Are you one of those people who can always find a rational-sounding excuse to put off doing something important? When it comes to investment, this pursuit of impossible perfection can come at a significant cost. Here are seven common traps that can stop people achieving their financial objectives.
Over all the years we have been advising clients, we have had no shortage of reasons from successful professional people as to why they can’t get their financial house in order. While the art of procrastination takes many forms, a common theme we have noticed is the quest for perfection.
Individuals and families typically looking for the ideal set of circumstances, which never seem to materialise, keep putting off the important planning that needs to get done.
This search for perfection can be likened to the world of dating, where searching for the perfect mate can be a hopeless endeavour. Every person has flaws, and no relationship comes without its wrinkles. Embracing this truth can ultimately lead to courtship and a successful marriage. While denying it may lead to years of unintended singlehood.
In many facets of life, the quest for perfection is the enemy of progress. This is especially true in the world of personal finance. The below list highlights several areas within the search for perfection that prevent people from pulling the trigger on a financial strategy. Investors should be aware of these traps and not let them inhibit their ability to achieve their financial objectives.
A successful businesswoman called me earlier this year (upon referral from one of our clients) and confessed that she really needs to start investing since most of her wealth, outside of her business, is sitting in cash. After inquiring as to how much cash was sitting on the sidelines, she told me about seven years’ worth of expense money. Yes, seven years! She said, “I’m just not comfortable with what’s happening in the market. I’m waiting for things to settle down.”
While keeping that level of cash on hand is an extreme example, it is common for people to want to wait for an “ideal time” to put their money to work. In truth, there is never a perfect time to invest. There will always be some type of turmoil in the world that gets people nervous: war, geopolitical risks, market gyrations, increasingly high stock valuations, a global pandemic and more. Trying to time the market for the best entry point usually just leads to years of waiting and missed investment returns.
Every investment carries risk. Sometimes investments work out, and sometimes they don’t. The purpose of taking risk is to generate a return on one’s money. Investors who spend an inordinate amount of time searching for a perfect investment opportunity, namely one that provides high returns with no risk, are on a fruitless pursuit. It’s far better to spend time developing a strategy that provides a high probability of achieving an investor’s financial objectives. This is done by clearly defining the investor’s goals and risk profile, then outlining overall asset allocation and a sensible long-term plan to get them there.
After agreeing to an investment strategy, sometimes investors are hesitant to implement it. They will often say, “I like what we discussed, but let’s keep an eye on the investments you’ve mentioned. When the market drops below a certain price then give me a call and we can discuss moving forward.” This year, in particular, was ripe for this type of conversation. After the stock market dropped more than 30% in March, many investors understood that adding money was a good idea since the market was trading well below its highs. However, taking the plunge and actually adding money to the market proved psychologically difficult for many.
It’s human nature to want the best deal. However, waiting for a share to trade at some arbitrary price often leaves the investor waiting indefinitely. If you have a prudent strategy in place, then hoping for the market to trade at certain levels is ill-advised. Moving forward immediately with your strategy is generally the right decision.
There’s an infinite amount of literature on portfolio construction. Two investors with the same risk profile, goals and time horizon may have different portfolios suggested to them by various investment firms. All those portfolios may be reasonable. In fact, the more one reads, learns and researches, the more one concludes that there is no one correct way to invest in the market. There are only wrong ways.
It is irresponsible to develop an overconcentration in any given shares, sectors, industries or countries. Furthermore, allocating one’s capital exclusively to illiquid investment vehicles or esoteric and unregulated opportunities is also not recommended for most investors. A far better approach to portfolio construction is to embrace diversification, liquidity and plain vanilla, low cost investments. This philosophy won’t protect the investor against all risks; no investment strategy can do that. However, simply doing what is prudent (and often boring) is usually extremely effective.
When young professionals approach us, we always encourage them to pay off debt and save as much money as possible for their future goals. A common retort is, “I’m going to hold off on saving until I get better situated. My cash flow isn’t the greatest, and I anticipate being able to save a lot more when I get promoted.” This could be the wrong mindset. When you are young, with fewer responsibilities and financial commitments, that is generally the best time to save. Additionally, putting money away while you are early in your career allows those dollars to benefit from the miracle of compound interest. Decades of letting that money grow can meaningfully benefit your financial future.
The events in one’s personal life are often another deterrent to getting started. Whether it’s buying a home, going on a special vacation, sickness or death, there are always personal reasons to put your finances on the back burner. Unfortunately, the ebbs and flows of one’s life are a constant. Holding off for when your life “normalises” is a recipe for inaction.
We often recommend building automation into our client’s personal financial affairs by setting up small amounts of money to go into an investment account, superfund or loan account at regular intervals. The person probably won’t miss the modest amount of money being syphoned into this worthwhile pursuit, and even a very small dollar amount every month can slowly accumulate wealth. Furthermore, hiring a coach or adviser is a wonderful way to help an investor move in the right direction no matter what hurdles lie in their way.
Some sophisticated investors often stall on making decisions because of the tax ramifications. There is no question that taxes are an integral part of any financial plan. However, investors should not become paralysed because they may need to pay taxes. As we tell clients, “don’t let the tax tail wave the investment dog.” This is an example of focusing on the minutiae instead of the big picture.
Tax-sensitive folks tend to wait for losses in their portfolio to offset gains before making any changes. Unfortunately, the requisite level of losses may never occur, and continuing to hold undesirable positions as you wait may not be appropriate.
Sensitivity to taxes can also manifest itself in portfolio construction. Certain investments and tax structures are more tax efficient than others. This is the concept of understanding proper “asset location.” However, putting various investments into the right account doesn’t always work out due to a client’s goals and risk tolerance. In fact, it can make investing one’s assets extremely cumbersome and difficult to manage. The potential tax savings is not always worth the headache and may cause the investor to get bogged down and lose sight of the big picture.
The simple act of getting the ball rolling on an investment strategy is often the hardest part of any financial plan. It’s important to overcome one’s fears, move forward, and be adaptable as things change. The ability to adapt may mean making compromises and adjustments when necessary, starting with a smaller level of assets or implementing a more conservative strategy than initially planned. After all, it’s far better to make tweaks over time then to do nothing.
The reality is that procrastinating in search of perfection is a decision, and it’s usually the wrong one.
To find out more about how any of these measures may be of assistance in your individual circumstances, please contact Gordon Thoms or David Conte at Calibre Private Wealth Advisers on ph. (03) 9824 2777 or email us here.
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