It’s a strange time for investors.
Consider this: Just last week Gerry, a 65-year-old recent retiree, asked me if she should take on more risk in her portfolio. “The market is doing so well,” she said. “I feel like I’m missing out on all that growth.” My answer was simple. “No!” I explained that her strategy had been very carefully built to support her long-term financial goals—not just to grow her invested funds. It was an important conversation, and wow, is it a good thing she has an advisor to talk her out of emotional decision-making! Just imagine if she’d decided to gamble with her assets and take on more risk just a few days ahead of Monday’s volatility.
Of course, in the face of this week’s rather wild ride in the stock market, you may be asking yourself the opposite question: “Have I taken on too much risk?” My answer to you is the same today as it was for Gerry just one week ago. No! That is, of course, if you have a well-constructed financial plan already in place.
Whether the market is flying high or taunting your emotions with new lows and some bumpy volatility, here are four things every investor should keep in mind:
Investing is not a stand-alone activity. When the stock market is in the news (which it almost always is), it’s easy to forget that investing is just one piece of your overall financial life. A good financial advisor will work with you to look at that and everything else. What are your goals? What does your personal balance sheet look like? If you haven’t already, how soon do you plan to retire? How long can your existing portfolio provide a reasonable income? How much debt do you have? Do you have a sufficient emergency fund? The answers to these questions determine how much risk you can afford to take when investing. When a new client tells me she only wants to talk about investments and not the rest of her financial life, I know we have some important work to do! (Learn more about focusing on your financial big picture in my blog, Cold, hard cash! (Are you paying attention?).
A balanced portfolio will rarely perform as well as the DJIA—or as poorly. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is an average comprised of just 30 stocks out of a universe of thousands. In contrast, your portfolio includes a diverse menu of different asset types that each play a particular role within your portfolio. Stocks address your need for growth. Bonds address your need for stable income. Cash addresses your need for liquidity. How those assets are balanced—or allocated—in your portfolio depends on how long it will have to serve as your retirement paycheck, how much you’ll have to draw each month to sustain your lifestyle, how many years your assets have to grow, your legacy goals, and more. If your IRA goes down as stocks go up, don’t despair. Rest assured that your portfolio is balanced and diversified to meet your needs.
Your best investment in any market is to pay off debt. Debt is a huge problem in the US. According to this study by WalletHub, the average indebted household held $8,600 in outstanding credit card debt in 2017, and total household debt broke a new record of just under $13 Trillion. If your portfolio is what makes your financial life secure, debt is what does the opposite. While “good debt” such as a home mortgage, student loans, and business loans generate benefits over time, “bad debt” poses serious risk to your financial health. Credit cards, auto loans, and other revolving debt reduce your income, add no value to your wealth, and force you to pay more every month for an item that is losing value. If you are carrying bad debt, use a debtsnowball to reduce and eliminate the debt you have today and avoid taking on more debt in the future. (For more on how debt can impact your future, read my blog There’s no such thing as an unexpected expense.)
- Your goal is to make work optional and sleep peacefully at night—not make as much money as possible. It’s so easy to forget the endgame. We see the stock market hitting record highs or taking record dives, and it distracts us from the real goal of financial planning. Ultimately, everyone wants to have enough assets to support themselves and their family comfortably for the rest of their lives. While the definition of “enough” varies widely (check out John C. Bogle’s fantastic book, Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life, for more on that important topic), a comprehensive financial/life plan can remove money stress by giving you the confidence that work will be optional someday and you can sleep peacefully knowing that your finances are secure today and tomorrow—independent of market volatility.
I have a colleague who likes to joke that he has the gift of “20/20 hindsight.” Don’t we all? It’s so easy to say, “I knew it all along!” Knew that the market was overvalued. Knew that you should have held on to Apple stock. Knew that your friend’s new boyfriend was a creep. The truth is you didn’t know it all along; you only feel as though you did now that the outcome is in plain sight.
No one—not even Warren Buffett—knows which way the stock market will go tomorrow. One thing we can anticipate is that we may have returned to more “normal” volatility. After years of historically low volatility and record highs, it may feel a bit unfamiliar, but with a solid plan in place, you can trust that you are safe. If you’re not certain you have a smart plan that’s working toward your long-term goals, let’s chat. As always, we’re here to help.
The Center for Center for Microeconomic Data, Q3 2017