MONEY: Master the Game is based on extensive research and one-on-one interviews with more than 50 financial experts. The result is a 7-step blueprint for securing financial freedom. Tony Robbins guides readers, of every income level, through the steps to become financially free by creating a lifetime income plan. This income plan is supported by a sneak peek into the portfolio of one of the most successful investors in history, Ray Dalio.
About Tony Robbins
Tony Robbins has been honored by Accenture as one of the “Top 50 Business Intellectuals in the World.” Plus, he was named by Harvard Business Press as one of the “Top 200 Business Gurus.” Finally, American Express recently described him as one of the “Top Six Business Leaders in the World” to coach its entrepreneurial clients. Fortune’s recent cover article named him the “CEO Whisperer.” He has been named in the top 50 of Worth Magazine’s 100 most powerful people in global finance for three consecutive years. He’s the nation’s #1 life and business strategist.
Section 1: Welcome to the Jungle: The Journey Begins with This First Step
“Remember: we all get what we tolerate. So stop tolerating excuses within yourself, limiting beliefs of the past, or half-assed or fearful states. Use your body as a tool to snap yourself into a place of sheer will, determination, and commitment. Face your challenges head on with the core belief that problems are just speed bumps on the road to your dreams. And from that place, when you take massive action—with an effective and proven strategy—you will rewrite your history.”– Tony Robbins
Tony begins by explaining that money is somewhat of a taboo subject. Despite this, money is an essential part of our holistic well-being. Tony’s first conclusion in MONEY: Master the Game is that it’s challenging earning enough money through your job to have financial freedom. Therefore, you need to save and invest. Develop the mindset of an investor rather than being a consumer. The only way to overcome ingrained human psychology and actually save is to create a plan and automate your investing. Based on this point, Tony Robbins recommends setting up automatic withdrawals for investments and forgetting about them.
Section 2: Become the Insider: Know the Rules Before You Get in the Game
“Remember: we’re drowning in information, but we’re starving for wisdom.”– Tony Robbins
Because money is such a misunderstood topic, Tony highlights nine financial myths. You must avoid believing these myths if you want to start building a correct understanding of how money works.
Myth #1: The Market Can Be Beaten#
The reality is that only a few gifted people can beat the market’s returns consistently. Most likely, neither you nor your financial advisor is one of them. Less than 4% of actively managed mutual funds beat the market. Hence, your chances of doing so are far, far worse than the odds on a coin toss. You’re much better off buying a passively managed index fund, which simply matches the overall market.
Myth #2: People Are Telling the Truth About Fees
The average cost of owning a mutual fund is 3.17% a year when you include all the hidden fees — expense ratio, transaction costs, cash drag, unseen taxes, etc. That may not sound like much, but for each 1% increase in fees, 20% of the final value of the typical retirement portfolio is eaten away. The end result is that most of your savings end up in someone else’s pocket. Again, investing in index funds with fees of around 1% will make an enormous difference in your financial storehouse.
Myth #3: People Are Telling the Truth About Returns
A core truth about investing is that it is much more important to avoid losses than achieve gains. Robbins explains this point by providing an example. If you have $100 in your portfolio and lose 50% the first year, you will have $50. If you then gain 50% in the second year, you end up with only $75. Your average (time-weighted) return was 0% (up 50%, then down 50%). However, your real (dollar-weighted) return was negative 25%. Another issue with mutual funds is they take advantage of this difference to overestimate their effectiveness. Specifically, they use their time-weighted return rather than their actual returns.
Myth #4: Your Broker Is On Your Side
Most brokers are perfectly reasonable and honest people. However, most of them also probably don’t understand the three myths we’ve just covered. On top of that, the broker model is a severe conflict of fiduciary duties. Your broker has a responsibility to increase your money and a responsibility to increase his company’s money. The issue is these two duties are mutually exclusive. A much better decision is to go with a registered investment advisor (RIA). These advisors get an annual fee from you rather than commissions from the mutual funds. Go to the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors or Stronghold Financial website to find an RIA.
Myth #5: Your 401(k) Will Set You Up For Retirement
The 401(k) is a failed social experiment that has only been around for 30 years. The unique bull market conditions of the 80s and 90s blinded society. Society started to believe that the 401(k) system was effectively setting people up for retirement. However, with the recent financial crisis, it became more apparent that the system is a failure. The factors listed in Myths 1–3 severely limit your retirement portfolio growth, and taxes on withdrawals further limit your growth potential. On top of that, the 401(k) doesn’t do anything to protect you against changes in retirement age.
Hopefully, you’ve already avoided the traditional 401(k) or IRA in favor of a Roth. A Roth can solve tax problems. You can use an IRA instead of a 401(k) to avoid the factors in Myths 1–3. IRAs have much lower contribution limits. Plus, IRAs also don’t let you take advantage of matching contributions from your employer. Tony recommends you go to the online fee checker here, which will show how much you’re paying in fees in your company’s 401(k). After completing this check, approach your employer with the results. Because of a new law passed in 2012, employers are legally required to offer reasonable fees. Hopefully, this combination of information will be enough to convince your employer to consider offering low-cost index funds in your plan.
Myth #6: Target Date Funds Are a Good Way to Allocate Your Investments
Since ordinary investors struggle to diversify, many choose a “target date” fund where their mix of investments changes based on their age. These fundes get higher returns when you’re young and can afford more risk. Then, the fund preserves your capital when you’re getting closer to retirement. This transition is generally characterized by moving away from stocks and towards bonds. While target date funds are a helpful idea, in theory, the “experts” who put these plans together operate under two gravely mistaken assumptions. Firstly, they assume bonds are safer than stocks. Secondly, they assume that bonds and stocks move in opposite directions. Tony Robbins covers later in the book why both of these assumptions are generally incorrect.
Myth #7: Annuities Are Bad
Conventional wisdom will tell you that annuities as an investment class are overpriced and a bad investment. While this is true (mainly due to high fees), it would be unwise to paint this entire investment class with the same brush. At least one type of annuity (the tax-free fixed indexed annuity) is an invaluable investment tool.
Myth #8: You Have to Take Big Risks to Get Big Returns
One of the most important rules of investing is to risk a little for the potential to make a lot. Some simple ways for an individual to do this are structured notes, market-linked CDs, and fixed indexed annuities. All these approaches protect your invested principle but also give you access to upside potential if the market moves the right way.
Myth #9: Success Is Determined by Something Beyond Our Control
Tony Robbins believes we have control over our own financial success. This belief is underpinned by his interest in financial psychology. A change in mindset is necessary to succeed.
Section 3: What’s the Price of Your Dreams: Make the Game Winnable
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain. It’s about removing the fear in this area of your life so you can focus on what matters most.”– Tony Robbins
You Seek What Money Offers You
Tony Robbins points out that no one actually wants money. Instead, we all want what money can provide. The precise benefits sought are different depending on your individual interests. Despite this, all these benefits fall under the six basic human needs. The six basic human needs are certainty/comfort, uncertainty/variety, significance, love/connection, growth, and contribution. Money is an essential part of our lives, but you will be better equipped to succeed if you understand why you want money. By knowing what you’re really after, you’ll have better clarity about how to get where you want to go.
Calculate Your Dream Amount of Money
Once you know where you want to go, you can calculate a precise number. This number will probably turn out to be less than you expect. Even with a seemingly unreasonable goal, you can often get what you want for a fraction of the money you thought you’d need. Define what you want from the money rather than the money itself, and you’ll realize your own goals are more achievable than you thought.
To do even better at defining what you want from money, Tony suggests establishing and calculating a series of five goals. By having different financial success levels to aim for, your goals will become significantly more achievable and motivating.
Goal #1: Financial Security
Suppose the monthly returns on your investment portfolio will pay for your monthly housing, food, utilities, transportation, and insurance. In that case, you’ve covered 65% of the average American’s monthly costs. If you hit this mark, you can choose a job you love instead of the high-paying one you hate. You could take the “risks” that you previously didn’t have enough in the bank to feel safe taking them.
Goal #2: Financial Vitality
Suppose you can also save enough to cover half of your monthly clothing, entertainment, and “small luxury” costs (whatever makes you happy). In that case, you’ve reached the halfway point to truly never having to work again.
Goal #3: Financial Independence
Add the rest of your necessary living expenses and you have what you need to never again.
Goal #4: Financial Freedom
Add the monthly payments for two or three significant luxuries (boat, vacation home, exotic car, etc.) to your number.
Goal #5: Absolute Financial Freedom
Now dream big — what do you need (things/experiences) to have everything you want? This is where you find your limit. If you’re honest with yourself, you will understand that many things do not offer good happiness value.
Remember, the goal is to achieve what you actually want from money, not the money itself. Suppose you sit down and calculate the number. In that case, you’ll probably realize that it’s a lot less than what you thought — probably around $500,000 — $5 million of annual income. That might never be within reach. However, once you know the upper limit of what you want, you’ll realize how happy you can be by getting close.
Now you know what would actually make you happy, you can revisit some life choices you made on autopilot. These choices are ones you made, expecting only to realize that they aren’t making you happy enough to justify their cost. The act of going through this exercise may help you acquire several benefits. Specifically, save more, earn more, reduce fees and taxes, get better returns, or change your lifestyle in other ways.
Section 4: Make the Most Important Investment Decision of Your Life
In a word, the most important investment decision is allocation. Tony advocates a division of your assets into security, risk/growth, and “dream” buckets. This division provides a balance of asset protection, asset growth, and emotional juice to keep you going.
Section 5: Upside Without the Downside: Create a Lifetime Income Plan
Ray Dalio’s Diversification
In this section, Tony offers a peek into the portfolio allocation of Ray Dalio. The utility of viewing this portfolio is that Ray is possibly the greatest investor in history. To highlight this point, Tony explains Ray isn’t taking new investors right now. Plus, when he was, you needed a minimum of $100 million to invest with him and get access to his knowledge. A core belief underlying this allocation is that market prices reflect all known information — at least to the extent that normal people can tell. Consequently, the only way prices move is when there is a surprise due to unexpected inflation/deflation and economic growth.
The point of portfolio diversification is to be invested in different asset classes. When one class drops, the other class rises. Hence, your investment is protected. Most people, including most financial professionals, use the allocation of about 50% stocks, 50% bonds as a benchmark for their allocation. The allocation of stocks vs. bonds is supposed to be weighted more in favor of stocks if you want more risk and more return. Comparatively, weighed more in favor of bonds if you want less risk.
Diversify Your Risk
This widely accepted approach operates on the two mistaken assumptions discussed in Section 2. However, it is more complex than that. When you diversify your investment portfolio, the point is to diversify your risk. In the context of investment, diversify is simply another word for variability. Different asset classes (stocks and bonds, for example) have different levels of variability. Stocks are riskier (more variable) than bonds. Therefore, if you want a balanced portfolio where the risk is equal on both sides, you have to have more bonds than stocks. It is the risk you are balancing, not the assets attached to the risk. If you follow this logic, you will understand that the traditional allocation method (i.e., by percentages of assets rather than risks) is completely nonsensical. It’s measuring apples to find out how many oranges you need.
Match the direction each asset class moves in each type of market situation with the relative risk/variability of each of those asset classes. If you do this, you get a portfolio, courtesy of Ray Dalio, that looks more like this:
Ray Dalio’s Impressive Results
With this portfolio over the past 30 years, you would have solidly beaten the market (9.72% annual return, net of fees). Plus, the worst annual loss you would have seen was 3.93% in 2008 (when the market was down 37%). You would have only lost money in four of those 30 years. Additionally, if you want to go back 75 years, you would still only have ten losing years. Your worst loss is still the 3.93% in 2008. Comparatively, the market was negative 18 times, and the largest loss was 43.3%.
By structuring a portfolio the right way, you can consistently beat the market in both risks and returns. You can adjust the portfolio to fit your own needs, but there is no better benchmark.
How to Preserve Your Growth
Tony then goes on to point out that growing your investments is only half the battle. You’ll need to know what to do when you’ve grown your assets sufficiently to attain the lifestyle you want. At this point, it’s time to simultaneously preserve and enjoy what you have. Traditional low-risk investments like treasuries and CDs are horrible ways to protect your capital due to abysmally low returns. On top of that, it’s highly likely that advances in medicine will soon increase your expected lifespan far beyond the 80-year mark. Hence, the traditional math of a 15-year retirement won’t work.
Taking Advantage of Insurance
For these reasons, Tony loves fixed indexed annuities. Fixed indexed annuities provide complete protection of your capital with the ability to also enjoy market gains. “Complete protection” really does mean complete protection. In the U.S., each state has FDIC-style protection for insurance companies ranging from $300,000 — $500,000. If your insurance company goes bust, the state will guarantee your capital. FIAs also give you no tax on your capital growth, a guaranteed lifetime income stream, tax-free withdrawals, and zero management fees. Make sure to use an advisor who knows how to structure the FIA correctly and add the proper riders to get all these benefits.
Tony also touches on private placement life insurance (PPLI). PPLI allows unlimited deposits, no tax on your capital growth, no tax on withdrawals, and no inheritance tax. Basically, you’re using an insurance policy to shield your capital. Subsequently, you are taking free “loans” out of the policy whenever you want without having to pay them back. This is nothing like regular life insurance, which is almost always a bad investment. The catch is that PPLI can only be purchased by accredited investors ($200,000 annual income or $1,000,000 net worth). Still, TIAA-CREF has a version of PPLI that anyone can access.
Tony steps away from focusing on money to wrap up the book by revisiting how money is just a part of a good life. The three decisions of what you focus on, what your life means, and what you’re going to do will shape your life. Money is simply an enabler of focus, meaning, and action. Money allows you to invest in experiences, buy time for yourself, and give to others. Using money for growth and contribution will give you a happier and healthier life.
Comment below and let others know what you have learned or if you have any other thoughts.
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