The first person who gave me investment advice worked in our company warehouse (let’s call him Bob). He appeared to understand the workings of the markets and was confident in his investment moves. According to company gossip, this guy was an investment legend, made from the same cloth as Peter Lynch! The stories were never specific, only that Bob had a knack for beating the market (unverified, of course).
The problem for me was you had to be invited to be part of this group because Bob was selective when it came to sharing his investing ideas. So, I did what any normal investor who wants great investment advice would do: I started bringing in donuts, coffee and the USA Today, which eventually earned me the coveted invitation. I still remember the first meeting with Bob. There were about eight of us huddled outside his office, and he suggested to move our entire 401(k) balances into a Fidelity bond fund, because something was up (his reasoning sounded like one of the adult voices from a Peanuts TV special, “Blah, blah, blah …”). I did not care about the reasons, though. I only knew that by listening to Bob, I was on my way to an early retirement.
After sharing this story, I have to sit back and wonder how much self-inflicted damage I caused to my 401(k) by trying to time the markets dozens of times over the course of those early years. What was my motivation using advice from a co-worker, someone whom others claimed to be better than average at determining my investment strategy? Simply put, I did not have a plan, but how many people do when they are in their 20s or 30s? Retirement seems so far off. You throw money into your 401(k) and expect that it will all work out. Better yet, my hope was that by being as good as the investment pros, and playing the game like Peter Lynch, I would be better than average.
What lessons did I learn? Stop playing in the same sandbox as the investment professionals and the Bobs in your life. Stop trying to beat the market and stressing about what your co-workers are doing with their 401(k) plans. Instead, put together a plan that is hard-wired to your family’s goals and values. That will help keep you in check the next time Bob tells you what’s best for you.
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