The extremes of the personal finance world were on display this month at the Marriott World Center in Orlando, Fla., as the money nerds went shoulder-to-shoulder with the get-rich-quick crowd.
In an unlikely juxtaposition, FinCon ’22 — a conference of content creators (bloggers, podcasters, YouTubers and other media types) — was a few conference rooms down the hall from PlanNet Marketing’s Breakthrough International Convention, a forum for producers in a multilevel marketing company with ties to the travel industry.
You had no trouble figuring out which event people were going to as they walked through the hotel and conference center: The money nerds were in shorts and polos plus the occasional T-shirt announcing their brand. The members of the sales organization were dressed to the nines, as if they were going to an adult prom.
What they shared was an enthusiasm for their efforts in the financial world, a tendency toward self-promotion, and a belief that they’re on the right path and want to bring others with them.
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The similarities mostly end there, as the groups are otherwise polar opposites. Yet as individual investors living through crazy financial times, there’s a lot to learn from extremes and the mindsets you find there. You may never want to be in the nerd posse or ride with the millionaire go-getters, but knowing your mindset and tendencies will help you find your best path.
Let’s start with PlanNet Marketing, which I hadn’t heard about until I got into the hotel’s long check-in line. (I was there for FinCon.)
PlanNet Marketing is a multilevel marketing company (MLM) in the travel niche. Partnered with InteleTravel — another MLM company — it gives people the opportunity to start a home-based travel agency business.
I hate multilevel marketing programs. It’s wrong to say that MLMs are, de facto, pyramid schemes, but they feel that way to many people.
PlanNet Marketing could be different, but I couldn’t get any company officials to talk, speaking only to random conference attendees. I did limited digging into the firm, and did not attempt to reach anyone from InteleTravel.
Despite my doubts, I met people satisfied with their MLM experience, who pooh-poohed my concerns and who talked and dressed a successful game.
PlanNet Marketing itself has no real products, but is instead a funnel to InteleTravel, where would-be travel agents get access to a booking engine and travel booking tools.
The PlanNet Marketing rep — the person who signs up clients and gets involved — earns commissions for recruiting other reps, but also on travel bookings. They can earn further payouts selling InteleTravel agent businesses.
Reps pay a small upfront cost and monthly fee, and don’t have to purchase any product to earn commissions. They have no minimum sales quotas or targets to meet. They also have little chance of achieving real financial success.
The company’s 2020 income disclosure statement, found online, showed that nearly 98% of “active independent representatives” are travel reps, working just a couple of hours per week and earning about $155 per year. That breaks down to about $13 per month, less than the monthly fee those reps pay to the firm.
According to the disclosure, less than half of 1% of PlanNet Marketing’s active reps earn more than $500 per year.
Odds are, this won’t be anyone’s life-changing side gig.
Yet the true believers in attendance, apparently, are either the exceptional producers or haven’t recognized that they’re trending toward average.
Several told me they like this plan — using their money and time — better than investing in the stock market because it gives them full control of their financial future. They dress up because they believe that showing abundance will attract others looking for it.
“I don’t trust the stock market,” said a man named William, who chatted me up as we waited for an elevator. Several others agreed with him. “I work to make my money, I have never trusted anyone with it, and this has been a way for me to make more money. I’m not expecting to get something for nothing like I would be if I put my money into the market and hoped it would go up. I am working so that I have more control over what I get.”
Compare that mindset and distrust of the stock market to the money nerds at FinCon.
There were members of the FIRE movement — Financial Independence Retire Early — and side-gig bloggers, stock and options traders, and the shovel-your-way-out-of-debt crowd. Financial bloggers come in all shapes and sizes and education levels and, while they’re not all creating the best, most detailed/comprehensive financial coverage, they are committed to their efforts.
They want their money to work smarter, not harder. They want that for their personal lives, too. They want to know who to trust with their money and, while they trust themselves to earn it and save it, they want help — either from investments or advisers — to grow it and make it last a lifetime. They buy low-cost, long-term investment vehicles like index mutual funds.
They’re nervous now, but leaning into the trouble to determine better outcomes, and they mostly know that will come from spending reasonably, saving aggressively and staying diversified.
Ultimately, members of each group thought the other side would be better off trying it their way; moreover, they were not going to switch sides.
But with an economy and stock market struggling to deal with high inflation and rising interest rates, there is no one right way to move forward to success.
While you may want to emulate the success of others, take the path that works for you. Try to find the path of least resistance.
Examine your logic rigorously before committing to it. Judge success against your personal standards and goals, not against how others look and act.
The takeaway from Orlando was simple: The trappings of success aren’t what makes you successful, especially in these times when trouble feels like it’s on the doorstep.
Your effort and mindset go a long way to determining your financial success, but if you see a lot of financial wreckage as you travel your financial path, recognize that you may not be on the road to prosperity.