Author and radio host Stephen Dubner doesn’t look like a freak. But when he starts to talk, the ‘freaky’ ideas start flowing.
In a recent conversation with Betterment CEO Jon Stein, the Freakonomics Radio host shared some counter-intuitive notions collected from behavioral economics research: don’t have a credit card (you’ll only accrue casual debt); your brain is conspiring against you to your detriment (so use devices to help set habits); and educational messages don’t work (booooring).
Dubner visited Betterment in early July for a special event to talk about his newest book, Think Like a Freak. A number of Betterment customers attended the event at our offices in New York City, and many watched via a streaming webcast.
He also shared insights on what makes for a good investor from a behavioral view. Much of what Dubner said underscores Betterment’s investment philosophy: to make it simple for individuals to invest well while using an optimized investment portfolio under the hood.
Dubner’s investing tips:
1) Admit you don’t know everything: “Don’t assume a level of knowledge that you don’t have,” Dubner advised. In fact there is word for this, he said—ultracrepidarian—or a person who gives advice outside the area of his or her expertise. Investing and finance can be complex topics with a lot at stake (your savings)—and if you know that you don’t know everything, you’re a step ahead.
2) Don’t undervalue the opportunity cost of your time: “Every minute you spend on investing, it’s one hour less you’re not doing what you love,” Dubner said. Unless, of course, you dream in basis points. But if you enjoy golf or hiking more than spreadsheets and modeling markets, then assign your time the proper value.
3) Delegate: “Spend your brain power on what you love, and get smart people to do [the investing] for you,” he said. In other words, doing it yourself is a value-losing proposition—if you value the time you spend doing the thing you care about more than the time you spend on money chores. Jon Stein echoed on Dubner’s takeaway, “That’s exactly why I created Betterment,” Stein said. “We manage your investments so you don’t have to.”