Don’t You Dare Fixate on the ‘Game’ of Investing

Chasing stock returns without setting a clear, long-term goal is never a good idea. Instead, take a “big picture” approach.

A man's fingers tap on a calculator with financial paperwork showing in the background.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

One of the main reasons Americans save and invest is to create income that will help fund their retirement.

And while investing is serious business, it also can be fun and intoxicating. In fact, maybe a little too fun and too intoxicating at times. As a result, some people get so caught up in playing the “game” of investing that they lose sight of the goal of investing, and that makes them and their portfolios more vulnerable to market turmoil than they need to be.

Investing, of course, comes with an element of risk, but those who get too involved in the game often take more risk than might be prudent. The results can be disastrous.

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A good example of how that plays out happened in 2008 when the market plunged, forcing many retirees to go back to work and others to alter their retirement timelines.

So, how can you stay fixated on the goal of investing and avoid letting yourself become too enticed by the game of investing?

Here are a few tips to help you remain focused on what matters:

Calculate how much income you need in retirement

As I mentioned earlier, your overarching goal with investing is to create retirement income. But just how much income do you need? No one can give you an exact figure, because the answer is relative to how you want to live. The number will be different for each person. But I would say this: As you try to estimate a number, focus on your life and your goals rather than on what the market is doing.

  • Are you a traveler who plans to use the extra time retirement gives you to visit the Grand Canyon, Paris or other bucket-list destinations?
  • Are you a grandparent who wants to give your grandchildren an assist in paying for college?
  • Are you a single person who loves to putter in the garden and, for the most part, plans to live a frugal life?

Once you decide what your retirement lifestyle will look like, you can begin to calculate the income you will need to accomplish it.

Review your expected sources of retirement income

When your working life ends and that regular paycheck stops, where will your income flow from? Do you have a pension? (Fewer and fewer people do, but perhaps you are one of the lucky ones.) Certainly, you may be able to draw Social Security, but the amount you will receive varies depending on when you start taking it.

You also should have investments you can draw from. Figure on an annual withdrawal of about 3.5% to 4% from those investments. Then total all those sources of income and compare the sum to the amount of money you estimated you would need to pay for your retirement lifestyle.

Is there a gap? If so, you now have a target number to reach before retirement. With that number, you know whether you need to increase your savings, be aggressive with investments or perhaps work a little longer than you originally planned.

Protect what you have

Once you reach your investment goal, you have won the game. Congratulations! Now it’s time to protect your income.

Sure, the market is an exciting place to be, but that doesn’t matter to you anymore. Those are risks you no longer need to take, because you have what you need. Instead, you want to begin to move some of your money into less volatile vehicles, such as bonds and even CDs. The amount that one should direct to safer vehicles will depend on each individual’s situation. With that said, it is not uncommon to see retirees allocate 30% to 60% of their retirement funds to more stable investments.

Remember this: When you are working and saving for retirement – especially in your younger years — you are playing offense. But as retirement approaches and you have accumulated what you need, it’s time to play defense. You are in a preventative game, not a fling-it-down-the-field type of game.

And just like football teams have different coaches for offense and defense, you may need a different coach at this stage of your investing life. Some financial professionals are focused on offense — helping you accumulate what you will need for retirement. Others are better at defense — helping you protect what you worked so hard and took so long to acquire.

Find the right coach, stick to the right plan and that retirement lifestyle you dreamed about could become a reality.

Ronnie Blair contributed to this article.

This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC (opens in new tab) or with FINRA (opens in new tab).

Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal. Any references to protection benefits, safety, security, or lifetime income generally refer to fixed insurance products, never securities or investment products. Insurance and annuity product guarantees are backed by the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company. The appearances in Kiplinger were obtained through a PR program. The columnist received assistance from a public relations firm in preparing this piece for submission to Kiplinger.com. Kiplinger was not compensated in any way.

The appearances in Kiplinger were obtained through a PR program. The columnist received assistance from a public relations firm in preparing this piece for submission to Kiplinger.com. Kiplinger was not compensated in any way.

Clifton Ross, Investment Adviser Representative
President, CEO of Guardian Resources

Clifton Ross is president and CEO of Guardian Resources (opens in new tab). He is a financial professional who has worked for more than 20 years in business operations, management and the financial industry. He is an Investment Adviser Representative and has passed the Series 65 securities exam. At Guardian Resources, he has built a comprehensive retirement planning company to ensure that retirees have the guidance necessary to help reach their goals.