3 Investment Mistakes I’m Trying to Fix

Investment MistakesSince this is a post on investments, let’s get the platitudes out of the way: You’re in it for the long-haul. Look at the market’s performance over time. It’s just a bump in the road. That many Bogleheads can’t be wrong. This also isn’t going to be a post about how my dividends are now another income stream or how my returns are outperforming my spreadsheet estimates by six months on my FIRE journey. Why? Because that isn’t my reality right now.

Right now, my savings account is outearning my Roth IRA for the current year and year-to-date. My Roth is only .2% ahead of my savings since inception. The numbers are bleak. But I get it. I understand the power of compound interest. I think the estimates are far too generous, but I get the principle. I’m sold on investing. Since my big goals for the year centered on investing, I thought I’d share three mistakes I’ve worked to correct this month:

Looking too much. When I moved my entire Roth IRA over to Vanguard, I checked that account like it was my job. Once a day? More like once an hour. Phone, computer, tablet. It didn’t matter, I was logging in even when the market was closed. And sometimes it was really exhilarating and satisfying. Most of the time, though, it was like a punch in the gut followed by a period of self-doubt. About a month ago, my dad was watching me check my retirement account from my phone. His response: “You’re 30 and you check your account more than I check mine. Find a hobby.” Touche, Dad.  

My Fix: At first, I was going to change my password to a deterrent. Stop looking. Step away. Abort mission. But I’ve never been successful at hiding things from myself. Cookies, soda, Easter candy, you name it. So I actually had Mr. P change my password. It’s stored with our other passwords, so I know I could access it in case of emergency. Now, we check the account twice a month, unless we’re adding money.

Investing once a year. I’m a chickenshit investor. I really am. I white knuckle clicks on Vanguard worse than the armrests during airplane landings. While I make sure to max out our Roth IRAs every year, I usually wait until right before the deadline. Which is just about the dumbest thing I could do. But it makes my illogical and fearful brain a little bit calmer to hang on to that money longer.

My Fix: I’m moving at least $500 a month from our savings into our Roth IRAs. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I flinch a little bit every time. But I’m assuming that, just like a bad breakup, a fine wine, an expensive cheese, or a haircut I can’t stand, this, too, will get better with time. And if Kelly Clarkson really was telling the truth and this only makes me stronger, I’ll follow suit with my taxable account. Gulp.

Expecting returns that others talk about. Post titles you don’t see trending on Pinterest: I Lost My Pants this Month. I Hate You, Vanguard. 1.2% Returns Since Inception. My IRA is Killing Me Slowly. They’re not sexy. They won’t attract clicks. And they might be mildly hyperbolic. But I’ve thought all of these things ad nauseam for the past two years or so. I’ve come to the realization that investing is like gambling: people love to tell you when they’re winning, but get much quieter when they’re losing. The difference, though, is that investing is a long-term game and the general trend of the market is an upward one*. So, there’s a good chance I’ll come out ahead. I can say that about my IRA. Vegas? Not so much.

My Fix: I’ve learned how to tune out the market noise. Now I need to do something similar with personal finance blogs. It won’t stop reading them. I won’t stop celebrating with bloggers. But I’ll try to be more cognizant of the fact that these people have different numbers and different income than me. And not everyone decided to get heavily into the market right before the disasters that were last summer and last fall. How to Not Time the Market is the working title of my memoir.

*Excuse me while I knock on every piece of wood in my house, find a wishbone, grow a playoff beard, and refuse to wash my socks until the ripe old age of 97.

So Tell Me…Have you had to fix any investment mistakes?

3 Investment Mistakes I’m Trying to Fix

24 thoughts on “3 Investment Mistakes I’m Trying to Fix

  1. Definitely had to fix an investing mistake – following the advice of huge fee financial planners for years because I didn’t learn how to do it myself. I can’t even think of how much money was diverted into their pockets and not mine… But we move forward and stay the course now!

    1. Gah! I really think I need to work with a fee-only planner to get my head on straight with my options for teaching. The choices in my district are slim pickings. I don’t want to miss out, but I also don’t want to pay unnecessarily if it’s information that I can seek out myself.

  2. We investing in low-cost index funds with Vanguard. Our funds haven’t done that great this year either, but I don’t pay too much attention. Our investing strategy is for the long haul and we are only 36 years old. We won’t need our retirement savings specifically for another 25 years! Maybe even longer.

    1. That’s a really refreshing perspective, Holly. Sometimes, I get so caught up in all the FIRE chatter that I forget I’m not retiring anytime soon.

    1. I know. It makes Betterment or Wealthfront very tempting, but I can’t get past the fact that Wealthfront basically recommends different Vanguard funds. It makes me think that I can manage my own. But I might be too obsessive for that.

  3. I’ve written about paying too much in mutual fund fees. It took me a long time to admit my mistake and switch to lower cost index funds, and that was a mistake too. I’ve listened to investment advisors when I shouldn’t have (though I came off better than my dad who was talked into buying both Enron and WorldCom stock by his guy.) I’ve talked myself out of buying stock I liked because I thought it was too expensive, only to see it rise.

    Yep, there’s very few mistakes I haven’t made. I may still be making mistakes by sitting on too much cash, and having a bunch in individual stocks and bonds. Jon keeps trying to get me to get out of bonds entirely but I stay in because I think his strategy is too risky.

    I do the best I can. It’s better than doing nothing.

  4. I am an on the hour checker of my investment accounts. It is bad! I may steal your idea and ask my S/O to create the password for me so I have to go through him to access it!

    Paying more attention to my accounts than what is going on in the world was something I needed to fix. When you keep up-to-date on the news it helps you understand some of the fluctuation in your accounts and makes your freak out less!

    1. I imagine one day I’ll end up holding his dessert hostage in exchange for our password. For now, though, it’s working! I kind of like following the news to understand the markets, but I also feel like it’s a lot of chaos and panic for clicks, not to actually help people understand. I don’t want to be totally ignorant, but I also know how anxious I can make myself! 🙂

  5. 1. After the hammer blow of the market crash in 2008, we pulled some funds out and sat on certain amounts of cash for too long. Classic mistake.

    2. We paid for a financial advisor for too long although we made the decision to uncouple from his services. We control our own research, learning and what we do with our money. A good decision.

    History (and long periods at that) teaches us that Index funds are our friend. A really great friend going forward, who knows? But they will be a friend. And funding these on our own terms will beat hands down any approach to active managed funds with or without financial advisors “help”

    The constant need to check on markets is a challenge. I use a small number of sites that provide a balanced view of the markets. The other noise just has to be filtered out.

  6. So I actually had Mr. P change my password.

    I can’t stop laughing at this image and the ensuing image of what kind of rabid squirrel high on drugs I’d turn into if I were ever to take this route. NOPE.

    I DID, however, automate my IRA contributions and recently started tackling my “big pile of cash” problem. It’s hard to pry that one loose, I keep regressing and thinking BUT WHAT IF??

  7. It’s the airplane *takeoffs* when you should be white knuckling it. 😉 Haha — just kidding. I think it’s awesome you’re resolving to look less, especially since the numbers don’t matter at all for like 30 years, at least so long as you’re investing primarily in investment accounts. I bet you’ll get to a more Zen place about it all where you’ll be able to look again in the future and not get rattled. It’s just like anything — it takes practice. 🙂

  8. Hey, Penny. My biggest investment mistake was not becoming a Boglehead when I was younger. In the mid-90s, my father asked me if I wanted to join forces and start investing. It wasn’t exactly on my to-do list, but I figured it would be a good way to bond with good ol’ dad. So we each kicked in $10,000 and began picking stocks. A year later we had less than $1,000. The last stock we picked was for a company seeking FDA approval of an erection cream. I kid you not. I was so traumatized by this experience, I didn’t attempt investing again for another 10 years. So hang in there, Penny. Things seem daunting now. But at least you’re throwing your hard-earned money at index funds and not at an erection cream.

  9. We generally only look when we have new money to invest–we look at our % in each category vs the ratio we set as our goal, and invest in the one that is the most below our goal %. It keeps us from having to sell to rebalance.

    We also look periodically at the performance tab for our whole portfolio (on Fidelity, hopefully Vanguard has one too). It shows us that even when the market is down, we usually are still ahead for the year due to dividends and distributions.

    Remember too that when others talk about their stellar returns, the neglect to mention the expense ratios and advisor’s fees.

  10. I think your plan to stop checking is great. Because if we’re doing this for the next 15 years, it doesn’t matter too much what’s happening today. I’m not going to start day-trading, ever. I’d be a nervous wreck.

    My big investment mistake was withdrawing my whole account after leaving my first job at age 21. It wasn’t a lot of money and I couldn’t keep contributing to that account, but seriously, what was I thinking?

  11. I was 100% in real estate for a number of years, then recently started putting some cash into index funds.

    Well, I’m still underwater with those investments and just wasting time looking at them. Over the last 2 years I could have close to doubled that money in real estate. I’m in the process of moving everything back to real estate.

    I’ll keep some stuff invested, primarily for the tax free education investments… but not much

  12. We are with you on this! We have Vanguard as well and have gone sideways. In fact, I just finished reading an article on CNBC where Larry Fink is now preparing investors for a 4% return as the new normal. It can be discouraging when you see what the returns are, but we keep holding tight because history tells us that is the smart way to go.

    1. I actually love that Larry Fink has switched to 4%. I wrote all about how I hate the 8-12% estimate. I think that’s just setting people up for disappointment.

  13. Look at it this way: You’re still ahead of the game. We’re not even at the investing stage yet, and we’re older than you.

    But I do think the monthly deduction for the IRA will be good for you. I have $300 transferred out immediately. Otherwise, it’d get sucked up by other goals, and at the end of the year I wouldn’t want to deduct it from my bonus.

  14. Morgen says:

    I am early enough in my investing career that I saw this weekend as a happy moment to buy stocks on sale. All I ever hope for with stocks is just that they keep up with inflation. 😀 That makes me easy to please.

  15. Brian Stephens says:

    Another way to go could be to channel that obsessive energy into investment education, which could help reduce the anxiety. I highly recommend the Motley Fool. They teach investing for regular Joe’s and provide investment advice through newsletter type services. A real basic one that I love is Income Investor, where they give one dividend stock pick every month. Great for retirement accounts and a great way to learn about individual companies.

    I’m also compulsive about my investing. If I have more things to track and learn, then I’m blissfully busy. My version of active investing.

    1. Brian, thanks for the suggestions. I do follow Motley Fool, and I do try to do a bunch of research. But this is a great reminder to revisit. I’ll look at Income Investor for sure. Thank you!

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