1. Failing to plan
I believe the most common mistake is not having any type of financial plan along with clear investment objectives. Research has shown that investors who plan for their financial future are more confident, relaxed and optimistic about the future. They tend to save more and have less financial anxiety.
Expert advice is essential to financial planning. Not discussing your investment needs with a professional can have a negative impact on your overall results. Financial advisers help you to identify your financial needs, analyse your level of risk, and recommend appropriate solutions. They are there for your financial journey, offering advice and guidance to smooth the path ahead.
2. Not understanding what your risk profile is
It is important to analyse and understand your tolerance for risk. As an investor, you will typically fall into one of the following categories:
Defensive / Conservative – you are very risk-averse, and not comfortable with watching markets fluctuate as they do. You do not want to risk your capital for a potential gain.
Balanced – you have some appetite for taking risk and appreciate how markets can fluctuate daily. You can tolerate moderate levels of volatility in order to get a better return but again you want security with your capital.
Aggressive – you are looking for high returns and you are not concerned about short-term volatility. You probably have a long time to invest, so any capital loss in the short term can be caught up in the future and you are fully aware that what happens one year shouldn’t affect your long-term goals.
Understanding your risk tolerance will help you choose investment goals that are appropriate for you. It will shape the investments you make in your portfolio as part of your financial plan.
3. Lack of understanding
It sounds obvious, but you should never invest in anything you don’t really understand. If it’s been explained and you still don’t “get it” then ask more questions and don’t move forward until you do. If you fail to understand it properly then you should look for an alternative. If you are going to invest in a specific stock, make sure you take time to learn about the company and do enough due diligence. If you’re looking at various types of funds, then make sure you understand the geographic and sector allocations within the funds. Make sure each choice is within your risk tolerance, this information is readily available to you.
4. Overlooking fees
Investors often focus on a fund’s performance, which is very important, but they overlook fees when considering how well their investment has done. It is important to be aware of and understand the fees on your investment. Fees are deducted from the performance figures to give you the net result. Some investment funds have entry and exit fees, performance fees, as well as standard management fees. Reducing these fees is a simple way to get more out of your investment.
You can measure the fees on a fund by referring to the fund’s Total Expense Ratio (TER), which is a measure of all the fees for that fund expressed as a percentage.
5. Getting diversification wrong
Diversification simply means not putting all your eggs in one basket. It is a simple way of creating a portfolio that includes different types of investments to reduce your overall risk. Investments don’t perform in the same way during certain economic conditions. When one investment doesn’t perform well, other investments may outperform to give you overall good returns.
A typical portfolio will contain a blend of equities, property, bonds and cash based on your investment risk profile:
Equities – Often provide the highest growth levels over the longer term
Property – Protects against inflation and gives an alternative to stock market returns
Bonds – Usually lower risk than equities, and therefore usually a lower return over the long term
Cash – Provides security and stability within a portfolio. It has the lowest long-term return potential, effectively zero.
6. Having unrealistic expectations of investment returns
The most important expectation for any returns should be aligned to your own financial plan, which is unique to you. The investment return you are looking for will differ greatly from that of other investors, as their requirements, risk profile and time horizon will be different.
You also must look at what is happening in the wider economy. The investment returns you can expect will be different depending on market conditions.
The most important measure of an investment return is whether your investment is keeping up with inflation. Regardless of the risk profile, your investment should keep pace with inflation to protect the “real” value of your money. This won’t necessarily happen every year but over a certain time horizon, the average figures should do.
7. Withdrawing your investment at the wrong time
Investors tend to withdraw monies from the market for two main reasons: they need money, or they are reacting to market movements. Making a withdrawal because you need access to money comes back to the initial financial planning that was conducted. With a well-defined plan in place you will have ensured there was enough money readily available, meaning you don’t need to exit your investments when it may not be the best moment to do so. Reacting to market movements, maybe due to anxiety about the market performance is a common investment mistake. Many investors sell when the market is at a low point. They are only realising those losses, making it more difficult to recoup them, as they might if they had stayed invested. When markets are down and your investment is stagnating, it is difficult to stand your ground; that’s human nature. It is important to remain focused on the bigger picture. Markets generally move in cycles and will recover, given time. Remaining in contact with your financial adviser will help you understand the markets and what to expect in times of volatility. At no point should your adviser be recommending any investments that don’t fit within your risk profile.
8. Not monitoring your portfolio appropriately
Many people make an investment and then go one of two ways. They either decide not to look at the performance figures or worse monitor it too regularly and feel the need to make short-term reactive changes. These changes are rarely beneficial; it is “time in the markets and not timing the markets” that counts.
Your investment profile changes over time, which means how you feel about your investments in your 20’s or 30’s will be very different to how you feel in your 40’s and 50’s. Whilst it’s important to review the performance of your investment, it is also essential to review your risk profile as time goes by.
9. Waiting too long to invest
The younger you are when you start investing, the better off you will be. Waiting too long means that you miss out on the significant benefits of compound interest. Essentially, starting younger allows you to look for more opportunity and benefit from market cycles, possibly take on more risk and it build up discipline to continue to save in the future. See my alternative articles on compound interest and starting early for greater detail.
10. Not recognising that time affects the value of money
The main principle of investing is to make a positive return in order to increase the purchasing power of your investments in the future. Many savers make the mistake of keeping their money in traditional bank accounts that pay them rates well below the rate of inflation. Typically a high street bank will be offering anywhere from zero to 1% maximum on a savings account. In reality you are losing money if it is kept in the bank! It is best to invest your money while also making sure that your investment keeps up with inflation.