Just like the practitioners of any other discipline, investors have to deal with a set of common mistakes the avoidance of which separates the average from the exemplar. You don’t need specialized knowledge to avoid them, just the ability to keep your emotions in check and the willingness to read a book or two to learn how stock markets work. Being a successful investor is within anybody’s grasp. Let’s discuss why by exploring some of those common mistakes below.
- First thing most investors fail to consider is the appropriateness of the fees they pay. If you’re invested in funds that charge you 1-2% of whatever money you have invested every year, are the funds’ portfolio managers earning you enough money to justify those fees? Seeing as owning the global stock market through index funds has historically made you about 5% per year after inflation on average, that means a 2% fee fund needs to earn you about 9% per year, supposing 2% inflation, just to keep up.
- With so much praise showered on Buffett, Lynch, Templeton, and other legendary investors, too many people believe in the promise of stock-picking expertise. Truth is, though, these individuals are outliers, and research-based stock picking is just as much an art as it is a science. Over the long-term, the vast majority of practitioners will underperform those who simply buy the entire global stock market through a diversified portfolio of index funds.
- Unless you know what you’re walking into, it’s very easy to let your emotions get the best of you as a new investor. On any given year a stock fund can fluctuate in price, sometimes by half or more, on its way to making you money over 10 or 15 years. Investing is a long-term practice, one where businesses need to be allowed to innovate, grow, and create lasting value; to be successful, you just need to live your life and stay out of their way. That means ignoring your urge to sell an investment simply because other investors are overreacting and causing its price to drop, even though the quality of the business hasn’t changed.
- Many young investors think you need lots of money to participate in the world’s stock and bond markets. Thankfully, this is no longer true. Wealthsimple, for example, allows you to open an RRSP or TFSA and buy as little as one share of the investment fund of your choice without having to pay a commission. If you have a spare $50, you can start investing today.
- It’s a widely-held misconception that investing in the stock market is basically gambling. You can definitely use stocks to gamble by, say, buying some shares in a company your coworker gave you a tip on, or a company that makes products you’re deeply familiar with even though its business prospects may not be all that bright. Whenever you invest hastily, you’re taking a flyer and could lose money. And you already read numeral 2. If you take a more measured approach, though, and invest prudently through index funds, which offer you a long-term positive expected return—5% per year or so after inflation—you’re golden.
- The key to investing is staying invested long enough so that compound interest can work its magic. That means you need to buy more shares of your stock and bond funds at every paycheck over a handful of decades for satisfactory results to show. Making the rash decision to give up on funds after a few short years is always a mistake.
- You may also be thinking that all this investing stuff is too complicated for you to handle it yourself, meaning you need to resort to a financial advisor to put your money to work. Not the case at all, if you ask me. As someone who put the reading in, learned about which investment accounts to open, and has been building his investment portfolio over the last two years, I can tell you with absolute certainty that you are more than capable of doing the same.
If you’re interested in a short and digestible investing guide to get you going, consider my new book, Nine Steps to Successful Investing: A Guide for Young Canadians. I designed it to cut through how financial literacy is one of the most boring things you can learn. You’ll get nothing but the essentials, expressed in plain language, with extra resources only if you’re interested in learning more. Whatever you decide, don’t hold off on building your nest egg. Your future self will love you dearly for it.
I’m also available to teach you 1-on-1 over Zoom if you prefer.
Feel free to drop any questions in the comments!
Disclaimer: This article is meant for general education purposes only. It does not constitute financial advice as I am unaware of your personal situation. Consult with a professional who abides by a fiduciary standard before making any investment decisions.