What would you say your investment pain threshold is? High? Or are you someone that needs the security of absolute returns like CD's?
Most of the time we don’t associate investing with pain. We love to dwell on double digit returns and how great it will be when we get to retire and sit in a corner counting our gold like so many Scrooge McDucks. We are awash in visions of buying boats and golfing, of european vacations and cabins in the mountains. Everywhere people are always smiling and laughing with their friends while sipping wine at different vineyards and life is good. All thanks to the wonderful folks at Madison ave.
But the reality is often much more harsh. During my years in the investment business rare was the call from someone sitting on a beach sipping too sweet a drink and being waiting on hand and foot. More often than not when I picked up the receiver the investor calling in was generally suffering from some type of distress. Sometimes, and thankfully not often, they would already be in some kind of mental meltdown.
Reality isn't a game show
Between sniffles and nose blowing they would want to start to begin trying to piece together the ugliness that their 401(k) or ira statement was highlighting. Questions began to be peppered at me along the lines of “How did this happen?” or “What am I going to do?” or “I don't understand...!” or even worse “What did you do with my money?!”
Begging them to take a deep breath and finally getting them to settle down I would begin the process of dissecting their investments and would begin probing them with a discussion that went something like this:
Me: Ms. Jones, I see you've invested in XYZ and that it's dropped about 30%...
Ms. Jones: THAT'S what I'm trying to tell you!! It's dropped!! And now I can’t retire!!
Me: Tell me why you chose XYZ.
Ms. Jones: What am I going to do now? *sob* I was going to use that money to buy my retirement home and...
Me: I understand, but, please tell me WHY you purchased it. It's in a pretty volatile sector.
Ms. Jones: I KNOW IT’S VOLATILE!!! Look what's happened! *sob* I’ll have to work 25 more years to recover! *sob*
Me: Maybe, maybe not. Why did you choose XYZ?
Ms. Jones: Because my (brother, uncle, friend at work, mother, boyfriend, etc.) said that this was going to take off and make people a lot of money and now it hasn't and...
Ugh! Gives me the shivers.
Pain can be good
That happened more times than I care to share with you. But, in truth, maybe XYZ might be a good investment. Just not for Ms. Jones. You see, Ms. Jones found out that she really didn’t have the pain tolerance for an investment that could take wild swings. She only saw an upside and didn't factor in a downside. Sure, it MIGHT give great returns, but, it’s possible it MIGHT tank as well. It's amazing to see how many people have no idea about the background of an investment they've made and many times one they’ve made based purely on word of mouth. And to make matters worse some folks put ALL of their eggs into the one basket instead of just dropping in a couple of the eggs. Greed will kill ya.
The market only averages about an 8-10% return. Take a look at it's history. But, that's not a bad thing. Just because it’s not producing double digit returns every year doesn't mean it's not worth investing in. Ask Warren Buffett. The guy buys companies like Dairy Queen. Not exactly a company making the headlines of the Wall Street Journal everyday. But, he believes its stable and steady. Now look at your investments. How do they compare?
So before you make your next investment or before you call up your broker to bite his head off take a minute or so and ask yourself why you purchased the stock or bond or whatever you’ve purchased and consider whether or not you were really prepared for the ride it produced. Your reaction to the pain is a very good indicator.
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