The 6 Biggest Mistakes Ordinary Investors Make
In many areas of life, we are often our own worst enemies. The realm of personal finance is no different.
What’s the biggest threat to achieving financial independence?
Unfortunately, it’s your own brain.
You can invest in all the right things, minimize fees and taxes, and even diversify your holdings. But if you fail to master your own psychology, it’s still possible to fall victim to financial self-sabotage.
The Brain’s Design
Today’s infographic is from Tony Robbins, and it uses data and talking points from his #1 Best Selling book Unshakeable: Your Financial Freedom Playbook, which is now available on paperback.
The graphic is based on a chapter in the book that reveals the key psychological limitations of the human brain. It turns out that these fallible survival instincts have been hardwired into our brains over millions of years, and they become very troublesome when we try to make rational financial decisions.
To overcome these instincts, investors need to adopt simple systems, rules, and procedures that can ensure the decisions around money we make are in our best long-term interest.
What I’ve found again and again is that 80% of success is psychology and 20% is mechanics.
– Tony Robbins
Six Psychological Pitfalls to Avoid
Remember these six pitfalls – and how to counteract them – and you’ll be able to avoid the biggest mistakes often made by investors.
Seeking confirmation of your own beliefs
Your brain is wired to seek and believe information that validates your existing beliefs. Our minds love “proof” of how smart and right we are.
Even worse, this is magnified by the online echo chambers of the modern world.
- News media (MSNBC, Fox News, etc.) tend to favor one point of view
- Google and Facebook filter our search results
- Unsubstantiated rumors can run unchecked, as long as they reinforce existing points of view
This can be exceptionally detrimental in investing.
Convincing yourself that a particular stock or strategy is correct, without taking into account contradicting evidence, can be the nail in the coffin of financial freedom.
The Solution: Welcome opinions that contradict your own
The best investors know they are vulnerable to confirmation bias, and actively ask questions and seek qualified opinions that disagree with their own.
Ray Dalio, for example, seeks the smartest detractor of his idea, and then tries to find out their full reasoning behind their contrary opinion.
The power of thoughtful disagreement is a great thing.
– Ray Dalio
Conflating recent events with ongoing trends
One of the most common – and dangerous – investing mistakes is to believe that the current trend of the day will continue.
In psychology speak, this is known as recency bias, or putting more weight on recent events when evaluating the odds of something happening in the future
For example, an investor might think that because a stock has performed well recently, that it will also do well in the future. Therefore, she buys more – effectively buying at a high point in the stock.
The Solution: Re-balance
Our memories are short, so what can we do?
The best way to avoid this impulsive and faulty decision making is to commit to portfolio allocations (i.e. 60% stocks, 40% bonds) in advance, and then re-balancing on a regular basis.
This effectively ensures you are buying low, and selling high. When stocks to well, you sell some of them to buy other assets in the underweighted part of your portfolio, and vice versa.
Very successful and driven people often assume they will be just as good at investing as they are at other aspects of their life. However, this overconfidence is a common cognitive bias: we constantly overestimate our abilities, our knowledge, and our future prospects.
The Solution: Get Real, and Get Honest
By admitting you have no special advantage, you give yourself an enormous advantage – and you’ll beat the overconfident investors that delude themselves in believing they can outperform.
If you can’t predict the future, the most important thing is to admit it. If it’s true that you can’t make forecasts and yet you try anyway, then that’s really suicide.
– Howard Marks
Swinging for the Fences
It’s tempting to go for the big wins in your quest to build financial wealth. But swinging for the fences also means more strikeouts – many which can be difficult to recover from.
The Solution: Think Long Term
The best way to win the game of investing is to achieve sustainable long-term returns that compound over time. Don’t get distracted by the short-term noise on Wall Street, and re-orient your approach to build wealth over the long term.
The stock market is a device for transferring money from the impatient to the patient.
– Warren Buffett
This psychological bias is known as “home bias”, and it is the tendency for people to invest disproportionately in markets that are familiar to them. For example, investing in:
- Your employer’s stock
- Your own industry
- Your own country’s stock market
- Only one asset class
Home bias can leave you overweighted in “what you know”, which can wreak havoc on your portfolio in some circumstances.
The Solution: Diversify
Diversify broadly, in different asset classes and in different countries. From 2000 to 2009, the S&P 500 only returned 1.4% per year, but foreign markets picked up the slack:
- International stocks: 3.9% per year
- Emerging markets: 16.2% per year
A well-diversified portfolio would have done well, no matter what.
Our brains are wired to bombard us with memories of negative experiences.
In fact, one part of our brain – the amygdala – is a biological alarm system that floods the body with fear signals when we are losing money.
The problem with this? When markets plunge, fear takes over and it’s easy to act irrationally. Some people panic, selling their entire portfolios to go into cash.
The Solution: Prepare
The best way to avoid negativity bias is to:
- Keep record of why you invested in certain securities in the first place
- Maintain the right asset allocation that will help you through volatility
- Partner with the right financial advisor to offer advice
- Focus on the long term, and avoid short-term market distractions
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
– Benjamin Franklin
These simple rules and procedures will make it easier for you to invest for the long term.
They’ll help you:
- Trade less
- Lower investment fees and transaction costs
- Be more open to views that differ from your own
- Reduce risk by diversifying globally
- Control the fears that could otherwise derail you
Will you be perfect? No.
But will you do better? You bet!
And the difference this makes over a lifetime can be substantial.
How Equities Can Reduce Longevity Risk
With life expectancies increasing, will you outlive your savings? Learn how allocating more of your portfolio to equities may reduce longevity risk.
Will You Outlive Your Savings?
The desire to live longer — and outrun death — is ingrained in the human spirit. The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, may have even drank mercury in his quest for immortality.
Over time, advice for living longer has become more practical: eat well, get regular exercise, seek medical advice. However, as life expectancies increase, many individuals will struggle to save enough for their lengthy retirement years.
Today’s infographic comes from New York Life Investments, and it uncovers how holding a stronger equity weighting in your portfolio may help you save enough funds for your lifespan.
Longer Life Expectancies
Around the world, more people are living longer.
|Year||Life Expectancy at Birth, World|
Despite this, many people underestimate how long they’ll live. Why?
- They compare to older relatives.
Approximately 25% of variation in lifespan is a product of ancestry, but it’s not the only factor that matters. Gender, lifestyle, exercise, diet, and even socioeconomic status also have a large impact. Even more importantly, breakthroughs in healthcare and technology have contributed to longer life expectancies over the last century.
- They refer to life expectancy at birth.
This is the most commonly quoted statistic. However, life expectancies rise as individuals age. This is because they have survived many potential causes of untimely death — including higher mortality risks often associated with childhood.
Amid the longer lifespans and inaccurate predictions, a problem is brewing.
Currently, 35% of U.S. households do not participate in any retirement savings plan. Among those who do, the median household only has $1,100 in its retirement account.
Enter longevity risk: many investors are facing the possibility that they will outlive their retirement savings.
So, what’s the solution? One strategy lies in the composition of an investor’s portfolio.
The Case for a Stronger Equity Weighting
One of the most important decisions an investor will make is their asset allocation.
As a guide, many individuals have referred to the “100-age” rule. For example, a 40-year-old would hold 60% in stocks while an 80-year-old would hold 20% in stocks.
As life expectancies rise and time horizons lengthen, a more aggressive portfolio has become increasingly important. Today, professionals suggest a rule closer to 110-age or 120-age.
There are many reasons why investors should consider holding a strong equity weighting.
- Equities Have Strong Long-Term Performance
Equities deliver much higher returns than other asset classes over time. Not only do they outpace inflation by a wide margin, many also pay dividends that boost performance when reinvested.
- Small Yearly Withdrawals Limit Risk
Upon retirement, an investor usually withdraws only a small percentage of their portfolio each year. This limits the downside risk of equities, even in bear markets.
- Earning Potential Can Balance Portfolio Risk
Some healthy seniors are choosing to work in retirement to stay active. This means they have more earning potential, and are better equipped to recoup any losses their portfolio may experience.
- Time Horizons Extend Beyond Lifespan
Many individuals, particularly affluent investors, want to pass on their wealth to their loved ones upon their death. Given the longer time horizon, the portfolio is better equipped to ride out risk and maximize returns through equities.
Higher Risk, Higher Potential Reward
Holding equities can be an exercise in psychological discipline. An investor must be able to ride out the ups and downs in the stock market.
If they can, there’s a good chance they will be rewarded. By allocating more of their portfolio to equities, investors greatly increase the odds of retiring whenever they want — with funds that will last their entire lifetime.
The Periodic Table of Investments
The investment universe is vast – but it’s also made up of many smaller components. See it all depicted in this nifty periodic table of investments.
Periodic Table of Investments
The investment universe is vast, but it’s also made up of many smaller moving pieces.
For serious investors, the foundation of the discipline is to understand the properties of these individual components, and to have them work in harmony to achieve a specific portfolio goal.
To do this successfully, one must understand the breadth of asset classes, tactics, and categories of investments that exist – and to know how they relate to one another.
The Chemicals Between Us
Today’s infographic comes from Phil Huber, the Chief Investment Officer for Huber Financial Advisors, who has cleverly depicted this relationship graphically in his blog.
Similar to how the physical universe is made up of chemical elements, he sees the possibilities around portfolio management as drawing from a broad pool of investing “elements”. Combine these different elements together, and you get compounds, structures, and eventually entire funds.
The periodic table of investments created by his team denotes each type of investment, the primary and secondary strategy related to it, and a color classification:
Here are the seven objectives that the top letters on each box refer to:
And finally, here are the colors that each block on the periodic table correspond to:
As you can see, considerable thought has been put into the categories and classifications. However, as Phil notes, this is simply the opinion of one person and it is not intended to be a universally accurate depiction of all portfolio management wisdom that exists:
I fully expect that there are a handful of omissions, or perhaps a few areas where one might flat-out disagree with how I’ve laid things out. This was not meant to be 100% exhaustive, nor was it meant to be indicative of what one of our portfolios looks like.
Phil Huber, Chief Investment Officer
For more of the lessons that can be derived from this clever periodic table of investments, we suggest checking out the original post on Huber’s blog.
Is there anything that he missed, or that you think could be classified better?
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