Investors hear so much conflicting information and advice in the media these days that it’s perhaps easier than ever to become confused and make decisions based on emotion rather than on sound financial advice with a well-structured financial plan.
“With the growth of the internet, social media and TV, investors are constantly tempted to lose focus on what they can control and instead focus on things out of their control,” says Jason Labrum, founder and president of Labrum Wealth Management and author of the upcoming book Financial Detox: How to Steer Clear of Toxic Advice, Achieve Financial Independence and Manage Your Wealth for Maximum Impact.
High-strung investors fret over every dip in the stock market. They wonder who will win the next election and what that will mean to their investments. They hear about a crisis overseas or one here at home and ponder whether to abandon their carefully planned investment strategy based on the fear and uncertainty they feel as a result of the latest news reports.
Take a deep breath, Labrum says.
“You shouldn’t change what you’re doing just because of current events,” he says. “I often tell my clients, ‘I forbid you to freak out and stress out about the market. Turn off the news, turn off the TV and go enjoy the aspects of your life you work so hard for; family, friends and your passions.’ ”
To avoid getting caught up in the toxic atmosphere and advice created by a 24-hour news cycle, Labrum says the savvy investor needs to:
- Stay disciplined. The investment returns that the market delivers can be phenomenal if you stay focused, Labrum says. The problem: Investors react to media hype and make behavioral blunders based on emotional decisions rather than fact-based reality. “One key factor in investment success is learning how to maintain discipline and stick to the goal oriented financial and investment plan that is created for them,” he says.
- Know your volatility tolerance. It’s important to understand your tolerance for volatility when you’re building your portfolio. “Volatility is not necessarily risk; it’s an expected part of investing,” Labrum says. “However, your behavior can turn volatility into risk if you make decisions based on fear or panic.” If your goal is simply to save for retirement, and you would rather avoid the stress of watching market swings, then a strategy with a 5 percent volatility portfolio may be perfect, he says. If you have more ambitious goals (such as leaving money to heirs or giving to charity), and volatility doesn’t give you the jitters, then a higher percentage of volatility may be appropriate. The key is to find a balance that allows you to achieve your financial goals, but at a level of volatility you’re comfortable with.
- Listen to your adviser. People are prone to make emotional decisions with their investments. A good adviser, preferably a fiduciary adviser, should be able to help you avoid acting rashly and maintain the discipline you need to be a successful investor, Labrum says. The fiduciary adviser should be able to look at the situation without the impassioned bias you bring to it, and help you make sure you don’t panic and that you stick to your financial plan.
“Perhaps the most important thing is to educate yourself about finances and investing,” Labrum says. “You don’t have to know everything and you don’t have to do this all on your own, but you do have to know enough about the financial system to not get taken advantage of. That’s the only way to make smart choices that will make a real difference in your life.”
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