An errant swing caused my golf ball to smash into a beehive causing hundreds of bees to swarm only 75 yards away from me. I left my golf ball, took a penalty, and continued along the course.
During times of turmoil, we want to avoid being stung by market volatility. Staying the course is stupid advice because it implies that you don't need to explore what changes may need to be made. A better approach is to evaluate what you should do if you are veering off course. Ask yourself: Will this matter a year from now. And if so, how?
A client buys a home before they sell their existing home. This makes them anxious. The easiest reaction, since they veered off course, would be to pull back on all extraneous expenses until they realign. That is too dramatic. It's likely that they will sell their other house during the next 12 months. So, while it feels terrible now, it really won't matter very much a year from now. Instead, they should go ahead with the things that they are planning for their new home, put some things on hold, and determine from where they can pull money to meet their negative cash flow until things are righted.
Most of us are opening our account statements and seeing that they have dropped in value. This will matter a year from now if you were using long-term investments for short-term financial obligations. If this is the case, you were already off course. Money that is going to be spent in the next two to three years should be saved, not invested. If you need the money, then you need to get back on course by selling investments and holding cash.
If you are still accumulating money, though, you should embrace this volatility. The best thing that can happen for people on a regular investing program is for the market to stay low when they are buying and rise when they are selling. In order to not veer off course, change the frame. Rather than looking at account values, instead focus on growth in the number of shares that you are buying. While the account value may still be down if markets stay low for a while, your total shares will keep growing. If you won't be needing the money for a few years, this will allow you to keep buying at cheaper prices, leading you back to your original plan objectives.
If I simply stayed the course when golfing, I would have been stung. If I veered too far off, I may have picked up tennis instead. But an easy adjustment enabled me to enjoy the round.
Ross Levin is the founding principal of Accredited Investors Inc. in Edina.