The Pew Research Center released an interesting study recently. They looked at the change in average net worth in the US during the economic recovery from 2009 to 2011 and found out that despite America’s households growing their net worth by 14% during this time, the vast majority of Americans actually saw declines to their wealth. This is because the lower 93% of all households actually saw a decrease to their net worth on average. But the remaining Americans, (the top 7%) saw their wealth grow by 28% during the same time, which pushed the national average up. This made for a very uneven recovery where the affluent became richer 🙂 while the lower 93% of Americans experienced negative gains 🙁
How can we take advantage of this information? Well the study points to the “different performance of financial asset and housing markets” as the largest contributor to the opposite trajectories of the rich compared to everyone else. Rich households have 65% of their wealth in stocks, bonds, and retirement accounts while their home only accounts for 17%. But the average household have just 33% of their wealth in the markets, while 50% comes from their home. We all know that between 2009 to 2011, the financial markets (stocks, bonds, etc) rebounded from the recession, however US housing prices remained flat to negative. So the solution is simple. We just need to diversify our assets and not have most of our wealth tied up in our homes.
I have used this strategy with my own finances and from experience I can say it has worked brilliantly so far 😀 After I bought my home in 2009 I invested in other assets and benefited from much of the stock market gains. Today I have about $50K equity in my home, $80K in stocks, and $40K in farmland. Below is a pie chart breakdown.
This is why I’m not a fan of paying down the mortgage when interest rates are low. If we make extra payments to get out of debt then we deny ourselves the opportunity to properly diversify our investments. And diversification, as the study points out, was how the top 7% got wealthier. Some people may argue it’s risky to invest while still in debt, but they don’t realize that it’s also risky to aggresively pay down debt and not diversify (^_-) How fast we pay down our mortgage does not affect the price appreciation or future market value of our home when we sell it some day. But the profits and returns on our other investments like stocks, commodities, and maybe even a second property in the future, does depend on whether we buy them now or later because of course the earlier we invest the better (゜∀゜) Canadian stocks have unfortunately underperformed in the last couple of years 🙁 And it looks like real estate is starting to cool off too. But due to strong soft commodity demand the average Canadian farmland value appreciated by 15% in 2011, and 19% in 2012. That’s why diversification is so important. By spreading our investment seeds broadly we are better positioned to capture the overall growth of our economy no matter what happens in the future 😉 Isn’t learning about investing so much fun? (=^_^=) We don’t even have to be in the top 7% or have a crazy high net worth to use the same financial strategies as the rich do 😀