In Praise of Gratitude

© Can Stock Photo / PetarPaunchev

The Harvard Medical School published an essay with this same title some time ago. The key lines: “Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

Gratitude may be about past blessings, current conditions, or reflect a hopeful and optimistic attitude about the future. One of the best things about an attitude toward gratitude is that it can be cultivated.

In one study, three groups of people were directed to write a few sentences each week. One group was instructed to write about irritations or things that had displeased them. The second was directed to write about things that had affected them. The third group was directed to focus on things that had happened for which they were grateful.

After ten weeks, one group was more optimistic about life, and had a greater sense of well-being. That group also happened to exercise more and make fewer visits to the doctor. You can guess which one.

We believe there are interesting applications to the work we do together with you. Short term fluctuations in the markets may be irritating, but gratitude for long term returns might let us focus on more rewarding mindsets. The economy and markets always seem to be a mixed bag, but gratitude for opportunities may help us avoid a focus on problems that might prevent us from investing effectively.

At the heart of all this is the simple truth that we get to choose what gets our attention, what we focus on. Does choosing gratitude make us healthier, wealthier, and wiser? No guarantees, but we might have more fun while we find out together.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Simple or Complicated? You Choose

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The object of a household budget is to end up with control of your finances.

If you Google “steps in budgeting” you will find results ranging from three steps to ten steps. Each one involves accounting for all of your outlays to the penny. The process must be repeated every month, and requires ongoing work to maintain.

Budgeting works well for some people, particularly when money is tight. If you might not be able to afford food unless you pay careful attention, you probably better pay careful attention.

But another, far simpler method works for many others. You pay yourself first, and spend or save what is left over. Paying yourself first can take many forms, but the most fool-proof methods are automatic.

• 401(k) plan contributions at work, by payroll deduction.
• IRA or Roth contributions, by automatic monthly bank account transfers.
• Investment account deposits by automatic bank debits.

You may need to do some arithmetic to see if your monthly investment amounts are likely to get you where you want to go. (We can help with this.) After that is done, all you need to do is pay yourself first!

Some of you enjoy keeping careful records of spending, and we would not discourage that. At a minimum, being mindful about our outlays makes sense. But for others, the simpler method may fit in better to your real life. It is a personal choice.

Simple or complicated? You choose. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Choose Your Risks Wisely

© Can Stock Photo / alphaspirit

When you think about your finances over the course of a lifetime, it is easier to see that risks may only be selected, not avoided.

Our first understanding of risk often relates to fluctuations in value. If you put in a dollar, and the value soon drops to 80 cents or 60 cents, it seems like a clear (and vivid!) loss.

Money buried in a can would never have that kind of risk, yet its purchasing power—what you could buy with it—declines year by year if there is any inflation at all. This kind of damage reminds us of termites, which chew away behind the scenes, causing damage that is not obvious.

Longer term fixed income investments, like bonds, offer interest that may offset inflation in whole or in part. But the value of a bond may change with interest rates. A 3% bond is probably not going to be worth its face amount in a 6% world.

The interesting thing about all these different kinds of risks is that they cannot be entirely avoided, but they may be balanced against each other.

• The things that fluctuate in value may provide growth over the long term to offset inflation.
• Having money in hand when needed may enable us to live with fluctuating values in other parts of our holdings.
• Reliable income helps us avoid excess amounts of money laying around.

We think one of the most valuable lessons about risk is that, on our long term investments, volatility is not risk. If we aren’t retiring for many years, ups and downs in our retirement accounts may not be all that pertinent.

The stock market, measured by either the Dow Jones Average or the S&P 500 Index, has risen three years out of four. There is no guarantee that this general pattern continues, or how results will work out over future periods. But someone that invested ten, twenty or forty years ago may have seen a lot of growth overall, in spite of fluctuations ever year—and some years that were negative.

Clients, if you would like to talk about the balance of risks in your situation or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Bonds are subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rates rise and bonds are subject to availability and change in price.

All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted.

Why Not Just Pull Back?

© Can Stock Photo / bthompson2001

The market has been rough lately! Seems like account values are shrinking month by month. In times like these, clients sometimes ask why we don’t just pull back when the market starts going down. It is a fair question.
We are thinking about a number of things in formulating investment strategy and tactics:

1. The average decline in the course of a calendar year in the major market averages is about 13%1. Basically, the market is always going down—and up.

2. A wag once noted that the market has predicted nine of the last five recessions. In other words, it may decline 10 or 20% without signifying anything about the health of the economy.

3. The times when it seems to make the most sense to sell out often turn out to be good times to be invested.

In short, the ups and downs are part of investing. We each face a choice between stability of values, and long term investment returns. There is no way to get both of these things on all of our money, although we may have some of each.

It is important to know where our money will come from, the funds we need in our pocket. For investors, it is also important to know our long-term portfolios will go up and down.

We mentioned above that the average stock market decline in the course of a year is 13%1. Let’s be clear about what that means: a $13,000 drop on a $100,000 portfolio; $65,000 on half a million; $130,000 on $1 million.

Here’s some solace: by the time you notice we’ve been skewered, we are closer to recovery than when the decline began. One year out of four, on average, the market (measured by the S&P 500) declines. Think about it—three years out of four, on average, it has gone up.

We don’t pull back because we do not want to miss the rebound. Our experience has been that we can live with the ups and downs. It isn’t always easy, but our experience has been that it works out over time.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Notes and References

1. Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, S&P Dow Jones Indices. Retrieved November 5th, 2018.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All investing, including stocks, involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted.

This is a hypothetical example and is not representative of any specific situation. Your results will vary. The hypothetical rates of return used do not reflect the deduction of fees and charges inherent to investing.

Parrots and Canaries

© Can Stock Photo / bugphai

Once upon a time, canaries were used as a warning system for the buildup of toxic gases in coal mines. Death of the canary served as a warning to get out. These birds may be more popular now in the writings of market commentators than they ever were for mine safety.

A different bird might make a more useful metaphor. The Monty Python comedy troupe once performed a dialogue between a disgruntled customer and a pet shop owner. The customer was attempting to return a Norwegian Blue Parrot, which had apparently been dead when purchased.

The pet shop owner contends that the bird is resting, or stunned, or perhaps pining for the fjords. He attempts to distract the customer with praise for the bird’s beautiful plumage. The customer lets loose with an extensive string of euphemisms for death. “He has ceased to be! Bereft of life, kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain, joined the choir invisible.”

The Norwegian blue may make a better analogy than the canary in the coal mine for financial markets.

Why? When the canary died, nobody debated it, or even suggested finishing out the shift down in the mine. But the death of the parrot was the subject of a long argument. That is what happens in the financial markets. For any product or security or market index you can find opinions on both sides at any time. BUY! SELL! BUY! SELL!

There are parts of the investment universe where certain commentary seems to us like someone saying “beautiful plumage” about a dead parrot. And, to be fair, there are other sectors which we believe are resting, or stunned, or perhaps pining for the fjords. Think of how a market optimist must have sounded in March of 2009 at the stock market bottom.

As contrarian investors, we typically hold some unpopular opinions. We believe profit potential lives where there are gaps between consensus perception and unfolding reality. So we do not really want everybody to agree with us—we cannot all be contrarians! We make no guarantees, but this is how we strive to do things here.

Clients, if you would like to talk about either “the canary in the coal mine” or “the parrot in the pet shop,” email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

 

What Did Don McLean Mean?

© Can Stock Photo / HHLtDave5

The song American Pie is one of the most iconic pieces of pop culture of the last century. Don McLean used its poetic imagery to evoke events and trends both from the world of rock and roll and American society. The narrative he wove caught the imagination of millions.

Some of its references seem clear, while others have multiple interpretations. It seems like thousands of people took a crack at decoding the entire, long, song. From then until now, each listener constructs their own meaning from it.

McLean himself was loathe to interfere with the meanings that people drew. For decades he refused to say anything about the commentary of others or describe in greater detail his own thoughts about any of the references.

The single thing he did say has obvious applications to the things we collaborate on with you. In concerts and interviews, he would share what it meant to him: “It means I don’t ever have to work again if I don’t want to.”

Isn’t that what many of us strive to do with our working years? We use our skills and talents and effort so that someday we can say, “I don’t ever have to work again if I don’t want to.” Few of us produce an epic work at a young age that sets us up for life. But many of us, like McLean, depend on the fruits of our labor to achieve financial independence.

There is a process that turns your skills and talents and effort into wealth that may get you closer to your goals. It’s why we are in business.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

 

Simply Effective: Avoiding Stampedes

© Can Stock Photo / dgphotography

“Avoiding stampedes” may be the simplest and most straightforward of our three fundamental principles of investing. Let’s talk about what it means.

In our view, a stampede in the markets has two features: large volumes of money changing hands, and irrational pricing. Information, evidence and indications about money flows are readily available. The assessment of pricing is necessarily more subjective.

At the time, many believe that prices make sense—or they would not be where they are. Technology and internet stocks in early 2000, homes in 2007, and commodities in 2011 all fit that pattern. At the peak, some true believers thought there was significant room for further increases. Only with the benefit of hindsight is it obvious that things were out of whack.

These examples are all about stampedes into a sector. Money also stampedes out of things at times, as we know. Stocks during the last financial crisis and high yield energy bonds near the bottom in oil prices in early 2016 are prime examples.

You may recognize a pattern. The habit of avoiding stampedes is a contrarian approach to investing—going against the crowd. If everybody else is doing it, we probably don’t want to.

In fact, if everybody else is doing one thing, we may seek to do the opposite.
Behavioral economics lends support to our practice, in our opinion. Much work in that field purports to show that most people do the wrong thing at the wrong time, thereby hurting their returns. Doing better than average would seem to require doing the opposite of what most people do.

(Of course, no method or system or theory is guaranteed to work, or even to perform the same in the future as it has in the past. And putting a theory into practice may be difficult to do.)

In practice, being a contrarian can be lonely. The crowd at the diner is unlikely to endorse doing what nobody else seems to be doing. We don’t care—we are striving to make investment returns, not please the crowd.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Bonds are subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rates rise and bonds are subject to availability and change in price.

Living the Reality

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We have heard the phrase “living the dream” when someone describes a life in which everything is going well. I have used it myself once or twice.

But the truth is life has rough spots. What dream would include family and friends with chronic diseases and other issues, funerals for those we admire or love, and all the other challenges one might face?

Of course, there are joyous and glorious things in life, too. Most of us would have a difficult time counting all of our blessings. So joy and pain—both are part of the deal. Some have it better, some have it worse, and our fortunes do fluctuate.

We believe the long-term view that serves investors well is also valuable in keeping the bad patches in perspective. “This too shall pass” is helpful in thinking about both the worst times in our lives and economic recessions or market turmoil. One may find glimmers of hope for better days even on bad days.

Another way to cope is to find ways to soften or cushion or rebalance some of our worries. I outsource worrying about the lawn to a lawn service, for example, while I get to worry more about how to grow your buckets. Hopefully, by letting us worry about your buckets for you, you might have less worrying to do. If we can do that, we will know that our work has value and we are probably doing something right.

We are not living the dream. We are living the reality, coping when we need to, celebrating when we can. That is life in all its glory.

So grateful you are a part of it.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Even Better Than Advice to My Younger Self

© Can Stock Photo / Bialasiewicz

There is a recurring thing in social media about what people wish they had known when they were younger. We’ve never been too interested in participating, since there is little to be gained by wishing for a different past. (I did once post on this subject, but it was an attempt at humor: “Advice to my younger self—don’t go for the chili dog pizza at the truck stop.”)

Our friend, the great thinker Burt White, got us thinking about this. We ended up with a hotter notion: advice from our future self. Imagine that the “you” from a year or a decade from now could come back and talk to you today—what would they wish you knew? “Advice from my future self” gives us the chance to make things better, beginning today!

At the risk of sounding as unstable as Vonnegut’s time-traveling character Billy Pilgrim, I imagined a conversation with my future self exactly to test this purpose. I already knew what my future self wanted to talk about—but I have been acting as if I didn’t know. The conversation may mark a turning point for me.

This is sort of personal, so I will not bore you with the details. But it isn’t difficult to sort out what kinds of advice our future selves might give:

  • Save something every payday
  • Acquire needed skills to change career trajectory
  • Gain closer connections with special people around us
  • Eat better
  • Do something active every day
  • … ???

We cannot know for sure what your future self would want you to know. It is almost too goofy to recommend to you. But if you ever get tempted to give advice to your younger self, we suggest that taking advice from your future self is likely to be far more useful.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

I Mow My Lawn with a Checkbook

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You may have heard a thousand times, “time is money.” For me and perhaps for you, the reminder to use our time well was a needed and useful lesson.

As we grew into adulthood and established our lives, careers, homes, and everything else, money seemed scarce and time was abundant. Using time to get money made a whole lot of sense.

Things change as we age, you may have noticed. A client shared a revelation that came to him shortly after he retired. “I spent all those years worrying about having enough money in retirement, and quickly learned that the scarce thing is time, not money. I’ll run out of time long before I run out of money.”

This conversation led us to the thought that money is time. The point was driven home recently when I received a compliment about my lawn from a neighbor down the street. “You must spend a lot of time taking care of it,” he said. I was forced to admit I spend virtually no time on it.

I mow my lawn with a checkbook. That same tool takes care of the landscaping, and keeps my home clean. It has more functions than a Swiss Army knife. Time, for me, is a scarce resource—a valuable commodity. It is a blessing to be able to spend money and get time.

From time to time you have heard us advise, invest wisely and spend well. These things mean different things to different people. A very dear friend LOVES to mow the lawn, tinker with lawnmowers, fool around with the shrubbery. Good for him, I say. One of the ways he spends money to gain time is by paying us to help with his financial affairs.

To our young clients, a reminder: time is money.

To our not-young clients, a different version: money is time.

If you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.