Investing: The Final Personal Finance Frontier?
Is investing the final personal finance frontier? Most of us focus on things like making ends meet, buying things, and getting out of debt long before we even start thinking about investing. So how many of us are truly confident when it comes to investing?
Based on a survey by MassMutual Financial Group of about 1500 retirement plan participants, you could say that becoming a confident investor really is the final personal finance frontier. According to that survey, “Overall, only 37.3% of participants are confident in making their own investment decisions (vs. 42.5% last year).” (And these are people who are already investing for retirement. What about the folks who haven’t started yet?) Clearly, becoming a confident investor is an issue.
Investing is just like learning anything else
The thing is, in some ways investing is just like learning anything else. When you first get started, it’s intimidating. You don’t know the terminology. You don’t know what to do first. You’re afraid of making a mistake and looking dumb or getting hurt.
For example, I recently took a glass blowing class. There’s not much chance of losing money there, but there is a (literal) risk of getting burned. Glass blowing is HARD, and it takes lots of practice to become skilled at it. There are all kinds of tools involved — most of which have bizarre names and look like medieval instruments of torture — and you use blindingly-hot furnaces. In short, much like investing, glass blowing is intimidating. But you can learn about it, and with help, get results that turn out well. And as you gain more experience and practice, you can get good results on your own too.
So try thinking about investing the same way you would if you wanted to learn a new skill in other areas. Read about how to do it, observe experts in the field, take classes, and practice. You’ll gradually build the confidence you need to be successful.
Of course, you’ve also got to know yourself. I really enjoyed the glass blowing class I took, but I knew it was critical for me to pay attention during it. So I took my ADD medication in plenty of time for it to take effect. Believe me, you want to pay attention when you’ll be working with things that can be as hot as 2200ºF.
Likewise, you don’t want to get burnt with investing. If you know you’re the kind of person who’ll freak out if you lose 40% of your investment in an economic downturn, well, you’ll want to build in some safeguards that will help you stick to your investing plan if that happens. (And of course you’ll want to have a plan in the first place, one that ensures your investments are diversified.) Or, if you know that you’re the kind of person who’ll want to constantly jump on the latest tip you hear around the water cooler, you’ll want to have safeguards in place to prevent that.
DIY investing isn’t for everyone
Although the notion that only “37.3% of participants are confident in making their own investment decisions” sounds like a bad thing, I have to wonder if that’s truly the case. After all, how many of us are confident in making our own home-building decisions? Do we know what types of materials to use to meet code, and how best to use them to get the results we want? Probably not. We could learn it if we wanted to, but it’s not 100% necessary to get a livable house.
While I personally do handle my own investing, it’s because I am very hands-on. I knew I would make mistakes when I first started out, and I was ok with that. I’m probably still making mistakes now, but I don’t think they’re anything I can’t live with. And I’m getting better.
But that’s not for everyone. There’s nothing wrong with finding an expert and having them suggest investments for you — so long as that expert has a good, solid track record and a fiduciary responsibility toward you, and so long as you check in regularly with them to be sure you’re both still on the same page. So don’t put off investing if you’re reluctant to learn how to do it yourself.
The important thing is to either start learning about it so you can get started on your own — maybe through a class, books, sites like this, or with the guidance of a fee-only advisor — or to find a trustworthy person to handle it for you (with your full awareness of what’s going on, of course.)
In either case, you should understand what makes something a good investment, how likely the potential risks are to occur, what your tolerance for risk is, and what your investment makeup is. You should also make sure that you’ll be able to meet your financial goals based on how you invest. In other words, get started today, if you haven’t already. Your financial future is waiting.