Episode 3

Is NOW the right time to invest in stocks?

Cropped image of business man sitting by the table in cafe and analyzing indicators

Is NOW the right time to invest in stocks? It’s an age-old question asked by the most serious of investors. Just a few months ago markets were at all-time highs. Now, we are dealing with heightened volatility in the face of economic and geopolitical uncertainty. Both scenarios make investors nervous that we are on the precipice of a decline, but for different reasons. What conditions should investors look for before putting their money to work? In this episode of Wealthy Behavior, our guest Apollo Lupescu, PhD and Vice President at Dimensional Fund Advisors is helping us answer the question, “When’s the ideal time to invest?”.

00:00:10 – 00:05:01

Welcome to Wealthy Behavior, Talking Money and Wealth with Heritage Financial. The podcast that digs into topics, strategies, and behaviors that help busy successful people build and protect their personal wealth. I’m your host, Sammy Azzouz president of Heritage Financial, a Boston-based wealth management firm working with business owners, executives, and retirees for more than 25 years. Now let’s talk about the wealthy behaviors that are key to a rich life.


Welcome to episode three of wealthy behavior. On today’s episode, we answer an important question and advisers get a lot. And that’s whether now is the right time to invest. Sometimes we get that when the markets are at or near all time highs like they were earlier this year, 13 years into the secular bull market that began in 2009. And sometimes we get it when the market is going through a correction and volatility like we’ve seen lately. Different situations both leading people to worry about whether they should invest in the market right now. Generally, the answer is yes. If you’re concerned about an up market being too good and you don’t want to get in, the market is within 10% of its all time high over 60% of the time. And the market hitting an all time high is a pretty common occurrence. It happens on average 16 times a year and one year out from a market high. The market only has a 6 and a half percent chance of being down 10% or more. On the flip side concerned about market volatility, market volatility is a normal part of investing. The market averages an intra year decline of about 14% per year. But here to dig into all the details and more with these questions is Apollo Lupescu, a PhD and vice president with Dimensional Fund Advisers. Thanks for joining wealthy behavior, Apollo. Hi, Sammy. Thank you so much for the invitation. And I look forward to our conversation. Great. And I know our listeners are as well. So let’s start a little bit with your background. You’ve been with DFA for more than 18 years. How long have you been in the business and what’s your background at a high level? Well, I’ve been with dimensional for as we said, 18 years. It seems like a lifetime, but it’s been a phenomenal 18 years. My background is that I studied economics at Michigan state for undergrad and got introduced to the stock market by one of my friends. He was a very interesting character and it really opened up the stock market as something that I wanted to explore. It was the mystery of the market. All this money to be made and lost and I wanted to sort of uncover the mystery of the market. And I went from finishing that on the grad in finance at Michigan state with a masters and then a PhD in finance and economics at University of California, Santa Barbara. And all throughout, I always wanted to understand as much as I can, the dynamics of the stock market. What’s driving the market, how to think about it. And then subsequently, I ended up finding this company dimensional that had an incredibly strong academic affiliation. And I was really captivated by how they were taking these ideas that I had been teaching and I had been taught for all these years in the scientific world and applying them in the practical world. So that’s kind of how I got caught into this. It’s a big passion of mine and he hasn’t changed. And I still haven’t unraveled the mystery. I don’t think I ever will. Well, no, but you’ve definitely started with a passion for investing and you’re at a firm that thinks very hard and long about the best way to invest. So you’re a great guest for us today. You know, you understand the challenge that individual investors are facing. I call investing simple but not easy because yes, the precepts are fairly simple, but market volatility in particular can make it difficult to follow a long-term investment strategy and the way we teed up this conversation is sometimes markets are doing extremely well and people are tempted to hit the pause button in terms of putting new money to work because after all if it’s been going so well for so long, we have to have a pullback at some point, right? And then on the flip side, you start to get the pullback, which we’re in the midst of now. And then people are reluctant to stick to their strategy or to put new money to work because we’re in the midst of something that can only get worse. Why is this so hard in terms of getting individual investors comfortable with market volatility in either direction? I feel that it’s to some degree it’s our natural instinct to try to control things. And if things are out of our control, then we want to do something about it. That’s why it’s hard for me, for example, to be in the passenger seat. I might rather drive for ten hours and be in the passenger seat for ten hours.


00:05:01 – 00:10:01

I just feel a bit of loss and control. And I think the markets, because they are driven by unforeseen events, you tend to feel a little bit loss of control. And so, I think it’s natural as human beings to try to do something to control it. And tied into that is just the emotions that come with investing. We’ve all worked hard. Sammy, everybody’s worked hard to save some money to build a nest egg and the last thing you want to do is see that nest that taking a big hit because of the market. So you always want to try to do something to feel in some level of control. And that’s kind of a personal feeling. That people feel like by selling, I take some control back and now I’m more control of my money than if I would just left it in the market. So that’s one of the reasons that I kind of come to understand that investors have that. Second, I think that there is an armada of marketing being targeted to investors that somehow there is the wisdom of a manager who knows when to get out of the market and when to get back in. So it would help you as an investor avoid some of these market downturns. And wouldn’t it be nice? I mean, it is appealing, isn’t it? I mean, why wouldn’t you want to do that? Instead it tells you, yeah, you know what? I’ll tell you, if you give me the money, I’ll tell you when to be in the market and when to be out of the market. So there’s a certain appeal that comes from the media and for managers who are using the media to make these claims, even though when you look at the evidence, it just shows that that’s really not something that possibly can be done. So I think that between our human nature, between the way that we are bombarded with information and marketing and media, I don’t think it’s surprising that that folks have this wish – this idea that successful investing resides around knowing when to get in and want to get out. And because of that Sammy, I think a lot of folks are looking for signals. Is that a signal that I should be doing something with my money?

Let’s talk specifically, you mentioned signals are people searching for signals in terms of trying to figure out the right entry point. And we have that directionally in two situations. One, when the markets are at all time highs, people feel a little bit of apprehension about putting money to work. They think it’s a signal because they’re used to market volatility that things can’t continue going up at the pace that they’ve been going up. What are your thoughts in terms of, you know, is now a good time to invest when markets are doing well. And certainly that’s one of the ideas out there that when markets are doing well, this party certainly can not last forever. And we should be doing something about it. So let me give you two or three perspectives on that notion. The first perspective, which is something that I’ve learned a long time ago and started studying data in the PhD, was that when you think the market is too high by whatever metric, valuations, whatever historical metrics, 52 weeks, whatever metric you want to choose. The really important thing is not just knowing when to get out, but there’s an equally important decision, which is incredibly hard to make. When do you get back in the market? So it’s not one decision, but two simultaneous decisions you have to make. And that is the hardest part, is knowing when to get back in. Because Sammy, you remember March of 2020. Exactly two years ago, to the day almost from when we are recording this podcast. The world came to a standstill. We’re all stuck at home. There are no cars on the road. You know, so many businesses shut down. And it looked like a very, very scary time. And I’m kind of taking the negative side of it, but the thing is that if people decided to get out, the question was, when do you get back in the market? If you say the market’s too high, it looks so good. When do you get back in the market? What we see invariably is that because there is no perfect mechanism to time, more often you end up missing the upside much more so than being able to protect yourself on the downside. So that’s the first perspective that I would say is just, you know, making two correct decisions, that’s the hard part. The second perspective is that when I did it years and years ago, I didn’t have a lot of money. But even back then, you realize that there are consequences to your actions that when you decide to sell out of the market, there’s a real impact of potential taxes and transaction costs. So what do you get to keep is basically it is not just a full amount.


00:10:02 – 00:15:14

It’s the full amount minus the taxes that you did not have to pay. How do you stay invested and not realize those capital gains? So not in every case, but generally speaking, there could be a potential of a capital gain. The third perspective that I thought was so interesting was that when you look at the data, when you look at the data, what you see is that statistically speaking, when you reach an all time high, and then you fast forward one year out, it’s not devastating. In fact, when you look at it and we have some data that looks that one year out after the index, the S&P hit an all time high, about 80 plus percent of the time, one year later, you would actually have more money. And the average return over those 12 months is about 14%, 13.9%. So in other words, it’s not devastating. And what’s surprising, Sammy, is that if you say, okay, but what if I invest in any other month? The percentage of times when the index is higher is only 75%. So it’s a lower percentage than the index is higher. And the average by which is higher on an annualized basis is only about 12.3%. So investing at an all time high almost counterintuitively it seems statistically to be in your advantage. So the gut reaction that an all time high is a signal that the market can’t continue is just actually not supported at all by the data. Exactly. If you wanted to be data driven, you’d say markets doing well is a great time to invest compared to all other environments. Exactly right. There’s one thing that people have to keep in mind. Is you have a plan and that plan informs some sort of an allocation between stocks, bonds, international and all that. Not all these moving parts are returning the same percentage every year. They don’t move in lockstep. And because of that, as the market goes higher and higher and higher, it is possible that at some point the percentage in the allocation to that market to the, let’s say the S&P becomes higher than what is called for in the plan. And at that point, it is absolutely desirable for an adviser to examine the portfolio and at times sell or trim the position, takes some chips off the table and perhaps go to something that has dropped in value so they can restore that equilibrium. And that process is called rebalancing. So when the market goes high, I think the argument that I’ve been trying to bring forth is not one that he shouldn’t do anything. The argument is you don’t need to sell the entire position. However, as an adviser, it’s worthwhile having a systematic process that as the market go higher, you trim them. In other words, if you can imagine, if you have a full set of hair, which I don’t, but if you have a full you go get a trim, don’t get a shave. So that’s the idea, as you want to trim the positions at time as the market goes high, but not wholesale get out of the market just because you think it’s too high. So it doesn’t mean that an adviser like you, which is not do anything. It’s just the action that they would take, you would be more thoughtful than just like, let’s sell because we don’t think it’s going to be good in the future. That’s not the idea. But again, does not mean that you should not be doing anything, not at all. There are times when you ought to be doing something. Yeah, and what you’re talking about is sticking to your long-term plan, whether your long-term plan decided that you should be investing a certain percentage of your portfolio and stock funds and other things. And as new cash became available, you were putting it to work. You need to keep putting it to work, regardless of whether you think the market’s too high at that standpoint. And also, if your asset allocation plan was to own a certain percentage in different categories, you should stick to that long-term plan by just rebalancing as appropriate and not letting things get out of whack. And I think that’s a tremendous advice and it also connects to the flip side of this conversation of when markets are down. One thing that we deal with a lot of advisers is the question of dollar cost averaging where people want to get money to work and we’re seeing it a lot now with business owners who are selling their businesses and have a lot of liquidity for the first time and have never been investors in a traditional portfolio to the scale that they are now as one example. And the question comes up, you know, market’s doing really well or market’s not doing so great, depending on the environment, should I scale into this or should I just dump it all in the market today? And by market, I think they’re talking about what you shared, which isn’t one segment of the market, but the diversified portfolio that’s been presented to them.


00:15:15 – 00:20:06

What do you think of dollar cost averaging as a strategy? Given that the market trend is generally up. So mathematically, it should not work out for you. I think you have the right approach to your Sammy. There is a statistical answer to your question. And then there is a human behavior answer to your question. So on the statistical answer, if you’re just driven purely by data and numbers, the perspective is that you are better off putting all the money to work at once. And here are a couple of really quick and interesting statistics. If you look at the S&P 500, you go to Yahoo finance and look at the numbers on a daily basis and how the market’s doing. What you see is that generally speaking, when you look over the long run about 53% – 54% of all trading days in the market are positive. Which means that the balance of 47% – 46% are negative. So on a daily basis, if you invest or not, it’s a pretty even split. It’s a bit of a flip of a coin, whether or not you’ll make money or not. So you have a positive return on any money or not. It’s still a little bit better positive, but on a daily basis, it’s not going to blow you way. Sure. Now, if you extend that to a monthly basis and you look at the historical data going back to the 1920s, what you see is that roughly speaking, about 63% of all trading months in the S&P have been positive and 37% negative. And what happens in the market from one month to another, it’s completely random. What we’ll get in returns this month has nothing to do with what happened last month or what will happen next month. So it’s random from month to month. So they’re completely independent from one another. The market returns for month to month. But think about this. If you choose not to invest, then it’s almost as if you decided to go into a game and play a game where you have 63% odds that you would lose. How many of us would do this? You know, if I were to ask you, okay, if you. Invest, I can’t tell if you’re going to make money or not make money. But 63% of the time, you would actually be ahead of the game over the next month. If you saw those odds, what would you do? So from a statistical perspective, you know, you’re a lot more likely to miss a good month than a bad month. If you just simply look at the numbers. And when you look at annual, roughly three and four years have been a positive and only one in four negative. So the longer you stay on the market, the worse the odds become. So that’s the statistical answer- is that you are better off putting all your money to work at once because statistically have better odds of seeing a positive month in a negative month, regardless of what happens right now in the market. Now, that’s the statistical answer, all the money at work at once. But there is a human behavior. There’s a human element. If you are so apprehensive and you have that knot in your stomach and you just don’t feel like you’re going to be able to sleep at night by putting all the money in the market at once. And it helps you avoid any remorse or any regrets. And you need to deploy your capital over the next three months in the market or four months, whatever. You know, when you look ten, 20 years, 20 years down the road, it might not make such a big difference. So it’s not optimal for your money, but it’s not devastating if you’re going to parse it out over the next three months or 5 months, whatever the number of months you decided to do. It’s not devastating. You’re not going to be as well, but I can say it’s devastating. If you do it, I mean, if you do have a ten years, yeah, it’s going to be a different. But if you do it over a few months, I don’t think it’s a big deal. And if that really helps you sleep from a human behavior perspective, then so be it. Absolutely. And I think that that’s a great point in terms of quantifying for people exactly where this money is going to go and what aspect of it is going to be exposed to the market that they’re concerned about the most because they’re going to own other things in a well diversified portfolio put together by a good team. But it’s absolutely crucial for folks to understand the fundamental of the market and what’s causing this volatility.


00:20:07 – 00:25:09

So when the market fluctuates when there’s volatility, first of all, you as an investor should say, there’s nothing really unusual about this. That’s always been the case. And I understand why it’s something that is that is to be expected. It’s the nature of the markets. And to me, you know, we remember JPMorgan, who used to be asked, what’s the market going to do? And is invariable answer was, it will fluctuate. That was his answer. And that’s the truth. That’s the nature of the stock market. So when you see volatility, please don’t consider it as something that’s wrong with the market. Exactly the opposite. Now, one interesting thing about the volatility, Sammy, is that we are just now confronted with this war. And what’s so fascinating is that volatility around these events is quite interesting. The markets are trying to assimilate new information based on what has just happened with this major event. At the time, it’s not clear what the impact will be. So markets do tend to move a little bit more around a major event. So the picture that I always have in my mind is that we went vacationing in Maine a while ago. Beautiful, beautiful state. And we had a house next to a Lake. It was a little pond or whatever it was. And I remember that I took a rock and I threw it into the pond. And as the rock landed, at the point of impact, the waves or ripples were kind of big. But as you move away from the point of impact, those ripples get smaller and smaller. And somehow that made me think of the market. When you have a big event, like we just had with the war, like 9/11, Fukushima natural disaster, but the nuclear disaster. Around the time of the event, the market is trying to assess and reassess the prospects of different companies. And because there’s a lot of noise, not enough clarity, you have these bigger market movements, but as you go away from the event, those ripples start to become smaller and smaller. So that’s something to be aware of as an investor. Be careful not to get caught up at the point of impact when an event happens because that’s when you see greater market volatility because of the uncertainty around the event and the unknown impact that it might have on companies. So long story short, volatility is part of the market. It’s something that we understand why it’s desirable. And as an investor, you should embrace it and also be careful that around major events, we do tend to see more volatility that’s driven by the lack of clarity on the impact of that event on companies. All right, thank you, that makes a lot of sense. So we are in somewhat of a downturn now, let’s say it was worse or let’s say we’re back in 2008, what is your advice for individual investors during markets that just get, frankly, ugly? The first advice that I have is to acknowledge the emotions that come with the market downturn, the unpleasantness of opening your statement and seeing that perhaps your value has dropped and absolutely that’s understandable that’s human. And a lot of these market drops might be associated with unpleasant events. Like we had the pandemic a few years ago. And while we acknowledge this and I think it’s just, that’s what makes us human to have these emotions. I think that the first advice that I have for folks is to disentangle these emotions from investment decisions. Do not make investment decisions when you’re emotional. And by the way, this is not just investing. In general, I find that decisions that I made when I’m very emotional, they’re not tend to be the best ones. So I think it’s kind of having an adviser to keep a cool head when these markets are down. The second advice that I would have is to really avoid selling an entire position based on what do you think it might happen as we talked about it. You have to know when to get back in. A lot of folks after the drop in the first quarter of 2020, they had no idea what to get back in. And they missed the entire recovery. So it’s really hard to get back in there. So my second advice don’t consider selling an entire position as being the right way to go. My advice is that to mitigate market downturns is to really make sure that you have the right balance of bonds. Make sure that you’re properly diversified among global stock markets. But truly the action to take when the market drops is to talk to your adviser and examine whether that might be the right time to actually buy.


00:25:10 – 00:30:05

Look at it as an opportunity. And not just like, let’s just load up on stocks willy-nilly, but an opportunity to rebalance the portfolio as we talked about and make sure that you have the proper weight for stocks because eventually what we know is that the markets do come back and what you don’t want is to be too light on stocks. So when the recovery happens, you’re not really capturing the full upside. So to me, the things to not to do are get caught up with emotions or try to sell the entire position. The thing to do is to make sure that you have the right balance of stocks and bonds that you probably diversified and you absolutely check on rebalancing if it’s appropriate. Not every time, sometimes it might not be appropriate, but if it’s a periodic rebalance, then when the market drops, look at it as an opportunity. Sorry, I am trying to connect the two, you know, when the market’s high and when it’s low, if you sell out of the market at a low point, it becomes so much harder to get back in at a higher point. And you end up just really anchoring to where the market was. And, you know, I know a lot of investors who got out during the ‘O8 crisis and never really fully got back in, not really believing what they were seeing in the market and then looking at all the missed gains and really becoming paralyzed by that paradigm. So I think your advice is spot on and it kind of combines the worst of both of these scenarios into one. And makes it that much more difficult, absolutely. And particularly folks, we know market downturns are coming eventually in some way, shape, or form. And it’s just about getting ready for that and focusing on the things that we can control. Sammy, I live in Los Angeles. And I know the one thing that’s going to happen here at some point is an earthquake. I’m not of the illusion that I’ll live my whole life without having to deal with some kind. But the knowledge of the earthquake itself is pretty useless because I don’t know when it’s coming. It’s the same with the market. I know the market’s going to drop. I just don’t know when. But it doesn’t mean that I’m powerless, I can prepare. I can focus on the things that I can control. I bolted the house the foundation. I tie the shelves to the wall. I have water in the trunk. I have things that I can do to prepare. And when it comes, it might not be pleasant, but it will not be devastating if I had prepared for this. It’s just when you don’t prepare and that event comes, that’s the issue there. So it’s the same on the market. You know, we know they’re going to come. We know they’ll be market downturns. The news is not always going to be positive. It’s just the nature of the world. And just be prepared by having an adviser, diversifying, and having a balance between stocks and bonds. Absolutely. And so much of your advice today in dealing with the market’s moves in either direction to investors, anchors on diversification and diversification being owning a lot of different things in a well balanced portfolio. You know, there’s a little bit of a view or belief that every now and then diversification doesn’t work like in ‘O8 all stocks were going down at the same time. I don’t think that’s true, and I’d love for you to address a little bit that either myth or argument about diversification and maybe markets becoming more correlated globally and not all of those strategies will protect you as well as they have in the past. You know, it’s possible that at times all markets might go down. So I can not discount that and say that never happens. It’s possible. There are a lot of things that are possible. But what we have seen in the data is that investors who are solely focused on the S&P, the large companies in the U.S., they don’t diversify, they tend not to have as good of outcomes over the long run than perhaps somebody who’s more diversified. And it’s not universal there are times when the S&P is going to do very well. I guess what I’m saying is that if you take periods when the S&P didn’t do well. Look at the first ten years of the century between 2002-2010 for the first decade, we had something called the lost decade because a dollar invested in the S&P would have actually been negative, it would have turned into 91 cents. So a whole decade of the market not doing well, whereas a globally diversified portfolio with some small company stocks with some value stocks would have certainly had a positive outcome over that period.


00:30:06 – 00:35:05

So there will be times when the U.S. is doing well, they’ll be times when the U.S. is not doing well. You know, historically, it’s never been the case that it’s consistently one doing better than the other. There’s always some level of benefit to diversification, but there are times when perhaps markets will move a little bit closer in tandem. But by and large, historically, we have not seen this to be so consistent where it’s no longer making sense to diversify. Not at all. There is still a big benefit to diversification. And just look at the last decade. During the last decade, we had a global portfolio would have done so much better than a U.S. only. And not only that, you look at all kinds of time periods, but in fact consistent, I cannot tell you that’s going to be the case every year. Over the past few years, the U.S. has done incredibly well. And that’s fine. I love that. It’s the biggest part of a portfolio.

There’s so much more we could talk about here Apollo, but this is really a great overview of how to think about putting your money to work for you no matter the market environment. If our listeners only take away one thing from our conversation about investing for the long term as it relates to their wealth, what should it be? It’s that investing in the market is one of the most important activities that we can do because it gives us all a stake in capitalism. It allows us to participate in the ownership of companies that we use when we make daily purchases. It is not a gambling casino. It’s simply reflecting the value of these great American companies and when you have that opportunity to do it, I would absolutely embrace it because it’s one of these fundamental ways in which we can partake in capitalism. And I’m very optimistic about the market because I believe in free markets and these companies. These companies are run by smart people and they will try to find a way to make it work and make money in whatever state of the world that we might be in. They might not make money every day, but I have no doubt that when they show up for work, it’s how do we get this company to be successful and that’s my ultimate reason for optimism in the market and I encourage people to consider the market rather than just think that it’s a sham or it’s a casino or it’s a game. It’s not. It’s one of the most fundamental premises in our society, partake in capitalism, be part of this amazing global economy. That’s a way to do it without having to go to work for that. When you drive to work and you see folks going into buildings and all these global headquarters, you can say, you know, these folks work for me. I just don’t have to show up for work. And that’s what participating in the market allows you to do. And understand there will be individual companies when there might not be make money for the while. There’s the individual company level, but by and large, over the long run, this free market capitalist system has been powering the stock market and has been powering our lives. And that’s why an incredibly optimistic about the market and I encourage people to consider it. I’m not going to tell you go invest blindly. You might need to have a balance with bonds. That’s why you need to talk to Sammy and the team and make sure that your plan accounts for your circumstances, your needs, but I’m incredibly optimistic and grateful for being able to participate in the stock market.

That’s great. And since the name of our podcast is wealthy behavior, what’s the best piece of financial advice you’ve ever received? The best piece of financial advice that I got in my life actually had to do with understanding the tradeoffs in investing. There is a tradeoff to investing. At any point in time, if you say yes to something, you say no to something else. And the tradeoffs that I understand is that there is a real risk and return relationship. And it manifests why do you buy a single stock where you can make a lot of money or lose a lot of money versus buying a big basket of diversified stocks? So it was advice that, you know, hey, you can make a lot of money, but be careful on the other side. You know, you can make a lot of money in the stock market over the long run, but you also have a lot of a choppier ride relative to investing in bonds. So probably the best advice that I got is always pay attention to the tradeoffs. And always realize that when you say yes to something, you say no to something else.


00:35:05 – 00:36:13

There’s an opportunity cost and sometimes it’s worth it. Sometimes it’s not. Great advice. Thank you very much Apollo for your insight today and for joining us on wealthy behavior. This is great fun talking to you. Thanks for having me.

Thank you for listening to Wealthy Behavior. If you found the conversation useful, please consider leaving us a review wherever you listen to your podcast and sharing this episode so those around you can live for rich life too. For more insights, subscribe to our weekly blog and heritage financial dot net and follow heritage financial on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Check out my personal finance blog at www.thebostonadviser.com.



This educational podcast is brought to you by heritage financial services LLC located in the greater Boston area. The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are that of the speaker, are subject to change and do not constitute investment advice or a recommendation regarding any specific product or security. There is no guarantee that any investment or strategy discussed will be successful or will achieve any particular level of results. Investing involves risks including the potential loss of principal.

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About Wealthy Behavior: Heritage Financial Services

Wealthy Behavior digs into the topics, strategies, and behaviors that are key to building and protecting personal wealth and living a rich life. We’re Boston Massachusetts-based wealth managers who have been helping busy, successful people pursue their financial goals for more than 25 years. Hosted by Sammy Azzouz, President of Heritage Financial, Wealthy Behavior digs into the topics, strategies, and behaviors that are key to building and protecting personal wealth and living a rich life.