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3 Money Mistakes -- And What We've Learned From Them

By Matthew Frankel, CFP® - Jan 23, 2021 at 5:36AM

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Every investor makes mistakes. The important thing is learning from them.

Everybody makes financial mistakes in their lives. One of the smartest things to do is to not forget about your mistakes, but to acknowledge them, learn valuable lessons, and move forward constructively.

Even finance and investing experts don't always get things right. In this Jan. 7 Fool Live video clip, Fool.com contributors Matt Frankel, CFP, and Jason Hall, along with Michelle Brownstein, VP of Personal Capital's private client group, discuss some of the biggest financial mistakes they've made in their lives and what they learned from them. 

Matt Frankel: I like talking about my bad investments pretty often on the show. I've often brought up when I bought Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) right after its IPO and sold it as soon as they doubled out there for my wedding. With what I'd lost, I could have bought five Model S's by now. That's one of the things I've learned. We consider humility to be a very great trade for investors and just in general, financial-wise. What's a money mistake that you've made and what did you learn from it and what could other people weren't from it so they don't make the same mistake?

Michelle Brownstein: A money mistake that I have made, a number of years ago I decided that it would be a lot of fun to play with a little bit of leverage. I was young, I said I have a long [LAUGHTER] investment time horizon. Didn't do anything too crazy, but decided that it would be fun to leverage up a portfolio in 2009, which was on the terrible time to have leverage because I did it after-. Maybe this is the wrong way to think about it, but when I was at that point advising clients directly, and many of my clients were panicking and wanting to hit sell on everything because they were very nervous. I was at a different firm. This was pre-Personal Capital. Part of me said, "Okay. If everyone's this nervous, the bounce has to come soon." I bought a couple of leverage ETFs, did OK on the upswing. But the amount of volatility was just highly inappropriate for what I was trying to do. It's actually one of the reasons why I currently, even though I work at Personal Capital, I sit on our investment committee, I help drive these decisions, I have Personal Capital and our trading team manage my assets, so I keep my hands off of them because I know that my tendency is to get a little too greedy. When I think something is going to go well, love to play with the leverage and I know better because I would not advise a client to do that. So I know personally, I need to have my hands off when it comes to my own investments, which may be counter intuitive because I do it day-to-day for a living. But my emotional reaction to things is get greedy, add leverage, and I have seen that go very badly so I try not to do that on a regular basis.

Jason Hall: The Greek maxim "know thyself", I think is so [LAUGHTER] valuable when it comes to investing. Since we've opened up this can of worms, Matt, I want to hear your biggest bone headed investing mistake that's not that Tesla. I want to hear something you lost money on. Not something you made money on.

Frankel: What, that's not good enough? I left like $500,000 on the table there. [LAUGHTER] I think the worst money mistake I ever made was destroying my credit in college, including that Tesla thing. I'm glad I made that mistake cause it's really what set me on the path to becoming a certified financial planner. Sometimes you have to do something wrong to know that you want to learn how to do it right. I guess that would be mine. So I set myself on a path to really learn how credit worked and built up my score, and not only that, but then I really got interested in finance altogether. That's what led me toward investing. It just really set me on the path to want an overall great financial life. I'd say that's it. I have made some silly investment decisions over the years, but that's the one mistake I've made that was probably the worst mistake of my life, but probably the best at the same time.

Hall: Funny how that happens. I want to share one quickly. This was back in, I think, '03, maybe '04. I had just changed jobs, and I was in my 20s, I was poor. A buddy called me and said, "Hey, let's go play golf." I didn't really have the money to play golf, but I had a credit card. I went and played golf and put it on the credit card. A week later, I'm like, "I'm not going to be able to pay off this credit card." I still had a few weeks before the bill was going to come in. I cashed out a 401k [LAUGHTER] and took the tax penalty and the taxes. I remember it. In '04 the market was still way down from where it was four years before. I cashed out this money to pay for golf that I couldn't afford to play with somebody who I don't even remember who it was now. I still cringe about that whenever I go to a golf course. Maybe this is why I don't really like playing golf because I think about that [LAUGHTER] experience.

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