Improving Investor Behavior – Make Steady Savings Your Strategy


This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, May 18, 2018.

There’s $15 on the line, and your buddy is stepping up to a 10 footer for a birdie on the 18th hole. It’s a slippery putt, but not slippery enough. As he takes his shot, human nature kicks in. “Miss it, miss it,” we say to ourselves. But there is no level of hoping or wishing we can do to have any measurable effect on that putt.

As humans, we do this a lot. We look at all manner of situations and hope for different outcomes. We hope the Broncos win. We hope to live well into our 100s. We hope the stock market goes up. In all of these situations, there’s very little we can do to affect what happens. We get so caught up hoping for one thing or another, that we forget the little steps we can take to improve our odds of success. Living to 100 is a hope; eating healthy and exercising is a choice. And when it comes to finance, choosing how much to save is far more important than hoping for better market returns.

Market performance tends to be the singular focus of investors and investment media alike. How is the market performing? What are the benchmarks doing? At what level are my holdings? All of these questions are similar in one regard: they are reactionary. They focus on elements that cannot be controlled.

Investment returns are important. The magic of compounding interest, sometimes called the eighth wonder of the world, is what helps rigorous savers be able to retire as millionaires. Regular old savings rates, however, can have a profound impact on the value of a portfolio over a lifetime. For compounding interest to work its magic, it has to have something on which to work. Consistency is a virtue, and it is an element YOU can control.

Life is filled with challenges, expenses, and emergencies, all of which can derail the best of intentions when it comes to saving. Having a method for saving becomes essential. Often that means “paying yourself first.” For example, can you have your employer automatically contribute to your 401(k) from your paycheck? Great! The sting of savings might hurt at first, but after a couple of months, you may not notice it. That’s the goal. We want to automate savings as much as possible. As a best practice, we encourage a 10-25 percent savings rate. The more you save, the better the outcome. It’s better to save 10 percent every month than 25 percent once or twice a year. Save until it hurts and make it a habit.

Pensions once made this easy for would-be retirees. Employees didn’t need to think about saving for retirement; it just happened. As retirement savings continues to shift away from companies and toward individual employees, making “saving” a routine becomes even more important. The great thing about Independent alternatives such as 401(k) plans is they allow you to contribute at your savings rate. You get to control how much you want to put in and where that money is invested, as well as take comfort in knowing that it’s your money, now and into the future.  These plans are designed to reward diligent savers.

Tomorrow the market may go up, down or sideways. No one knows which way it will move, and those who say they do are just guessing. The problem with guessing is that it is inherently inconsistent. Some days you’re right, and other days you’re wrong. How much you choose to save is controlled only by you. The consistency with which you choose to save is a decision over which you have complete control. The more you save, the less the market has to perform to end up with the same result. Steady savings over a lifetime helps take the “hoping” out of a retirement plan.

Praying to the golf gods won’t help us win the round. What we can do is take lessons, get a coach and practice. We can hit the driving range, and improve our odds that by the last hole it won’t matter if he sinks the 10 footer. Our goal is to stroll up to the 18th green a few shots ahead. This scenario relates to what consistent saving achieves. Make it a habit, practice it regularly, and watch your retirement account grow.

Steve Booren

Steve Booren is the Owner and Founder of Prosperion Financial Advisors, located in Greenwood Village, Colo. He is the author of Blind Spots: The Mental Mistakes Investors Make and Intelligent Investing: Your Guide to a Growing Retirement Income and a regular columnist in The Denver Post. He was recently named a Barron's Top Financial Advisor and recognized as a Forbes Top Wealth Advisor in Colorado.

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