Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 14 October 2019

You don't need a fancy degree to understand the principles of financial independence

A recent event proved to self-taught personal finance blogger Zach Holz that his knowledge was just as valid as the experts​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

While the employer believes the payment should be made after the visa is cancelled, the employee says it should be paid before. So who is right? Getty Images
While the employer believes the payment should be made after the visa is cancelled, the employee says it should be paid before. So who is right? Getty Images

I am not a financial professional. I don’t work in a bank and I don’t teach finance classes at a university. I am a mere English teacher, who has been obsessed with personal finance for the last three years and I am entirely self-educated.

A year ago, I started a blog, and from there I’ve become a personal finance columnist, a regular radio contributor, and a board member of SimplyFI.org, a local free personal finance community group.

All in all, you don’t need a MBA from Harvard or to be the vice president of a major multinational bank or corporation to understand investing.

Zach Holz

Recently I was asked to moderate an event titled “Leveraging Knowledge in Financial Markets to Grow Personal Wealth”. It was held in Dubai International Financial Centre in January and was filled with professors, sovereign wealth fund advisers, economists from major banks, chief executives and accomplished authors. I was intimidated by the star-studded line-up, and by the fact I’d never moderated a panel before. However, I was interested to see if my current investing philosophy could stand up against this highfalutin specialised institutional knowledge.

The first 25-minute talk focused on the differences between cryptocurrency and cash. It simply stated that cash and cryptocurrencies are different and that blockchain is a revolutionary technology. Sadly, it did not have any specific recommendations for how to leverage knowledge to grow personal wealth.

The other talks ran through why the traditional methods of predicting the direction of the economy don’t necessarily work anymore. Aren’t there any new, better models to use? Did I know that oil prices are down and that is hurting oil producing countries? Wow, you don’t say. Did I know that debt is mounting all around the world? Yes, I did. While there are indicators of how the global economy is faring, there was no specific indicator that signals what actions prudent investors should take.

When members of SimplyFI grilled the speakers in the question and answer session about how this knowledge affected the experts’ own investing actions or what they recommend, can you guess what they said? Interestingly, their answers were all the same: invest in low-cost index funds on a regular basis; have a responsible stock/bond ratio that lets you sleep at night. Diversifying into real-estate is a good idea if you have the knowledge.

Their specialised knowledge had not altered how they invest. Their fancy titles and degrees led them to the same conclusion as pretty much everyone in the Financial Independence movement.

One of the final speakers, Steve Cronin, a fellow SimplyFI board member, all round finance whiz and founder of Deadsimplesaving.com, who also writes in The National, delivered his talk. In his session, he quickly summarised the basics of successful Do-It-Yourself index-fund investing to provide real, practical information. After the talks were over, he was swamped with people who wanted real, actionable information on how to use their personal knowledge to invest more efficiently.

All in all, you don’t need a MBA from Harvard or to be the vice president of a major multinational bank or corporation to understand investing. You don’t need to spend thousands of dirhams on special software or trade publications.

And while these are only my views and should not be considered as personal investment advice, I will always advocate following the basic principles of having a broad basket of index funds of stocks and bonds. By doing that, you’ll be doing the same thing as the experts.

Dubai schoolteacher Zach Holz (@HappiestTeach) documents his journey towards financial independence on his personal finance blog The Happiest Teacher

Updated: March 25, 2019 11:27 AM

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