This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of 425 Business.
It is a new year and an opportunity for a fresh start in your mission to build wealth. I am going to give you one hot tip to start the year off right, a tip that will have a profound impact on your wealth-building efforts for the rest of your life. No, it is not a “hot stock”-type tip that is passed around at the neighborhood pub. It is a tip that, at first, you might think is a little crazy. But stick with me. In the end, it will all make sense.
My hot tip: Monitor your portfolio only one time this year.
Yep, you heard me right. Remove that market-tracking app from your phone and, instead of peeking at your account balances every other hour, track them just once this year — and then only for rebalancing purposes. I know this goes against every ounce of advice offered up by the Wall Street crowd, but the less you follow the daily market swings and your portfolio value, the greater your chance of keeping your investment plan intact.
Let’s take a closer look at the dynamics of ignoring the daily ups and downs of your account balance. In offering this advice, I am assuming that you already have created a smart portfolio allocation of low-cost, broad-based index funds to start off the new year. This is an important component to ignoring your portfolio, because when you own index funds, you will be capturing your fair share of the market’s longer-term returns, which is all you should logically expect. The temptation to switch to better-performing funds when things aren’t going your way and the market is down 1,000 points is nonexistent because you know you are invested in the right funds to begin with.
When you shift your attention away from the weekly ups and downs of your portfolio, you’ve taken a powerful first step in acknowledging that you, not the stock market, are in complete control of your wealth-building efforts. That step allows you the freedom to take full responsibility for how much you are saving while working, or how much you are spending if retired.
Conversely, watching a portfolio decline in value week after week during random corrections and bear markets can be an emotional grind. During those times, you are more likely to do something that isn’t smart, like failing to add to your investments until the storm passes.
Worse yet, mutual fund money-flow statistics reveal a tendency for investors to sell stocks during declining markets as an emotional reaction to losing money. Behavioral economists refer to this inclination as “myopic loss aversion,” which makes us take actions to stop the pain of losing money in the short run, even though those actions can have disastrous long-term consequences.
I am the first to admit that when the stock market is generating double-digit returns year after year, as it often did from 2009 to 2014, it can be fun to see the weekly increases in your portfolio. But with longer-term returns expected to be in the 6 to 8 percent annualized range, double-digit returns one year can be followed by dismal, and even negative, returns the next year. And maybe even the year after that.
That’s the stock market for you. It is two steps forward and one step back. We all nod our heads in agreement when reminded that the stock market is a volatile creature. For some reason, although we are OK with volatility on the upside, we struggle mightily with swings on the downside. Turning your attention away from periodic portfolio declines will reap handsome rewards emotionally and financially throughout your lifetime of investing.