Resilient Investing: Recognizing Your Real Net-Worth

Our Resilient Investing Map (RIM) invites you to invest in your life in a way that recognizes and grows all of your assets. Indeed, the goal of resilient investing is to consciously and methodically spread your time and your money around the full Map, in order to nourish all the elements of your complete “net-worth.” This will include prudence with your money (Financial Assets), appreciation of your possessions and the built and natural world (Tangible Assets), and nourishing your relationships and inner growth (Personal Assets).

It may feel a little strange to think of, say, the ways you prioritize activities that enhance your child’s wellbeing, and the strategies you’re using to manage a brokerage account, as being parts of a unified investment system. We’re trained to think of these as very different kinds of decisions. But they are indeed related, as both are investments you’re making to bring about a desired result in the future.

Resilient investing enables you to put all of your goals on the table as you consider where you want to direct your time, attention, and money. Crucially, this approach acknowledges that for most people, financial resources are limited. Those who can’t set aside money to invest should realize that they are indeed making investment decisions that are just as important—maybe more so—than those who are fortunate enough to have a brokerage account. At the same time, by looking beyond financial investments, we encourage everyone to diversify their investment horizons to include the equally important tangible and personal realms. The ways you engage and are nourished by your home and your ecosystem, and the crucial roles of your loved ones and the pursuit of your dreams are at least as important as your portfolio balance.

Financial Assets are the familiar currency of the realm that we’re used to calling “investments.” This may include corporate stocks, debt instruments (i.e. bonds) that loan money to governments or corporations, and your short-term savings and checking accounts. Mutual funds, and now ETFs (exchange traded funds), were created to help ordinary investors diversify their holdings of stocks and bonds. Wall Street also offers more complex instruments, ranging from relatively simple “option contracts” to a bewildering array of “derivatives” and bundled risk instruments that most of us, professionals included, would be stretched to comprehend (which is how their creators like it!). Those who have substantial assets or higher incomes may access the world of private investments and hedge funds.

For those who seek a “triple bottom line” (environmental, social, and financial), it has long been possible to select Financial Assets that align with one’s personal values[1] (see Chapter Notes). Most of the above choices are available in Sustainable and Responsible Investments, and performance has been reliably competitive (see Appendix, The Case for SRI). In recent years, community investing has created many opportunities to bank locally, as well as to put some of your savings into community loan funds that do great work. Opportunities to participate in microfinance in the developing world or to loan your money to programs supporting local food systems, are increasing every year, while qualified investors can choose among a wide range of private placement offerings in social enterprises that serve sectors such as health care, sustainable agriculture and forestry, renewable energy, education and green development.

Crowdfunding is one of the newest innovations, enabling people to directly support startup companies and arts, social change, or environmental projects; though not fully implemented as of this writing, legislation passed in 2012 is designed to allow small investors (as opposed to high net worth investors, who already have this right) to make modest investments in companies that are just getting started or that wish to expand. It holds great promise for investors who wish to invest locally, and for small businesses that can now access the capital markets.

Tangible Assets are the “stuff” that we own or have access to. Most important are the practical aspects of daily life on which our survival and happiness depend: food, clothing, water, energy, land, buildings, transportation, and technology. Whenever we trade our time and energy or our money for anything physical—whether we hold it personally, like a well-forged shovel, or collectively, like a shared summer cabin—it becomes one of our Tangible Assets. It’s easy to overlook this realm when thinking of our investments, especially those that are not “liquid,” or readily resold.

Our decisions about which and how many Tangible Assets to invest in are often at the center of our economic lives and practice of investing. We are constantly faced with choices about when to convert some of our Financial Assets into Tangible Assets. While our homes and property are commonly considered to be “investments” (because of their potential to gain value), this is the exception rather than the rule among Tangible Assets, many of which degrade in resale value quite quickly. We’ll often choose to buy something that we know will never provide a financial payback because we believe it will enrich our lives in other ways. In addition, our possessions make apparent the impact we have on the world through our purchasing choices—all that stuff we have in our houses and garages offer the opportunity to contemplate the natural and human resources that were required to make and transport them to us.

But Tangible Assets also extend beyond the things within our personal grasp. The burgeoning “sharing economy” surely involves Tangible Assets, whether it’s tools owned in common with others, or joining a car-sharing service that provides you with a vehicle when you need it. You might choose to invest in local food security by joining a community-supported farm.[2] The parks, libraries, and other shared resources we enjoy in our communities are also part of our Tangible portfolio.[3] On a larger scale, you may decide to support efforts that create tangible benefits to the local or global community and the biosphere. This could include things like habitat conservation and wildlife corridor projects around the globe, efforts to keep water rights with the land rather than being sold to distant cities, or investments that conserve agricultural land for future generations of farmers. Ultimately, a healthy, functioning ecosystem is our most fundamental tangible asset, one that we all hold in common.

Personal and Social Assets (which we’ll refer to more simply as Personal Assets) are in the row that we’re least likely to think of as part of our investment choices. Though it’s off our investment radar, this is humanity’s oldest “asset class,” and still the one that many of us are most actively engaged in. Here, we take care of ourselves—mind, heart, body, and soul—as well as nurture the web of social relationships that define us: partner, family, neighborhood, church, community, culture, country, and even global social networks.

Our social, interpersonal relationships are an essential kind of wealth that can’t be ignored; they require dedicated investment in order to reap the human returns that we each need in our lives. We all have many examples in our personal lives of the ways that friends, family, and professional, recreational, or faith networks have carried us through our times of greatest need. In the face of the complexity and uncertainty that we’re addressing throughout this book, these Personal Assets are likely to be the most stable and valuable form of “investment” that most of us hold. Best of all, they tend to reap the highest returns when times are rough.

Volunteering at a local soup kitchen, joining advocacy groups and getting active in politics, or pitching in at your kid’s school are all ways to invest and grow your Personal Assets. It’s widely accepted that altruistic and charitable actions not only help the intended recipient, but that the giver also reaps substantial benefits, ranging from stress reduction to being held in higher esteem by one’s community.[4]

[1] The origins of SRI, initially known as Socially Responsible Investing, now known as Sustainable and Responsible Investing, are fully explored in our previous book, Investing with Your Values: Making Money and Making a Difference, by Jack Brill, Hal Brill, and Cliff Feigenbaum (Bloomberg Press, 1999 and New Society Press, 2001).

[2] Learn about Community Supported Agriculture farms (CSAs) and find one near you at http://www.localharvest.org/csa/ (accessed July 22, 2014)

[3] A good overview as of early 2013 is here: http://www.economist.com /news/leaders/21573104-internet-everything-hire-rise-sharing-economy (accessed July 22, 2014); google “sharing economy” for a wide range of more recent articles and commentary.

[4] About.com, “Benefits of Altruism,” http://stress.about.com/od/lowstresslifestyle/a/altruism.htm (accessed 7/22/14)