"To be a successful decision maker, we have to edit."
-- Malcolm Gladwell, Blink
Every day I make at least a dozen choices before I even get to the office. Cereal or bagel? Brown sneakers or black boots? Grande mocha or tall vanilla latte? By the end of the day, I've navigated through an endless minefield of decisions, and the number of options just keeps growing. Did you know there are more than 20 different kinds of Coke around the world alone?
In a jam
What's your favorite kind of jam? Easy question, right? Not according to a study Malcolm Gladwell discusses in his fascinating book, Blink. In the experiment, researchers set up a booth in a California grocery store. Sometimes there were six flavors of jam for sale, sometimes 24. One might think that more choices would equal higher sales since buyers would be more likely to find their favorites among the offerings. In fact, the opposite was true. With just six options, 36% of the customers who stopped by the booth made a purchase. When they had 24 choices, only 3% of the shoppers bought.
Why? Well, according to Gladwell, too many choices often leave us paralyzed. Overloaded with information, we're more likely to become uncertain and make a bad decision -- or no decision at all.
Paper or plastic?
I can't be the only one who hesitates when asked that question. So how do you think I feel when faced with the universe of 7,000-plus mutual funds? That's why I'm glad to have fund expert Shannon Zimmerman in my corner. In addition to being an all-around nice guy, he's one of the smartest, hardest-working people I know. (Fun Fool fact: I was once a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and Shannon was one of the people I chose to be my "Phone a Friend" lifeline.)
The most important thing I've learned from Shannon is when searching for good funds, don't overcomplicate things. Look for a few key qualities: low expense ratio (the average expense ratio is currently 1.42%, but make sure you compare a fund to its peer group), manager tenure (Shannon generally requires a track record of five years or more), and low turnover (overall, Champs have less than half the turnover rate of the average fund). Take, for example, one small-cap growth fund, which is well ahead of the market (by 33%, to be exact) on the back of outstanding returns from companies such as Omnicare
A model strategy
For those of you who, like me, need things simplified even more, Shannon has gone a step further and organized three model portfolios: aggressive, moderate, and conservative. Find the one that best lines up with your needs, and you've just shortened the list of selections. With at least 30 years before I retire, the aggressive portfolio is the perfect choice for me. It's built on a foundation of large-cap growth -- so it is invested in the likes of Home Depot
If you'd like to take advantage of Shannon's expertise to make your investing life a little easier, he's offering a free trial of Motley Fool Champion Funds for 30 days. You'll get access to all of his recommendations, the archive of past issues, and, of course, the three model portfolios. After all, choices can be good -- where would we be without Black Cherry Vanilla Coke? Just don't let yourself get bogged down by them. Keep it simple.
Newsletter editor Robyn Gearey keeps life simple by drinking classic Coke and opting for buttered toast. She does not own shares of any company mentioned. Home Depot and Coca-Cola are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Coventry Health Care is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. The Fool has a disclosure policy.