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The seven sins of financial planning

by | Dec 24, 2022 | SELF-PUBLISHED

How to stay virtuous and grow your wealth in 2023

The holiday season always seems to be a time of excess. Excessive eating, drinking, partying…and spending. For many people, it’s a time when the bonds of financial inhibition are loosened. Trouble is, the financial penalty always must be paid. To avoid this trap, it’s helpful to revisit the most common financial and planning errors most people make – the seven deadly sins of financial planning. So here’s a refresher on how to stay financially virtuous and scale back the many temptations and excesses of the holiday season. And some suggestions for how to avoid those deadly financial sins now and through the New Year.

1. Greed – Don’t spend more than you make

Let’s face it: Too many of us tend to spend what we make, and then some. Even high net worth types often find they run out of money before they run out of month. To make some amends for committing this most common of financial errors, try to get a handle on where your money is going with a basic budget. First get a fix on your income – list what you actually make. Next, determine how much you spent, including debt you paid off over the past year. Mortgages and credit card debt are the most important items to nail down. Now you can document exactly how much you saved, which can be earmarked for investment purposes. If you haven’t saved anything, you’ll have to consider some substantial changes to your lifestyle.

2. Gluttony – Avoid too much of a good thing 

Many investors paid the consequences of this particular financial error through 2022. I’ve seen those who claimed to be ultra-conservative investors load up their portfolios with equities during the big bull market of 2020-21 – individual stocks, equity mutual funds, and exchange-traded funds. That’s hardly what I’d call “low-risk”! In fact, it’s way too much of a good thing, as many of these investors learned to their dismay throught the big bear market of 2022. 

It’s a fairly simple matter to fix. Ask yourself what level of loss you can stand in your portfolio over a given length of time. Are you okay with a drop of 10% over three months? Or a year? On a $50,000 portfolio, that’s $5,000. Remember, 10% is how much the stock market loses when it’s going through what’s called a “correction.” A 20% drop is a “bear market.” Can you honestly say you are truly comfortable losing that $5,000 or $10,000 in a short period of time? If you don’t know, a stock market bear is a bad place to find out. 

Creating an honest risk profile will help you rebalance your portfolio in the New Year to just the right mix of safety, income, and growth assets that will truly meet your needs – and let you sleep nights.

3. Lust – When you absolutely, positively have to have it

This very common mistake has been the undoing of many an investor. When I ask new clients why they had made a certain investment that now languishes in loss, they will frequently tell me that they “researched” it and saw that it had recently gone up in price. They simply had to have it! 

Investing solely on the basis of great-looking short-term past performance of an asset doesn’t work. In fact, it can actually magnify subsequent losses if the investment has already been gaining steadily. Such investments very often wind up in the media spotlight at the moment of their peak performance. They attract a lot of media and retail investor attention (the mega-cap tech stocks for example, or cryptocurrency). By then, however, the smart money has already left, and the investment is ripe for a steep slide. Remember, past performance does not guarantee future results. Compare the return on the “hot” investment that’s caught your eye to a suitable benchmark over the longer term. You’ll often find that past performance doesn’t even guarantee good past performance let alone future results.

4. Envy – But everyone else is doing better!

This financial sin is also a sure-fire wealth destroyer. It often seems as if you’re perpetually behind the curve. Colleagues, friends and acquaintances, your barber or hair dresser, and all those anonymous braggarts in the Twitterverse seem to be raking it in with great market calls and investment decisions. Don’t fall for it! Remember, people never brag about their failures, and there are plenty of those, probably more than there are successes.

Financial markets often act like a herd, as investors stampede into or out of individual investments, sectors, asset classes, and entire markets at the same time. In fact, “the market” is nothing more than the combined actions of millions of individual investors. If you buy just because the market appears to be recovering, you’re just following a herd mentality. And often, the herd runs right over the edge of a cliff.

Define your financial objectives and develop a disciplined portfolio allocation plan that takes into account your tolerance for risk. And then stick with it!

5. Sloth – Don’t put it off!

Many people don’t believe they have enough money to set up a financial plan. After all, isn’t financial planning only for the “rich and famous”? Far from it. Indeed, you may not require a really comprehensive plan until you have accumulated some assets. But if you have a good job, perhaps a home and a growing family, and some money set aside in a nest-egg (for exasmple, through your employer), a planner could help you set reasonable objectives and work out a plan to achieve those objectives. 

6. Wrath – Don’t get mad, get even

Markets go through periods of volatility, and we experienced that first-hand through 2022. The problem, always, is that no one knows precisely when things will turn around, or whether they’re bound to continue for another six or eight months. 

The remedy for volatile market moods is not anger or panic. The best thing to do is to stick to your investment plan – if you have one. The silver lining can be found only if you stay invested in a well-diversified portfolio. Fear is the impetus for bad investment decisions. If you have made a well-considered asset allocation, made solid individual investment choices, and have done your research – whether fundamental, technical, or quantitative – and your investment objectives remain intact, then ride out the volatility. If you have a cash reserve, be prepared to snap up bargains when they appear, especially in the Canadian energy and financial sectors.

7. Pride – Know your limitations

In the litany of investment error, this has to be near the top of the list, if not in the number one spot. Many investors, especially the do-it-yourself variety, have an unfounded confidence in their ability to buy an investment at precisely the right time and sell at precisely the right time to maximize profit and portfolio performance. It’s called “market timing.” In practice, this is almost impossible to achieve consistently. As a younger investor, don’t try to be something you’re not. Most of us tend to overestimate our capacity to deal with risk, investment volatility, and market losses, especially when we’re younger. Always be realistic about your own tolerance for risk. If you’re having trouble establishing what kind of investor you really are, consult a qualified financial planner to help get you avoid the seven sins of financial planning and put you back on the right path.

© 2023 by Robyn K. Thompson. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is prohibited. This article is for information only and is not intended as personal investment or financial advice.

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