Updated: Sep 6
Personal Finance and general financial literacy are critical for making the most of your financial resources. It is very doable! Unfortunately, financial literacy is often neglected.
There was a time in the United States when financial literacy was not as critical. Most companies provided a pension program (Defined Benefit). You did not really have to think about it. Your retirement was taken care of. Today, pensions are almost gone, replaced by portable, self-service-oriented 401(k) programs (Defined Contribution). Also, there are even more "gig workers" needing to completely self-service their retirement. The bottom line is, the need for self-driven financial literacy is greater than ever.
Unfortunately, many are falling through the cracks. According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, Americans are having retirement challenges. It would seem the switch from pension to 401k has caught entire generations unprepared.
I've been asked, "What is the secret formula to financial success?" The truth is, there is no single "secret sauce." I think of financial success as the long-term outcome of a series of small but optimized financial decisions.
The challenge is, you don't realize financial success until after those small financial decisions have been made. Behavioral economists cite decisions lacking salience, whether personal finance or even global warming-related decisions, as significant impediments to reaching long-term success. [i]
While not all decisions are financial, almost all significant decisions have a personal finance impact.
The good news is, with a little preparation, your financial success is very doable. Your road to personal finance success is about personal discipline and broadly applying personal finance concepts to your life. Our ability to manage our emotions, stay focused, and be disciplined is the key to victory. It has little to do with your knowledge about business, math, or trading strategy. In other words, knowing yourself, being patient AND persistent, plus applying stoic-like focused discipline power your long-term wealth.
You may be thinking, this does not sound too difficult, so why are so few people saving? Unfortunately, our brains are not wired for long-term savings. It is a result of our evolutionary biology. This means retirement savings and other personal finance decisions must be intentional, it is not in our natural “default” wiring. This is where the Stoic's Arbitrage comes into play:
First, a stoic believes knowledge fuels personal power and that education is our greatest source of power. Also, a stoic believes in mastering their emotions as a source of power to make the most of their life, including their personal financial ability. A stoic focuses on external knowledge, like personal finance. A stoic also focuses on internal knowledge, to master their emotions. A stoic tends to choose courage and calm over anger. A stoic believes in providing kindness to others. [ii]
Second, arbitrage is about making high-value choices. In the financial world, this involves the buying or selling of assets in different markets to take advantage of price differences. In our day-to-day world, a successful knowledge arbitrage results from making high-value choices between available options. Our stoic-based knowledge becomes the basis for a successful knowledge arbitrage.
The Stoic’s Arbitrage is about doing. Successful outcomes only occur through action!
The Stoic's Arbitrage is where we use our stoic-informed knowledge to make good personal finance choices. The Stoic's Arbitrage is a lifelong journey. Think of it as a series of regular, smart, and positive habit-forming financial decisions leading to significant long-term value. Personal finance success is merely the cumulative value of those regular, smart decisions.
We are super excited to share our Stoic's Arbitrage personal finance curriculum! The curriculum is a series of “bite-sized” articles. The articles are accessible in order, to be read like a class. Or, they may be accessed as relevant to an anticipated life situation. [iii] No matter when you start, these articles will inform your personal finance success journey!
Finally, you still may be wondering “why?”…. what is the purpose of building long-term value using the Stoic’s Arbitrage? I’ll be the first to admit, as an economist, I am not accustomed to taking a position on “self-interest.” While economists believe people are motivated by their self-interests, economists usually leave these sort of “why” questions to philosophers. However, being clear about your self-interested long-term value motivation is very helpful when setting personal finance goals. The good news is, the Stoic’s Arbitrage will work for anyone, regardless of their motivation for long-term value creation.
Next is my personal “self-interest” statement. I offer this to encourage you to contemplate your personal statement as well.
A stoic believes kindness to others is central to life. Building wealth and living a value-focused lifestyle enables your capacity for kindness to others. While there are certainly other means to provide kindness, wealth will provide options to deliver kindness to family, friends, and/or our community. Our time-tested world religions, whether eastern, western, or aboriginal, often share a common humanity. [iv] In terms of “kindness to others,” one of my favorite common humanity teachings is from The Bible, 1 Peter 4: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace…”
The Stoic's Arbitrage: Your Personal Finance Journey Guide
Making the money!
7. Career success - Success Pillars - A Life Journey Foundation
8. Career choices - Do I need to be a Data Scientist in an AI-enabled world?
9. Career choices - Diamonds In The Rough - A perspective on making high impact college hires
Spending the money!
10. Budgeting - Budgeting like a stoic
11. Home Buying - Homeownership is an important wealth-building platform
12. Car Buying - Cutting through complexity: A car buying approach
13. College choice - The College Decision - Framework and tools for investing in your future
14. College choice - College Success!
15. College choice - How to make money in Student Lending
16. Event spending - Wedding and event planning guiding principle
Investing the money!
Pulling it together!
[i] Benartzi, Thaler, Heuristics and Biases in Retirement Savings Behavior, American Economics Association, 2007
[ii] I think of stoicism as a practical, highly relevant philosophy for today's world. The philosophy is ancient and has stood the test of time. Some of my favorite stoics are:
[iii] Daniel Fernandes, John G. Lynch, and Richard G. Netemeyer, "Financial Literacy, Financial Education, and Downstream Financial Behaviors," Management Science 60, no. 8 (2014): 1861.
This article suggests the most effective financial training is provided on a “just in time” basis - that is, in anticipation of a pending financial decision.
[iv] Wilson (editor), World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts, 1991
In the case of "helping others," our world religions demonstrate common humanity.
The following is an excerpt from Wilson's book related to the Stoic's Arbitrage:
Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Christianity. Philippians 2.3-4
The best of men are those who are useful to others. Islam. Hadith of Bukhari
All men are responsible for one another. Judaism. Talmud, Sanhedrin 27b
The ignorant work for their own profit, Arjuna; the wise work for the welfare of the world, without thought to themselves. By abstaining from work you will confuse the ignorant, who are engrossed in their actions. Perform all work carefully, guided by compassion. Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 3.10-26
If I employ others for my own purposes I myself shall experience servitude, But if I use myself for the sake of others I shall experience only lordliness. Buddhism. Shantideva, Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life 8.126-128
The man of perfect virtue, wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others. Confucianism. Analects 6.28.2
Rendering help to another is the function of all human beings. Jainism. Tattvarthasutra 5.21
Without selfless service are no objectives fulfilled; In service lies the purest action. Sikhism. Adi Granth, Maru, M.1, p. 992
I tell you these things that you may learn wisdom; that you may learn that when you are in the service of your fellow beings you are only in the service of your God. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Book of Mormon, Mosiah 2.17
Grant other people something also. The Yamana do not like a person who acts selfishly. Native American Religions. Yamana Eskimo Initiation