On October 28, 1993, “The Lip Reader,” which was the 70th episode of Seinfeld, aired on NBC. Jerry attempted to date a deaf girl, which explains the title, and George confronted a new relationship-ending paradigm: the girl broke up with him. As a perennial bachelor, George was used to giving the line, not receiving it: “I invented it’s-not-you-it’s-me. Nobody tells me it’s them, not me. If it’s anybody, it’s me.”
Sorry, George. It was you, and you didn’t get to deliver the face-saving line either. I think a lot of investors feel like George. They are used to being in control of their lives, succeeding in their careers and personal lives, but when it comes to their finances, they feel a little used and very confused. But here’s the thing: it’s really not you. Managing your finances is tough, and I’ll tell you why.
Problem 1: Jargon
The financial world loves to use complicated terminology. Advisors talk about seeking alpha, but most can barely deliver beta. Of course, now they market ‘smart’ beta to capitalize on market inefficiencies while remaining risk averse. Got it? We are not as bad as management consultants, the kings and queens of euphemism who prefer to say their analysis is ‘directionally correct’ when they really mean the numbers are wrong but they still like the conclusion.
But in both cases, jargon is a barrier for entry. Many in the financial services industry don’t want you to know what they’re saying because that might somehow diminish their perceived value. Obviously, that notion is ridiculous. One of our primary goals should be to educate clients, not confuse them. Regardless, if you generally consider yourself to be an intelligent person but find yourself confused when talking to your advisor, you need a new advisor.
Problem 2: Emotion
The two most powerful emotions that will affect your financial decisions are greed and fear. We all remember the Machiavellian advice of Gordon Gekko: “Greed is good,” which is the best endorsement insider trading has ever received. But for those of us who prefer to obey the law and make decisions we can live with, greed is not so good. It encourages people to take on way more risk than they should and make investments they will soon regret. Easy money does not exist—just ask anyone who has ever helped a Nigerian prince wire money to the United States.
But fear can be just as dangerous; it’s the reason investors sell their entire portfolio when the market takes a big drop. Nassim Taleb, statistician and author of The Black Swan, said, “A stoic is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.” In other words, to be a successful investor, you have to be somewhat stoic toward your investments. Fear should not drive market reaction. Instead, it should illuminate excessive risk and create balance in your portfolio before a market selloff. Fear should make you proactive and not reactive.
Solution to Both
Simplify and ignore. You don’t have to talk like a broker and understand everything Larry Kudlow says to be proficient with your finances. You just need to know how much you’re saving each year, what accounts you own, and what your investments are within those accounts.
Start with a budget to track your savings and use low-cost ETFs to minimize expense and maximize wealth accumulation. Do not invest in anything with a complicated name (I’m looking at you Flexible Premium Variable Annuity III), products that are repeatedly touted as “guaranteed” (because they’re generally guaranteed to be a rip-off), or really anything you don’t completely understand.
And unless you are close to retirement, do not worry about what the market is doing. In fact, if the market drops, think about the great discount you are receiving on the investments you are purchasing with current contributions. Otherwise, ignore the day-to-day movement and take solace in knowing you have a plan.
Josh Norris is an Investment Advisory Representative of LeFleur Financial. Josh can be reached at josh@LeFleurFinancial.com.