skip to main content
Mt Victoria cityscape on a stormy day

Bloomsbury blog When the fear is just too much

Bloomsbury newsletter, 30 June 2017

by Carl Richards

When the markets go from acting 'normal' to acting 'scary', we hate the idea of doing nothing with our portfolios. It feels like we're sitting in front of an oncoming train! We should be doing something; anything, really.

But if we do act, it often has nothing to do with our plan and everything to do with stopping the pain.

First, you should know these feelings are normal. Very few people can avoid feeling scared when the markets start jumping around.

But your situation is a little different from most people. You don't need to worry and react to what the market does. You've already invested plenty of worry in building a solid financial plan based on your goals and values.

But what if the fear is just too much? What can you do?

First, give yourself a break. For a long time, we've connected markets going down to pain. We're hardwired to get away from pain, a trait that's helped us survived as a species. But it hurts us when it comes to investing. Here's what you can do instead.

Behaviour gap - how, what, why

Grab a piece of paper, and write down the answer to this question, "Why is money important to you?" Make sure you get specific. For instance, freedom and flexibility are nice values, but push yourself to define what those words really mean to you.

Next, answer the question, "What do I want?" Think of this question as a way to identify your goals. Maybe you want to travel after retiring or start a second career with a nonprofit.

Finally, it's time to look at how you're supporting your values and goals. Does the way you invest give you the greatest chance of meeting your goals and supporting your values?

If the answer is, "No," then it might be time to hit the pause button and have a chat with your adviser. Life happens, and things change. You may not have realised that your goals and values changed. That's ok, and it's why this exercise is so useful.

Of course, many of you will have sailed through this exercise, and your 'why', 'what' and 'how' align perfectly. If so, you've done everything you need to do and confirmed that you don't need to do anything else, even (and especially) when markets bounce around. It's a great feeling to know you're on the right track.

When you revisit these questions during the next scary market, you may find that your values or goals have changed. But only then, will you need to worry about updating your investments.

Carl Richards is currently based in Nelson, but hails from Salt Lake City, Utah. He is a Certified Financial PlannerTM, creator of the weekly Sketch Guy column in the New York Times, a columnist for Morningstar Advisor, and a frequent keynote speaker at financial planning conferences around the world.