keeping up with the joneses

Rough Markets: When the Wisdom of the Crowd Becomes Herd Mentality

photo shows a mountain stream

Clients, some of you have reported that some people around you are finding it inexplicable that you haven’t yet sold out of the stock market, given its rough times. One of you even heard the prediction, “You’re going to lose it all!” These conversations are happening at coffee time, out to dinner in a group, at every kind of casual gathering.  

We often think of peer pressure in connection with children. But there are strong forces at work among not only children: it’s also retirees and everyone in between! 

In ambiguous situations, humans tend to copy what other people seem to be doing. If we don’t know what to do, we may assume that others do. So we emulate them. This type of behavior is sometimes referred to as “social proof”: we take our cues from others when we feel unsure what to do. 

In some social groups, people react to rough markets by selling out; in other groups, people cling to the long-held belief that investing is too dangerous for anyone. If everybody in your “group” seemed to be doing the same thing, you’d have lots of social proof to reassure you that, surely, you must be on the right path. 

But this social influence can hold more weight in our choices than it deserves. Yes, someone marching to a different drummer can seen as a rebuke. The contrary behavior—going against the crowd—is full of resistance. Sometimes it takes a big splashy effort to swim upstream! Hence the hectoring and lecturing. 

But we choose our own course, and it does not start or end with what others think about us. 

You can see the core principle at work: “avoid stampedes.” We believe this has kept us out of fads—and pointed us to bargains. We think going against the crowd may be profitable, though no guarantees of course. 

If your friends hassle you about your investing, be kind to them. You can always change the subject if you need to. Maybe in their mind, fear is in the driver’s seat right now. Or maybe they’re in the grips of peer pressure. 

Either way, we know what we’re about. And that’s enough. 

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call. You are among the best clients in the world, a group where you may find all the proof you need that being contrary may be a great thing.


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SMART Goals in a Dumb Pond?

photo shows a ripple growing in a blue pond with green trees in the background

Use SMART goals.

Be smart about it.

Work smarter, not harder.

You’ve probably heard this advice at a juncture in life; maybe you’ve even said it to someone else. Goals don’t get us very far unless they are explicit, meaningful, and can be tracked. Without them, aren’t they just dreams? “Hope is not a plan,” I’ve heard it said.

None of this is meant to be cynical, but I’m thinking about an important distinction: having “smart” goals won’t matter if they’re pointed in a “dumb” direction. So let’s get out of that framework. Smart and dumb are relative anyway (not to mention judgmental!).

The fit of a goal matters. For those of us youngest children who ever wore hand-me-downs, you know that even the stuff in the best shape isn’t quite right if it wasn’t picked for you. Alignment of a goal matters too: the thing better fit into the big picture. Does achieving a big purchase now help me live the life I want, without side-tracking my long-term goals? Just an example.

And your goals stay yours. Then it’s part of our job to make sure our strategies stay aimed at those goals.

We, too, strive for good fit. We don’t splash around in “opportunities” that don’t align with our principles. We seek bargains, we focus on owning the orchard for the fruit crop, we avoid stampedes. If it’s not in alignment, it could be a distraction or a tangent.

Jane Fonda once put it nicely: “If I want to make ripples, I better be sure I’m throwing my pebbles into the right pond.”

“Right” is relative to your life, your vision. We’re just happy to be part of the effort. Time to check in on your goals and their direction? Call or email, anytime.


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The Abundance Conundrum

© Can Stock Photo / Thilien

People reaching retirement age these days have witnessed a huge evolution in how people live. Growing up, many never saw the inside of a restaurant except maybe once a year. Family road trips usually included a picnic basket with cheese or balony sandwiches. Larger families lived in smaller houses back then, so now each person has about double the living space.

Author Eric Barker notes that we probably have far more now than in the past, but we seem to be no happier. We instinctively believe that more will fix it: more money, more food, more things. The problem is the quest for what makes us feel good doesn’t have a finish line. “It’s a pie-eating contest and first prize is more pie.”

The pressure to fit in, to keep up with the neighbors is now compounded by social media, which generally shows the best version of everyone we know, and none of the problems. There have been many more pictures of expensive cars than of the tow trucks sometimes sent to repossess them. You see vacation photos from exotic places, but not the credit card bills which detail how they were financed.

Aggravating the situation, technology has given many the option of working all the time. Flexibility is nice, but in the olden days, you could leave your work at work and be engaged with your family when you were home. Now our work is in our pocket, so we have to make a decision: answer emails, or play with the kids or talk to neighbors or enjoy some other leisure.

Going with the flow is perhaps more costly than ever to our wealth and sense of wellbeing. Thinking about the fundamentals of our own happiness, pursuing our fondest ambitions in a mindful way, being thoughtful about how we spend our time: these might be the answer to the battle between “more” and “enough.”

Financial planning is at the root of a balanced approach to life and living. It begins with the attempt to define life on your terms, to learn your internal motivations, to clarify your understanding of success.

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

Look Rich or Be Rich?

© Can Stock Photo / ragsac

Some people have so much money, it doesn’t matter what they do with it. On the other hand, some don’t have any. Our work tends to be with those in between, those who need their money to work effectively. Clients, that’s where you and I live.

Many financially independent people we know faced the choice of a lifetime: they could look rich, or be rich. And they chose to be rich. The cost of impressing others is quite high when it manifests in expensive homes, vehicles, and conspicuous consumption.

The difference between a $250,000 home and a $500,000 one is not just $250,000. The recurring expenses connected with the more expensive home may include higher property taxes, larger utility bills, more interest expense, and greater maintenance costs. Those recurring expenses reduce room in the budget for accumulating wealth to live on in later life.

A recent article about $10,000 watches had the headline, “Affordable Watches That Will Make You Feel Like A Millionaire.” This seems funny to us. We delight in asking people whose invested wealth has reached the $1 million mark whether they identify as a millionaire now. Not one has answered ‘yes.’ So if a million dollars doesn’t make one feel like a millionaire, what chance does a $10,000 watch have in getting that done? (A large fraction of the millionaires I know wear $39 watches.)

The paradox is that those who strive to look rich may never accumulate much in the way of assets. Meanwhile, those who chose to be rich may eventually learn how to spend well. They can afford the vehicles that provide the most comfort, the homes that make daily life better, generosity to descendants or charities, and travel to bucket-list destinations.

The flaw in attempting to impress others is, we do not control what others think. We only control our own choices. Those everyday millionaires (and those on the way) in our acquaintance seem to have learned this early, and made the wise choice.

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

Goldilocks the Burglar

© Can Stock Photo / monkeybusiness

The story of Goldilocks might be a lesson in moderation, but it’s also a story of breaking and entering.

We prefer to find more reasonable and socially acceptable ways to get our needs met. We talk a lot about helping clients put words to their dreams, but dreams need not be lofty. Here are a few guidelines that have proven helpful.

“The right amount is best.” In her book Lagom, writer Niki Brantmark describes this Swedish principle of the same name. Not enough is not enough. Too much of a good thing can be a good thing, but often is not. The right amount is best.

Social comparison, or “keeping up with the Joneses” can corrode happiness or financial health, if we aren’t conscious of our emotions and purposeful about our responses and reactions. It helps to focus on our own needs, rather than what others have. (I’ve met the Jones, and they don’t care what you have anyway.)

When working on goals, it sometimes helps to define three outcomes: minimum acceptable levels, reasonable targets that feel within reach, and ‘stretch’ goals that require creative thinking and approaches to get to. This may help you be more aware of options and possibilities.

Clients, if you would like to talk about your goals 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.