A few days ago, Megan and I were riding our little scooter on a charming windy dirt road. Our trusty two wheels and an engine get us places. On the way, we saw a road sign that said: “Slow down.” If I were to close my eyes over a year ago on the 2020 New Year’s Eve and open them today, I would have had many questions. Last year brought a lot of change; it turned our lives upside down (or right side up?). For Megan and me, though, it made us do exactly what the roadside called for: slow down! It taught us more about life, planning and gave me a refreshed perspective on how we should invest.
Last year started with full speed. As soon as I got over my early January cold and barely got my voice back, I was already recording a podcast interview. It was The Brendan Burns Show, where I discussed my most recent book, Money, Life, Family. I had calls, meetings, and a conference coming up. I was planning to have one week home, then a trip to Europe, followed by a speaking opportunity on the West Coast. I already knew I’d be back in Europe in May or June again. In August, we had our wedding plans, and we were thinking about some honeymoon ideas for the fall. The year ahead seemed to have been fully planned with hardly any room for a hiccup. To make our schedule a bit tighter, we planned to attend three weddings sprinkled almost every month from early summer to early fall, and happening anywhere from the East Coast to Europe.
Our rocket-speed year came to a screeching halt, though, in March. We canceled one trip, then another, and eventually all our travel plans and almost all social and work commitments for the year. Our schedule was wide open again like it’s never been before.
These weren’t just our travel plans that changed early last year; our investment strategy for the year had to be paused and rethought. In investing, there is never a dull moment. The previous year ranks among the most challenging and fascinating in my book. From business as usual, we had to maneuver between managing the market correction and taking advantage of all the buying opportunities that followed. In many ways, those few weeks or even months early last year brought more excitement for disciplined investors than any of the previous five or maybe even ten years. Instead of chasing stocks, we could see them come to us.
We acted fast. Our ready to use wish list of the ideas came in handy. We found great buys at multi-year low prices. It’s something we haven’t witnessed in a while. Calm, almost sleepy markets of the last few years turned into a stormy sea with big ups and downs daily. As the saying goes: “Rough seas make strong sailors.” We believe that volatility is our friend — it creates buying opportunities.
With my schedule cleared up for the year and with no daily commute, I recouped hours, days, and weeks that I could use in other ways. I slowed down. I had more time to think, read, and write. There is no question that March proved to be the busiest month in our recent history (or maybe even my entire career). Still, the following months gave us a chance to research, study, and keep abreast of new developing opportunities all around. I had a chance to finish reading many annual reports that I started earlier last year. I could even indulge in reading two decades worth of Jeff Bezos’ annual letters. I lost count of books I picked up last year. From artificial intelligence, the use of algorithms in our lives, books about the 1919 influenza, the previous market bubbles, the Great Depression to lighter reads, a few travel, sailing, and surfing memoirs among them.
As you may know, early on, we traded our city apartment for a cabin in the woods, first in Pennsylvania, then in the beautiful north Georgia mountains with its lakes and hiking trails. After that, we jumped on an opportunity to spend some time in a quaint fishing town in the Caribbean. Our earlier setting could have been taken out of the pages of Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden; or, Life in the Woods”. Today, we may as well be living among the characters of Ernest Hemingway’s novel “Old Man and the Sea.”
We are no strangers to two-wheel transportation. Some of you may remember that I used to keep a Ducati motorcycle in Manhattan for many years. Megan and I explored many backroads of the tri-state area and beyond it. Our current little scooter may lack a lot when it comes to power or even looks, but it definitely makes it up with character. It doesn’t do well over speed bumps, but I always remember to slow down. That’s the lesson I took away from 2020, too. In our life, and investments, it might have felt like a speed bump, but there is a wide-open road ahead.
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