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The Best Interest » The Jazz of Personal Finance

The Jazz of Personal Finance

You probably don’t know Ornette Coleman.

Coleman was a jazz musician (born 1930, died 2015) famous in the jazz world for his willingness to break the rules. Not that jazz is particularly known for rigid rules, but that’s another story.

While some jazz purists denounced Coleman’s “free jazz” techniques, many more grew to be his fans. The more they listened to Coleman, the more they realized: he can break the rules because he knows the rules.

It’s just like the Pablo Picasso quote:

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

Picasso

The more time I spend in personal finance and investing, the more I believe this same idea applies to the “rules of money.” We can call it “the jazz of personal finance.” Understanding the intricacies of established personal finance norms equips us with the knowledge to navigate the boundaries, bend those boundaries, or occasionally even break them.

blue red and yellow chalk

Rule-breaking doesn’t have to be synonymous with ignorance. We’ve all broken rules in our life before when it was smart, convenient, or because the downsides were minimal.

But ignorantly breaking the rules leads to trouble. The reason, simply, is that ignorance of the rules equates to ignorance of the consequences.

It’s a bit like speeding on the highway. We’ve all gone 60 in a 55. It’s another thing to do 90 in a 55.

close up of electric lamp against black background

When Ornette Coleman broke the rules of jazz or Picasso broke the rules of art, they understood the potential downsides. Similarly, we can break the rules of personal finance and investing as long as we understand the downsides.

Do you want to allocate your investing dollars to Bitcoin? Be warned: this flies in the face of most investing principles. Bitcoin is not an income-producing asset. But if you can’t fight the urge, then break this rule like an artist. Allocate a small percentage (ideally less than 5%) of your assets to crypto, and don’t be surprised if that part of your portfolio is extremely volatile or, potentially, goes to zero.

But when I see investors fall victim to the news cycle and pour their life savings into Dogecoin, I think, “Here’s someone who’s breaking the rules, but doesn’t know what the rules are in the first place.” They aren’t playing jazz. They’re blowing ferociously into a reed-less saxophone. They’re doing 90 in a 55, blissfully unaware of impending speeding tickets (or worse).

silhouette of a man playing saxophone during sunset

My personal recommendation:

  • Learn the rules first. Spend time reading/listening the many wonderful personal finance and investing resources out there.
  • And if you’re comfortable – ideally very comfortable – bend or break the rules. You know the upsides and the downsides and won’t be surprised if you get egg on your face.
Picasso’s version of an egg

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-Jesse

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