Over the years, I have had no shortage of reasons from investors as to why they can’t get their financial house in order. While the art of procrastination takes many forms, a common theme I’ve noticed is the quest for perfection. Investors typically looking for the ideal set of circumstances, which never seem to materialize, keep putting off the important planning that needs to get done.
This search for perfection is similar to the world of dating, where searching for the perfect mate can be a hopeless endeavor. Every person has flaws, and no relationship comes without its wrinkles. Embracing this truth can ultimately lead to courtship and a successful marriage. While denying it may lead to years of unintended singlehood.
In many facets of life, the quest for perfection is the enemy of progress. This is especially true in the world of personal finance. The below list highlights several areas within the search for perfection that prevent people from pulling the trigger on a financial strategy. Investors should be aware of these traps and not let them inhibit their ability to achieve their financial objectives.
1. Waiting for the optimal time to invest
A prospective investor called me earlier this year and confessed that she really needs to start investing since most of her wealth, outside of her business, is sitting in cash. After inquiring as to how much cash was sitting on the sidelines, she told me about seven years’ worth of expense money. Yes, seven years! She said, “I’m just not comfortable with what’s happening in the market. I’m waiting for things to settle down.”
While keeping that level of cash on hand is an extreme example, it is common for people to want to wait for an ideal time to put their money to work. In truth, there is never a perfect time to invest. There will always be some type of turmoil in the world that gets people nervous: war, geopolitical risks, market gyrations, increasingly high stock valuations, a global pandemic and more. Trying to time the market for the best entry point could just lead to years of waiting.
2. Searching for the perfect investment
Every investment carries risk. Sometimes investments work out, and sometimes they don’t. The purpose of taking risk is to generate a return on one’s money. Investors who spend an inordinate amount of time searching for a perfect investment opportunity — namely one that provides high returns with no risk — are on a fruitless pursuit. It’s far better to spend time developing a strategy that provides a high probability of achieving an investor’s financial objectives. This is done by clearly defining the investor’s goals and risk profile, then outlining overall asset allocation and a sensible plan to get them there.
3. Insisting on getting the best price
After agreeing to an investment strategy, sometimes investors are hesitant to implement it. They will often say, “I like what we discussed, but let’s keep an eye on the investments you’ve mentioned. When the market drops below a certain price then give me a call and we can discuss moving forward.” This year, in particular, was ripe for this type of conversation. After the stock market dropped more than 30% in March, many investors understood that adding money was a good idea since the market was trading well below its highs. However, taking the plunge and actually adding money to the market proved difficult for many.
It’s human nature to want the best deal. However, waiting for a stock to trade at some arbitrary price often leaves the investor waiting indefinitely. If you have a prudent strategy in place, then hoping for the market to trade at certain levels is ill-advised. Moving forward immediately with your strategy is generally the right decision.
4. Wanting to create the perfect portfolio
There’s an infinite amount of literature on portfolio construction. Two investors with the same risk profile, goals and time horizon may have different portfolios suggested to them by various investment firms. All those portfolios may be reasonable. In fact, the more one reads, learns and researches, the more one concludes that there is no one correct way to invest in the market. There are only wrong ways.
It is irresponsible to develop an overconcentration in any given stocks, sectors or industries. Furthermore, allocating one’s capital exclusively to illiquid investment vehicles or esoteric and unregulated opportunities is also not recommended for most investors. A far better approach to portfolio construction is to embrace diversification, liquidity and plain vanilla investments. This philosophy won’t protect the investor against all risks; no investment strategy can do that. However, simply doing what is prudent (and often boring) is usually extremely effective.
5. Putting off saving until attaining an ideal career situation
When young professionals approach me, I always encourage them to save as much money as possible into their company’s corporate retirement plan. A common retort is, “I’m going to hold off on saving for retirement until I get better situated. My cash flow isn’t the greatest, and I anticipate being able to save a lot more when I get promoted.” This could be the wrong mindset. When you are young, with fewer responsibilities and financial commitments, that is generally the best time to save. Additionally, putting money away while you are early in your career allows those dollars to benefit from compound interest. Decades of letting that money grow can meaningfully benefit your financial future.
Thankfully, many corporate retirement plans incorporate “nudges” that help employees to save more seamlessly. These “nudges” include automatic enrollment and automatic escalation of the employee’s contributions. Doing nothing and allowing these automations work their magic is often the right decision.
6. Holding off until you’re in a comfortable life situation
The events in one’s personal life are often another deterrent to getting started. Whether it’s buying a home, going on a special vacation, sickness or death, there are always personal reasons to put your finances on the back burner. Unfortunately, the vicissitudes of life are a constant. Holding off for when your life “normalizes” is a recipe for inaction.
Similar to the “nudges” built into corporate retirement plans, one can also build automations into their personal financial affairs by setting up small amounts of money to go into an investment account at regular intervals. The person probably won’t miss the modest amount of money being syphoned into their investment portfolio, and even a very small dollar amount every month can slowly accumulate wealth. Furthermore, hiring a coach or adviser is a wonderful way to help an investor move in the right direction no matter what hurdles lie in their way.
7. Refusing to act until you’re in an optimal tax situation
Some sophisticated investors often stall on making decisions because of the tax ramifications. There is no question that taxes are an integral part of any financial plan. However, investors should not become paralyzed because they may need to pay taxes. As I tell these clients, “don’t let the tax tail wave the investment dog.” This is an example of focusing on the minutiae instead of the big picture.
Tax-sensitive folks tend to wait for losses in their portfolio to offset gains before making any changes. Unfortunately, the requisite level of losses may never occur, and continuing to hold undesirable positions as you wait may not be appropriate.
Sensitivity to taxes can also manifest itself in portfolio construction. Certain investments are more tax efficient than others. It’s important for investors to try putting tax-inefficient investments into their tax-free Roth IRAs or tax-deferred accounts, like a traditional IRA. Conversely, they should put tax-efficient investments into their taxable account. This is the concept of understanding proper “asset location.” However, putting various investments into the right account doesn’t always work out due to a client’s goals and risk tolerance. In fact, it can make investing one’s assets extremely cumbersome and difficult to manage. The potential tax savings is not always worth the headache and may cause the investor to get bogged down and lose sight of the big picture.
The simple act of getting the ball rolling on an investment strategy is often the hardest part of any financial plan. It’s important to overcome one’s fears, move forward, and be adaptable as things change. The ability to adapt may mean making compromises and adjustments when necessary or starting with a smaller level of assets or implementing a more conservative strategy than initially planned. After all, it’s far better to make tweaks over time then to do nothing.
The reality is that procrastinating in search of perfection is a decision, and it’s usually the wrong one.
Disclaimer: Keep in mind that diversification does not guarantee a profit or protect against a loss. This article authored by Jonathan Shenkman a financial adviser at Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. The information set forth herein has been derived from sources believed to be reliable and does not purport to be a complete analysis of market segments discussed. Opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice. Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. does not provide legal or tax advice. Opinions expressed are not intended to be a forecast of future events, a guarantee of future results, and investment advice. Adtrax #: 3173991.1
Jonathan I. Shenkman, AIF®, is the President and Chief Investment Officer of ParkBridge Wealth Management and serves as a financial adviser and portfolio manager for his clients. In this role, he acts in a fiduciary capacity to help his clients achieve their financial goals.
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