Regular readers of this column have likely noticed that the doom and gloom stops here.
If yours truly wakes up in the morning and Pikes Peak is still there – albeit at times artfully shrouded in clouds – then it’s not yet the end of the world, and there’s no point in writing as if it were.
“Quite frankly, we need to quit panicking and get back to the basics,” said Greg Von Berg, managing principal at Waddell & Reed. “The Chinese symbol for ‘crisis’ is two symbols – one for danger and one for opportunity.”
In other words, it all depends on how one responds to a situation.
People are swayed by what he calls the “magazine cover effect.” Investors get “euphoric” when they read about the “seven hottest stocks to buy today,” Von Berg said. “They jump on the bandwagon – but they’re catching something at the end of a cycle, and oftentimes the stocks tank shortly after the article is written.”
He said investors ought to heed Warren Buffet’s advice about buying on fear and selling on excitement, which is “exactly the opposite of what our gut tells us to do.”
In Von Berg’s book, “Are There Cracks in Your Nest-Egg? A Quick and Easy Guide for Building and Preserving Wealth,” he wrote about human nature.
If, say, the pens you give to clients are normally $5 each, and they go on sale for 5 cents – “What would you do? Back up the truck and buy all you can afford. Now a couple of months go by, and you have given away all of your pens. … The store has a big For Sale banner … and the same pens are now $30 each. Would you buy more? Of course not. You would either find a different pen or wait until the price came back down. So here is my question. Why don’t you treat stock prices the same way?”
His point being that good asset allocation, and a portfolio that is regularly rebalanced, will “save you from yourself” and mitigate the “temporary hype” and the foolish temptation to buy stocks when they are expensive.
The value of a financial adviser (in the interests of full disclosure, Von Berg is a manager, not a financial adviser, and does not solicit business) is “the ability to hold people accountable to what they (clients) want.”
“Knowledge is a commodity – anybody can obtain it,” Von Berg said. “But what is not a commodity is the ability to coach. Too often in this type of economy, advisers stop calling clients because they don’t want to hear the panic – but this is the time when they really need to be calling, to help them remember the long-term strategy.”
One of his tips for saving and investing is to “reward yourself” with half of each raise you receive, and yes, you guessed it – invest the other half.
It sounds simple enough, but have you ever done it?
“Emotions and visceral reactions are the worst enemies of planning,” Von Berg said, and the only way to become financially secure is to spend less than you make and save and invest the rest – consistently – each month, no matter what else you would prefer to do with the money.
“Pay yourself first each month. Consider savings a fixed expense. ‘Budget’ does not have to be a dirty word,” he wrote. “Sure, it’s not as melodious as the words vacation or retirement, but it has the power to transform lives.”
Small investors become big investors, such as the woman who 20 years ago could only save $10 a month. But she faithfully saved it, and each time she got a raise, her adviser called her and reminded her to reward herself with half and invest the other half, and now she has an account worth $750,000.
And stay the course – buy low, sell high, save and invest each month – no matter what the headlines scream. (If you sell stock now, while it’s low, “you lock in your loss.”)
“The talking heads, media and Congress feed into people’s paranoia,” Von Berg said. “It becomes a vicious cycle. They’ll take good news and find the kernel of bad news hidden in it and lead with the bad news. “The fact that people can push one button on their computer and completely go cash has contributed to the volatility of the market. People would be much better investors if they lived on an island, with no phones or Internet and only checked the market once a month.”
And no discussion about financial planning would be complete without addressing insurance – not auto and homeowners, since most people already have those.
No, we’re talking about a need that, statistically, half of us will encounter, but we refuse to get insured for. But if it’s too “morbid” to even think about, just try actually living through a chronic illness – without insurance.
Unless your head has been buried in the brain-numbing sand, you are aware that the “cost of health care is going up faster than inflation, and the chances of needing long-term care are greater than one in two,” Von Berg wrote. “If you’re 65 now, and you end up needing long-term care – whether in-home nursing care or facility care – and if inflation in long-term care is only 5 percent between now and when you’re 83 – it would cost you roughly $18,000 per month for care. That will crush your nest egg. That will do far worse to your portfolio than the market has.”
And, of course, with continual advances in medicine, people are living longer and longer and could need a nest egg well beyond age 83.
Now is the time to look at your financial plan – and if you don’t have one, it’s time to create one – because only you can plan, invest and save for your own retirement.
Now about that island …