Doomsayer—a person who predicts impending misfortune or disaster. Mike, a good friend and running partner, is a stock market doomsayer. Routinely, like this morning, he tells me to sell. The doomsayers are certain that the mother of all corrections is right around the corner.
What Mike and his ilk get wrong is that when it comes to personal finance, the value of the Dow, the S&P, and the Nasdaq aren’t nearly as important as one’s income, investment income, expenses, and “historical risk return”.
If you asked me to help you with your personal finances, I’d want to know four things. 1) What’s your take home pay? 2) If any, what’s your annual passive income? 3) On average, how much do you spend each month? 4) If any, how much of any stock market-based investments can you accept losing in the next few days?
1) Annual income. This is straight forward. In the new economy, nearly everyone’s challenge is increasing it without working inhumane hours. That’s why people continue their education, work hard for promotions, and sometimes decide to work long hours.
2) Passive income. This is the money your savings generate. Nearly everyone’s challenge is increasing it in our zero interest rate world. Historically, cash has generated 3-5%. Today money markets and certificate of deposits earn pennies, so when adjusted for inflation, they’re slowly losing value. That’s why people invest in stocks, bonds, and real estate. Passive income includes stock and bond dividends, capital gains, and rental income. I also consider company matches a type of passive income. And social security for the 67+ set.
3) Average monthly expenses. Few people know this. Start keeping track of every dollar you spend using MINT or something similar and then read this recent blog post from Mr. Money Mustache, The Principle of Constant Optimization, for a great tutorial on managing spending. In particular, I second this suggestion:
Make a list of your ten biggest monthly expenses and tape it to your fridge, just so you know they are all there, constantly using up your money, so they had darned well be worth the resources they are consuming. If they are worth the expense, continue to enjoy them. If they are not, optimize them away. Look at your daily routine from an outsider’s perspective, and figure out if you are really getting the most value from each one of your hours.
4) Historical risk return. Where I invest, I can see my entire portfolio online. And with one link I can see a detailed analysis of my holdings including the all important “historical risk return (1926-2012)”. Right now it says the worst year an investor with my assest allocation has experienced is -17.2% in 1931. Ironically, it also says investors with my asset allocation have experienced losses in 15 of those 87 years or 17.2% of the time. So if I round up, on average, I have to expect to lose money every fifth year. Also, if I have $100,000 invested, I have to be prepared for that to turn into $82,800 overnight. That’s the price of admission to a historic stock market run up.
Here’s what the stock market doomsayers won’t acknowledge. As of May 15, 2013, the S&P 500 is up 141.5% since March 5, 2009. While they’ve been crying wolf, someone that had $100,000 invested in the S&P 500 on March 5, 2009 now has $241,500. Here’s what you won’t hear the doomsayers say, “We missed a historic rally because we we’re too afraid of the downside.”
Nor will you hear them say this truism, they’re not smart enough to time the market. Despite Mike’s dire warnings, I’m going to stay partially invested in stocks because I can accept a 17.2% historical risk return in exchange for what my portfolio analysis reveals to be my 87 year average rate of return, 7.6%.
Tune out the doomsayers and forget trying to time the market. Instead, control what you can. Most importantly, whether your earned income and passive income regularly exceed your expenses.