The worst time to make a financial planning decision, clearly, is when you’re upset or otherwise emotional.
So what do you do when markets are moving? The initial reaction might be to wait. When in doubt, it seems safer to take no action at all.
That’s hard-wired into us. It’s the reason you don’t step out into traffic. Something in your peripheral vision isn’t quite right and, bam!, you freeze.
When it comes to financial planning, though, it can be far too easy to freeze up and stay that way. As savers get older and have more money at risk, every choice feels dangerous. Do I buy more stocks now, or wait? Will the bond market correct this week, or next year?
Pretty soon, financial planning turns into babysitting cash. Uninvested cash is safe in the sense that it can’t lose market value. But it is losing purchasing power to inflation, slowly but surely.
How can you take appropriate action? By considering these simple facts about long-term investing:
1. Things always look bad now and better later
Almost nobody at the stock market bottom in March 2009 was jumping for joy. Well, some investors were, but everyone else wrote them off as crazy. In retrospect, that was the moment to invest, if you had cash to spare. It looked horrible then but now looks like an opportunity. In five years, whatever is happening today, you will have the same reaction.
2. If you have time, you have power
No matter what is going on in the markets today — no matter which index is up or down, which country is at war or peace, which politician is sitting in the White House — in five years it will seem quaint and forgettable. Ten years down the line, you won’t remember a thing about today, least of all what you thought about investing. Time is perspective and power for an investor.
3. Turn down the volume, turn up your life
Following the pundits in the financial media is bad for your mental health. (I know, I’m a “pundit” too.) That’s because their bread and butter is panic. Their brand is crisis, as the saying goes. There’s no good reason to sit and listen to talking heads yammer about what might happen in the next hour. It won’t affect you at all.
4. Own investments
The worst possible path for your financial planning, volatility or not, is to decide to invest…later. You cannot earn a large enough return to make up for lost compounding time. A steady gain reinvested is the surest path to a solid retirement, hands down.