Saving money is really tough, marathon-running tough for some people. The reason why, according to psychologists, is something called the “hedonic treadmill.”
No, it’s not a training device for marathoners. It’s not a thing at all but a tendency among humans to adjust our expectations forever upward.
Whatever made you happy last year becomes the new normal and longer makes you happy. You need more or better to get the same hit of happiness, like a drug.
The hedonic treadmill often shows up in our lives as consumerism and acquisitiveness. The very newest smartphone, a new car every two or three years, moving into a larger home despite no change in the number of family members.
Great for retailers, manufacturers and home sellers. Not so great for your retirement investing. To get off the hedonic treadmill, here are five things mentally strong investors do.
Set-it-and-forget-it on saving
The less you think about saving, the more likely you will do it painlessly. The best way to do this is by joining your workplace 401(k) plan and setting a high but reasonable percentage of your check aside.
This will lower your taxable income now, and the growth of your investments will be tax-free until you spend down the money in retirement.
Save more later
This is an idea favored by economists who know you might have trouble getting that savings level up fast. The concept is simple: Get your employer to dedicate future raises to your retirement, rather than just dumping extra cash into your check.
If not the entire raise, maybe half. Anything you can set once and forget will help save more steadily and you’ll hardly notice.
Minimize choices on investments
The true danger of long-term investing is short-term investment thinking. Many savers see their balances grow and then get the urge to “play the market.”
Very often this ends in tears. Protect yourself by using index funds instead of individual stocks. With less names in your portfolio, you’ll be less tempted to act on headlines related to specific companies.
Never chase returns
Never. If stocks go up, sell off a portion and use the gains to buy other types of investments. If stocks fall, do the reverse. A balanced portfolio should be rebalanced periodically to keep your investments in line with your level of acceptable risk.
Lower costs ruthlessly
You can’t really control what happens in the stock market or the bond market. All you can do is make contributions to your plan and invest.
You can control cost, which over the years can add up to a big difference in you balances. A fund that costs 2% of your assets to own will not have the same risk-return profile of a fund that costs 1%, if they own the same type of investment.
This should be obvious, but investment managers do not have any “secret sauce” that gives them enough of an edge to justify high fees. The data shows this irrefutably; cheaper is better.
You can work toward learning these five things mentally strong investors do over time — no rush! But the sooner you put them into practice, the sooner you will be able to overcome the bad habits that cost you money for retirement down the road.