We are in the throes of a worldwide pandemic. The number of cases of infection and deaths from the coronavirus continues to climb. Millions of Americans have filed for unemployment, as businesses have closed their doors and people have been told to stay in their homes to slow the spread. Trading on the stock market has registered new lows. By most accounts the U.S. has slipped into a recession.
Why worry? Why be anxious? We have plenty of reasons to be worried.
But, we must not panic. We must not let emotions control financial futures.
I am a financial planner. But I am not here to tell you how to invest your money to best shelter it from this chaos. I am here to share some advice that may keep you from making big financial mistakes when you can least afford them.
Start by turning down the noise. Listening 24/7 to every bit of news about the coronavirus epidemic will only make you more anxious and less capable of making sound decisions. So will constantly checking financial news, including how your individual investments are performing and how the stock market is reacting to the news of the day.
There actually is a term used to explain what we are experiencing. Called “amygdala hijack,” it was coined by Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.” It refers to a personal, emotional response that is immediate, overwhelming and out of measure with the actual stimulus because it has triggered a much more significant emotional threat.
Too much alarmist media or constantly checking stock prices can be the triggers, Goleman noted. Today, investors are constantly seeing terrifying headlines, which cause them to be fearful. That anxiety can influence decision-making regarding investments.
Recognizing that in these times your brain and emotions may not be your friends is the first step in avoiding investments decisions that you later will regret.
Don’t act in haste. Consult with your financial adviser to methodically and realistically evaluate your individual situation and determine if steps should be taken to rebalance your portfolio.
That evaluation should consider the following:
- Risk tolerance – Likely early in your relationship with your financial adviser, you were asked a series of questions regarding the level of investment “risk” you are willing to take. As an example, a younger investor, who is at his earning peak, can tolerate more “risk,” since he has years to recover from economic setbacks, than an older investor who has fewer years to recover.
- Write down your investment goals – What do you hope to accomplish and when?
- Identify biases – Those include herding impulses that encourage us to follow the crowd; action biases that make us want to take any action right away; or overconfidence that makes us believe we can weather any storm. We also might have a bias that makes us feel much worse about a loss than a gain.
- Create barriers – Reading a terrorizing financial headline and immediately reacting is a recipe for making a bad decision. Create barriers that will allow you time to absorb the news, research your options and consult with your financial planner. These barriers may include checking the news only once a day, and checking your portfolio performance once a week, quarter or even twice a year.
I saw an advertisement for a smartphone app that would allow an investor to check stock values any minute of any day. That’s a bad idea. That’s a recipe for anxiety.
A 2016 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research and an earlier one by recognized economists Richard Thaler and Shlomo Bernartzi found investors who checked their portfolios frequently realized lower returns on their investments than those who check infrequently.
- Focus on what you can control – You can’t control oil or stock prices. You can’t control the spread of the coronavirus. But you can control your debts. You can contact creditors and seek delays or adjustments, if necessary. You can seek out government programs, such as the recently expanded federal assistance for small businesses and expanded unemployment benefits.
Steven Van Metre is a Bakersfield certified financial planner who specializes in retirement income strategies and teaches a course in retirement planning online. He can be contacted through his website at www.stevenvanmetre.com