Book Review: Living on the Margin

Aug17-3

Pat Schulte writes the blog bumfuzzle.com and as soon as I got pregnant with Cole people have been recommending them to me as proof that you can travel with children, even on a sailboat. I am not going on a sailboat (not anymore) but I’ve always wondered how he financed his travels because he alluded to his former career working as a pit trader on the Chicago exchange, saving/investing enough four years later to buy
a very expensive boat and continuing to travel for all these years without working, just living off his investments.

He’s like a genius investor or something, right?

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Since then I’ve met other travelers who finance their travels through investments. There’s not a huge number of them, but the ones I meet are the BIGGEST SLACKERS EVER. Pat co-wrote Living on the Margin with Nick O’Kelly and for the first 150 pages they talk about how they make all this work and how very little they work. They even call themselves Slacker – Traders. For travelers some of this is obvious and what we already do:

1. Save your money

2. Live beneath your means

3. Live in cheap places

4. Get your monthly costs as low as possible

5. Invest a portion of your savings each month in 2-3 solid well-researched trades

6. Earn enough to cover your expenses

7. Take the rest of the month off to enjoy the place you’ve traveled to…

For 1-4 I got it. I already live cheaply, my 3 bedroom house in Mexico costs just $450 a month. We don’t have set expenses like a mortgage or car payments. We work enough to cover our costs and then we too spend a lot of time just enjoying life.

It’s the bit about investing that I’ve never done. Which is a shame, and investment people would be really disappointed in me if they knew that I just stuck big sums of money, like my book advance, into my Bank of America Savings account and just let it sit there.

Criminal really.

But to me the whole world of finance and investing seemed too confusing and complicated. I didn’t have time figure it out, I was traveling, raising kids, and working on my projects. I also knew that being uninformed and just sticking your money in a random stock was really risky, because there are really smart people who know how to game the system. I didn’t want to get gamed.

Okay so after the rah-rah portion of the book, which I think is hugely important, but for me, going on my sixth year of travel, I am completely already there… they get into the meat of the subject.

What the heck is investing and how can you do it and really make big returns, say 20%, 30%, 40% or more a year on your portfolio?

Here’s where Pat’s trading background comes in because he talks in step-by-step details on how to do the kinds of trades he does. There’s the basic “buy low, sell high” but he’s looking for specific things in specific charts, and he tells you exactly what to look for. Then there’s options trading.

Options trading sounds really confusing, but for the first time, I totally got it, from reading this book. I’m sold. They convinced me. It is crazy for me not to be investing my savings, even in a small limited investments, where I set a plan, know what I’m doing and execute it without letting fear cloud my judgement (they talk a lot about this and the mindset and tricks you need to be a good cold-blooded investor, rather than someone who gets wrapped up in emotion and makes rash decisions).

So now, because this book flipped my thinking so much, I’m recommending to everyone. You might read it and decide, WOW UM NO, but read it. Because you never know, you might be a skeptic like me and change your mind. Especially if you are saving or traveling on a fixed amount of money until it runs out. It might not make you rich, but you could potentially stretch out your travel time even more by doing a few trades a year, if you knew how to do it.

Note: Trading stocks is risky. They make a really big point about the risk involved, and how to minimize it, how to not bet everything on one trade, how to set your threshold for risk and preset your tolerance for loss so you get out with minimal damage. But at the end of the day there is risk involved, just like buying a home is risky (I barely got out of my house in 2007 before the market crashed, and to this day the home is still worth $20,000 less than what I paid for it — basically a terrible investment) and quitting your job to travel the world is risky. I get and embrace educated risk in so many other areas of my life, but with stocks I just saw “risk” and freaked out. One thing this book does is help you contextualize the risk with other things in your life, because not all risk is created equal.

The BS Meter

Okay, this is the thing about financial books. I think they are all scams (not this one, but those “I made a million dollars day trading” kind of thing). So I emailed Pat and asked him what other books I should read to get started. He recommended just one: Sheldon Natenberg’s Options Pricing and Volatility. I went to Amazon and found the reviews from all professional traders saying that this book is the BIBLE of options trading.

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Then I googled the guy who wrote the book. Beyond being a former trader he was also in charge of education at a big exchange. He did one interview where he talked about that for retail customers — basically any of us, anyone not working on the floor — the real money was always in options and understanding volatility of the market.

Here’s the interview, but it’s long and there’s lots of trader-speak. Maybe read Pat’s book first, then watch this:

Now, I wouldn’t just read Living on the Margin, go open an etrade account and start buying options, but I am setting some time aside over the next year to read more about options, to read this additional book (warning: it’s more of a textbook and aimed at professionals) and to truly get a handle on the terminology, strategies and math behind how all of this works.

It is extremely rare that a book makes me start a new life project, but there it is: it’s that good. I was even able to explain options to my husband afterwards, but I had to pretend I was a farmer with some corn to sell, because the second I say stocks, he blacks out a little.

The ONLY downside to this book

I wish they had written one more chapter, right at the end that was like, okay here’s the progression:

1. Create a watch list of 10 stocks that you like.

2. Look for these things.

3. Read more and research here: x, y, z.

4. For the most basic trade, look for this. Do a paper trade (not real money) 2 or 3 times to get the feel of it.

5. The next time, do a real trade and keep going, but wait until you find a good one.

6. While you’re waiting, go read up on this basic options strategy. Here are what you want to see from a potential stock that is a good match for this kind of trading: x, y, z.

7. And so on…

I wanted them to give an organized path through all the information they presented. It’s all in the book, and I can create my own game plan but a chapter on how to prioritize what to learn first would have been fantastic. Because it’s a lot. My brain is still spinning with puts and calls and Greek letters that all sound, well Greek to me.

TL&DR version

Living on the Margin is the 4-Hour Workweek for investing.