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Home » Wise as a Serpent: 7 Survival Principles


Mark Levitt
By Mark Levitt

This article appeared originally in the July 2011 Levitt Letter.

Articles like the one excerpted below, by Scott Burns (AssetBuilder.com), inspire me to think in terms of being productive and thrifty. His secular principles over the years, more often than not, seem biblically rooted. Eccl. 2:24–26 —Mark

Borrow less or nothing. Reduce the amount of income committed to loan and credit payments. Eliminate credit card debt and pay off car loans, student loans, etc. The income going to them can then be used to build a cash reserve and pay down a mortgage. Our goal should be consumption without credit.

Deferring the purchase of a house or condo can make sense. Most of what we buy depreciates, including houses lately.

Spend less than you earn. This is easier for some households than others. As a certified senior, it’s almost inevitable for me. It was not so easy when I was a 30-year-old dad. We gain strength from being able to get through the week, month, or year without leaning on a lending institution. We gain even more strength by having ready savings.

Search for maximum flexibility. Find strength in flexibility and adaptation, not in institutional guarantees. In the new edition of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, investor Nassim Taleb nails it with this simple principle: Compensate complexity with simplicity. Our society may be very complex, but we can compensate with simplicity and adaptation at home.

Retain more of your investment return. Our financial institutions have proven a nasty truth: For them, we consumers are just red meat. Worse, our government has given them continued and protected hunting rights. So it’s them or us.

Take back as much as possible of the return on your savings and investments. Use index mutual funds for your retirement savings. Move checking and savings accounts to a credit union.

Learn to share. Focus on local and family. It’s very difficult to make the entire world a better place. So pick small projects that have a well-defined beginning, middle, and end. You’ll discover the gigantic non-money economy of community. The more connected you are, the safer you and yours will be.

Expand your skill portfolio. The world of work encourages us to specialize. This reduces our flexibility and increases our dependence on others. But the more we have in our skill portfolio, gained through education or hands-on learning, the more things we can do to be helpful or earn a few dollars.

Get energy-efficient and energy-local. Help reduce consumption of imported energy by increasing your gas mileage ordriving less. Oil, not imports from China, is the biggest single drain on our economy.

And remember the best definition of wealth I’ve ever heard: You have enough money when more won’t change where you live, what you eat, what you wear, what you drive, or who you come home to.

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