Sabotaging Investment Myths

by | Sep 29, 2016 | Asset Management, Investor Behavior

My brother showed me this question and answer from Tony Horton’s Instagram account the other day. Tim, Casey, and I love doing Horton’s P90x workouts, but whether you like them or not there’s an underlying message here: stop believing there’s a quick and easy way to achieve your goals, face reality, and start putting in the necessary hard work. It applies to getting physically fit, excelling at your job, and even investing for your future.

I took a stab at replicating Horton’s Q&A with an investing spin:

Question: What’s the most sabotaging investing myth you wish the mainstream world knew entering 2016?

Answer: The myth that financial security comes in the form of a magical investment strategy, market upside with no losses pitch, or any other type of get-rich-quick scheme. This should be common sense to most, but unfortunately many people spend their time stuck on the merry-go-round of fad after fad – just hoping or wishing that the next strategy, fund, or advisor will be “the one”. The holy grail of investing comes in the form of a solid savings rate, controlling costs, keeping your emotions in check, and finding a simple and evidence-based strategy that you can stick with over the long term. It has a lot to do with these basic tenets and very little to do with envious performance chasing, the market news of the day, personal feelings, or your neighbor’s hot stock tips.

Deep down I’d like to believe that most of us know this to be true. However, we often avoid the truth because it isn’t what we want to hear. We’d rather chase the dragon of market beating returns with no downside. In fact, earlier this month a company called Wealthpire agreed to pay over $1 million to settle allegations of defrauding subscribers to its newsletter service. Jason Zweig shared some details in a recent column:

“Wealthpire promises the potential for “big, fast” triple-digit returns “while keeping risk out of the equation.” Its website repeatedly mentions the chance to earn “1,483% gains.” That isn’t illegal, but it is highly improbable—and, for some people, irresistible. Such messages exert a hypnotic force on the minds of those who encounter them—blinding investors to red flags they might otherwise notice.”

For whatever reason, promises that seem laughable in hindsight apparently looked good to Wealthpire’s 95,904 subscribers. We see stories like this all the time, and nearly all of them seem like painstakingly obvious scams once they’ve been identified as such. So why do people keep falling for them? Stories like this show how badly people want the lies to be true. We all know the diet pills won’t melt fat off in weeks that took years to accumulate. We know that big, fast triple digit gains sound highly unlikely… but we wish it wasn’t so. We wish it so much that we’re willing to believe in something we know has very little chance of working. We want to believe that we can save very little money, put it into the market, make outlandish gains without ever losing money, and retire to a beach somewhere to live off the interest. Sounds awesome. Probably not going to happen.

Successful saving and investing, much like getting into shape, is hard work. It takes discipline, and at times you’ll question if it’s working. It’s easy to believe a ridiculous lie when it confirms something we really want to be true, but we’re sabotaging ourselves by doing so. Whether we’re talking about magic diet pills or too-good-to-be-true trading strategies, we’re better off not letting myths obscure reality.

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