your retirement at a time when the stock market is up, knowing full well that at some point it is going to go down again, just doesn't make a lot of sense.
Southwick: What's your advice to people to keep this in check? Because I imagine we are all guilty of this to some extent.
Brokamp: Right, and to a certain degree it's totally warranted.
Southwick: Said Rick, who just bought two guitars last week.
Rick Engdahl: And a harp.
Southwick: And a harp.
Brokamp: And a harp.
Southwick: I thought you rented the harp.
Engdahl: Rent to own.
Brokamp: I think that's fine. It's perfectly reasonable to enjoy some of the money you make. It's perfectly reasonable to even take some of your investment successes and enjoy them to a certain degree. To be taking money out of your 401(k) early to spend $20,000 on vacation...
Southwick: That's super dumb.
Brokamp: ... I think that's taking it overboard.
Southwick: See, you put it nicely. I say that's super dumb and you're like, "That may be a little extreme." Would you agree it's super dumb?
Brokamp: I wouldn't...
Southwick: You would not. I can't get you to...
Brokamp: I wouldn't say it's super smart. How's that one? [laughs]
Southwick: So, in some cases you can think that there's a good reason to take money out of your 401(k) to go on a vacation.
Brokamp: Probably not. Probably not. A person might be listening to our podcast right now. I don't want to make them feel bad; but, put the money back if you can.
Southwick: If you're feeling more stress or anxiety, you're not alone. According to the November 2017 American Psychological Association Stress in America poll, the U.S. is at its highest stress level ever.
Southwick: Well, since they've been doing this. I'm sure the Civil War was a much more stressful time in America, but apparently in our lifetimes this is pretty bad. What are we stressed out about? 61% are stressed out about work, 62% are stressed out about money, and the No. 1 reason is 63% of us are stressed out over politics and the future of our nation.
Brokamp: I'm not surprised.
Southwick: Usually money is the No. 1 source of stress and anxiety. According to Gallup, financial anxiety in America actually eased up in 2017 so long as you were a wealthy person. If you were a low-income earner, you still have a lot of stress. But what about our millennials?
Brokamp: What about them?
Southwick: What about our millennials? 28% of millennials are experiencing so much financial anxiety that it's impacting their job performance on a consistent basis.
Brokamp: I'm not surprised at that.
Brokamp: No. I've talked in previous episodes about this whole concept of presenteeism, where you're so stressed that you're at work, but because you're stressed, you're consumed with your problems and you're not fully productive. That doesn't surprise me, especially among millennials with all their student debt and the high cost of housing.
Southwick: 23% say that financial stress is making them physically ill on a weekly or monthly basis. Joining us in studio today we have a special guest. It's Pete Shalek. He's the co-founder and CEO of Joyable. I feel like Joyable is too simple to call an app. I think you should describe it for us.
Pete Shalek: Oh, thanks. Joyable is an end-to-end mental health solution for folks. We help people improve their emotional well-being, no matter their issue. All the way from stress to serious mental illness, we can help you improve your emotional well-being and be closer to who you want to be.
Southwick: Joyable is a benefit that's offered here at The Motley Fool, so we were excited about the opportunity to have you here to talk generally about stress and anxiety, how to reduce that, and then also the intersection of money and anxiety because, after all, Bro, we are a money podcast, right?
Brokamp: It's the truth, yes.
Southwick: Before we get talking about anxiety and stress, why don't you tell us your story, because you have a background more as an entrepreneur and a businessperson than a psychologist or a therapist.
Shalek: It's great to be here, first of all. Thanks for having me. My background is sort of winding, and it all came together with Joyable in some way. In high school I spent all my free time on mental health. I spent my summers working in mental health facilities. I was taking psych classes at the local community college. Reading Freud and Jung in my free time. I was about the least...
Brokamp: Just like every teenager.
Shalek: ... you could possibly dream of. It wasn't the peak of my life, let's say.
Brokamp: You were building the foundation.
Shalek: Exactly. I didn't know it at the time. I wrote my college essay on being a therapist and went undergrad and then my freshman year, I stumbled into this random opportunity to start a business. I started, of all things, a laundry delivery service. I do not like laundry, but I loved the process of creating this business over four years. Ran it for a few years, built a small team, and then sold it and was hooked. That convinced me that I wanted to go on the business side instead of on the medicine side.
I ended up being a professional investor for a few years. I advised folks at Morgan Stanley and then invested in a private equity firm called Hellman & Friedman and came out of that with a desire to go back to entrepreneurship and particularly do something in healthcare.
Then my passion for mental health came up. I have a bunch of friends and family members who've gone through emotional crises in various ways, and it got me excited about starting Joyable, and that's how it all kind of came together.
Southwick: Joyable relies heavily on cognitive behavioral therapy and this is where I'm completely out of my waters on understanding this or talking about this. Bro, why don't you ask some intelligent questions about cognitive behavioral therapy because you are studying the intersection of money and this.
Brokamp: I'm getting my graduate certificate in financial therapy from Kansas State, and I have taken a few classes that mentioned cognitive behavioral therapy, so I'm not an expert. Pete, you can tell me if I got this wrong, but basically it comes down to the way you think and talk to yourself affects the way you behave and the way you feel. But a lot of the things you think actually are not true, are at least not completely true.
Shalek: That's exactly right.
Brokamp: So, cognitive therapy relies on you recording these thoughts and analyzing them and questioning whether they're accurate.
Shalek: That's exactly right. The basic premise of cognitive behavioral therapy is simple. It's not a situation that makes you feel anxious or stressed. It's how you interpret it. And by analyzing the things that make you feel a certain way, by looking at the thoughts you have and the behaviors you take, if you change those things, you actually change how you feel.
The easiest way to illustrate this is if I asked you two, right now, to feel really sad, do you think you could do that? That you could make yourself feel sad right now?
Southwick: Oh, absolutely!
Shalek: How would you do that?
Southwick: I would think about something bad happening to my family. That would be the fastest way.
Shalek: Exactly. You'd take a thought, and that thought would drive a feeling. The idea of cognitive behavioral therapy is that you work to analyze your thoughts, because a lot of times your thoughts are automatic. You don't consciously think things. They just come into your brain. By analyzing those thoughts, you can become more in control of them and as a function of that, you can feel better.
And it's really neat, actually. Some research has shown that cognitive behavioral therapy changes the way your brain is structured. The part of your brain that's associated with fear, the amygdala -- the reptilian brain -- changes after you go through a course of cognitive behavioral therapy, so you have less activation there. Less blood flow to that part of the brain and more blood flow to the part of the brain associated with logical thought. You're basically more in control of your emotions, as opposed to having your emotions control you.
Southwick: How do you know when you need help? It's natural for me to be concerned that my daughter is going to get kidnapped. It's not natural for me to be so concerned that she's going to get kidnapped that I'm never going to let her leave the house. Somewhere in between there I've crossed the line and need some CBT in my life.
Shalek: I'm a huge believer that everybody can improve with CBT. That emotional wellness is something that all of us deal with. Everyone deals with stress. Everyone deals with anxiety, and particularly as an investor, where you're trying to be as clear and rational as possible, mastering your emotions can allow you to be more effective.
I'll more directly answer your question. When it begins to impair your life is the point at which people recommend that you get help. This is very loosely defined, but when people talk about clinical anxiety, clinical depression; usually what they mean is that it's begun to impair your life and the quality of your life. Everyone feels anxious. When being anxious makes it so you have presenteeism and you can't get your work done -- or when being anxious makes it so you don't let your kid out -- that's a time when you want to invest in this and consciously take steps to improve so you can achieve the things you want to achieve.
Brokamp: I remember it was explained to me as almost like a courtroom, where you have sides presenting evidence. When you have something that you're anxious about, to really look at it as how likely is it that that is going to happen?
Brokamp: Sure, it's likely. Absolutely. And you should take some precaution against it. But to let something that has a 1-2% chance of happening run your life, then it's probably not the healthiest way to go about it.
Shalek: Absolutely. The interesting thing is sometimes when people hear about changing your thoughts, their initial reaction is, "Oh, I'm supposed to delude myself. I'm supposed to just think happy thoughts." In reality, CBT is about seeing things more rationally. It's not about saying, "There's no risk to my daughter," or, "there's no risk to my financials." It's to say, "This is what's actually the risk, this is what I can do about it, and here's what happens if things go good or bad."
It's just about creating a more objective view of the world, and like you said, very much like a courtroom. I often think of it as lawyering my thoughts. I'm going to analyze them, I'm going to break them down, and I'm going to say, "Is this true?" That allows you to approach them more objectively.
Southwick: I'm sure there's a fair amount of confidentiality with people who come to Joyable for help, but are you able to talk about what some of the more common anxieties that you guys hear about? And what are some things people can do?
Shalek: We are fully HIPAA compliant, so of course I can't speak about people individually. I can speak in general terms. We see quite a bit of concern about money. Quite a bit of concern about financial wellness and particularly, as you pointed out, the growing inequality. People who have more money sometimes are stressed about having more money and people who have less money obviously are dealing with the difficulties of that. That's probably the No. 1 thing we see a lot of.
And the No. 2 thing we see a lot of is relationships. Concern about people feeling isolated, or having difficulties with their spouse, or with their children, or something like that. We help folks through the anxiety of how they manage their relationships.
Southwick: I went through the app, and it lets you do some self-diagnosis for what you feel like you need help with. The app was, "It sounds like you need help with focus and breaking the cycle of avoidance action."
Shalek: Did you feel like it was right?
Southwick: Yes, that was the most spot-on for me. I'm a generally optimistic, happy, low-stress person. This is not bragging. I've got a good life. I'm very lucky and #blessed and all that stuff. But yes, and when I saw this I was like, "Oh, I need to Slack Bro. Hey, Bro, check out some tactics for your avoidance actions." Because you recognize that as a thing you have to overcome.
Brokamp: Which one? Avoidance? I mean, there are so many things.
Southwick: Distraction at work. Like being distracted by so many things.
Brokamp: Oh, yes.
Southwick: But to your point about how everyone could use help from cognitive behavioral therapy, this is one of those things that could help everyone who can't, say, focus at work.
Brokamp: Right. And I've mentioned before in the podcast, that I'm an "awfulizer." I'm always afraid of the worst-case scenario. And my wife, who has experience as a cognitive behavioral therapist, has said to me that this is what you do. You ask yourself what the worst-case scenario is, and you think about it. And No. 1, how likely is that really to happen, and No. 2, would it be OK if it happened? Would you still survive? Would the important things still be there?
For me, at least when it comes to money, I'd lose my job, and I wouldn't be able to get a new job, and I'd have to spend all our retirement savings...
Southwick: Are you worried about losing your job?
Brokamp: I have in the past. I have in the past.
Southwick: Everybody at home, send your letters to Tgardner@fool.com and let him know how much you want to save Bro. We'll start the campaign.
Shalek: Bro, you have my support.
Brokamp: Thank you, Pete. Earlier, Pete and I were talking about the history of The Motley Fool, and we've mentioned it before on the podcast. When I joined, we had almost 200 people. We went over to 400 people and then we dropped to 70 people, so it's not like it's impossible for a company to go out of business. We've seen it in the past. Again, it's not an irrational thought, but how likely is that to happen? How likely is it that I lose my job? And if it happened, would I find another job? Chances are probably yes. My life would not end.
Shalek: One great hack that you can use to help you think through those particular thoughts is to imagine a friend was going through what I'm going through. What would I tell that friend? Because we're much meaner to ourselves than we are to anybody else, and you would never say to somebody else, "You're going to lose your job and you're going to burn through your retirement," both because it's not true and because the things we say to ourselves are much harsher. So if you think through it in terms of speaking to somebody else, it can help objectify the things you're going through so you can work through them in a more rational way.
Southwick: So, avoidance actions. These are an issue for both Bro and me, but I'm sure we're the only ones in the world who are suffering from this. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get on Facebook really quick while you answer.
Shalek: Exactly. When your computer is up it makes me nervous. It's interesting. There's a famous psychologist in the 20th century -- a guy named Hobart Mowrer -- who had a theory that the root of all anxiety is avoidance. The basic premise of his theory is that we're all creatures of habit formation and that anxiety and avoidance becomes a pattern of habit formation. When you feel anxious, you avoid the thing that makes you anxious, and then you feel less anxious, which reinforces the action of avoiding.
Let's say you're supposed to prepare for a podcast and you're feeling anxious about doing it, so instead you go on The New York Times or on Facebook and that makes you not feel anxious because you're no longer thinking about the podcast. That makes it so you feel better, and that reinforces that behavior.
The challenge of what exists today is that it's easier to avoid things than it's ever been before. We have more distractions. More information. You cannot just read the newspaper in the morning. You can read 17 different sources 12 times a day. I'm sort of conscious of this. I don't know if anyone else does this, but there are times where I'll be working, have opened a tab, and I'll be on The New York Times before I've consciously realized that I'm doing it.
Shalek: Because I'm avoiding the behavior, and I've reinforced that over time. And so being able to notice that and to change it allows you to take more control over yourself as opposed to having your emotions control your behaviors.
Southwick: At the top of the show, we talked about how your background is in finance, and, of course, we are a money podcast. You also said that a lot of people who come to Joyable are there for money anxieties that they're feeling. What's some advice for people out there who are feeling anxious over money? Maybe not having enough of it? Maybe too much of it? That's a problem I'm willing to suffer through.
Shalek: It's hard to be this rich.
Southwick: Yes, it's hard. What is some advice that you offer for money anxiety?
Shalek: There are a couple of things. The first is to what Bro was saying before. Really taking stock of where you are and whether your anxieties are realistic. Are they commensurate with what's going on, because you can be in really dire financial straits, but for a lot of folks they feel stressed when they have just some money, or they want to have more money, because we all are relative beings and we see that somebody else has got millions of dollars when I've got hundreds of thousands or whatever it may be.
The first thing is really taking stock. The second is once you've done that, approaching the problem in a way that allows you to say what you can do about it, because being anxious about whether you have enough money is helpful for about 30 seconds.
It's helpful to say this is something I should focus on. This is something I should do. Then it allows you to ask yourself what you should do. Should I spend more time thinking about my investment strategy? Should I look at a new job? What should I do to improve the situation if I need to do it at all?
That's really about it. It's about getting out of the unhelpful cycle of I'm worried about money, I'm worried about money, I'm worried about money; and into this is what I can do about it.
Brokamp: I remember reading a book about cognitive therapy and they were saying sort of what you said earlier. It's not wishful thinking. It's realistic thinking. And either your concerns are not valid, or your concerns are valid and you should do something about it. But just worrying about it isn't going to help you.
Shalek: Absolutely. We like to think of ourselves, particularly investors, as these objective, rational human beings. But in reality, the vast majority of our brain activity is focused on these base emotional responses, not rationally what I should do in a given situation. The more that you can shift yourself to being rational and objective, the better decisions you can make, the better investment decisions you can make, and ultimately the happier you are in life.
Southwick: Bro, we talked earlier about how so many destructive money behaviors can come from if you are feeling generally anxious and generally not happy.
Brokamp: Right. You hear a lot about people talking about self-medicating through alcohol or drugs, or something like that. But people often use money as self-medication. That's part of the problem when we look at financial therapy -- helping people with things like overspending. Compulsive gambling. Constantly going after get-rich-quick schemes. Those are often ways that people try to solve problems that obviously are very counterproductive. And there's evidence that cognitive behavioral therapy can help people in those situations, particularly with overspending and compulsive gambling.
Shalek: It's amazing how broad the techniques of CBT, which is what we call cognitive behavioral therapy, are. It can help you with what therapists would describe as transdiagnostic and help you with almost any issue. It's been shown to be effective for different types of stress, whether it's family stress. Financial stress. It's been shown to be effective with phobias if you're afraid of snakes, or heights, or social interactions, and it's been shown to help with anxiety whether it's money anxiety, or compulsive behavior, or whatever it may be.
Really, it's just this simple set of techniques. We've almost described on this podcast, in just the past few minutes, the core concepts of what CBT are, but the practice of going through this sort of becomes automatic to you to internalize, so you can really drive your behaviors by doing it that way.
Southwick: Bro mentioned how The Motley Fool went from a great big company down to a very small company. We've gone through our ups and downs and our shifts. You, as an entrepreneur, I'm sure you've been through ups and downs. Joyable went through a business model shift which was probably hard, not just for you as the leader of the company, but for your staff and maybe people you had to let go. What does a company that wants to make people happy and less anxious do to keep themselves happy and less anxious when they're going through a rough time?
Shalek: It's a great question. Being an entrepreneur is the most stressful job. I joke all the time that starting a mental health company is the most mentally stressful thing I've ever done. Really for us it's about taking our own medicine and following the practices that we believe in. There's no way to eliminate stress or anxiety. A world without stress or anxiety would actually be terrible.
Southwick: You'd be a psychopath.
Southwick: You couldn't feel stress or anxiety.
Brokamp: I remember getting my master's in education, and one of the professors said, "You want to keep kids at some level of anxiety because it shows to enhance performance."
Shalek: That's exactly right. You have this optimal zone where you want to be not too much stressed, not too little stressed. You want to be right in the middle. For us it's not about getting rid of these emotions. It's about still being able to do the things you want to do, and still making good decisions for the business that are objective. It's about treating your people well and treating them objectively. Because when you're anxious, one of the things that's worse about being anxious is that you're kind of a jerk when you're anxious. You become sort of self-oriented, so being able to diminish those emotions as best you can. I certainly haven't done it perfectly, but it's been really helpful to have these techniques.
My favorite technique is a simple thing that I do multiple times a day. It's not a cognitive behavioral therapy technique. It's a breathing technique called "square breathing" that's taught by the Navy Seals and other Special Forces units for literally when people are under fire to calm themselves down. It takes 60 seconds and it's super simple. All you do is you breathe in for four seconds, you hold your breath for four seconds... you're doing it now.
Southwick: I was. I figured while you were talking, so it still made for good radio.
Shalek: So, you breathe in for four seconds, you hold your breath for four seconds, and you exhale for four seconds, and you hold your breath for four seconds. You do that four times. It takes 64 seconds and research has shown that it drops your heart rate and your blood pressure when you do that.
If I ever notice myself in the middle of a meeting, or in the middle of an important decision and I feel my blood pressure rising, I stop. You can do it while someone else is talking. It's totally inconspicuous. It calms me down...
Southwick: You caught me, though.
Shalek: I did, but I'm trained in this particular technique. That, for me, has been one really simple and mentally helpful technique to stay calm.
Southwick: That's great.
Brokamp: You talk a little about how we are anxious, and before the show you mentioned some thoughts you had on how such things affect people as investors. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Shalek: There's been quite a bit of research done over time about emotions and decision-making, and what they've shown is that your emotions play a very large role in the decisions you make. Even the ones that you perceive to be rational are not actually driven entirely by objective logical settings. For instance, there was a big study done in 1999 that found that when people feel anxious they skew toward making lower risk, lower reward decisions; whereas if they feel depressed, they skew toward making higher-risk, higher-reward decisions.
Of course, as an investor, your goal is to be entirely objective and to put together the best portfolio you can without any bias for whether you're doing things that are high risk or low risk. That's all logically determined as part of your asset allocation. In reality, the ability to control your emotions allows you to make better investment decisions.
You can see it most obviously through bubbles like what's going on with bitcoin, where there's sort of fear and greed that drives behavior, and the best investors can avoid both of those emotional charges to be able to make good decisions for themselves.
Southwick: For someone who would like to learn more about Joyable and also how they can put CBT to work reducing anxiety in their life, what do you recommend?
Shalek: Obviously, I believe very highly in Joyable specifically, and you can learn more by just going to Joyable.com. You can do it both individually -- or, as the Fool has done and actually a number of other investment organizations and companies -- you can offer it as a benefit to all employees to get for free.
Southwick: So go talk to your HR person.
Shalek: Talk to your HR person. Go to Joyable.com if you want to check it out personally. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been around a long time. It's highly effective, so if you don't want to do something digitally, if you want to see someone in person, try to find a local therapist or psychiatrist who specializes in CBT and they can help you through it, as well.
Southwick: I think what's so helpful with Joyable is that it guides you, and it gives you little nudges and bumps and advice along the way, so it's easy. I found it easy and helpful, and I'm still distracted by The New York Times a lot and going to down different holes of...
Shalek: It's a process.
Southwick: ... of data.
Brokamp: I will say as someone who's married to a therapist, people want to have those appointments on the weekends or at night, whereas if you're using Joyable, you can access that at any time.
Shalek: Any time, and you can do it in the middle of the day when you're stressed out. Actually, the peak time we see usage is late at night. It's between nine and midnight local time. That's when people are stressed. They're having trouble sleeping and they want to work through stuff when they feel that way, so it's able to fit right into their lives in that nice way.
Southwick: Well, Pete, thank you so much for joining us today!
Shalek: Thank you for having me! It was great to be here!
Southwick: It's time, once again, for a game of Would You Rather? I think we've played
Would You Rather? on the show before, but I'm not positive. Does it sound familiar?
Engdahl: I don't remember any particularly embarrassing stories, so no, it doesn't sound familiar at all.
Southwick: I don't think we have played this on the show, but it's possible we have. Feel free to play along at home. There are no winners or losers, just good chat. I want to thank Peter Varley, Matt Trogdon, and Bryan Hinmon who helped me come up these. These are financial-related Would You Rather? questions.
Southwick: Are you ready?
Brokamp: I'm ready.
Southwick: Would you rather be Warren Buffett, which means that you are 87 years old and worth $93 billion, or be 18 years old and broke?
Brokamp: I would rather be 18 years old and broke, because when I was 18, I was broke and I turned out OK.
Southwick: So far, only one person that I've asked this question said they would rather be Warren Buffett. I guess they just want to go out on a high note, or something. Would you rather be an average American today, or a king 500 years ago?
Brokamp: Average American today, by far.
Southwick: With Rick I thought he would have debated at least a little bit, because he's got a little bit of that antiquarian sort of...
Engdahl: I studied medieval history in college.
Brokamp: You love Renaissance fairs, don't you?
Southwick: And because of that, I know that I would rather be an average American.
Engdahl: I know medieval history well enough to know that I do not want to live there.
Southwick: What if I said an average American today or incredibly wealthy in 1900?
Southwick: Still no. A Vanderbilt in 1900.
Engdahl: Let's talk medicine for a moment. Shall we? How about surgery without anesthesia?
Brokamp: Right. Totally true.
Southwick: Drink whisky.
Brokamp: The internet was so slow back then. There's no way.
Southwick: No? You're still going to say an average American today?
Brokamp: How far back would you have to go and be wealthy? Like wealthy in the 70s? That might be kind of fun.
Southwick: Oh, my gosh! All the polyester and cocaine you can afford.
Brokamp: All the discos. Disco every night.
Southwick: That's not bad, maybe. Rich in the '80s? They knew how to be rich in the '80s. Would you rather marry someone who is rich but has low earning potential, or someone who is poor but has high earning potential?
Engdahl: I don't understand the question.
Southwick: Would you rather marry someone who comes with a lot of money but maybe doesn't have a long runway or many skills? Or is lazy?
Brokamp: It depends on why they don't have a high earning potential.
Southwick: I don't know. That's tough. You're going to have to write that narrative for yourself. Or would you rather marry someone who doesn't have a lot of money, but potentially is very talented, driven, and skilled?
Engdahl: Assuming both people are equally likeable, I think I'd go with the money now rather than earning it over time. It can be invested, and we can live happily ever after without having to rely on good fortune and having a good job.
Southwick: Who cares about potential when you've got it now?
Brokamp: I'd have to say I'd go with potential unless in the other situation the person is wealthy and they're spending their time doing things like charitable work. That's why their earning potential isn't great. Otherwise someone who's not particularly talented and not particularly ambitious...
Engdahl: That's why I said equally likeable.
Brokamp: Yes, that's true.
Engdahl: If they're just a lazy bum, of course that's not going to fly.
Southwick: Would you rather have a $1 million home of $1 million in long-term government bonds?
Engdahl: Where's this home?
Southwick: I don't know, but it's $1 million.
Brokamp: Well, since government bonds are liquid and it's much easier to spend portfolio bonds than your house, I might be inclined to go with the bonds.
Brokamp: Housing doesn't really do that much for me. Only as a parent raising a family. Apart from all that, I could live in a car.
Engdahl: Couldn't you just sell the bonds and then invest them better?
Southwick: That's Bro's point. What if, though, it's like a 10-year T-bond?
Brokamp: $1 million worth of 10-year... Yeah, that's fine. Those are yielding 2.7%. You're getting the interest.
Southwick: And you have to hold it until it matures.
Brokamp: Oh, if you have to hold it?
Southwick: I don't know. I'm just trying to make this question more difficult for you.
Engdahl: And where am I living, in the meantime, if I don't have a $1 million home?
Southwick: Your parents' couch? The Motley Fool nap room?
Engdahl: For 10 years?
Southwick: I don't know!
Engdahl: Assuming I have at least a decent apartment, or something like that, then yes, I'll take the T-bonds. But if I have to live on The Fool nap couch, then no, I'll take the house.
Brokamp: Which never gets cleaned, by the way. I could only imagine what's on that coach.
Engdahl: Can you only imagine, Bro? Only imagine?
Brokamp: Let me tell you some stories.
Southwick: All right, last question. You're having dinner with your extended family -- aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. Would you rather try to explain cryptocurrency to everyone...?
Brokamp: Oh boy...
Southwick: ... or sit through hearing each person explain their own personal and incredibly uninformed investment strategy?
Brokamp: I think that would be hilarious. I mean, bitcoin has come down significantly. And right around at the top, I knew it was the top because my 79-year-old mother called me to ask about whether she should invest in bitcoin. Then I knew something was up. But I would love to hear their investment strategies.
Southwick: This one came directly from Matt Trogdon, who had to actually sit through this, where he had to do both. He had to explain cryptocurrency and then hear every family member's own stock-investing strategy. Rick, how about you?
Engdahl: I don't think I'm able to explain cryptocurrency well enough to take that option.
Southwick: But you're able to sit back, listen, and judge silently?
Engdahl: Can I call up friends?
Brokamp: Can you call a friend?
Engdahl: Yes. Can I get Aaron Bush on the line?
Brokamp: Blockchain, everybody. Blockchain.
Southwick: It's about the blockchain people.
Brokamp: It's all about the blockchain.
Southwick: It's all about the blockchain.
Engdahl: Actually, come to think of it, I've listened to Aaron Bush on this podcast and on the RBI podcasts enough times that I think I could make a basic outline of what cryptocurrency is.
Southwick: So, you're going cryptocurrency and Bro is going with listening to how his aunt has been buying the peaks and valleys of Home Depot for the last year.
Brokamp: Something like that.
Engdahl: I think it will just take less time. Either one is torture, but just one person talking instead of everybody talking I think will take less time. I'll go with the cryptocurrency.
Brokamp: I have some relatives who are actually very good investors, so I think I would learn a thing or two. One of my relatives, who shall remain unnamed, has been putting spare change and spare dollar bills in a box, and she recently cashed it in and I think I'm getting this number right. It was like $20,000. She just left it alone. I'm going to confirm it with him or her this weekend.
Southwick: Wait. She left $20,000 in a box.
Brokamp: She was piling cash away in like a big box.
Southwick: But doesn't that make you sad? It was gaining zero interest. That $20,000 is effectively worth...
Brokamp: That is true, but as opposed to spending it, it's better to have that money.
Southwick: Yes, it's better to have money than not have money...
Brokamp: That's true.
Southwick: I've found.
Brokamp: Stay tuned. I'll get more details. I've heard about this story second-hand. I'm going to talk to him or her this weekend.
Engdahl: I think you gave up the him or her thing halfway through that conversation.
Brokamp: Oh, did I?
Engdahl: Yeah. Alison came in with she and you confirmed it.
Brokamp: How did you know that?
Southwick: Tossing money into a box and forgetting about it sounds like something an aunt would do.
Brokamp: Maybe. Something like that.
Southwick: Well, that's the show. It's edited crypto-blockchain-ily by Rick Engdahl. Our email is Answers@Fool.com. The wheels are coming off, now. Please drop us a line. For Robert Brokamp, I'm Alison Southwick. Stay Foolish everybody!