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Commentary: Four (tempting) behaviors to avoid when saving for retirement

By Kalyn Maher Walker

To err is human, but you can sidestep some of the most common mistakes people make in saving for retirement by avoiding these four oh-so-tempting behaviors.

Kalyn Maher Walker

Retirement savings mistake #1: Procrastinating

Even though you know you will get older and eventually retire, a little part of you still believes you might not. Nobel Prize-winning economist Richard Thaler, the founding father of behavioral economics, has spent much of his career exploring why so many Americans have difficulty saving for retirement. One thing he found is that people would rather enjoy what their money can do for them today rather than in the future.1

Retirement savings mistake #2: Being too loss-averse

We don’t like to lose money, so the notion of less money in our paycheck today to serve our needs in the future is a tough pill to swallow. The problem with loss aversion is that we keep delaying that uncomfortable feeling of a smaller paycheck.

If you delay too much, you lose out on the compounding effect. For example, if you decide to save $5,000 a year beginning at the age of 35, by the time you’re 65—assuming a 4.5% rate of return—you’ll have 43% less savings than if you had started saving at age 25. That adds up to $240,000.1

Retirement savings mistake #3: Not practicing discipline

When deciding how to invest, too often investors try to time the market rather than follow a disciplined investment approach. Trying to get in the market “at the right time” sounds smart, but in reality, it often leads to inaction, because that right moment never seems to come. The idea of timing the market only reinforces the first two mistakes (procrastination and being too loss averse).

Here’s an example of a disciplined savings strategy: You could start by putting $5,000 away, and then add 5% each year. It might sound boring, but in the end, it will add up to much more than a “timed” strategy that never quite launches.

Retirement savings mistake #4: Tinkering with your portfolio too much

Do you want to take a more active role in your investments? That’s good, except if you have a tendency to overmanage. This often happens with retirees, who find themselves with more free time than ever before and take a keen interest in chasing performance.

In the research paper, “Trading is hazardous to your wealth,” authors Brad Barber and Terrance Odean found that, on average, households turned over 75% of their equity portfolios annually and underperformed by 1.5% each year.2

The biggest cause of this is mistiming when to buy and sell a particular fund. People are often driven by the desire to own more of that “hot” stock in rising markets when others are buying, or by “fear” in falling markets when others are selling.

In a diversified portfolio, you’ll always be tempted to adjust the portfolio exposure in favor of the best-performing asset classes. The problem is, acting on that temptation may be costing you.

So what’s the trick to saving for retirement? Actually, there is none. Start saving for retirement today, and stick with it. No gimmicks, no magic timing and no schemes that will “pay off big.” Just old-fashioned discipline.

Kalyn Maher Walker is Senior Vice President, Wealth Management at UBS Financial Services in San Diego. She was recently named to the Forbes 2020 Top Women Wealth Advisors List and has also been recognized as a Barron’s Top 1000 advisor team and and REP. Magazine’s “Top 40 Wirehouse Advisors Under 40”. She holds Series 7 & 66 FINRA securities licenses as well as the State of California Insurance license. She resides, with her family, in Encinitas and can be reached at [email protected]

1Modern Retirement Monthly, “Three common mistakes in retirement planning,” November 7, 2017

2The Journal of Finance, ”Trading is Hazardous to Your Wealth: The Common Stock Investment Performance of Individual Investors,” April 2000.

1 comment

Maynard Walker August 4, 2020 at 5:58 pm

Best darn finance adviser you could have I may be biased because she is my daughter in law.

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