Conventional wisdom urges people to save money, then invest in stocks and bonds. Average folk are typically not encouraged to make investments in fields like real estate and collectibles. Over the long term, most of the time, this approach has paid off. But in a time of U.S. government deficits of a size unprecedented in peace time and a wobbly European currency, I am concerned that conventional wisdom may turn out to be inadequate.
Two quotes from a Der Spiegel article (“Bling Boom,” Jan. 5, 2012) illustrate the concerns that Americans may share with Germans at the present time.
People who make savings accounts or life insurance policies their primary investment are wide open to “state-sanctioned robbery,” said Franz Herrmann, who founded a German savers’ advocacy group. Herrmann decided his carefully stashed funds were being gradually chewed up by a combination of low interest rates on savings and price inflation.
Phillip Vorndran, a top advisor with a German wealth management group, has noticed that investors are restless in the face of monetary and governmental uncertainty. “No one can, or was ever able to, guarantee the purchasing power of your money,” he says.
Some wealthy people in Europe are bidding luxury cars, jewelry and real estate up to amazing prices in attempts to diversify their assets. Any item, no matter how useful or desirable it is, can be made into a disasterous investment by paying too much for it.
Better it is to divide your wealth “to seven or eight.” Don’t give up on savings accounts, insurance policies and the stock market, but consider putting a little money into real goods that can be used or sold. If there is some tool or cooking equipment that would be useful in making repairs or producing needed items at home, it may be a reasonable investment. Don’t overlook investing in education that you or family members can use to develop skills.
The conventional wisdom about saving and investing is mostly correct most of the time. In addition, worry and panic among investors are often promoted by people who have something to sell. In times of uncertainty, however, it seems wise to diversify by adding modest investments in useful things and real skills.