What many people don’t know is that I perhaps give the worst advice. The reason is not that I don’t want to give good advice or intentionally give bad advice. It is just that I don’t know what is a good advice for you. At best I can give advice based on my experience if I have already experienced it, for example early retirement. Or I can tell you what I would do if I were in their situation. Now, unless the person asking for advice is exactly like me, thinks like me and is in the same path in life as me, my advice probably won’t do them much good. This has always been my biggest worry anytime some asks for advice. And advice people ask.

People sought advice on various topics including but not limited to

  • how to get rid of pests in their organic garden
  • which line of education should their distant cousin’s kid take
  • which career path is best for a fresh grad and an experienced person
  • should they change career after working for X years in a certain field
  • should they go for early retirement based on my experience
  • should their kid go for MS or take up a job offer
  • which coding language to learn to become machine learning expert
  • what would be a good business idea in today’s world
  • how to setup solar panels to run water pumps on a parcel of land they own
  • whether 4% rule will really work for them
  • which mutual funds should they go for
  • whether it is better to go with a financial planner or to handle finances themselves
  • how to eat healthy and stay fit and how I am able to maintain fitness
  • whether going to gym is a bad idea if they stop exercising in the future
  • whether protein powder should be taken or not and if there are any risks
  • should they home school or unschool their kid
  • is it better to invest in bitcoin or real estate
  • should they still invest in equity mutual funds given that I said market is already high
  • whether they should move to India or continue living in a foreign country

Those were just a sample of the questions I was asked. There are still more that I don’t even remember anymore. Now I can give pretty good answers to some of those questions, but for most others I just give advice based on what I think is best thing to do if I were in their situation. This is the tricky part. If my advice works well then there is no harm done. But if my advice were to fail, it will live on my conscience for ever even though I did not intentionally give bad advice. It just didn’t work for them that is all. I am sure you must have also been asked for advice along similar lines. How do you handle these kind of questions?

For example, in the case of how to get rid of pests in their organic garden, it was quite easy because I have experience in that and the person had the same exact issue as I had. These black pests just stick on to the underside of the leaves and suck nutrients from the plants and convert them to sugar. The sugar attracts ants which have a symbiotic relationship with the pests. The ants get food (sugar) and in return they transport the pests to more leaves and plants and thus spreading them. If this menace is not nipped in the bud, they will spread exponentially.

The particular problem this person was having was that the neem-oil spray they were spraying was not clearing up the pests. They stick real hard to the leaves. So one would have to turn each leaf, spray with a powerful jet of neem-oil spray and use fingers to dislodge the stuck pests. Just spraying on top of them won’t help. This advice worked well for the person. Reason is quite simple, I had the exact problem (experience) and found the solution.

Now take the case of which line of education should their distant cousin’s kid take. I have no idea how to suggest. It depends on many factors. And I have absolutely no experience in this matter. The person wanted to know which engineering stream will help the kid have the best job opportunity in the future. Unfortunately I have no idea? You see, they are asking a person for advice who doesn’t even know which school to send his own kid to. I was and still am dumb as a mule. When I was going for my engineering I had absolutely no plans about job. I wanted to do electrical and electronics engineering because that was my interest and that is what I did.

Given this experience, how can I give a proper advice? So I told them the same – let the kid choose his passion. Whether that is good advice or not only time will tell. But they wanted to know what will give the kid a good job in future. That I have no idea. Currently software engineering is paying well and that is all I know. So computer science degree is a good choice? But then I did not do computer science and I am a software engineer. So any degree is fine then? I don’t know.

Some advice seems contradictory. Take for example someone wanting to know if they should invest in equity mutual funds – should they still invest in equity mutual funds given that I said market is already high. According to me, the market is high, which is why most of my investments are in debt mutual funds. Yet I advice people to invest 70% in equity. What gives? Am I trying to trick people? This falls in the grey area unfortunately.

The reason is that my general advice to everyone is that they should go with 70:30 asset allocation in equity and debt mutual funds respectively. They can choose a slightly more conservative 60:40 allocation if they want. But that is all the advice I can give without knowing anything about them. The reason I don’t follow that allocation is because I am thinking I can time the market to reduce volatility. I am not sure if they have enough knowledge about economic cycles and macro economics to ask them to do the same.

Some questions are even more difficult to answer like whether going to gym is a bad idea if they stop exercising in the future. Well, it depends. If you start exercising, you will be hungrier than usual. So you will eat more, but it is alright because you are burning off with exercise. Now if you get used to eating more food and then stop exercising in the future, the excess calories will make you fat. Easy enough right?

But lets say you are like me and eat only until you feel you are 70% full which is about what the number of calories I really need. Then it wouldn’t matter whether you are exercising or not. When you have exercised you eat until you are 70% full which is lets say 1700 calories. When you have not exercised, you eat until you feel you are 70% full, which lets say is 1500 calories. The amount of food you eat depends on your hunger, not on the plate size or the serving size that you are used to. Everyday the serving size changes. Then you won’t become fat. Now how I can tell whether you will become fat or not? It depends on your self control.

So as you can see, I can go on and on. Most of the questions cannot be answered well because they mostly depend on the person. Yet I give advice and I always give them a disclaimer that my advice is based on my experience and what I would do in their situation. But I still feel I am giving bad advice. So if you have ever taken advice from me, know that you could be at risk :). There is absolutely no one size fits all advice.