Return on Hassle: When the reward ain’t worth it

I want you to picture an endurance race.

It’s between two 21-year-olds working on Wall Street.

One only invests their personal money in real estate.

The gritty fixer-upper kind with shitty tenants, leaky septic tanks and non-stop cash-out refis.

The other taps a button and buys a single index fund.

20 years go by.

Who comes out ahead?

Does complexity lead to better payoffs?

I’m the index fund buyer. And I lost.

After twenty years we did a rough comparison of financial returns (i.e. IRRs).

The Real Estate Guy was 2% higher. Per year.

(He was at 12% and me at 10%, pre-tax.)

And a 2% difference compounded over 20 years is a big deal.

But there’s a catch.

The Real Estate Guy averaged 10 hours a week tending to his properties.

He fought with tenants during weddings.

Pestered property managers while watching his kids play soccer.

He stayed up until 2 in the morning aggregating financial documents for bank underwriters.

If you’re doing the math, that’s 10,400 hours of life energy flushed down the toilet.

Introducing “Return on Hassle”

Astute investors will typically look at Return on Investments (ROI). It’s calculated as:

ROI = Money Earned / Capital invested

But Return on Hassle (ROH) looks like:

ROH = Money Earned / (Capital + Time + Brain Damage + Stress)

(Props to Mitchell Baldridge and Nick Maggiulli for coming up with the ROH concept.)

The way I think of Return on Hassle is with a simple life value that drives countless decisions for our family.

We value simplicity over complexity… even if it means leaving money on the table.

Here are some examples from my own life:

I value the simplicity of renting over owning (even though the latter has better ROI).

I value the simplicity of one credit card (2% Citi Cash Back) over optimizing for points and miles.

And we value the simplicity of 2 kids versus 3 🤣.

Mitchell Baldridge adds a few of his own examples:

Series I savings bonds:

Individuals can invest up to 15k a year in bonds that are tied to inflation. It’s a massive opportunity as inflation rises today (7%+ coupon today.) No meat on the bone – you’ll maybe make $1000 annually on 15k. Also you lock up your $$ for 1-5 years.

Trying to perfect your withholding to not ‘give the government an interest free loan:’

I pay extra for peace of mind. I have clients who constantly owe the IRS because the interest rate is relatively low. Make a choice.

For us Internet Nerds, these examples remind me of the MidTwit Meme.

It’s a mildly disparaging term used to “describe someone of average intelligence who mistakenly believes they are among the intellectual elite.”

Said differently, it’s when you overcomplicate a problem (and shit on the simpler solution).

And it’s also a sign that your Return on Hassle has gotten out of whack.

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