Archives for July 30, 2015

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs & The Portfolio Investment Pyramid

Yesterday, I looked back at extending the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs to Personal Finance. The basic idea of the triangle or pyramid is that lower needs must be satisfied before the higher needs can be addressed. For example, one must first obtain food and water before worrying about protecting my property. In terms of personal finance, you need to cover your food and shelter bills before worrying about homeowner’s insurance premiums.

Now let’s explore how investment professionals have extended this concept to portfolio investing. Again, the bottom level is the most important and forms the “base” of a solid portfolio. After that, you can move on the next concern. You can see that there is debate even amongst experts as to relative importance.

Here’s Christine Benz of Morningstar in How Do Your Financial Priorities Stack Up With Our Pyramid?


Here’s Morgan Housel of in The Hierarchy of Investor Needs:


Here’s Cullen Roche of Pragmatic Capitalism in Thoughts on the Hierarchy of Investor Needs:


The four common factors are:

  • Security Selection
  • Tax Efficiency
  • Investor Behavior
  • Asset Allocation

Two out of the three proposed pyramids above have Investor Behavior as the most important. I can see how this factor has the greatest impact on real-world returns, but it is also the hardest to really quantify ahead of time. You can write down on a piece of paper “I will not panic during the next crisis but will do XX instead” but that doesn’t mean you’ll actually do it (though it will probably help on average). In addition, it is also intertwined with asset allocation since the less your portfolio value drops in a bear market, the more likely you’ll stick with your plan. Meanwhile, you can quantify fees and transaction costs quite easily.

I think this debate makes for interesting conversation for investing geeks like myself, but in the end a good investor would address all of these factors. For example, I would never put off examining fees just because it is at the top of such a pyramid.

Google Translate: Free, Real-Time Language Translation While Traveling

gtranslateicoBack in 2014, Google bought Word Lens, a neat app that translated a few languages in real time using your smartphone’s camera. The live translation feature has been integrated into the Google Translate app (Android and iOS) and now works with 27 languages. If you snap a picture, it works with 37 languages.

This means when traveling to a foreign country, just point your phone at a restaurant menu, grocery store item, or street sign and you’ll see it in your home language. This counts as a deal for me because I would pay money for such a convenient and useful app. But it’s free, and you don’t even need an internet connection to use it (assuming you download the appropriate language packs ahead of time).

Here’s a cool video demonstration (embedded below, direct link):

Here’s the announcement on the official Google blog:

We started out with seven languages—English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish—and today we’re adding 20 more. You can now translate to and from English and Bulgarian, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Filipino, Finnish, Hungarian, Indonesian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, Swedish, Turkish and Ukrainian. You can also do one-way translations from English to Hindi and Thai. (Or, try snapping a pic of the text you’d like translated—we have a total of 37 languages in camera mode.)

There is also a conversation mode where you can speak and it will provide instant translation of conversations across 32 languages (good for interactions at hotels, train stations, or taxis). I believe you’ll need an internet connection for this, but it supposedly now works better with slower connections.

I tried it out and while it really only works with clearly printed text, it is still an amazing application of augmented reality. I look forward to having it expand to even more languages like Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

Combining Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs & Personal Finance

Updated. You may or may not be familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which is part of one theory explaining human behavior by psychologist Abraham Maslow. It suggests that there are five general levels of needs:

  • Physiological
  • Safety
  • Social
  • Esteem
  • Growth

These are often represented as a triangle due to their relative importance. Lower needs must be satisfied before the higher needs can be addressed. For example, one must first obtain food and water (physiological) before worrying about what might happen if they get in a car accident tomorrow (safety). It’s just a theory, but an interesting one.


While not all of these needs can be explicitly bought with money, it’s not too much of a stretch to see the relationship between this triangle and finances. We usually worry about paying for rent and food first before worrying about giving to charity or that long distance telephone bill.

In the book Retirement Income Redesigned, the authors make a close correlation between the hierarchy of needs and planning for retirement. Here is a figure from the book:


The new levels:

  • Survival income. How much do you spend simply to survive?
  • What-if income. You will want to protect your life. This could mean health care costs, health insurance, and/or proper portfolio planning so you don’t outlive your money.
  • Freedom income. Money needed to do the things that bring joy and fulfillment to your life. Could be travel, education, or fine wine.
  • Gift income. Money for people and causes that deserve your help. This is the replacement for “love”.
  • Dream income. This is the elusive “self-actualization” level where you find true happiness and meaning.

By breaking down your income needs, this could be another way to track your progress towards financial freedom. You can make covering your bare necessities your first smaller goal, and move on from there. This would involve both measuring your expenses and also deciding how much you’d need to save to create that much income.