Recently, a financial adviser shared a story about a prospective client. The client had a problem. He didn’t like how heavily his portfolio was invested in the stock market. The risk just felt as if it was too much.

When the new adviser asked why it was invested that way, the client replied, “It’s the way my current adviser said the money needed to be invested.”

After spending considerable time to make a thorough diagnosis, the adviser suggested his client invest much more conservatively. It turns out that this particular individual had way more money than he would ever need. It could have been in cash, earning close to nothing, and he’d still meet his goals.

When he suggested the change, the client said, “You can do that?” It was the first time someone took the time to link his actual goals (low-risk investments and maintaining a steady income stream from them) to how his money was invested.

Seems simple, right? It’s so simple that this story would be funny if it weren’t true, and if this sort of thing didn’t go on all too frequently I know this because I’ve conducted a little survey for more than a decade now.

I ask one simple question: “Why is your money invested the way it is?”

There is only one correct answer, which I’ll share in a bit, but in 10 years, I’ve never had anyone give it to me the first time.

Instead, I’ll hear something like, “Well, I bought that because I heard the talking head on CNBC yell that I should buy it.”

Or my neighbor said it was a good investment.

Or my boss owns it.

Or it’s how Yale invests.

Or I read it in Forbes, Fortune or Barron’s.

Or I answered 17 questions online about investing and then did what the robot told me to do.

These answers are all wrong.

The only correct answer is, and always will be, that you invest your money to give yourself the highest likelihood of reaching your goals. There can be no other answer — how can there be? It’s your money, and unless you have other things in mind, it’s there to help you reach your goals.

So take my little survey. Ask yourself why your money is invested the way it is.

If you don’t know, or have any answer other than the correct one, don’t worry, you’re not alone. But now that you know, it’s time to get to work fixing it.


Carl Richards, a certified financial planner, is the author of “The Behavior Gap” and “The One-Page Financial Plan.” He writes Sketch Guy for the New York Times.