Q&A: How to find the right balance when investing

Dear Liz: My brokerage wanted me to start moving from stocks that paid me steady dividends into bonds as I got older. If I’d followed that advice, I wouldn’t be nearly where I am today. I sleep just fine with my dividends. Things can change, of course, but until I see solid evidence otherwise, I am sticking with my plan. I have no idea why the brokerage is still pushing the “more bonds with advancing age” idea.

Answer: Presumably you were invested during the financial crisis and saw the value of your stocks cut in half. If you can withstand that level of decline, then your risk tolerance is a good match for a portfolio that’s heavily invested in stocks.

The problem once you retire is that another big drop could have you siphoning money for living expenses from a shrinking pool. The money you spend won’t be in the market to benefit from the rebound. This is what financial planners call sequence risk or sequence-of-return risk, and it can dramatically increase the odds of running out of money.

Perhaps you plan to live solely off your dividends, but there’s no guarantee your buying power will keep up with inflation. Most people, unless they’re quite wealthy, wind up having to tap their principal at some point, which leaves them vulnerable to sequence risk.

There’s another risk you should know about: recency bias. That’s an illogical behavior common to humans that makes us think what happened in the recent past will continue to happen in the future, even when there’s no evidence that’s true and plenty of evidence to the contrary. During the real estate boom, for example, home buyers and pundits insisted that prices could only go up. We saw how that turned out.

Bonds and cash can provide some cushion against events we can’t foresee. The right allocation varies by investor, but consider discussing your situation with a fee-only financial planner to see how it aligns with your brokerage’s advice.

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