Is your retirement ready for the next big market crash? What if I told you it doesn’t matter? It doesn’t — if you are properly invested.
One of the major lessons learned from the 2008 debacle is that people who remained in the market and avoided panicking came out of things just fine.
Clearly, some people suffered. If you were due to retire in late 2008 or early 2009 it was a horrific time, to be sure.
Not for those who were properly invested. A retirement saver heavy on stocks on the cusp of retirement is simply playing with fire. If that saver had owned more bonds, well, things would have gone well in 2008.
Nothing about this statement is revolutionary or surprising. People take all kinds of risks in the markets they wouldn’t take in real life under any circumstances.
Accordingly, here are five simple “life lessons” all of us should have learned from 2008:
1. Never swim alone. You remember this as a kid, right? You always had a buddy, somebody to watch your back. Owning a very small number of stocks or bonds is the equivalent of diving into the deep end of a deserted pool. If you get into trouble, you quickly find out you’re on your own.
The solution is diversification. Not just owning a broad selection of assets but entire markets through index funds or exchange-traded funds. It’s also owning a broad mix of asset classes in a well-considered portfolio.
2. Carry enough insurance. Most people would prefer to avoid paying insurance premiums. But, boy, when that loss hits you — the unexpected red-light runner, the tree falling on your roof in a storm — the claims payout is a lifesaver.
In a portfolio, your “insurance” is found in the mix of investments. Sometimes stocks will outperform, other times bonds will shine. Real estate, commodities and foreign stocks all have a role to play. The key is to cash in on unusual times by rebalancing, selling gainers to buy more of the losers, programmatically.
3. Drive at an appropriate speed. Yes, I know the sign says the limit is 70 mph. But is that a safe speed in a driving rain with a mean sideways wind? Probably not.
Same thing with investing. As you get nearer to your target retirement age, it really helps to take your foot off the gas and own less of the types of investments prone to large declines. A strong portfolio that’s targeted to your retirement age does that for you.
4. Eat for sustenance, not pleasure. Your mom surely told you to clean your plate. Great advice when you were seven and growing, not so great at 47, when only your middle is getting bigger.
Investors too often confuse the emotional responses of stock picking with real investing savvy. Pension-fund managers know that the allure of stock-picking as a hobby is misplaced. Owning stock matters, but owning a few single companies is high-risk behavior of the first order.
5. Pick your battles. Sounds like relationship advice, doesn’t it? It is. We learn over time that our interpersonal relationships go more smoothly when we make allowances for the foibles of those nearest to us — as they make allowances for us.
In investing, that means you should really fully understand how you will react to a decline in the markets and adjust your portfolio to reflect that level of tolerance for investment risk. Simple to say, hard to do. We like to believe we can withstand volatility, until our resolve is tested with real money at stake.
If you can take these five life lessons to heart, you can be a better, more relaxed — and more successful — long-term investor. Bet on it.