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The First Rule of Investing: Don't Lose Money

"The first rule of an investment is don't lose money. And the second rule of an investment is don't forget the first rule. And that's all the rules there are." --Warren Buffett

The more money you have, the more costly it is to make mistakes in terms of dollars. And the pain of losing money can be 2x, 5x, or 10x as strong as the joy of making money, depending on the individual. You work hard to earn an income and save, so losing that would be distressing. That’s why experienced financial professionals are important.

When your car has trouble, you can take it to a mechanic or try to do it yourself to save some money. When you have a health issue you can search the internet and self-diagnose yourself or you can go to a doctor. There are good mechanics and bad mechanics. There are good doctors and below average doctors. The same is true in investments. You should demand excellence from a financial advisor and accept nothing short of that. And when you find that person, trust them when they tell you risk management is crucial.

Consider that in 2009, multibillionaire Adolf Merckle sadly committed suicide after losing billions of dollars on bad investments. At one point he was the 94th richest person in the world according to Forbes. During the Financial Crisis of 2008-2009 his net worth was dwindling and he worried he’d lose it all. After a lifetime of successful investments, the shame he felt from the investment mistakes in 2008 was overwhelming and the 74-year old jumped in front of a train. His son inherited the business and today they’ve recovered the losses and the family is worth nearly $9 billion. The pain of big investment mistakes is not worth the potential big reward.

If you are a high earner and make sacrifices on your spending and lifestyle, you can likely become a multi-millionaire or decamillionaire. The moral of the above story is that the joy of saving and investing to have a net worth of $20 million in retirement is significantly less than the pain and devastation you’d feel if you lost that $20 million or a significant portion of it. And that is why you need a professional to not only help you find ways to earn satisfactory returns on your invested capital, but to serve as a professional risk manager.

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