In at least one way, investments can be compared to a newborn baby: both need someone to take charge if they are to thrive. Fortunately, taking charge of your investments can be much less of a challenge than taking charge of a newborn baby. Here are seven steps you can take now to help keep your investments healthy:
Remember: Knowledge is Power
Nowhere is that old axiom truer than it is in the world of financial management. In order to gain control over your investments it’s essential to know where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you’re heading.
One easy way to do that is to periodically create a spreadsheet with the current value of all of your manageable assets such as bank and brokerage statements, cash on hand, etc. You don’t need fancy software or even a computer to do this; a pencil and paper will work fine. This is not a net-worth statement including all assets and liabilities, only the current value of your manageable assets.
By creating this report at least quarterly, you will have a clear roadmap showing where you’ve been in the challenge of controlling your investments, where you are now, and where you’re heading.
Stop Worrying About Today
In this age of information glut, instant answers, and market volatility, it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in what the market is doing today, right now. Too often we get caught up in the incessant flow of “news” about investing and forget that true investing success comes from building a solid financial foundation, having a plan, and sticking to it.
Instead of falling into the information glut trap, follow investment guru Peter Lynch’s advice: “Know what you own and why you own it.” Build your investment portfolio around well diversified investments and track their performance so that you will know when and if it’s time to make adjustments.
Focus on What You Can Control
When it comes to managing personal finances, it’s easy to get distracted by things over which we have no control whatever. How will the Chinese economy affect ours? Are we headed for a recession? Will the Eurodollar survive? Where is our economy headed?
No one knows the answers to those kinds of questions, so it’s foolish to spend valuable time trying to peer into a crystal ball. Instead, concentrate on the things over which you have at least some control: Is my portfolio properly diversified? Do I have an investment plan and am I following it? Am I saving enough?
Obviously, with all of the “noise” generated in the financial world, it can be difficult to remain properly focused, but your efforts to do so may well be one of your best investments.
Set Specific Investment Goals
Your investment goals must be specific if there is to be any chance of accomplishing them. A general goal such as “improve performance” is almost a certain road to failure.
Specific goals include concrete and measurable criteria. For example, a goal to “rebalance my 401(k)” should specify the specific target such as increasing the bond ratio from 10 percent to 15 percent.
A goal should also be timely. By setting a specific time for accomplishment such as year-end 2015, you generate a sense of urgency that helps to keep the goal on the “front burner.”
Finally, your goals must be realistic and attainable. While you should avoid any goal that is too high to be realistic, you must set goals high enough to make the effort worthwhile. If a goal is too ambitious to be feasible, it’s time to reconsider.
Keep Your Goals Measureable
As the old saying goes, “You can’t manage it if you can’t measure it.” When you’re able to measure your progress in tangible criteria, you’ll know if you’re on track to meet your target dates. By knowing where you stand at any point, you’ll know what needs to be done, if anything, to keep you on track.
To know whether the goal you’ve set for your investments is measurable, ask such questions as: How much? How many? How long?
Prioritize Your Goals
Once you have set specific and reasonable goals, rank each one in terms of importance and urgency. Setting goals and then ignoring them would be a total waste of your time.
Keep in mind that your goals may have to be adjusted at any time. The investment world is in a constant state of flux and some of those changes may call for another look at your personal targets. But don’t make the mistake of letting this possibility stop you from setting goals. In taking control of your investments, you need to start somewhere in order to know where you’re heading.
Don’t Let Your Emotions Get in the Way
All investments involve some risk, and many of us are vulnerable to allowing our fears to overrule common sense when it comes to money.
Market downturns, even recessions, are relatively common in our society and are a normal part of a free economy. “Fluctuations in the market are a natural part of our economic cycle,” says Stacy Francis, Certified Financial Planner and founder of Francis Financial, New York, NY. “When the market is in a downturn it may seem logical to cash out and go home, but before you do that you may want to think about your long-term goals for that money.”
Taking control of your investments calls for establishing carefully thought-out, specific steps and sticking to them. The above suggestions and others that you may add will help to put you in charge of your financial life.
Information in this article is provided for educational and reference purposes only. It is not intended to provide specific advice or individual recommendations. Consult an accountant or tax advisor for advice regarding your particular situation.
William J. Lynott is a veteran freelance writer who specializes in business management as well as personal and business finance. His work appears regularly in leading trade publications and newspapers as well as consumer magazines including Reader’s Digest, AARP Bulletin, and Family Circle.