Can you believe it? I actually have money that’s not in the market. It must be invested, right? Nah. There’s a time to move and a time to sit; and with money it is possible to do both. Personal finance and investing do not have to be exercises in extremes. Choosing to do nothing is an option; but it is also important to remember that choosing to do nothing is a choice, and choices have consequences.
My seven-day-a-week work schedule is not due to some workaholic binge. My portfolio has yet to recover (though it has more basis behind its optimisms now); so, I continue to work every day that I can, even when I have the flu. One convenient benefit of working from home is that going to the “office” doesn’t create opportunities to spread my germs (actually a virus). Work until I have to nap and repeat. Such is the life of the self-employed. Every sick day is unpaid. In the home office, no one else can hear you sneeze. Seven days a week is partly based on my Rule of 7, but these last few months have also been a time to catch up on bills, and to save up for taxes and the possibility of a mortgage modification.
Serious maximizers would find the highest returns for that money in the meantime. Given enough effort, and sufficient luck, and it would be possible to make as much as an extra percent over these months. Bigger is better, right? Nah.
I take it as an interesting sign that several people have approached me with a similar question in the last few weeks; “What should I do with this money that I have sitting around?” The question remains the same even though the situations are widely divergent. 1) I like to hear intelligent people asking intelligent questions. 2) If the same topic is arising amongst such disparate situations, then something systemic may be happening. and 3) I’m honored to be asked, and then I drop into the caveat that I am not a certified financial expert – but, oy, do I have stories to tell and I’m willing to help others work through theirs.
One quick answer. The only person I’d be worried about would be someone who had everything in cash and nothing invested. It happens, and even then, movement for the sake of movement isn’t good. Inheritances and windfalls happen, and taking time to consider options is a good investment.
Another quick answer. Having everything invested is like trying to swim, fly, and run at the same time. It looks impressive, but it may not be a very successful strategy. (I’d love to see the video.)
Most people live between those extremes. The bulk of their money is already locked into retirement accounts or long term assets. It is easy to forget the numerical importance of such large, quiet investments. The questions usually come from someone who’s had cash come their way from a house sale, a retirement buyout, or long-awaited insurance claim check. That cash may be small relative to the investments, but it can look enormous beside the checking account used to pay the monthly bills.
Conventional wisdom changes slowly, and most of what is repeated in 2014 is based on 1980. Interest rates were high. Inflation was high. Cash lost value every day. It still does, but at about one-tenth the speed; so, it’s okay to dial back to the urgency by a factor of ten.
Urgency is still understandable. Every day there’s yet another stock that went up 30%. Of course, it would be great to have caught that. But wait, and there’s another one on the next trading day. Market timing, business news, global disasters, and the whim of the market mean trying to outguess the specific stocks on specific days is trying to outguess a chaotic system. Your chances are about the same as luck.
Money sitting still is powerful and useful. If you have anxieties about what to do next in your life, judicious application of some of that money can be more valuable as financial grease that eases a worrying friction. A few percent of that money directed at finding some quiet time to contemplate options can enable far more valuable life choices than its effect on your portfolio. Investing in yourself by taking classes or buying better tools takes that one step further.
One friend had a large enough windfall that she was visibly stressed with the self-imposed responsibility to properly steward the money. I asked her how long she was going to give herself to make a decision. She figured a few days or weeks. I pointed out that, because she was very frugal, less than one-tenth of that money was sufficient for her to take a year off. She laughed, and then realized I was serious. Yes, laugh. Life gives us that opportunity.
And then consider. If she tried to rush the decision she was as likely to choose poorly as she was to choose well. The choice would be made out of obligation, not interest. If, however, she gave herself time to relax and consider her life goals, then she’d have more time to get creative with her solutions. After the creativity starts to flow, it probably wouldn’t take twelve months, maybe not even twelve weeks, or days. As it turned out, she had the revelation as we sat there. Just the idea of being able to have fun with the idea meant we came up with at least three non-conventional solutions that all brought open smiles instead of furrowed frowns. She never had to spend that tenth, yet, just considering the possibility was valuable.
Personal investing is personal. Many try to approach it as if it was only investing, which it is if you take the person out of it; but then it becomes money chasing money, and I think we’ve seen enough evidence that is unappealing. Approach personal investing as if it was personal, without the investing; which then becomes about living, which is what every life is about. The trick, of course, is to bring both together again.
If your money is sitting still, but you’re actively trying to decide how best to live; good. If you’re making your life sit still while you figure out what your money should be doing, then maybe your money will out there having a life of its own while you’re still sitting there worrying.
Figure out where you want to be and go, and then figure out where to put that extra bit of your money to help you get there. Live.