It’s not the individual choices – It’s the habits


 

I’m still making my way through Darren Hardy’s The Compound Effect.  One of the things I’m beginning to understand is that it isn’t the individual choices we make that set our destiny so much as the habits we form.  For example, right now I’m trying to lose the 50 pounds or so I gained back after dropping the same weight several years ago.  The last time I lost weight it was because I had changed my habits.  I regained it when I changed them back.

You see, back in my mid-thirties I realized that I was going to die young if I didn’t lose some weight and start exercising.  I started jogging about 3/4 of a mile in the morning, then walking back.  This continued three mornings per week for about three or four weeks (and I hated starting every time, but was always glad when I had finished my jog), at which point I was able to jog all the way out and back, running 1 1/2 miles per morning.  After this I would walk around the block (another 1/2 mile or so),  After a month or two of doing this, I started running around the block instead of walking after going out and back, increasing my total to about 2 miles.  Finally, after doing this for several months, I increased the distance I went out, upping my run to about 2.25 to 2.5 miles.  At that point I decided the run was far enough and running farther would just wear out my body.  I was able to run 5K’s and actually registered a time in the mid 20-minute range.

The Compound Effect

I also changed how I ate.  Instead of cleaning the plate when I went out to eat, I would eat about half and then save the other half for lunch.  I found that the whole meal would be about 1500 calories, so eating a half portion was about right.  At home, I would leave one thing off, like the side of corn or maybe the potatoes.  At Mexican restaurants I would just have a few chips rather than finishing the bowl and asking for a second or a third.  One thing I noticed was that when you’re out, many of the things you do centers around food:  stopping for ice cream, pie and coffee, or just a sugary coffee drink.  I found other things to do that didn’t involve eating.

As a result I went from a high of about 248 down all the way to about 215 pounds.  My pulse had dropped to about 50 beats per minute, to the level where they would need to take a couple of readings and get one over 50 before they would let me give blood.  I had a lot more energy, my blood pressure was lower, and generally I was in good shape.

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Then life started to get in the way.  While I was exercising regularly, I often didn’t really want to get up and go out into the cold to jog since it was hard to get going to the point where I fell into a rhythm.  (After I would started, however, I discovered that actually the best temperature was about 35 degrees or so since I could wear a sweatshirt and cap and not get sweaty about half way through, so I preferred cold mornings to one that was in the 60’s or 70’s.)  When I reached about 39, however, I started getting heel spurs which would cause my feet to ache if I tried to walk after sitting for a while.  Jogging would cause the condition to worsen for several days after.  As a result, I stopped jogging as much, then finally quit entirely.  I changed my habit of exercising.

I also found myself eating more full meals when I went out to eat.  I also started getting soft drinks again in restaurants (I went to water before).  Worst of all, I started doing more business trips and vacations, where I would be eating out every meal and having a big breakfast at the hotel.  (I normally didn’t eat breakfast, so that added another 50 to 800 calories onto my diet each day.)  I went back to 220, then 230, then into the 240’s.  Finally, after a few holidays and trips, I found myself in the 250’s, higher than I had ever been.

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From reading The Compound Effect, I realized that what got me into such great shape was that I changed my habits.  It wasn’t the first day I went jogging or the choice of having water at lunch instead of a Coke one day that made me lose weight and get into shape, it was the habit of doing those things.   Likewise, changing habits back to eating full meals out and drinking a soft drink more often than not when we went to a fast food chain caused me to go right back to where I had been and then some.  Once again looking at an early fifties heart attack, I’ve changed back, cutting my meals and counting calories to stay below 2000 per day.  As a result, I’m down to 242 again.  I plan to stay with this, and start jogging again after I lose another five pounds or so (so that it isn’t as hard on my heels) and keep those habits this time.

So what does this have to do with personal finance?  Well, just like with losing weight and getting healthy, putting yourself onto a firm financial footing doesn’t mean doing one thing and then going about your life.  If you stick $100 into five shares of Intel Corp today and never do anything else, you won’t retire a multimillionaire.  But if you put away $100 every week or two and invest regularly, you’ll find yourself in 20 or 30 years financially independent.  It isn’t the individual choices – it’s the habits that make the difference.

So what are your habits?  Are they good, taking you where you want to go, or bad, holding you back and making you unhealthy or poor?

Join the conversation and help make this blog more exciting!  Please leave a comment.  Also, if you have an investing question, email  vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave the question in a comment.

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning advice, it gives information on a specific investment strategy and picking stocks. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

Bulls Make Money, Bears Make Money, Pigs get Slaughtered


The title of today’s post is an old Wall Street axiom related to asset allocation and greed.  It means that people who buy stocks (bulls) and those who sell stocks short (bears) can both make money.  There are times when each of these strategies are effective.  Those who hold for too long, or put too much in any one stocks, however, eventually get slaughtered.  It is important to remember that no stock will go up, or down, forever and one must always be wary of the possibility of sudden movements the other way.

As long-time readers of this blog will note, I tend to favor less diversification than is the standard.  Many money managers will advocate investing in hundreds of stocks, saying most investors should not even buy single stocks because they can’t get enough diversification unless they have millions of dollars.  The trouble with that philosophy is that 1)while it is true this provides downside risk, it also limits one to just making the market averages or less after fees, 2)one has little control over taxes because the taking of capital gains is up to the whims of the mutual fund managers, and 3)it leaves one subject to the little games that the mutual fund managers play, like buying the hot stocks just before reporting holdings to look like they were in the best companies all along.

For more information on why you can have too much diversification, try one of these great books:

        

There is nothing wrong with holding some mutual funds.  If one has quite a bit of money mutual funds provide good insurance against sharp declines that single stocks endure.  If one only has a few thousand dollars to invest, however, it makes little sense to spread that money out over 100 or 1000 stocks.  The advantage of being able to double or triple that $3000 in a year or two outweighs the risk of losing $1500 or $2000, or even the whole amount due to a missed earnings report or a scandal at the company.  Note also that investing over the long-horizon of years also reduces risk because over time most good companies will grow in price even though they may decline in any period of weeks or months.

Here again, though, one does not want to be piggish and face the slaughter.  For this reason my strategy is to concentrate in a few, great stocks, adding money all of the time to my investments, but when a position gets to be so large that I would not want to risk that amount, I pare it down and invest some of the funds in another stock.  This is true even if I think that the company has great prospects and will continue growing indefinitely.  I could be wrong and I don’t want to give back all of the gains I have made should the stock turn against me.  One strategy is even to sell enough to recover all of the money that had been invested.  Additional shares can then continue to be sold as the stock makes new highs.  In that way most of the profits made are secured as the stock rises should the stock turn around and fall.  It also gives a psychological boost to know you will make a profit no matter what, allowing one to “let the rest ride” with confidence.

As a portfolio grows from a few thousand dollars into hundreds of thousands, mutual funds should be purchased to lock in gains and provide security through diversification.  A portion of the portfolio remains concentrated in individual stocks with good prospects, however, but not so much so as to risk a loss that one cannot sustain.

Learn how to use mutual funds from the founder of Vanguard:

Join the conversation and help make this blog more exciting!  Please leave a comment.  Also, if you have an investing question, email  vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave the question in a comment.

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning advice, it gives information on a specific investment strategy and picking stocks. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

Are You Holding An Asset from Sentimentality


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASentimentality is a powerful emotion.  My family laughed when I insisted we pass by the home I grew up in not once, but twice the last time I went back to my home city.  I’ll also swing by old apartments, schools, campsites, and other places where I spent a significant amount of time or even a memorable evening.  When I proposed to my wife, I wanted to do it on Shelter Island in San Diego at a gazebo where we had danced to music from my boombox a couple of years before.  The gazebo apparently was in disrepair and had caution tape around it — it’s actually gone now — so I got down on one knee beside it.

One issue with sentimentality is that it often causes us to keep things long after we should have let them go.  This can clutter up our homes, cause us to have two of many things, and sometimes cause us to use items long after their lifetime has expired when we could have a new, shiny one for a few dollars.  With investing, holding on to an asset through sentimentality can be devastating.

My father once told me to never fall in love with a stock.  While long-term investing is good, sometimes when we’ve owned a stock for a long time we become sentimental about the stock (or other asset).  We then become blind to the fact that the company has changed and hold a large position in a company right from the peak down to the ashes.  We also might become  so convinced that the company is good and will turn around that we’ll continue to plow money into it even as it is going under.  Despite giving me this advice, even my father fell into this trap, holding onto a company that he had seen double for years and years after a new CEO was appointed that radically changed the company and drove it into the ground.

Probably the most dangerous time where many people fall into the sentimentality trap is when there is a death.  Watch an episode of Hoarders and you’ll see that many of the people who now have paths through their homes among piles of possessions started their hoarding after a death.  They ended up keeping everything the person had in an effort to hold onto their memory.

While many people keep clothes and personal items out of sentimentality, which results in clutter and full closets, keeping assets out of sentimentality can cause financial damage.  For example, we keep our parents home and rent it out, even though we live in another state, and end up paying all kinds of money to travel to the home and deal with the issues that require us to be at the home.  We would never buy a home in another state in order to rent it, but we hold onto our parent’s home because we’re sentimental, and in doing so make a bad financial decision to have a rental property that is hard to manage and possibly a bad rental property as well.

Another thing that might happen is that a relative has a lot of shares in a stock that we end up inheriting.  Because the stock reminds us of that relative, we hold onto the stock even though it is way too much money to have in one stock.  If something goes wrong at the company, we risk losing the full value of that stock.  If we had sold instead, we could have used the money for something useful, or even invested the money so wisely so that it would pay us income for the rest of our lives.  The issue is that by having the stock, we remember that relative and we want to hold onto the stock to hold onto a part of him or her.  If we sell it and spend it, or even sell it and just add the cash to our regular portfolio, we lose that connection.

Probably the best thing to do in this situation is to still keep the money together to keep the memory, but either spend it in such a way that you can preserve the memory or invest it together in a way where you still reduce the risk.  One way to spend the money but still hold the memory is to buy something permanent with the money such as pay  in off your home, make a home upgrade, or even buy a vacation home or other luxury.  That way each time you see the item, it will remind you of the person.  If you are going to invest, you could buy a less risky single asset, such as a local rental property, or a single asset that is diversified in itself such as shares of a mutual fund.

One of the best things you can do with an inheritance such as this is create a separate asset for which you use the income for a special purpose.  For example, you could buy shares of a mutual fund and then sell off 10% of the mutual fund each year for a home improvement.  Maybe replace a floor one year, then buy a new couch the next, and so in.  In this way it is like the relative is giving you a gift each year.  As long as the amount you take out each year is modest (maybe between 5-10% from a mutual fund), the relative will keep “giving you gifts” for many years.

In our case, I received money from my Uncle David from a life insurance policy.  Rather than putting the money into our portfolio where it might get lost, I put it into an index mutual fund.  Each year we withdraw 10% and take a special vacation we call the “Uncle David Trip.”  It is not a huge amount of money, but enough for maybe a weekend at a nice hotel or even a week on the road staying in low-cost motels.  By doing this, we can share time as a family and remember my uncle while doing so.  This is much better than an holding onto an old shirt.

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning advice, it gives information on investment strategies, stock picking, and other matters relevant to the investor. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.