Don’t Let Emotions Rule Your Investing

Be logical, not emotional, when it comes to saving for retirement.

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You’ve probably heard the old adage that money can’t buy happiness. It can, however, bring you feelings of security, especially when it comes to your retirement. But the opposite is also true: Facing an uncertain future in which you might not have the nest egg you need to live the retirement lifestyle you want can cause anxiety and feelings of uncertainty.

Scott Holsopple

Where finances are concerned, it’s all too easy to let your emotions take the reins. Let’s take a look at some of the emotionally fueled reactions that can wreak havoc on your retirement planning:

• Joy and greed can work in concert to corrupt investors’ minds. When an investor’s portfolio performs well, it’s natural to experience joy – even euphoria – and greed can quickly follow. As a result, you might be tempted to “let it ride,” and ignore the tried-and-true method of rebalancing, thus making it more likely for your portfolio to become overly aggressive in light of a rapidly growing fund or other investment.

• Envy could cause you to take bad advice. Hearing about a co-worker or neighbor who “struck gold” with a particular investment might lead you to try duplicating their strategy. Try to remember, though, that just because their investing strategy works for them doesn’t mean it’ll be appropriate for your personal situation, risk tolerance and timeline.

• Pride can cause investors to behave foolishly. The thought process goes something like this: I chose this investment with the expectation that it would perform nicely. It actually tanked, but I’m going to hold onto it until – at the very least – it recovers its value. I can’t stand the thought of losing money on this thing.

While I don’t advocate jumping ship the moment a fund or asset class hits rough water, I also don’t advise going down with a sinking ship. If your investment advisor is telling you to cut your losses and move your money to a new investment, think about it like this: What do you believe is the best, most appropriate place for your money? Let go of your pride and move on.

• Fear and anger can quickly lead to irrational thoughts or actions. In these situations, the “fight or flight” response convinces us we have to move quickly, based on our instincts. While this might serve you well in a mugging, it’s usually less helpful when investing. A scared or angry investor might place trades too often, causing them to get hit with extra fees as a consequence, or move their funds into cash when the market drops, thus locking in their losses.

Despite these emotional ups and downs, investing remains the best way to earn money for retirement. The best thing you can do to avoid these emotional pitfalls is create a retirement and investing strategy – and stick with it! Here’s what to include:

1. A retirement savings goal based on your intended retirement lifestyle and the number of years you expect to live in retirement. Use online calculators or talk to an investment advisor for help arriving at a preliminary number. As a rule of thumb, you should plan to replace at least 70 percent of your preretirement income to live comfortably, but this percentage could go up or down depending on your goals and plans for retirement.

2. An approximate retirement date. Full retirement age (for Social Security purposes) for those born after 1960 is 67, but there’s a lot to consider before picking a date: How much income will your Social Security benefits replace? Will you continue working part-time in retirement? Again, consult with an investment advisor if you’re unsure of how to decide.

3. An asset class allocation, which is a breakdown by percentage of which major investing classes you’ll use in your portfolio. Any allocation should be based on your risk tolerance, time horizon, current financial situation, investing preferences, retirement goals and economic conditions. This will vary from person to person and should be highly personalized. For example, a more aggressive investor with 20 or more years until retirement might have an 80/20 stock-to-bond mix, while a conservative investor nearing retirement might elect a 50/50 split. These examples are only general suggestions and guidance. Be sure to take into account your risk tolerance and goals as you determine your asset allocation. Online quizzes can also provide some guidance, but you should also take advantage of your 401(k) plan’s advice component (if offered).

4. Calendar reminders. Set yourself up for success with quarterly reminders to rebalance. You should also revisit your risk tolerance annually, as it might change in light of economic trends or personal events affecting your financial goals. If you aren’t signed up for automatic increases to your contribution level, a calendar reminder will tell you when it’s time to revisit your budget and see how much more you can afford to sock away.

It might seem simple, but sticking with your long-term strategy is the best way to ignore the day-to-day market noise and avoid getting caught up in the common emotional trappings of investing. The next time your fear, envy or pride get the best of you, relax and remember that you’re in this for the long haul, and you’ve got the strategy in place to get you where you want to be.

Scott Holsopple is the president of Smart401k, offering easy-to-use, cost-effective 401(k) advice and solutions for the everyday investor. His advice has been featured on various news outlets, including FOX Business, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.