IT MIGHT SEEM LIKE an obscure academic question: Do stocks truly follow a random walk or can we count on them reverting to the mean? Depending on which side we favor in this debate, it can make a huge difference to how we invest—and to our confidence as investors.
Like me, many HumbleDollar readers have most or all their investment dollars in index funds. A key reason we invest this way: It’s impossible to predict which stocks will shine because they follow a random walk.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE to manage money prudently? Yes, we should save diligently, favor stocks, diversify broadly, hold down investment costs, buy the right insurance and so on. But all these smart financial moves stem from key assumptions we make about our lives and the world around us.
What assumptions? I believe prudent money management starts with five core notions—which, as you’ll discover below, sometimes contradict one another:
1. We’ll live a long life.
I JUST HAD MY SIXTH bicycling accident—which made me think about my investment portfolio.
I started cycling seriously in 2005, when foot problems forced me to cut back on running. That was the year I bought my “starter” bike—part aluminum, part carbon—purchased for $1,000 from a bike shop that was going out of business. Within a few months, I added the special pedals with the shoes that clip in.
Early on, I had my fair share of embarrassing falls,
IF WE WANTED to design a portfolio that appeals to our worst investment instincts, we might couple a savings account with lottery tickets. Some governments have even issued bonds with just these characteristics.
What’s the attraction? The savings account ensures that part of our portfolio never loses value, while the lottery tickets let us dream of riches in return for a relatively small investment.
This year, we’ve seen the lottery-ticket mentality writ large, as investors take fliers on meme stocks,
WE ALL HAVE LIMITED time and limited money. How can we make the most of these two scarce resources?
More than anything, the answer lies in getting the big picture right. That means thinking through the tradeoffs involved, so we don’t allocate too much time and money to some parts of our financial life, while neglecting others.
On that score, it’s hard to offer hard-and-fast rules because personal preferences play a key role. Still,
RETIREMENT MAY MARK the end of fulltime work—but that doesn’t mean we should stop working on our finances. Even after we quit the workforce, there’s much we can do to strengthen our retirement plan and, indeed, that may be necessary if we find we’re drawing down our nest egg too quickly.
Are you concerned that you might outlive your savings? Consider these six financial tweaks:
1. Work part-time. I’ve heard folks claim that if you’re still doing some work for pay,
THE ECONOMY IS recovering and the stock market has recovered. The pandemic isn’t over, but it seems we’re past the worst, at least in the U.S. Feeling better? Take a deep breath, take a step back—and think about the past two decades.
Since early 2000, we’ve had three major stock market declines, or roughly one every decade:
In 2000-02, the S&P 500 tumbled 49%, excluding dividends. The first leg down was triggered by the bursting of the dot-com bubble.
MY FATHER LOATHED the idea that he would spend his final years in a nursing home. In the end, he never had to confront that possibility: At age 75, while riding his bicycle, he was struck and killed by a speeding car.
Still, I think often about his reluctance—because I share it. Despite exercising every day, I know I’m not as flexible or as fast as I once was, and it takes longer for the stiffness in my muscles to ease each morning.
IS THIS A TIME to be fearful? In Berkshire Hathaway’s 1986 annual report, Warren Buffett wrote, “We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.”
Make no mistake: There’s plenty of greed on display right now, whether it’s bitcoin, nonfungible tokens, Robinhood traders, GameStop or special purpose acquisition companies. All of this has some observers talking of a market bubble. Indeed, I suspect much of this nonsense “will end in tears,” a phrase my mother often used when trying to control her four rambunctious children.
WARREN BUFFETT doesn’t have the best investment record over the past three decades. That accolade apparently belongs to Jim Simons. Buffett also isn’t the world’s richest person. In fact, he hasn’t held that title for the past dozen years and currently ranks No. 6, with barely half the wealth of today’s richest person, Jeff Bezos.
I doubt Buffett feels bad about this. Is your surname neither Simons nor Bezos? I don’t think you should feel bad,
WHEN WE’RE YOUNGER, we tend to focus almost exclusively on our portfolio’s performance. But as we grow older, risk becomes a bigger concern. The irony: That greater focus on risk is often the key to better long-run investment results.
Want to make wiser portfolio choices? Keep these nine notions in mind:
1. Bad results happen to good investors. Let’s start with one of the most counterintuitive notions in investing: Just because we score spectacular short-term gains doesn’t mean we made smart decisions—and just because our portfolio struggles in the short run doesn’t mean we got it badly wrong.
GET TO KNOW OUR NEW website: BraggingBucks.com. Intended as a sister site to HumbleDollar, the new website is designed for those who can’t quite shake that hankering for market-beating returns.
It’s become clear that notions like indexing, diversification and a sense of contentment have limited appeal—and that many folks want more excitement from their financial life. Perhaps an occasional flier on a hot stock. Or playing the commodities market. Or going from all-stocks to all-cash and then back again.
ARE FINANCIAL markets in a bubble? It’s a question I’ve never liked. I believe stocks and bonds are fairly valued most of the time, which means it’s extraordinarily difficult to beat the market averages and our best bet is to buy index funds.
But at the same time, during my adult life, there have been three key occasions when markets lost touch with reality: Japanese stocks and real estate in the late 1980s, technology stocks in the late 1990s and housing in the mid-2000s.
THERE ARE MANY WAYS to fritter away our wealth. Pay high investment costs. Day trade stocks. Buy timeshares. Marry a spender. Purchase variable annuities. Retire too early. Buy leveraged exchange-traded funds. Mimic the spending of our wealthy friends. The list goes on and on.
But anybody can ruin themselves slowly—and plenty of people do. What’s really attention grabbing is when it happens quickly. Want to blow up your financial life? Here are nine ways to ruin yourself in a hurry:
HERE’S A COMMENT I’ve heard countless times in recent years: You should claim Social Security early because you’ll enjoy the money more in your 60s and because you’ll spend less later in retirement.
I think this is nonsense that rests on three wrongheaded assumptions:
That spending needs should drive when you claim Social Security.
That you will indeed spend less each year as you age.
That you’ll be better able to enjoy whatever money you have in your 60s than later in retirement.