There is much we can learn about nearly any subject from George Washington, one of our nation's Founding Fathers and the first president of the United States. It just so happens that one of those topics is money. After all, he is on the dollar bill.
"I conceive a knowledge of books is the basis upon which other knowledge is to be built."
Washington completed his formal schooling when he was just 15 years old, but that didn't stop his continual quest to gain more knowledge.
He amassed a library of over 1,200 books in his estate at Mount Vernon. While much of the collection consisted of books on politics, economics, and law, an exhibit at his estate shows the immense diversity of his library across a host of subjects:
Investors also must seek to continually gain further insight surrounding, well, just about everything. Whether it be reading the latest quarterly earnings reports from the companies in which they currently (or hope to) hold stock, books from those who have gained sustained success, or something altogether different, the best investors are are always learning.
Consider for a moment the words of Warren Buffett, one of the greatest investors this country has seen:
I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. I read and think. So I do more reading and thinking, and make less impulse decisions than most people in business. I do it because I like this kind of life.
Warren is one of the best learning machines on this earth. The turtles who outrun the hares are learning machines. If you stop learning in this world, the world rushes right by you. Warren was lucky that he could still learn effectively and build his skills, even after he reached retirement age. Warren's investing skills have markedly increased since he turned 65.
Far too often we hunt for some small fact we think will provide a leg up on other investors. But gaining better understanding of investing by patiently learning from others is key to long-term success.
"Worry is the interest paid by those who borrow trouble."
The quote above was a favorite of Washington's for a host of subjects, and it certainly applies to investing. While we often hear of the trade-off between risk and reward in terms of dollars, it's also important to consider it in terms of peace of mind.
If a potential investment makes you uneasy, it's important to remember the old adage, "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." Take a step back and truly evaluate where you might be placing your money.
Don't hesitate to seek out advice from others. Billionaire investor Ray Dalio notes that before he makes an investment decision, he'll always seek out others to stress test his opinion.
Put simply, if you're unable to reach a definitive conclusion about an investment, Washington and others would agree its best to simply walk away.
"We must consult our means rather than our wishes."
Finally, we must always remember to stay well within our means when it comes to investing, budgeting, and all else related to money. Debt isn't always a bad thing, but excessive debt that extends beyond our means is an entirely different story.
During the financial crisis, Lehman Brothers collapsed because it had overburdened itself with unsustainable debt levels. At the same time, far too many individuals took out mortgages and other loans that extended well beyond their personal means.
It is always vital to consider the full picture of your financial portfolio, no matter how big or small, and always make any decision surrounding money with that in mind.
George Washington had a lot to say about how to run our country, but his insight can help us better understand how to invest better as well.
Patrick Morris owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. The Motley Fool recommends Berkshire Hathaway. The Motley Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.