investment arithmetic

DIY, DIFM, or In-Between

photo shows a picture of a desktop with wooden letters saying "DIY," scissors, block, beads, and other craft supplies

In many industries, people distinguish between DIY and DIFM: “do-it-yourself” versus “do-it-for-me.” The same is true of investing and financial planning.

Whether you are trying to build a deck or a retirement portfolio, the internet is full of pertinent information to help you on your way. You may not be a carpenter, but you may have the tools and skills to build a deck. Add some information, time, and motivation, perhaps that new deck will appear in your backyard through your own efforts.

A successful DIYer has all of those things. It does not always work out, but when it does, someone has used their own skills and efforts to do something many others pay for.

When the do-it-for-me or DIFM route works out, people trade money for the time and abilities of professionals in order to get what they want and need. I’ve mentioned before that I mow my lawn with a checkbook—a textbook case of DIFM.

When it comes to plans and financial planning, we believe that is either a DIY thing—you are the expert on your plans and planning—or a collaborative process of discovery. We may support your efforts, help you define or refine what you’re trying to do, maybe do some arithmetic, but you are still the expert.

On the investment front, though, we operate on a DIFM basis. We strive to grow the buckets: we research investments and manage portfolios for those who do not want to go the do-it-yourself route. DIYers have plenty of resources available other places; we’re busy trying to grow the buckets for those who say “do it for me.”

(Of course, our perspectives on everything from planning to investing are available online 24/7 to anyone with an interest in reading our blogs, listening to the podcasts, or watching the videos. There are some DIYers who check in regularly there. But our one-to-one efforts all go to investment services on a DIFM basis.)

Anybody could be a DIYer, in any number of areas… but it doesn’t mean you have to DIY. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

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Play the audio version of this post below:

The Monster Under the Bed


When we were small, some of us had older brothers who tried to convince us there was a monster under the bed. You may be surprised to know there is a corollary in the world of investing.

The monster promoted by some is generally called “the arithmetic of losses.” The arithmetic of losses is a simple mathematical observation that from a given number, if you take a certain percentage decrease, and then an equal percentage increase, you wind up lower than you started–even though your increase and decrease were proportionately the same. For example, if you start with $100, and lose 20%, you are at $80. If you gain 20% of $80, you’re still only back to $96. But we are here to tell you, there is no monster under the bed.

Consider that when a major stock market index declines by 50%, it then does need a 100% gain to get back to even. This is just arithmetic. But consider: whenever a stock market index is at an all time high, that is conclusive proof that the “arithmetic of losses” is a bunch of baloney.

Each all-time high means that the index has successfully come back 100% from every 50% loss, 50% for every 33% loss, 25% for every 20% loss… and MORE. Every time, every loss thus far. The long-term history of major United States stock market averages speaks for itself, and incorporates all the losses and all the gains.

Some fearmongers say investors cannot live with the ups and downs that are a necessary and integral part of long term investing. Clients, you know we work hard to ascertain whether you could be suited to our philosophy.

Part of that philosophy is that temporary declines, no matter how sharp, are not losses unless you sell out. It is not always easy, but it has worked out. No guarantees about the future, of course.

If you can be turned into a chicken, then some operator who claims to ‘control risk’ or promises short-term stability AND long-term returns may get your money. Please keep in mind that every chicken, sooner or later, gets eaten.

The fearmongers are right about one thing: markets go up and down. You and we know this. We work hard to manage the money you need without having to sell out at a bad time. This is one of the keys to being able to get through the downturns.

Clients, we are striving to find bargains, avoid stampedes, and own the orchard for the fruit crop. These principles will not prevent volatility. But there is no monster under the bed. Email us or call if you would like to discuss this or anything else at greater length.

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 indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

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

They Say You Can’t Handle the Truth!

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The conventional wisdom in the investment business is that you can’t handle the truth. Our whole business is built around the idea that you CAN handle the truth. Some were born that way, and others may be trained to handle the truth. The stakes are quite high, because those who can handle the truth about investing may be more likely to enjoy success at it.

We humans do have some tendencies which are both deeply rooted and counterproductive to informed investing. The easy path for us would be to pander to those tendencies, affirm them, pat you on the back and take your money. Here are some examples of that:

“They” (the adherents of flawed conventional wisdom) promote the idea that the pain of a loss is twice as great as the pleasure of a similarly sized gain.

“They” speak of temporary downturns as if they were actual losses, a disservice to long term investors.

“They” promote the idea that arithmetic works against investors, since a 20% loss must be followed by a 25% gain in order to break even.

“They” sacrifice total returns on the altar of expensive new products or stagnant investments in the hopes of reducing volatility.

We, on the other hand, believe you can handle the truth. Our experience confirms this. Here is the truth:

1. Long term investing always involves living with volatility, there is no way around it.

2. The ‘pain of a loss’ is optional—it may be offset by the joy of finding bargains, or ignored in the confident knowledge that downturns are temporary. The economy and markets always muddle through and eventually recover.

 3. According to Standard & Poor’s records, over the century’s experience with the Dow Jones Average, so far every 20% loss has been followed by a greater than 25% gain.

4. Investing for the long term in accordance with proven principles, using timeless strategies and timely tactics, in a manner that can get you to your goals, is the right way to do it.

We believe that people who keep some money in the bank, and who know where their needed cash flow will come from, can usually live with our methods and strategies with at least some part of their wealth. And we know that others may not be able to do it. Some lack the confidence that the system will endure, others just cannot tolerate fluctuating account values. It takes all kinds to make the world.

Our aim is to add value to those who can handle the truth, as we’ve defined it here. We work hard to educate and train and impart perspective and context…and it has worked. As always, if you have questions or comments, please write 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 indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.