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He Says She Says

Sonja Haggert

MY HUSBAND AND I have been selecting investments together for years—and we’re still married. How have we gotten along for decades without killing each other?

Our investment discussions revolve mostly around individual stocks and bonds. They constitute the bulk of our investments and take up the bulk of our time. We own everything from small amounts of risky stocks like Immutep (symbol: IMMP) to blue chips like Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and 3M (MMM). Riskier stocks involve a lot of back and forth, while our discussions about blue chips are quick and easy. After all, what’s not to love about a dividend aristocrat—those stocks that increase their dividend every year?

We get recommendations on funds from our financial advisor. Those are also easy discussions because the parameters we set up are clear. For instance, our advisor recently suggested a closed-end fund that looked good to us because the fees were low, it invested in municipal bonds—something we’re lacking—and the credit quality and distributions looked enticing. Problem is, the fund’s shares were selling at a premium to the fund’s net asset value, which is its portfolio value on a per-share basis. We agreed to continue watching the fund and buy when it was at a discount.

Sometimes, our decisions take an especially long time. Consider bitcoin. We’d been talking about adding cryptocurrency to our portfolio since 2017. During a seminar in 2018, we were introduced to the workings of cryptocurrencies by someone we respected. But we didn’t do anything. In 2019, we were reading about hyperinflation in Venezuela and hearing firsthand reports that bitcoin was being used to purchase goods and services. The buzz seemed here to stay. In January 2020, we finally decided to buy.

Let’s face it, when we make investment decisions, the stakes are high: Success or failure can determine our next vacation, whether we can afford college costs and how much we spend in retirement. How have my husband and I avoided coming to frequent verbal blows? I gave it some thought and huddled with my better half (don’t tell him I called him that). We agreed that these are the five strategies that have worked for us.

  1. Settle on an investment approach. What are your criteria for buying a stock, bond, piece of real estate or cryptocurrency? Are you purchasing it as a short-term or long-term investment? What’s its role in your asset allocation? Be prepared to have a wonderful idea quashed because your partner reminds you it doesn’t fit with your investment strategy.
  2. Have an exit plan. It’s important to have markers in place that’ll prompt you to pull the plug—without emotion. That marker could be a drop below some agreed-upon price, a dividend cut or a spinoff of part of the company. Alternatively, maybe you’ve been fortunate, doubled your money and agree that that’s the signal to get out.
  3. Earmark money for speculative investments—those new technologies, medical breakthroughs or other risky bets that one or both of you can’t resist. My husband worked in the pharmaceutical field and he’s always looking for the next great medical discovery. He’s had winners as well as losers. We celebrate the winners. What about the losers? Because these speculative investments aren’t a big part of our portfolio, the losses are never large enough to start an argument.
  4. Have a referee. No, not a neighbor or friend, unless he or she is knowledgeable. Instead, your referee might be your financial advisor, a website that you read consistently or an investment newsletter you follow. If these sources indicate that an investment is a buy or sell, that can be the deciding vote.
  5. Be prepared to discuss and, yes, argue—but try to keep the arguments fact-based. We read numerous publications. We base our discussions around a simple checklist that guides our decisions. That, along with our overall strategy and a few newsletters we trust, have guided us over the years and helped us to get the results that we want. Have we always followed all the above points? Have we never had an argument about an investment product? No, we’re human. But the discussions are always thought-provoking—and they often lead to comments like, “I didn’t think of that.”

Sonja Haggert is the author of Invest, Reinvest, Rest. You can learn more at SonjaHaggert.com. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHaggert and check out her earlier articles.

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