We are a little over a month into the new year and this is the time when most people find out if their new year’s resolutions are going to stick or not. Of course, new year’s resolutions are all about habits, and forming new habits or breaking old ones can be very hard to do. This certainly applies to investing habits as well. Investing habits don’t often make the new year’s resolution list but, if I were to think about investing habits to break in 2021, these four would be at the top of the list.
- Looking at your investment account balances every day. There's nothing wrong with wanting to know your account balance, unless it becomes an obsession that leads to knee-jerk reactions. Investing in the stock market is about long-term growth, not about trying to make a quick buck. If you are watching your balances because you might need the money in the near future, and you are concerned about losing principal, that money should not be invested in the stock market. By the same token, if you are 20 years from retirement and a 20% drop in your 401(k) balance sends you into a panic, you are likely to make some bad decisions that will hurt you in the long run. Give yourself a break. Short-term movements in the market are impossible to predict and reacting to them can wreak havoc on your emotions and your portfolio.
- Getting financial advice from the media. The people who write about or talk about investing for a living don’t care about your portfolio. They are concerned about getting as many people as possible to listen to them, so they can sell more advertisements. Many of them also work, or have worked, in the brokerage industry, which lives on the commissions that are earned every time a stock is traded. They lure you into the double jeopardy of stock picking and market timing, sharing all the hot tips you will need to outperform the market. Not only is it impossible even for seasoned pros to consistently beat the market, but by the time you see their “news” online or on TV, it’s already too late. The markets move way too fast. Of course, not all financial advice in the media is sensationalized. You just need to know where to look to find sound guidance. Advisors that are fiduciary and fee-only are legally required to act in the best interest of their clients, and seek to minimize potential conflicts of interest. They can be great sources of objective, evidence-based investment advice.
- Making a game out of investing. It seems obvious to say investing is not a video game nor it is a casino, but many of these commission-free trading and investing apps sure make it seem so. You can get a free stock for signing up. Confetti falls when you make a trade. You are bombarded with alerts when your account balance changes. The objective is not to put money to work for some future need, but to grow your account balance as quickly as possible, so you can get another fun text message. These services don’t follow the conventional rules of investing, which makes sense because the behavior they encourage is actually more like gambling, and many users often don’t understand the risks they are taking.
- Comparing returns with family or friends. Investing is also not a competition. Trying to outdo your sibling’s or your golfing buddy’s investment returns is no way to manage a portfolio. For one thing, they will be glad to tell you about all the brilliant moves that really paid off (often exaggerated) but they tend to keep the bad news to themselves. But more importantly, their financial situation, their goals, and their tolerance for market risk might be very different from yours, and those are the factors that should drive your investing decisions. Don’t get me wrong, friends and family can be a great source of information, particularly if they work with a fiduciary advisor, but portfolio performance should not be just another way to keep score.
Successful investors, by tuning out the noise of short-term market movements, avoid the bad habits of emotional investing. They determine the appropriate asset allocation, often guided by a comprehensive financial plan, then build well-diversified, index-based portfolios that are aligned with their time horizon and financial goals. Overcoming these temptations is not easy, but it’s essential for long-term investing success.
About the Author: Kevin Fix, CPA / PFS is a Senior Financial Advisor at Fullen Financial Group. He has worked for more than 25 years in accounting and finance, with much of his career spent in public accounting and company financial management. He has extensive experience managing finances and investments for individuals, small business owners and large corporations. Kevin earned his CPA license in 1992 and became an independent Registered Investment Advisor in 2011.
Kevin earned Bachelor’s degrees in Accounting and International Studies from Miami University, and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He is a member of the American Institute of CPAs and their Personal Financial Planning practice section. Kevin lives in Upper Arlington with his wife, Amy, and their three children, and is an active member of the business community.
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