What scuba diving can teach us about money


By Carlos Portocarrero

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Last year my future in-laws decided to take M and I on a trip to Aruba and I was thrilled. But my father-in-law really wanted to do some scuba diving and M was already certified, so they asked me if I was interested. I had never done anything like it but decided it would be a fun thing to be able to do once we got to the island. So I took a 5-week course and got my certification. I’m glad I did—the first time you go underwater and realize you can stay down there for so long was incredible.

But there’s a lot you have to learn before they’ll let you strap on some gear and jump in the water. As you can imagine, there are a bunch of safety issues that you need to pay close attention to. If you don’t . . . bad things can happen. Anyway, last week we went to Aruba and I did my first five dives as a certified scuba diver—it was incredible. I even did a night dive, which was kind of scary but I got to see some glowing plankton and other cool stuff you can’t see during the day.

After the trip I realized there are things about scuba diving that apply to money management and investing. So without further ado, here are five lessons that scuba diving can teach us about money:

  • Remain Calm: This is key because if you’re 60 feet underwater and start to panic, you may end up doing something careless like shoot up to the surface or use up your air supply too quickly. No matter what happens, you have to learn to deal with the problem in a calm, detached way. If you panic you’ll probably forget the safety rules you’ve learned about. This is especially apt for today’s market—a lot of people are panicking and selling all their stocks as fast as they can.
  • Don’t run out of air: Duh. If you do, your options narrow dramatically. You can’t be as careful or deliberate as you would like and you may have to surface. With money, remember to spend less than you earn—if you run out of money you’ll have to go into debt, and just like running out of air it’ll severely compromise your options and your future.
  • Safety first: This is your life we’re talking about. You can hurt yourself a lot of ways underwater: decompression sickness, nitrogen poisoning, you can blow your ears up, you can get hurt on some coral, etc. Lots can happen so you need to keep safety in mind at all times. With your money (and especially your retirement account), taking risks is OK, as long as you understand what you are doing and you can deal with it.
  • Always dive with a buddy: You are never supposed to dive alone. And trust me, on a night dive I would recommend you stay even closer—it’s pretty frightening down there. It’s a good concept to adapt to money and investing: talk to your friends or co-workers about it, participate in online forums or social networking sites that discuss these topics—they will provide a ton of good advice and make things easier for you. And don’t forget to recommend The Writer’s Coin to all your friends.
  • Stick to the dive plan: Before you go underwater, because communication is limited down there, you set up a plan with your buddy that lays out the basics of where you’re going to go, for how long, at what depth, etc. Then you stick to the plan unless an emergency comes about. This kind of goes back to the first bullet but it’s good to keep it in mind: once you have a plan don’t deviate from it unless you’re sure it’s the right move. Usually, it won’t be. Right now tons of people are deviating from their retirement plans because they’re scared of a recession, but a lot of people are making a huge mistake. It just goes to show how much thought and planning needs to go into investing and money management before you start—that way you just have to stick with it to make it work.

Scuba diving is a lot of fun and I recommend you try it if you ever get a chance. You’ll have to get certified first, which forces you to learn the safety procedures you’ll need to enjoy the sport safely. Now if only you had to get certified to invest in stocks—but that’s a pipe dream. Can’t we at least have some basic financial education in high school about managing a budget and the basics of investing?


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