It's no secret that for many Americans, there's a mad scramble to make up lost ground in saving for retirement. With New Year's just around the corner, we asked three Motley Fool analysts for resolutions that everyday investors could make to improve their long-term gains.
What we got back runs the gamut -- from buying what you know, to trying not to sell a stock over the next 12 months. To get the details, read below. And remember -- for these resolutions to truly help you invest better, you can't ditch them by mid-February!
Tim Beyers (Concentrate to reduce intellectual risk.)
Rather than focus on goals, I prefer to concentrate on habits and daily practices. Why? Because they're accretive: Good habits allow for the accomplishment of big goals. In investing, none are bigger than saving for a seven-figure retirement.
Most of us already know what it takes to get to that point. Diligent saving coupled with regular, low-commission investments in common stocks. But which stocks, and how many, should you buy?
My advice is to go with what you know. And that's not just because that's what legendary investor Peter Lynch tells us to do. Investing in what you know (or could easily learn) is the surest way to limit intellectual risk -- the risk that you've bought something you can't properly evaluate.
"Experts" won't like that advice. They'll say you should have a portfolio of 30 or even more stocks, and that you needn't worry about the throwaway biotech you snapped up last year. Who cares that you know nothing about the clinical trial process? You need a few home run swings in your portfolio!
This year, resolve to prune your portfolio to a manageable list of companies you like, understand, and would be happy to check in with quarterly. No more than 15 should do the trick.
What if you don't have 15 stocks? Don't worry about it. Nor should you get lathered up over being too concentrated in a single industry or a certain size of stock. After all, I can tell you from my own experience that concentrating a portion of your assets on a great idea can pay off big. I've also seen how introducing ignorance for the sake of diversification can crush returns. Don't let it crush your portfolio, too.
Brian Stoffel (Don't sell in 2015.)
My resolution for the year is that investors -- especially those who have more than a decade before retiring -- try not to sell a single share of stocks they own next year. Of course, this is somewhat contradictory to the advice Tim gave above -- as this might stop you from narrowing down your holdings -- but it's all in the same spirit: being a more intentional, clear-headed investor.
When I started investing, I always wrote down -- in the simplest way possible -- exactly why I was buying shares of a company, and what it would take to get me to sell shares. I thought that the latter part would stop me from "panic-selling." In practice, however, that simply wasn't the case.
Emotions can get us to do crazy things -- and that's especially true for those that are saying to themselves: "Sure, but that's not me." As a Fidelity Investments study once showed, the clients who did the best over the long run were those who forgot they had a Fidelity account in the first place.
As fellow Fool Morgan Housel put it: "Blissful ignorance is one of the most powerful weapons in investing." That's because when you know you won't be selling anyway, you don't get caught up trying to divine how today's news will affect tomorrow's stock price -- on a day-to-day basis.
Of course, if you need money for living expenses in 2015, this resolution might not be as applicable. But for the average investor with some time before retirement, trying to follow through on this could yield insightful, surprising, and financially helpful lessons for the future.
Joe Tenebruso (Only invest money you won't need for at least 5 years.)
Many investors fret about market volatility and speak of it as if it's synonymous with risk. However, I believe volatility and risk are two very different things. I like to define investment risk as the potential for permanent loss of capital. Therefore, for me and other long-term investors, market volatility is much more of an opportunity than a risk, as it often allows us to purchase partial ownership positions in great businesses at discounted prices. And investing in superior businesses at lower prices is a formula for less risk, not more.
However -- and here's a key point -- if you're investing money in the stock market that you may need to withdraw in the next few years, then you should be worried about a short-term pullback in the market. What may be only a minor blip for long-term investors could result in a permanent loss for those who can't stay invested long enough to see their stocks recover.
That's why one of the best resolutions a Fool can make in 2015 is to only invest money in stocks that you won't need for at least five years. A time frame of that length will lessen the chance that you'll be forced to sell at the bottom of a market downturn, and it will make it much easier for you to not only ride out short-term market volatility, but also use it to your advantage.