I just love the title, “Ten Easy Ways to Make Money.” In fact, it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. No, they weren’t my words, they were recently written by a columnist from another publication. Moreover, this “Ten Easy Ways” title hearkened me back to those wonderful days of the Roaring Twenties, and while I didn’t live through that particular time period myself, I certainly heard about it in great detail from my grandfather and read all about it in the history books. As the Roaring Twenties decade progressed, consumers were enticed to not wait until the price of a new durable good (think refrigerator or washing machine) was in their price range. All they had to do was utilize a wonderful new tool known as credit. Anything and everything was theirs for the taking, with just a little money down and an easy monthly payment plan. Yes, it was certainly very simple when it came to “keeping up with the Joneses” since “easy credit terms” were all the rage for the common folk.
And when it came to “easy credit terms,” so too was the situation with the stock market in the 1920s. Normally only a playground for the rich and famous, Wall Street quickly became a place for so-called common men to supplement their meager day-to-day earnings. What started out as an investment tool with a few dollars for the long-term quickly became a wild and woolly casino which was somehow guaranteed to grant the wishes of everyone. And much to the chagrin of the mob, stocks took the place of the popular numbers game. After a while, it was learned that only the uneducated and uninformed “invested” in the market. To really make money, you only had to go on margin, and you could utilize the same principles as buying that brand new refrigerator. “Leverage, leverage, leverage” became the call of the day and discussions revolved not around the newest sports hero or who had made the longest solo flight, rather the conversations all focused on AT&T, GE, or “Big Steel’s” latest move.
Yes, it was definitely an easy way to make money. Unfortunately, as millions of hardworking people were soon to realize, the notion of making easy money over a long period of time is merely an illusion. Keep in mind, when John Q. Public finally takes the plunge, the “easiness” has usually reached its end. Whether it’s 2014, 1999, or 1929, the finale will always be the same. No matter if you’re furnishing your house with the newest gizmos purchased on credit, or flying high on “the street” with unlimited margin, the end result is always identical.
When my colleagues start to talk, write, and pontificate about easy money, at this time it’s more than likely that the word “easy” should be eliminated altogether, and the word “dangerous” should be substituted in its place.