Recently I was browsing through a bookstore while on a road trip and happened upon a book titled The Whole Foods Diet by John Mackey (CEO Whole Foods Market), Alona Pulde, MD, and Matthew Lederman, MD. This is not my typical fare, but it looked interesting and of course, it was in the bargain section, so I purchased it. I spent the rest of the road trip completely engrossed in what I was reading. It completely changed my paradigm on what I knew or believed about diet and nutrition and has led to me reading many additional books on nutrition. This in turn, has led to many personal changes for me but what really struck me was how similar the food and financial industries are. You may be thinking, what the heck is this guy talking about?
Let’s take budgeting in personal finance. If you have read any of my previous blogs or explored my website, you know that I believe a budget is essential to track where your money goes along with providing a complete picture of your financial status. Trying to lose weight is similar in a sense in that one needs to track what you eat. One can track every calorie consumed or learn which foods are healthiest and incorporate those into your daily nutrition. Either way it takes discipline to be successful financially or managing your weight/health. If you trying to save money, one needs to budget and count every penny; if one is trying to lose weight – one needs to measure and count every morsel.
The financial industry has many fees attached to the products they try to sell you or as they put it, have you invested in. Many of these fees are “baked” into the product and are not visible to the average consumer. These fees include management and fund fees along with loads, which is just another name for a fee. The food industry operates in a similar way through their labeling process, which can mask ingredients in their products by using many different names for common ingredients Have you ever noticed any of the following when reading labels- fructose, lactose, sucrose, dextrose, maltose, glucose, ethyl maltol? These are all sugars!
Both industries try to make things more complicated by the way they market their products. The financial industry wants you to believe that investing is a complicated process and they have the ability to enhance your investment returns. Neither of these is true. The food industry uses words like natural and fat free, which really have no meaning to most people. For instance, lunchmeat can be labeled as natural, but both the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the World Organization (WHO) have labeled all processed meats as known carcinogens. Yes, potentially cancer causing! You won’t see that on the label. To understand the label on most packaged food products, you would need to be a chemist.
Neither industry may have your best interests in mind. For example, your portfolio return over time can be reduced by a full 65% if your financial investments are being charged just a 2% fee. That’s a massive amount! The food industry adds sugar and salt in approximately 80% of packaged food products for the sole purpose of getting people to eat and purchase more of their products. That’s even worse than losing 65% of your money; you literally are losing your health! Do you think that may be possibly why close to 70% of the United States population is overweight?
Dave Ramsey, a nationally known personal finance expert, has a famous quote he uses to people who are trying to get out of debt: “Nothing but beans and rice, rice and beans.” He also says, “You shouldn’t be seeing the inside of a restaurant, unless you’re working there.” Note the connection between food and finance. The irony of these statements is they can be perceived negatively, when in truth, they are excellent choices from a health perspective even if you aren’t in debt. I find this rather humorous as it is a good example of how counterintuitive the information we receive can be.
If you lumped the beer, wine and liquor industry in with the food industry, there are similar comparisons that can be made. Most people don’t realize that the chemical name for alcohol is ethanol. Yep, the same stuff that mixes with your vehicle gas. I was stunned to find out that both the NIH and WHO have labeled alcohol as a known carcinogen as well. They also never mention that alcohol is one of the most addictive drugs in the world. You won’t find that on any label. One of my hobbies is bicycling and I am always amazed at how craft beer and bicycling have become synonymous. I’m not sure drinking beer and hopping on your bike is necessarily the best situation but many biking events are now sponsored by breweries. From a healthy living standpoint these two don’t seem to fit together.
Personal finance, alcohol, and food are all marketed in a similar fashion, often times with scenic backgrounds such as people sitting on a beach enjoying whatever “the good life” is. Their idea of the good life involves spending money along with eating and drinking in an unhealthy way. The irony is that what I find to be “the good life” is generally the exact opposite of what they try to make us believe is important.
The financial, food and alcohol industries operate pretty much the same way in that they have hidden fees, hidden ingredients, obfuscate the truth, make things complicated and undersell you on the risk of their products. As my youngest daughter said to me after discussing this, “I feel we’ve been lied to all of our lives.” I’m not sure we’ve been lied to, but one certainly needs to question most things before accepting them as truth. Particularly, the most important things in your life.
Bottom line, it takes work to decipher the important things in life and not just accept things at face value. You may be thinking who has time to figure all of this stuff out? This is where simple living can help. Eliminate all of the unnecessary things in life and focus only on the most important. By living simply, it allows you the time to live a healthy lifestyle, nurture your relationships and build financial security. In my view these are the best and most important things in life and will bring one the most contentment.
My post titled Health, Relationships and then Finance has more information on this topic. If you have any questions or comments please let me know. If you’re interested in any of the topics above, check out my website and recommended resources section. dy Tex