Ross Levin: Three of the best investments that I ever made

  • Article by: ROSS LEVIN
  • Gains and Losses
  • September 24, 2011 - 12:57 PM

Let's be clear. We don't really care about our money. We care about what we think our money buys us -- security, experiences, maybe an image.

Any investment has risk. You simply don't know in advance whether it will pay off. So what you should be thinking about is how you can increase the likelihood that your investment will return more to you than what you put in.

With that in mind, I want to share with you three of the best investments I have ever made. They have been transformational for me. Their payback has been disproportionately larger than their cost.

The first investment was one that I began to make when I was only 18. It was a commitment that felt insurmountable. But when I graduated with my degree from the University of Minnesota, I knew that the money that I'd earned and borrowed was well spent. I also learned leadership as I became involved in organizations; time management as I balanced working to pay for school with my studies, and resilience as I overcame those struggles to earn my degree. The return on this investment is incalculable and ongoing.

The second transformational investment I made in my 20s but also continue to make each year. It is our state (and national) parks pass. As we were driving through Rocky Mountain National Park this fall, my wife and I were overwhelmed by its vastness and its beauty. We hiked among moose, elk, deer and bear. In Minnesota, how can you not help but feel grateful walking through the pines and along the river up north at Cascade Beach State Park? We often took our daughters to the various parks to look for birds or animals or flowers. They would create stories about mushrooms and holes in logs. I remember one night by the Temperance River, alone in my tent with a lantern light and my journal, writing about how I am never more alive than when I am in nature. The thing about this investment is that the payback is both long-lasting and immediate.

The third transformational investment may have been the most difficult to make, but it's paid off handsomely. It is our donor-advised fund currently at the Minneapolis Foundation. People think about charity in different ways. One of our clients started a nonprofit after successfully serving as an executive in a large company. Rather than retire, he and his wife created a specific cause to which they wanted to dedicate a significant amount of their time. For them, the hands-on work was their way to make a difference. Others choose to dedicate a certain amount directly to their causes. For my wife and me, charity has been transformational because the act of committing a percentage of our income each year to charity has been a way for us to consciously think about the difference between our needs and wants. It made us less afraid of not having enough because it loosened any grip money may have had on us.

If you spent time thinking about your best investments, I wonder whether they would be similar to mine. Are they regenerative, enduring and, in the end, have little to do with money?

Spend your life wisely.

Ross Levin is founding principal and president of Accredited Investors Inc., Edina. His Gains & Losses column runs on the last Sunday of the month. His e-mail is

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