Growing up, I played a lot of sports and I hated being average. I wanted to be the best and win at everything I did. And this mentality has stretched over to school, work, and family life. I am always striving to be above average at everything. Everything, that is, except for investing.
And for those that are familiar with the investing world, this may sound pretty strange. Much of the investment world is obsessed with “beating the market” and being above average. But not me. I don’t want to be above or below average. I just want to be average. Let me tell you why.
For someone to get above average returns in the stock market, there are two main strategies:
Invest in individual stocks that grow faster than the market
And the problem with these strategies is not that they don’t work. They actually work exceptionally well (if you are good at it). The problem is that it is so incredibly hard to do either of these things well over a long period of time. As a result, people that try to get above average results, actually get worse results than those that tried to be average.
Even professional investors struggle with this. Some studies show that only 1 in 20 professionally managed funds beat the market. But even if you successfully pick the 1 out of 20 funds that does well, the odds of that fund beating the market over a long period of time is close to zero. Not to mention that these professionally managed funds require much higher levels of expertise, time, and resources. This results in higher fees which eats away at the returns of those that invest in the funds.
Marketing timing is an easy thing to try to do but very difficult (if not impossible) to get right. Many people try by moving all of their investments into cash right before they think things are going to go down. The problem with selling right before a “down market” is two fold. First, it is very difficult to predict a down market. Second, now that you moved everything into cash (even if we assume that you correctly predicted a down market), when do you move it back? The only thing harder than knowing when the market will go down is knowing when it will recover.
The bottom line is that the odds are against you for trying to beat the market. That doesn’t mean it is impossible (Warren Buffet being a great example of that) but it does mean that you should think twice before betting your retirement savings on it. For every Warren Buffet, there are thousands of people that tried and failed.
But I do have some good news for you. There are some funds (low cost index funds and ETFs) that were built with all this in mind. These funds will always be average. They will match the index of whatever they are meant to track. No more and no less. While some actively managed funds spend millions on managers to try to do better than the S&P 500, these funds don’t worry about it. They then push the millions of dollars that they don’t spend on fancy managers back to you in exceptionally low fees.
And over a career and/or a retirement, these small differences can make a huge difference in your retirement savings and in your peace of mind.
Now this article is not meant to tell you exactly what investment strategy you should use. I don’t know your situation so I can’t give you personal advice. But I hope this article reminds all of us that more complicated is not always better.
Being average is not as exciting as investing in the hottest new stock or fund but it has shown to work consistently over the long run. And for my fellow overachievers out there, that means (at least with investing) the best way to be above average is often by being okay with just average. And over time, these consistent “average” results grow to be incredible retirements.