The Ten Best Ways to Ruin Your Financial Future

It's been a bumpy road to nowhere this year for US stocks, and although we are flat to slightly negative on the year, it likely feels scary to many investors. Times like this are when investors must be on guard against the impact of their own bad decisions and in my own tongue-in-cheek way, I've tried to cover some of the most common ways I see people get it wrong: 

1. Ignore the impact of your behavior – Over the last 20 years, the market has returned an average of 8.25% per annum, but the average investor has gotten just over 4% of that due to poor investment behavior. But making prudent decisions is much less interesting than say, trying to time a bottom in oil prices, so by all means allocate your efforts there.

2. Trust your gut – A meta-analysis of rules-based approaches versus discretionary approaches to making decisions found that following the rules beats or equals even expert human judgment 94% of the time. But rules are boring, so just do what feels right with your money!

3. Live for right now – The worst ever 25-year return for stocks (that included the Great Depression) was 5.9% annualized. But patiently planning over an investment lifetime is sooo tedious, so be sure to check your stocks every single day, where you will see red about 45% of the time.

4. Do as much as possible – When things get scary it feels good to act, right? Right. Disregard the research that shows that the most active traders in Sweden underperformed their buy-and-hold counterparts by 4% a year. Also, forget about the fact that across 19 major stock exchanges, investors who made major changes trailed those who did nothing by 1.5% a year.

5. Equate volatility with risk – Stocks outperform other asset classes by about 5% annualized after adjusting for volatility, but the ups and downs can be a lot to handle! Volatility also provides opportunities to buy once-expensive names at a bargain. But go ahead and ignore all of the upside to volatility and do something “safe”, like buying treasuries that don’t keep up with inflation and lose real dollars every year.

6. Go it alone – Aon Hewitt, Morningstar and Vanguard all place the value of financial advice at anywhere from 2 to 3% per year in excess returns, but don’t let that stop you. With multiple 24/7 news channels and hysteria-inducing magazines available to you, who needs personalized advice?

7. Try and beat the benchmark – You could argue that beating an impersonal market benchmark like the S&P 500 has nothing to do with your goals or risk tolerance, but that takes all the fun out of it! Just go watch “The Big Short” and pick up a few pointers there.

8. Read every article that mentions “recession” – The U.S. economy has been in a recession nearly 20% of the time since 1928, meaning that the average investor will experience 10 to 15 recessions over their lifetime. But by all means, read every scary article that you can rather than accepting the historical trend that recessions are a common occurrence and haven’t materially impacted the long-term ability of the market to compound wealth.

9. Tune in to dramatic forecasts – David Dreman found that roughly 1 in 170 analyst forecasts are within 5% of reality and Philip Tetlock’s examination of 82,000 “expert” predictions shows that they barely outperform flipping a coin. So, ignore the robust body of evidence that says no one can predict the future and pick a market prophet to follow.

10. Ignore history – JP Morgan reports that the average intrayear drawdown over the past 35 years has been just over 14%, a number we haven’t yet reached in 2016. What’s more, the market has ended higher in 27 of those 35 years. Forget the fact that the horror of 1987’s “Black Monday” (a 22.61% single day drop in the Dow) actually ended in a positive year for stocks. Ignore historical suggestions that double-digit volatility is the norm and instead imagine vivid Doomsday scenarios that leave you in financial tatters.

For great advice on how to avoid poor financial decisions, check out The Laws of Wealth by New York Times bestselling author Dr. Daniel Crosby.