It’s all about Balance with Andrew Hallam
In a word, balance is about an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.
Or balance is keeping or putting (something) in a steady position so that it does not fall.
Maybe better still, balance is the stability of one’s mind or feelings.
Regardless of how much money you make or don’t make, Andrew Hallam suggests one of the keys to success and personal life fulfillment is balance.
It’s all about balance for most of us
In Balance, speaker and author Andrew Hallam describes what it means to be successful…and it’s probably less complicated than you expect. It’s also not just about money.
In Balance, we learn about what goes into personal fulfillment through a rich collection of stories, research and anecdotes. We learn how Andrew feels about his own balance and what might apply to finding yours as well.
I’ve had the good fortune of knowing Andrew for well over a decade now – even when he was a stock picker! – and it was great to catch up with him regarding his new book and how things have changed for him over the last few years.
If you haven’t already caught-up with Andrew’s work check out my previous interviews with him below as part of further reading.
Learn more from Millionaire Teacher and the 9 rules of wealth that should be taught in school.
It’s always fun to catch up with a successful digital nomad.
Check out my interview with Andrew below and of course, at the end of this post, a chance to win a copy of Balance to one lucky reader!
Welcome back to the site Andrew. Been a few years! Your Millionaire Teacher book I recall was a best-seller and rightly so. It was so well done.
Before we get into the next/new book, I’m curious: anything you’d change about those 9 rules? Why or why not?
Thanks, Mark! Very happy to connect again with you!
I think those are timeless rules, so I wouldn’t change them. This makes me reflect, especially, on spending habits. We give ourselves the best odds of building wealth when we live below our means and copy the spending habits of real millionaires. That might sound crazy, but most millionaires are far more careful with their money than we might think. The most recent data in the U.S. suggests the median price that American millionaires paid for their latest car was $35,000 USD. And as I referenced in my book, Balance, 9 of the 17 richest people in the world drive cars worth less than $55,000 USD. I would guess that half of the people living in my condo complex in Victoria, B.C. paid more than that for their latest car. And of course, none of them are billionaires. In fact, out of the 40 residents in that building, it’s entirely possible that none of them are millionaires, either. Today, more than ever, there are a lot of high-salaried people with expensive tastes, huge debts and low levels of wealth. There’s also a high number of middle-income salary earners who spend as if they’re loaded. More than ever, we need to ignore the spending habits of Mr. and Mrs. Jones.
Very fair Andrew, you speak of that “stealth wealth” concept here which I like – wealth and fulfilment far beyond material stuff that only makes you happy to a point.
What’s new with you – beyond the book? Where are you living now?
My wife, Pele, and I have been nomadic for the past eight years. We’re currently in the country of Panama, enjoying the weather, the culture and the geographic diversity. We’ll be here until April, and then after a quick visit to see family in the U.S. and Canada, we plan to spend the summer in the south of France. In 2018-2019, we attempted to drive a camper van from Canada to Argentina. We enjoyed 17 amazing months on the road, but we had to turn back after some civil skirmishes erupted in Nicaragua. With some luck, we’ll resume that adventure this fall.
South of France sounds lovely. OK, how are you investing?
The account in my name comprises a diversified portfolio of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), with Canadian and global stock market exposure, as well as a Canadian bond ETF. Pele is an American. Her investments (a tax-advantaged IRA and a taxable portfolio) are in a Vanguard Target Retirement fund. In many ways, it’s like mine, without the Canadian exposure. But hers is simpler because Vanguard rebalances it to maintain a consistent allocation.
Yes, target funds can be a good tool for sure. Let’s go off the ETF topic. What do you make of Bitcoin, crypto and more of late – since the investing landscape has changed a bit since we last talked?
If you woke me up one morning and said, “Andrew, I’ve just converted 10% of your portfolio to Bitcoin,” I would scream something starting with, “F,” wet my pants and beg you to help me find a way to sell it. In all seriousness, I prefer to invest in things that can be valued: entities with cashflow. Real estate and stocks (ETFs, in my case) fall under that category because they represent entities with cashflow (real estate tenants can pay rent and businesses earn corporate profits and pay dividends that we can reinvest).
So do you think along the same lines of Charlie Munger on crypto in that:
“Of course I hate the Bitcoin success,” he said. “I don’t welcome a currency that’s so useful to kidnappers and extortionists and so forth, nor do I like just shuffling out of your extra billions of billions of dollars to somebody who just invented a new financial product out of thin air.”
Andrew: Charlie always makes me laugh…but there’s no doubt he’s brilliant. Unlike him, I don’t have a moral position on cryptocurrencies, but I view them more as speculations than investments because we can’t assess an intrinsic, business valuation on a cryptocurrency. It doesn’t have a measurable intrinsic value or create cashflow. So…I guess my view is more in line with Warren Buffett’s than Charlie Munger’s.
OK, let’s dive into Balance: How to Invest and Spend for Happiness, Health and Wealth.
I know you’ve done very well financially, and you’ve also survived cancer. You’ve accomplished a lot and overcome quite a bit in your life. What compelled you to write this book?
I saw a need for a book that digs into the “why?” aspect of financial planning and success. Success should be defined as life satisfaction. That’s it. No more. No less.
When we ask someone why they want to achieve anything, they will point to life satisfaction….if you keep digging with, “Why?”
It doesn’t matter whether you’re asking them why they want to invest, earn a degree, run a marathon, raise their kids a specific way, give money to charity or pee behind a tree. If we keep digging with the question, “Why” everyone will respond with a derivative of life satisfaction.
I wanted my book to serve as a guide for anyone who wants to learn how to build wealth and live the best life they can, based on life satisfaction research. In most cases, what we think will make us happy and what behavioural research says will actually make us happy are often dramatically at odds. Other personal finance books (including my former books) talk about wealth creation. I wanted to write Balance to explain how to build wealth while also offering something wiser and more holistic.
I hope I’ve matured as a person and as an investor, in that, personal finance is way more psychology over math. Does Balance cover these concepts in any detail and if so, what can readers expect to learn? What might be different in Balance than other personal finance and investing books, including your own!
I think Balance is the world’s only personal finance book that explains how the stock market works by introducing an investor pooping in the bathroom. It explains asset allocation with a genuine ghost story (with a middle-schooler’s potty humour). To my knowledge, Balance is also the only book that explains which funds you should buy to harness your behaviour. That might not sound important. But how an allocation performs and how an investor performs with that allocation can be two very different things. Yes, low-cost index funds and low-cost ETFs are important. But which ETFs help improve investors’ behaviour, and as a result, investors’ returns? I list them in Balance, while also delving into specific suggestions of socially responsible investment funds.
Chapter 5 probably grabbed my attention the most, since the premise is about spending money on things you value. Meaning, with enough savings you can afford most things in life, but you can’t afford everything. Can you talk about what you value and what you enjoy spending money on? Why is the concept of opportunity costs so important for happiness, health, and wealth?
Pele and I love spending money on travel, massages, amazing food, and bringing people together. For example, we helped my parents buy a motorhome in 2020, so they could join us on camping trips. Pre-pandemic, we enjoyed buying flights for friends and members of our family to meet us in cool parts of the world. Spending money on such things allows us to build memories and spend quality time with people. The eight-decade long Harvard Study of Adult Development suggests that nurturing our relationships is the single greatest attribute to a happy life. Most us don’t need a fancy study to realise that. We don’t necessarily need money to spend time with people we love, either. But we can use money to create novel experiences for ourselves, our friends, and our family. This is something I started to do long before I became financially independent. And that’s important. After all, none of us know how long we’re going to live.
As for opportunity costs, if we’re spending regular sums on something that doesn’t enhance our life satisfaction (gourmet coffee on the run is a great example) then the opportunity cost of spending that money, instead of investing it, could be worth several hundred thousand dollars. To expand on that, coffee lovers should enjoy their coffee during quiet solo moments, or with friends. But if they’re drinking expensive coffee while racing through rush hour traffic, that’s a waste of money, when a coffee made from home would serve the same purpose, at a far lower cost. And yeah, over a working lifetime, the opportunity cost difference could be as much as a million dollars.
We all know by now that beyond a certain point, more money doesn’t necessarily make people happier – but it does provide many financial options in life. I know by around age 30, you had enough money to retire frugally but you certainly didn’t choose that path. You’ve continued to work, write books, teach overseas, do speaking engagements, write for AssetBuilder and here at home with Canada’s National newspaper, The Globe and Mail. My sense is you still work a lot. Is that your Balance and can you explain what that is for you?
I’ve probably worked a greater number of hours over the past year and a half than I worked in the previous eight years combined. Writing a book will do that! Generally, though, I don’t work a lot…or at least, it doesn’t feel like I do. I’ve been able to write my personal finance articles while traveling full-time in a camper van or cycling around Europe on our tandem. I give plenty of professional talks, but those are typically a lot of fun. Over the past four years, I’ve spoken about investing and financial wellness in more than 30 different countries. But after each talk, we always stick around to savour and explore each place. We made new friends and explored places that we otherwise never would have seen: the ancient ruins in Petra; the gorgeous, fresh water swimming canyons in Oman; the wildlife filled regions of Kenya and Tanzania; the unbelievable sites of Cappadocia, Turkey.
We also know that everyone has their own “enough” number. I’ve written about this a great deal on my site – it’s like a fingerprint – no two financial plans are the same but there can be similarities.
Based on what you write about, speak about, hear from other aspiring retirees about – what themes exist? Do share!
Your retirement plans and financial freedom “number” is as unique as your fingerprint. I’ve spoken to happy expat retirees in Spain who spend about $12,000 CAD a year, while enjoying two annual vacations. I have retired friends on Vancouver Island who spend about $28,000 a year. I’ve met global nomads in Bali who work part-time, and live off that income and a $100,000 portfolio, withdrawing an inflation-adjusted 3-4 percent per year. When a journalist or “financial expert” claims you need “X amount” to retire, they aren’t revealing their knowledge or their sophistication. They are revealing their ignorance. And I mean that in a kind way. Ignorance refers to a lack of knowledge. And it’s tough to have a wise perspective on this after forming opinions based on “conventional wisdom” or what somebody else thinks is right.
Personal finance is personal – I know you say that often Mark. Some people retire in expensive cities, and they require much more money than most people who retire in rural communities. Yet, I’ve met retirees in expensive cities who find a way to live well on less than you might expect. I’ve also met people in rural communities who have $50,000 annual travel budgets, so they need (or want) much more money.
Having said this, I think most people should continue to work part-time at something they’re passionate about for as long as they can. This alleviates financial stress, ensuring that they don’t have to derive everything from their portfolios and/or pensions. Research suggests it also gives us a sense of purpose, keeping us healthier longer, keeping us happier and increasing our life expectancy. I reference such studies in my book, Balance.
You and I have known each other for over 10 years now – I knew you when you were a passionate stock investor! I’ve coined my journey as FIWOOT (Financial Independence, Work On Own Terms) vs. any Finance Independence, Retire Early plans. I just don’t think the RE part of FIRE makes any sense, at least to me and others since anyone that is FIRE, that I know, still works for income.
Anyhow, are you living out your FIWOOT dreams and if so, what’s next for Andrew and Pele?
I just want to keep learning. The more I learn about the world, the more I realise I don’t know anything. Writing and exploring helps with that. I love writing stories about people and places.
Much thanks Andrew, and best wishes. I’ll know we’ll be in touch again soon.
Well readers, what can I say. Andrew is a pleasure to interview and I’ve been happy to get to know him for the last 10+ years to learn more about investing but also verify the importance of balance and what that means to me.
If you want to win a copy of Balance, just enter the giveaway below and I will draw one (1) winning name at random in a few weeks. Good luck! Thanks for your readership.
I want to win this book because I think Andrew Hallam has great insights on wealth and life!!
Great stuff and good luck!
I don’t need to win Andrew’s book, because I bought it as soon as it came out! However, if I do win, I will share it with my co-workers, just as I have shared multiple copies of Millionaire Teacher!
Andrew’s book came out at an important time for me – I have been contemplating work/life balance and my own sense of purpose for several years. Reading Andrew’s book and hearing him speak on several podcasts really helped me understand what has been missing for me.
One of my favourite passages is on page 128, where Andrew cites research by Wharton professor Andrew Grant, who identified that in business (and likely all walks of life) there are Givers and Takers. Givers offer higher levels of service, and focus on the well-being of the people they serve. Early in their careers they tend to be less productive, but because they are so effective in building trust and emotional capital, they dramatically out-perform the Takers, who tend to be self-interested, aggressive people. As a Giver, this has very much been my career experience – I’ve had many clients leave one company and invite me to help them in their new ones because the trust was there.
I love the fact Andrew cites so much academic research with notes and links at the back. It is a truly excellent book with many humourous and thought provoking stories.
Yes, I recall Andrew telling me this is the book he wanted to write years ago, based on research at the time.
Great observation on this: Givers and Takers. I would like to think I have a strong bias to helping others.
Well done by Andrew, again!
Thanks for your comment,
As a fellow Vancouver Islander, I love Andrew’s book! His millionaire teacher is sitting on my bookshelf right now. It is great to see a natural advancement from optimizing everything to finding the balance.
Great stuff Ye, and yes, Andrew is a fellow Islander from the West 🙂
I hope you are doing well.
I always enjoy reading Andrew and hearing his perspective on life! I’d love this book as i just had a child and we are really trying to maximize our time and experiences together instead of just working to make money and leave it all when we go. Looking forward to reading it one day!
Andrew is a gifted writer! I hope you enjoy the book Bryan and nice to pay those lessons forward in your family.
I really enjoyed this interview. It’s refreshing to see a point of view that doesn’t state a person needs “x” dollars to retire. I’d love to read this book.
Thank you Christine, there are so many creative ways to live better on less….like sacrificing winter for 4 months in a tropical paradise. You could “retire” far earlier than your neighbours (not that this is about competing with your neighbours) and enjoy amazing weather, a new culture and an amazing life.
Well said Christine. Andrew is also a fine case study in that working becomes a whole lot more enjoyable when a) you do it on your terms and b) you do what you love.
Excellent perspective! More and more I read accounts on how “money isn’t everything”….it’s just one aspect of a successful retirement.
Thank you Mikey,
You are so right. Money is only a part of a successful life…and we don’t need as much as most people think.
You bet MikeyP – thanks for sharing and good luck!
Hi there…I want to win this book because it sounds fascinating!!..I have recently reconnected with a high school friend and it made me realize how important relationships are in life and that we have to work at them…I am working two jobs right now out of necessity but I need to organize myself better to achieve balance.. .I would love to read Andrew’s view on life and happiness and balance….it is something we all need in these trying times
Good luck with the contest! If you don’t win the book, you should be able to find it at your local library.
Andrew did a fine job Cindy with his book, he’s a pretty talented writer. Good luck!
A very interesting article about Andrew and one that I can relate to.
I have taken a few timeouts in my life from my career and earning income. My first one which lasted over a year was at the age of 25 when I quit my job and cycled by bicycle from Calgary Alberta to Cuzco Peru. This started my love of travel to other countries to learn about their culture, language, food, etc. and was life changing for me. My second timeout which lasted about 18 months was to become a stay at home dad to our son when he was 3 and 4 years old. I always lived somewhat frugally due to my upbringing (I have 11 siblings and our family never had a lot of money). I was never afraid to stop my employment since I always had saved up cash cushion to fall back on and was confident I could always get another job with my skills. When I returned to the workforce the second time, at the suggestion of my councillor, I decided to become self employed and work part time. I worked 3 days a week for my client and took a few vacations every year to different parts of the world with my family. At the age of 57 I decided to stop working and enjoy what life had to offer every day. Pre covid we would go on 3 or 4 international trips per year. I have many interests including cycling, yoga, baking, cooking, investing, lifelong learning and reading which I have kept busy doing the last 2 years. I volunteer with non profit organizations. I am currently taking 3 on-line courses: history of Germany between WWI & II, museums around the world and Uzbekistan which will be the destination of our first trip in 2 years next month. We have domestic and international trips planned and booked into September 2023.
I agree with Andrew that relationships and experiences with others are the most important things in life to bring you satisfaction. I have been fortunate to have been well paid in my career, spent less than I made, saved the difference and invested successfully. This has allowed me to pursue my interests and passions spending money on what is important to me. I think that is what life is all about.
Thanks for sharing Andrew’s story and your own journey with us to FIWOOT.
Hi Roger, What a fascinating experience you have had. May I ask what you did for work? All the best with your travels.
It sounds like you and I have a lot in common! You are living life to its fullest.
I had to laugh a little bit when I read you had to turn around in Nicaragua due to “civil skirmishes” in 2019. I cycled through Nicaragua in 1980 soon after their 1979 revolution where dictator Anastasio Somoza was overthrown by left wing Daniel Ortega of the Sandinistas. I felt like the country was run by 18 years olds with guns. i had no problems other that some paranoid locals thinking I was a spy from the CIA cycling through their country! Over 40 years later and Daniel Ortega is president once again, effectively a dictator, which precipitated the riots that stopped your travels.
On a side note later in 1980 I was travelling in Paraguay and got locked in the country because Somoza, who was in exile there was assassinated. The Nicaraguan stamps in my passport proved to be of much interest to the local police (but that is the subject of another story)!
I would encourage you to resume your road trip into South America which has fantastic scenery, wonderful people, incredible history and delicious cuisine. Happy travels and investing!
Thanks for the details – great comment Roger!
“I always lived somewhat frugally due to my upbringing (I have 11 siblings and our family never had a lot of money).”
I would think that would teach you some values…my goodness 🙂
“I have many interests including cycling, yoga, baking, cooking, investing, lifelong learning and reading which I have kept busy doing the last 2 years. I volunteer with non profit organizations.”
Love it and great stuff. I aspire to do the same with some extra time in the coming years…here’s hoping!
I want to win Andrew’s book because it sounds like an interesting exploration of themes beyond just the financial ones that so many other books typically cover. I, like Andrew, believe that life satisfaction and good health are probably among the most important assets we will have in retirement.
Awesome J Roy! Yes, well put, money is fine but without any health and people to share it with, I’m not sure it does anyone very much good overall.
You are 100% right. It’s fascinating how human nature often leads us to less productive distractions that don’t enhance our life satisfaction, hurt our future wealth and harm the environment. I’m thinking about material spending.
Take care and keep spreading your wisdom.
I’m a regular reader of the great information on your blog and huge fan of Millionaire Teacher! I’ve purchased many copies for family gifts and have also encouraged my staff to read it by handing copies around. I’m getting close to my retirement date so would love a copy of Balance as I continue to think through the next phase of what my life in retirement will look like. Thanks for this latest interview with Andrew. Cheers, DJ
Best of luck with the contest!
Take care and keep living your best life.
Great stuff DJ – thanks very much.
Andrew puts a nice spin on that next phase you speak of, what to be mindful about but also some considerations to aspire to.
I hope you enjoy the book! (Millionaire Teacher was a gem :))
Still have his first book on my shelf and was one of the very first financial books I bought back when learning about financial independence. Very cool to see an updated book that reflects on the journey and what to consider when you put the hard work in and achieve a certain level.
Nice to see your comment Chris. Yes, Andrew is likely to read these comments and reply. Interesting to see his journey evolve over the years as well.
Balance is actually the book that my heart wanted to write back in 2011. But as a relatively unknown writer, I didn’t think the average person would buy such a book, or care about its content. Fortunately, that has changed a bit, and I was finally able to write something more meaningful and (hopefully!) have people who want to read it.
Thanks for the interview Mark, think I’ve entered the draw (hopefully I did it correctly, sorry no tweets from me). Not too long ago you had a link to a podcast with Andrew, that was great. Rather enjoy such conversations while working about the house. Andrew was fortunate in his experience as a 19 yr old meeting someone that set him on his path. Maybe you’ll start your own podcast for interviews in the future?
Andrew is a pleasure to talk to. He has quite a few tales to share. Admittedly, and I’ve talked to him enough over the years, he wouldn’t recommend to 20-somethings the path he took to personal finance / financial freedom but it worked for him and that’s all that matters.
Ha, yes, maybe. I’ve toyed with the idea once I have more time for a podcast 🙂
“he wouldn’t recommend to 20-somethings the path he took to personal finance / financial freedom but it worked for him and that’s all that matters.”
Sounds like a great beginning for a Podcast Mark. Am sure there are others that would be interested to hear you and Andrew unpack that statement. What say you Andrew?
“he wouldn’t recommend to 20-somethings the path he took to personal finance / financial freedom but it worked for him and that’s all that matters.”
I would certainly recommend some of the things I did, but they wouldn’t suit everyone. For example, I rode my bike 110km to work and back, to save money on cheap rent in the next town. I would not recommend that to most people! However, I grew up as a bicycle racer (something I didn’t mention in Millionaire Teacher) so this was something I would be doing anyway! I was the only guy who trained for racing while towing a trailer up and down the island Highway every morning.
Mark is right. We need to find what works for us. And this was a great way for me to train and save money, even though it sounds bat poop crazy. If I lost everything, would I do this all again? Maybe! I guess I am a bit of a screwball.
Thanks for the reply Andrew, you have a great journey and express things in a way that people can relate too. My tease to Mark was to maybe get the ball rolling on a podcast. Going outside of your comfort zone can be very rewarding. A long ride that you did would as you say not be something for most. Once I switched from driving to work, to living close enough to either walk or bike, would never change that. When you are young, making this kind of move is easy, helps financially, but that is not the main benefit. Time spent commuting in a steel box, is not the same as a walk or ride. Time is irreplaceable. Balance, great message Andrew, we all need this today more than ever.
We’ll see where I get over time David, re: podcast ideas 🙂
You are so right. I was definitely lucky to meet someone who inspired and educated me at such a young age. I was also lucky to come from a family that was larger than the typical Canadian family, AND my family’s household income was lower than the Canadian median. That meant money was always tight. We always had enough food and a safe place to live, so this was a socio-economic sweet spot. If I were born into an upper middle class family, I don’t think things would have tuned out the same way for me. Best of all, my family was (and still is) loving and supportive. You can’t put a price on that. So yeah, I was very fortunate. Good luck with the draw!
Take care, and thank you!
What a great interview which clearly shows what Balanced means.
I’m guessing it resonates with you because you likely already have decent balance and/or you know what you want out of life: to be helpful, have great friendships and health.