Whether you are investing to build a retirement fund, or to put your excess cash to work, you should always be wary of the following investment mistakes. These can ensnare an experienced investor as easily as they can entrap a rookie. Here are 10 investing mistakes to watch out for:
1. Investing while in debt.
The phrase “cheap debt” is thrown around by the financial experts routinely. However, it does not apply to credit cards. To invest money when one is living off credit cards is a big no-no. One should repay credit card debt as soon as possible.
Similarly, putting money aside for investment while having a student loan or a house mortgage might seem like a good idea, as the expected rate of return on the investment is higher than the expected cost of debt. However, the comparison is incorrect. Today’s cost of debt is being compared to tomorrow’s rate of return. We are coming out of the zero interest rate period, and it is not unreasonable to believe that debt will become expensive again over time. One should prioritize offloading all debt before one starts setting aside money for investments.
2. Investing with a very high cost of transaction.
When one buys or sells investments, one invariably coughs up fees and charges. In some cases, the cost of a transaction is quite high. When investing in a house, for example, be sure that you do not liquefy the investment within five to seven years. If you sell the house within that time frame, then the transaction costs will substantially eat into your rate of return.
Another avenue in which the costs are very high is investment in physical gold. Apart from the transactional costs of gold, one should account for the charges applicable for its safe and secure storage. It is more advisable to invest in gold ETFs instead of physical gold.
3. Investing with a single-minded focus on fund fees.
The internet is full of advice on choosing low-cost funds instead of paying a premium on funds managed by rock-star fund managers. Undoubtedly, a lot of advice is sound, but some investors make decisions purely based on fund fees while being ignorant to other parameters like the rate of returns they deliver, or the amount of asset diversification they have. In some cases fund houses use “cheap funds” as a marketing ploy. In Britain, HSBC’s Equity Tracker Fund has an expense ratio of 0.27% a year, while Virgin’s equivalent equity fund charges a full percentage point extra. However, both the funds are being heralded as low-cost funds by their respective fund houses.
4. Investing in hot tips.
Hot tips and fads rule the market, and just about everyone is an expert on the Next Big Thing. However, such advice should be taken with a grain of salt. Investment is a process, and due research is a necessary aspect of this process. After all, if you are not willing to put in the time and effort necessary when making an investment, you can’t expect your investment to reward you with your returns.
5. Investing decisions based on market conditions.
Market conditions cannot dictate one’s investment strategy. The inherent volatility in the market is frustrating, especially when investment portfolios underperform the benchmark index. Doubts start creeping into one’s investment strategy. However, investment strategies cannot change with the market cycles. It is imperative to have faith in one’s strategy, provided it is based on sound characteristics. A good strategy with a long-term outlook may underperform for a period of several months based on the market conditions, but in the long run it will reap the desired rewards.
6. Investing while overpaying for investment services and financial planners.
There are multiple avenues for investing one’s hard-earned money. To understand all the options out there you may need assistance, and that is where financial advisers come to our aid. However, when a financial adviser builds a portfolio of low-cost index ETFs, then one wonders if there is any value to the adviser. The cost advantage of investing in a cheap ETF is consumed by the fees of the adviser. Some advisers even receive hefty commissions for recommending investment products. If that is the case then the financial adviser’s motives will not match your interests. One should be wary of such advisers.
7. Investing on margin.
No matter how enticing an opportunity, one shouldn’t buy stocks or investments on margin. Margin trading has its benefits, but those should be left to the professionals. If the investment is leveraged, then one bad trade can wipe out a significant chunk of one’s investments and set one back significantly. In addition, when investing in property that is not for personal use but for investment, using housing loans is not a good strategy. The recent housing crisis points to the flaws of such leveraged investing. Bottom line: always invest with money that you have and can afford to lose without any adverse impact to your financial health.
8. Investing with an unrealistic expectation of return.
Investing with an unrealistic expectation of return, and without accounting for the compounding magic of time, is a strategy that is doomed to fail. In pursuit of manifold returns, people dabble in the penny stock market and end up burning their hard-earned money. In the end, if an investment idea sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
9. Investing out of fear and greed.
Emotions are attached to one’s investment decisions. We all feel joy when an idea works out to our benefit, and all feel despair when a decision goes bad. However, the emotions of greed and fear should not override one’s sense of logic and reason. Greed and failure prevent one from making smart decisions; they make one follow the herd mentality instead.
10. Investing without a plan.
Investing is a boring process. To see meaningful returns, one needs time to do its magic. Patience is key. An investment plan, revolving around meaningful financial goals, helps when things get rough. It provides motivation to save money when the same money could easily be spent on mundane activities. It provides the focus and determination required to pursue a life of financial independence.