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9 finance — and life — lessons for new college students

"There is a significant gap between financial theory and what actually works," writes StratFI founder Jim Lee. Here's what he's learned since his own higher ed years.

Back to school. (Photo by Stanley Morales from Pexels)
This is a guest post by Delaware-based futurist and StratFI founder Jim Lee. The list is excerpted from his upcoming book and originally appeared in his "Forward View" newsletter.

Many friends are getting ready for their kids to enter their first year of college. This is a huge rite of passage.

The classes that I took at William & Mary were quite relevant to the work that I do today — economics, finance, accounting and statistics. (Surprisingly, I enjoyed my lectures in art history the most.) Still, I found out much later that there is a significant gap between financial theory and what actually works.

Here is what I’ve learned since then:

  • “Opportunities of a lifetime” usually happen once every few weeks. There will be more. Find out what excites people. Sometimes you’ll find ideas in unexpected places.
  • You won’t agree with everyone. For every buyer there is a seller. People usually have different motivations and timeframes. Don’t try to figure out the consensus. Reach your own conclusions instead. In those rare moments when everyone holds similar opinions, it is time to run in the opposite direction.
  • The view is better from the edge. If you do what everyone else is doing, you will likely get similar results. Do something different.
  • The best speculations are often made before they appear completely reasonable. In order to be “in the right place at the right time” it is usually helpful to show up a few minutes early. This can be confused for being lucky. If you show up too far ahead of time, you might find yourself to be the only person in the room. There is no fun in that.
  • Investing rules are sometimes made to be broken, but learn the rules first. Most financial types enjoy connecting the dots. I prefer to paint my own dots, draw random doodles around them, and then color outside the lines.
  • There is always someone richer, smarter and better looking. Stop making comparisons to others. Simply work toward becoming an improved version of yourself.
  • Don’t be afraid of making a few mistakes. Keep them small and survivable, if possible.
  • Be curious. Read constantly. Seek out opinions differing from your own. Map out concepts and ideas in a notebook. Nothing beats a well-informed intuition.
  • Wealth is the result of good habits over time. Start building your assets early in life by saving systematically. Keep records. Reflect on what works and what doesn’t. Make adjustments as needed.

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