Good news, investors! When it comes down to it, there are only two types of mistakes you can make on your investment journey.
The first mistake is to simply buy something — a stock, a piece of real estate, the latest fad investment like pogs or pet rocks — and it loses its value.
I wouldn’t sweat it. These kinds of mistakes happen. Even if you work to minimize mistakes, you’re not going to bat 1.000. What does matter is minimizing the inevitable mistake when it does happen. As long as you don’t go in too heavy on the fad investments, you’ll likely fare fine over time as long as you didn’t overpay to go in.
The second mistake investors make is the sin of omission — not buying anything. I know plenty of folks who will spend hours researching companies, finding a few they like — and then not pulling the trigger.
It’s hard to tell what’s worse. In the short-term, avoiding a pullback feels great. But you miss out on the long haul. So I’d say the second mistake will be the worse one over time.
Both these problems have behavioral roots. We make decisions with the caveman part of our brains, and apply the philosophical parts of our minds to justify the decision next.
But investing — taking increasingly intangible representations of wealth and shuffling them around mostly non-physical assets — is incredibly esoteric. So it’s easy to make plenty of mistakes along the way.
While nobody will ever be perfect, there are a few ways to significantly cut down on these errors.
For investors always chasing the latest hot thing, recognizing the pattern first and foremost is the name of the game. It isn’t always easy. After being an early investor in the South Sea Company, Sir Isaac Newton bought in later after shares had moved even further — and ended up losing a fortune as a result. “I can calculate the motions of heavenly bodies but not of the madness of men,” he allegedly said of the experience.
Recognizing value — and deviations from that value — are what matter. But remember, value and price are rarely the same. If you determine that a company is worth $100 per share, you should buy if it’s trading at $50. If it’s trading at $95, the value is less obvious, and there may be better opportunities elsewhere. For any hot sector of the market, there’s usually a cooling or ice cold spot that’s more attractive to invest in now.
For investors who seem to have commitment issues, remember: You’re not legally required to marry a stock (not even in Massachusetts). If you like a company, and think it’s worth buying at a price close to, but not quite at the current price, you can at least put in a buy order.
Or, possibly better, employ a strategy like selling a put option at a strike price you do like. At least that way, you’ll get paid something while you wait for the value to unlock. I use this strategy a lot, but mostly because I want to get into stock positions at the lowest possible entry price. Yes, while it’s possible to recognize value, a company that’s cheap may become even cheaper as time goes on. With the put sale strategy, you can get paid for some risk of getting shares even cheaper.
For non-stock investments where an options trade isn’t available, there aren’t as many things you can do if you don’t want to commit to an investment. You may simply have to hold your nose, buy, and then not give in to the temptation to get out. I’ve found that many investors who have trouble making a commitment in the first place tend to do better as soon as they’ve started on a consistent, regular plan of attack for their investment capital.
These two mistakes investors make cover a sizable gambit. Recognizing which one of these is your likely weakness and knowing how to combat it is one more critical tool to reduce mistakes and maximize your potential for investment success.
Andrew Packer is a Senior Financial Editor with Newsmax Media. He currently writes the Insider Hotline investment advisory, serves as investment director for the Financial Braintrust, and writes the monthly newsletter Crisis Point Investor.
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