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David Gardner Explains Why We Invest

By Motley Fool Staff - May 23, 2016 at 5:16PM

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A look at David Gardner’s philosophy on why, against our emotional impulses, we put money into stocks.

Investing is saving money for the future that you could be spending now, socking it away for some nebulous future gain. In some cases -- like with riskier high-growth companies -- we don't even know for sure that our investment will be there when we come back for it.

In this short episode of the Rule Breaker Investing podcast, Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner explains why we invest in stocks. After all, this runs counter to both our evolutionary instincts and society's constant pressure to spend money now. Last but not least, it flies in the face of academic studies that indicate reliably beating the market is impossible.

A full transcript follows the video.

This podcast was recorded on Dec. 23, 2015.

David Gardner: What I want to do is share with you a short read of one of my favorite columns that I've written in the last 10 years or so. I first wrote this on November 19th of 2010, and I'm going to paraphrase it slightly, because it was written, at the time, for Motley Fool's Stock Advisor for my members, and I know I have a lot of them listening today and maybe they'll remember this column. Probably not. I don't think people really remember what I write. But five years ago, maybe echoes of familiarity will come through. I'm going to share this column, then I'm going to share -- this is kind of fun -- a community-generated haiku that reacted and riffed a little bit on this column. And that's all we're doing this week. That's our podcast this week. And you know, this week might be one for the friends and family as well, so maybe play this one again in the car, or perhaps over a crackling fire with hot apple cider in your hands.

This column is entitled "Why We Invest." Here goes.

My favorite episode of my favorite miniseries, Band of Brothers, is called "Why We Fight." Without spoiling the story for those who haven't seen it -- by the way, do such people exist? (laughs) I won't give away the answer to the question, why we fight. But the episode is a beautiful, sad, and gripping piece of Hollywood poetry. And the phrase "why we fight" has stuck with me, and it's begun to morph into my own phrase, my brief reflection with you this week, "why we invest."

At the root is this simple reality: We work hard to build up savings. That capital represents the sum of our life's efforts, expressed monetarily, above and beyond what we've spent. And when we invest, we're doing something very wonderful and very difficult. We are forfeiting the enjoyment of using this capital in the short term. All our instincts and temptations, many of our peers, perhaps even a spouse, urge us directly or subtly against this. Spend it now! Read or sing or shout thousands of messages confronting us every day, especially, I might add, this month. But investors take at least some of their capital and do the exact opposite. We forgo the instant gratification.

That on its own is admirable, but we go one step further. We investors, we crazy investors, forfeit the enjoyable, immediate use of our capital for no certain reward. As stock market investors in particular, we invest knowing that our unspent and unenjoyed may actually disappear. If there's a better reason for us calling ourselves Fools, I don't know that the world will ever find it.

In particular, practicing my own unique style as a Rule Breaker, a more aggressive investor seeking to maximize my returns, I flat-out know I will lose money on many occasions. Throw in the academic studies that say investing in individual stocks isn't worthwhile because you can't reliably beat the indexes. And now you see why do-it-yourself investing, do-it-yourself equity investing, is a niche. It's a niche that we've been helping to grow at The Motley Fool, but it is a niche.

But here's why we invest. For our children and grandchildren. Because our parents and grandparents did, and made our lives so much better. Because every dollar we invest supports the companies and businesses that we admire. Because we love and celebrate ownership, and we believe this world will be far stronger for more owners, not more renters. Because the academics are wrong. Because with Arthur O'Shaughnessy and his ode, we are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams, investing is our instrument and making dreams come true -- sorry, Disney -- is a very real Motley Fool goal. I see it happen with amazing testimonials, bull market or no, every day on our discussion boards and from your emails. And 100 other reasons besides. These are all, in part or in whole, why we invest.

And after I wrote that column in 2010, a pair of sisters who clearly come from a really fun family -- we've gotten to know them a little bit, they live in West Virginia. And they have a screen name on our Motley Fool discussion boards that they'll sign on under sometimes and compose, and it's CaptainHaiku. So, CaptainHaiku, in my mind, is kind of a superhero who sometimes just jumps into our community and shares a haiku for whatever investing purpose or points, bearish or bullish, that the sisters want to make. So, after reading the column that I just shared with you, the sisters wrote something that I think is much more impressive than what I did. It is a series of haikus, in stanza form, but since they're haikus, it doesn't take too long to read.

Here's what CaptainHaiku says in response:

Why do we invest?
So that our hard work endures
Beyond our short years.

So that our children
Start their journeys on a hill
And see the mountain.

We build battlements
That endure, shelter others
From the worst of storms.

We launch sturdy ships.
We will not see the far shore,
But have no regrets.

We are a small part
Of all we set in motion,
And thus, we invest.

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