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SunLit Interviews

SunLit interview: A Colorado investment adviser’s clients asked him what book he’d recommend. So he wrote it.

Chad Gordon's "Wealth by Virtue" acknowledges the "numbers" world and the "real" world -- and offers financial guidance for both

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit

Tired of piecemeal advice books that didn’t provide a holistic view of how finances work, Colorado investment adviser Chad Gordon decided to write one of his own that would not only be a clear explanation of how finances work, but how they fit into a life worth living.

Read on for our interview with Chad Gordon, author of “Wealth by Virtue,” the Colorado Authors’ League 2018 Winner for General Nonfiction.

What inspired you to write this book?

Throughout my career in financial advising, people would often ask me what books I recommend to help them get a full, comprehensive understanding of finance. I would have suggestions based on different needs, but there wasn’t anything that tied it all together.

After many years of coming across folks who had all made similar mistakes, that a book like mine could have prevented, I felt that I must create something to help people on a massive scale. I aspired to write the book that I always wished existed: a book that was not only a conceptual explanation of all things finance, but also one that was philosophical about the greater purpose of life.

Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?

If it’s fiction, I’m primarily drawn to the craft of writing and how authors can make characters feel real and paint a picture. For this I’m always drawn to classic authors such as Dostoevsky, Hugo, and Fitzgerald.

For non-fiction, for me, it is not only the art of words, but also the ability to make complicated things clear, conceptual, and enjoyable. There are many historical authors that have this gift (Niall Ferguson, Walter Issacson, and David McCullough) along with more topical authors such as Michael Lewis and Malcolm Gladwell. Lastly, of course David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell are some of the most engaging and charming voices in nonfiction.

“Wealth by Virtue” author Chad Gordon. (Handout)

Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?

To me, this gets at the heart of why I felt that a book like mine needed to exist (whether I wrote it or not). Generally my complaints with books on personal finance are that they are too boring, too technical, or worse yet, they do not take into consideration the “real” issues of life. It’s not hard to have a lot of money, if all you want is to have a lot of money.

In this excerpt, I tell the story of a pivotal point early in my career when I looked into the eyes of a man who had just come in just after his wife’s funeral. The man had always been somewhat obsessed with his accounts and had regrettably found out, at the end of his life, the pointlessness of wealth without relationships and love.

While most of my book is about the nuts and bolts of growing and managing money, vast qualities of wealth can sometimes add up to nothing.

What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?

Selfishly, it was the moment that I first held the completed work in my hands. Early on, I wanted to do several innovations. I felt that the use of color can help the information be far more clear, accessible, and friendly. To see all of this in a tangible way was very satisfying. I’ve always loved the smell of a new book, but the smell of your own new book is even better.

Beyond this, it still continues to humble me that people buy and read it. It may seem obvious that if someone writes a book, the assumption is that people will read the book. As I wrote it, I always assumed that I would know 90% of the people who ever read it. While I’m quite happy that I was wrong, I think that a lovely side effect of this assumption is that the book has a very personal tone to it, like a letter from a friend giving you advice.

It is also very rewarding to hear from people making very important and wise financial decisions as a result of the book. Right now, many people are very scared of the economy and stock market and it is nice to know that my book has alleviated some of the stress and worry out there.

Lastly, there have been some people who have written to me with stories about how they have turned around their outlook in life and made radical changes to their lives directly as a result of reading my book. I certainly never expected to hear that and it makes my head swim with gratefulness.

What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?

I structured the book around what I call “The Six Areas of Finance”, which are banking, investments, real estate, insurance, legal planning, and tax planning. I devote a chapter to each one of these areas and tie them all together as a conceptual whole.

My career has primarily been in investments and perhaps counterintuitively, the topic that I knew the most about, I found hardest to write. It was a challenge to distill down what I know, to say what I need to say, and move on.

What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?

In between each of the chapters on “The Six Areas of Finance”, there are five short chapters on topics such as finding purpose in life, giving, and optimism. One of those short chapters is on compounding interest.

“Wealth by Virtue” by Chad Gordon. (Handout)

I paint a fictional story of two twins named Mary and Terry who are saving up money. Mary starts saving up money at a rate of $100 per month on their 21st birthday. She stops cold on their 30th birthday and never adds another penny to her investments. Terry on the other hand, starts saving up $100 per month on their 30th birthday and continues on the rest of their lives.

Who would you guess has more money on their 100th birthday? Of course, you’re getting ahead of me here and may be tempted to guess Mary because it’s the surprising answer. However, let me remind you that in this scenario, Mary saved up money for only 9 years and Terry saved up for 70 years.

Spoiler Alert: The answer is that Mary has more money on their 100th birthday. I paint this picture clearly with a chart that all young people should stare at for a long time.

What project are you working on next?

While I’ve yet to put my flag in the sand and begin another book, I have many ideas that may become that flag. A refrain that I say in “Wealth by Virtue” is that there’s the math world and the real world. In the book, I definitely show my work and how my philosophies are supported by real numbers. When you follow the numbers, it can sometimes lead you to counterintuitive results.

For example, if you had extra money each month, is it better to pay off your mortgage or to invest money in the stock market? Which is more likely to result in greater wealth?

In nearly every era over the past 100 years, you would have ended up better off financially to not pay off your mortgage and to invest the funds. This would be “the math world” answer. However, the real world is that it feels really good to pay off your house and most people are going to be more motivated to pay off debt than they would be to invest money in the stock market.

I see “Wealth by Virtue” as a “math world” book where I just give straight advice based on numbers. I feel that a book that would complement it is one that speaks more of the real world of the pursuit of wealth.

About the author:Chad Gordon is the founder and CEO of GreenStar Advisors, a registered investment advisor. Chad and his wife Makendra reside in Colorado along with their children, dog, cats, horse, goats, chickens, fish, and bees. “Wealth by Virtue” has won nine book awards.

— Buy “Wealth by Virtue” at Boulder Book Store

Excerpt: “Wealth by Virtue” by Chad Gordon

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