What do wealthy people regret? A recent Wells Fargo survey offers a slightly surprising answer: Many wish they'd made better investment decisions in their lives. In other words, they regret that they're not even more wealthy due to past blunders.
It's easy to make a joke of that, but really, most of us probably have a lot of financial deeds and misdeeds we have slapped our foreheads over.
The biggest regret
The Wells Fargo survey questioned nearly 2,000 "affluent" investors between the ages of 30 and 75, with $250,000 or more in investable assets, excluding retirement and property assets. If $250,000 doesn't seem like a lot to you, or at least not enough to qualify someone as affluent, consider that, according to the 2015 Retirement Confidence Survey, a whopping 53% of American workers who were asked how much they have saved for retirement and answered, have less than $25,000 saved (excluding the value of their homes) and 35% have less than $1,000 saved. So having $250,000 outside of retirement accounts is not an ordinary achievement.
Among those surveyed, the most common regret (cited by 37%) during the past decade was not "having made better investments." "Not saving more and spending less" was cited by 29%, while 15% had the opposing view, regretting not having enjoyed their money more.
Take a moment to consider what your greatest regrets are right now, and what you suspect they might be later in life. Some, such as not having bought that great house that was on sale, or not having seen Pete Seeger or Patti Page in concert before they passed away, you can do little about. But lamenting the investment moves you made is a pretty bad regret -- and fortunately, one you can avoid, or at least minimize.
Financial moves to make
What can you do now so that you're not kicking yourself in a decade? One great move is taking some time to come up with a retirement plan. The 2015 Retirement Confidence Survey also revealed that only 48% of Americans surveyed (or their spouses) have taken the time to estimate how much money they need to sock away for retirement. If you don't know how much you will need, you stand a big chance of not saving enough.
The Wells Fargo survey found that a solid 74% of non-retired affluent investors felt on track to meet their retirement goals -- but that's still far from 100%. Don't be one of those people with no goals, or someone with goals you're not likely to meet. Determine how much you will need in retirement, and how you'll accumulate that much.
Once you're saving and investing for retirement, avoid common mistakes, such as:
- Avoiding the stock market because it's volatile, when patience can make it moot. Hang on to strong performers for years or decades, and short-term volatility won't matter.
- Buying penny stocks (those trading for less than about $5 per share), which are notoriously risky.
- Buying high-flying stocks with little regard for whether they're undervalued or overvalued.
- Impatiently selling stocks that haven't performed well in short order.
- Hanging on to losers, and hoping to make your money back, even though they inspire little confidence now.
- Trading frequently, which generates commission costs and results in more short-term capital gains which are subject to higher tax rates than long-term capital gains.
- Letting stock in your employer make up too much of your portfolio. That's risky because you already depend on your employer for your current income; this makes you even more dependent on it.
- Paying too-high fees, whether for mutual funds you buy, 401(k) plans you participate in, annuities you purchase, or even the trading commissions you pay.
- Thinking that index investing is too boring and won't grow your money quickly, when inexpensive, broad-market index funds generally outperform most managed mutual funds. These ETFs fit the bill: the SPDR S&P 500 ETF, Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF, and Vanguard Total World Stock ETF.
- Thinking that dividend-paying stocks won't be fast growers, when many such companies still grow at a good clip -- while paying you a quarterly reward that's generally increased over time.
What to do
The most important thing to remember is not to despair, because no matter your age, all is not lost. You can probably still improve your financial condition. Read up and consider a wide range of options. You can save aggressively, and invest effectively in the stock market, and also have a smart Social Security strategy, and perhaps plans to buy an annuity down the road. Strategies such as delaying retirement by a year or three can also be effective, if you can pull it off. Don't rule out consulting a fee-only financial planner, either.
Longtime Fool specialist Selena Maranjian, whom you can follow on Twitter, has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.