What the Money is For

In 1862, Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt was on top of the world. He had just sold his steamboat business for $40 million, making him one of the richest men in America, and his favorite son, George Washington Vanderbilt, had recently been appointed the rank of lieutenant in the Union Army. The Commodore’s financial empire was growing and he had found the perfect heir apparent to manage it once he was gone.

Unfortunately, that’s when tragedy struck. While on a military campaign in southern Tennessee, George caught a severe case of tuberculosis that he couldn’t overcome. Upon hearing the news, The Commodore sent his son to the south of France in hopes that he would make a full recovery. But, recovery never came. George’s condition worsened and he died on New Year’s Day 1864.

Today, tuberculosis is a preventable and curable disease throughout most of the world. But, during The Commodore’s time, it wasn’t. Roughly 25% of Europe’s adult population died of tuberculosis during the 1800s. More importantly, as The Commodore discovered, all the money in the world couldn’t save you from it.

Anytime things start getting tough in markets, as they have been over the past few weeks, I think back upon The Commodore and his son’s untimely death. Not because this story reminds me of stocks or investing, but because it doesn’t remind me of those things. It doesn’t remind me of my portfolio or my company or my career. In fact, it does the opposite. It reminds me how precious our time is. It reminds me that there’s so much more to life than money.

I say this because, by the time this is published, I will be traveling in Italy with my sister. It’s the first time that someone in our lineage has been back to Italy since the 1940s. And, after losing both my grandfather and my uncle in recent years, I know how special this trip is for the both of us. More importantly, I’m pleased to say that I’m paying for as much of it as my sister will allow. And I couldn’t be happier.

Over the past few weeks I’ve written about dying with zero, spending without regrets, and not worrying about optimizing your life. Well, I’m here to tell you that I’m living that advice too. I don’t tell you to spend your money publicly while I hoard all of mine privately. I’m parting ways with my cash to create memories with those I care about.

After all, that’s what the money is for. It’s for moments like this. All those 50-60+ hour weeks I worked in consulting. Every Sunday I spent building Of Dollars And Data. Every weekend I gave up in 2021 to write Just Keep Buying. All of it has been so that I can celebrate life with my loved ones. What better use for money is there?

This is why I’m all in on income-producing assets and the memories they will help me create. And I plan on creating those memories regardless of what the market is doing. How can I say this? How can I be so unfazed by everything that’s going on? Because I’ve studied history and I know that we will get through this. We always have. Yes, it’s true that history doesn’t repeat itself, but, as I’ve mentioned before, it rhymes more often than we think.

For example, in doing research for my trip to Italy, I learned that during the Black Death shopkeepers in Florence started opening buchettas, or stores where merchants could sell their goods through tiny windows in the walls:

Wine windows in Florence, Italy.

These “wine windows”, as they have been called, allowed shopkeepers to stay open while lowering their chance of catching the bubonic plague. Once the plague ended, buchettas fell out of fashion. However, with the onset of Covid, these wine windows saw a resurgence in use. The rhyme of history remains unabated.

This is why I don’t worry and you shouldn’t either. Because humans are remarkably resilient. I saw this resilience during Covid and I’ve seen it throughout the millennia of our collective past.

Nevertheless, if you still feel a little uneasy about everything going on right now, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite stories about how to overcome worry. It’s called “Two monks and a woman“:

A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her cross to the other side.

The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows not to touch a woman.

Then, without a word, the older monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and carried on his journey.

The younger monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. After rejoining his companion, he was speechless, and an hour passed without a word between them.

Two more hours passed, then three, finally the younger monk couldn’t contain himself any longer, and blurted out “As monks, we are not permitted a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”

The older monk looked at him and replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”

By the time you read this, I will be half a world away spending my money on what it was meant for. I won’t be thinking about markets or volatility or investing at all. I will have set aside the current drawdown, so why are you still carrying her?

Thank you for reading!

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This is post 315. Any code I have related to this post can be found here with the same numbering: https://github.com/nmaggiulli/of-dollars-and-data

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