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Do It Yourself (DIY) investors are self-sabotaging their portfolios, without even realizing it. Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of DIY investing and am a DIY investor myself.
However, a report from Morningstar makes it clear that our constant need to tinker with our portfolios is costing us big time money.
Morningstar looked at the average return of investment funds over the past 10 years and compared that to the actual return that investors in those funds received. They found that the average investor trailed the return of the funds they were invested in by nearly 1% per year during that time.
- The average fund in the study returned 7.05% per year
- Meanwhile, the average investor returned 6.1% per year
- That is 0.95% (95 basis points) annual difference
95 basis points is a meaningful difference. Let’s say you invested $100,000 when you were 25 and never invested another dime, and pulled the money out at age 65.
- The portfolio returning 7.05% per year would end with $1.525 million
- The portfolio returning 6.1% per year would end with 1.07 million
- That is a difference of $457,000
The DIY investor in this example would cost themselves nearly half a million worth of wealth over their lifetime. The larger the lifetime investment, the more wealth they would be giving up.
Why DIY investors lag fund performance
All humans suffer from a number of cognitive biases that lead to irrational investment decisions.
There are three psychological traits in particular that are hurting DIY investors.
Fear and greed are two halves of the same coin
In their report, Morningstar found that in periods after funds performed exceptionally well investors poured in a lot of additional money into that fund. Following periods of underperformance, investors began selling off their investment in that fund.
Translation; Investors were buying high and selling low. You don’t need to be Warren Buffet to realize that isn’t a recipe for investing success.
DIY investors also suffer from another bias; overconfidence
If you are a DIY investor you believe that you will have a better outcome managing your own investments than paying a professional to do it for you.
This overconfidence can lead to market timing decisions that seem like good ideas at the time, but most often lead to underperformance. These are the people who say things like “I don’t want to invest right now while we are at the top of the market”.
By holding their money out of the market, they are betting that the market is about to crash. In reality, market timing is nearly impossible to successfully pull off and your most likely outcome is missing out on future gains.
3 Tips to help DIY investors get out of their own way
- Stop trying to outperform the stock market
- Don’t check your account balances
- Don’t take more risk than you need to
1. Stop trying to outperform the market
As I’ve written in the past, there is enough academic research to conclude the stock market is reasonably efficient. This means that trying to time the market or pick stocks or engage in any activity to try and “beat the market” is likely to fail and cost you money.
Over the past 5 years here is what they found.
- 82% of active fund managers in the U.S underperformed the S&P 500 index
- 90% of active fund managers in Canada underperformed the TSX index
- 80% of active fund managers in Europe underperformed the S&P Europe 350 index
There is no country in the world where a significant number of actively managed funds beat their respective indexes.
The managers of these investment funds are very intelligent people with more resources and more investing experience than you have. If they can’t beat the market, what makes you think you can?
Don’ bother trying. Invest in a passively managed fund that tracks the entire stock market. Then treat it like a passive fund by simply buying and holding.
2. Don’t check your account balances
Adopting a passive buy and hold strategy helps us deal with overconfidence bias. The only thing that can derail this strategy is fear (selling low) and greed (buying high).
To overcome fear and greed, simply do nothing.
- Do not read news about what is happening in the stock market on a day to day basis
- Do not follow blogs that advocate things like market timing or investing in gold
- Only check your account balances when it’s time to rebalance your portfolio
Fidelity did a study that found the best-performing investors all had one thing in common: they forgot they had an account with Fidelity. Which means they never checked their account balances.
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3. Don’t take more risk than you need to
One of the most effective ways to manage the fear of large market declines is not to overexpose yourself to the stock market. That means having a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds.
A portfolio invested 100% in stocks is not appropriate for two groups of people.
- Those approaching, or in retirement
- Emotional investors
It just so happens that nearly everyone will fall into one of these categories. Most DIY investors probably think of themselves as the ultimate rational investor who won’t make emotional decisions with their money. This is another form of overconfidence.
Most DIY investors probably think of themselves as the ultimate rational investor who won’t make emotional decisions with their money. This is another form of overconfidence.
The Morningstar data of investors underperforming their funds suggests that most people do in fact make emotional-based decisions. That includes selling when the market is down and locking in losses.
Watching your portfolio drop by 40%-50% in a single year is a scary and real possibility if you are invested 100% in stocks. This causes fear which can lead to an irrational decision to sell and lock in losses.
If you’re invested in a portfolio that has a healthy allocation to bonds it’s much less likely to see such steep losses and things seem a little less scary.
Investing in bonds may lower your “expected return” as stocks tend to outperform bonds in the long run. However, if you’re an emotional investor (which the data suggests you are), you should be happy to trade off some expected return to save yourself from yourself when sh*t hits the fan.
Are you a DIY investor?
How do you allocate your investments and how often do you buy and sell different investment products? Let me know in the comments below.
About the Author
Ben Le Fort
Hi, my name is Ben. I am the founder of Making of a Millionaire. I have been obsessed with personal finance and learning how to manage money, ever since my parents declared bankruptcy and lost the family home to foreclosure in 2010.
I spent the next 10 years continuing my journey of educating myself about money. This education was both formal and informal.
On formal education, I earned a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Finance & Economics.
On the informal side, I consumed every book, video, blog post, and podcast that discussed personal finance.
Education was nice, but it wasn’t until I began implementing what I learned that I began feeling more hopeful about the future.
Before long, I had paid off my first loan. Then the next. By 2015 I was debt-free. By 2016 my wife and I bought our first house. Then we started investing. We bought another house and began building real wealth.
As our wealth grew, the memories of that family bankruptcy seemed further and further in the rear-view mirror. My stress and anxiety began to melt away and I was able to sleep at night without my mind racing and problem-solving.
By 2018 I knew it was time to start sharing what I learned about managing money and Making of a Millionaire was born.
I hope you find the articles, videos, and courses created by Making of a Millionaire to be of value to you. Please feel free to reach out to me directly if you ever have feedback or questions.
You can read all of my articles on my personal site, or on Medium. If you’re interested in video-based personal finance tutorials and education, you can Subscribe to my YouTube channel or check out my in-depth personal finance course.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to encourage any lifestyle changes without careful consideration and consultation with a qualified professional. This article is for reference purposes only, is generic in nature, is not intended as individual advice and is not financial or legal advice.