Know What You Can Emotionally and Financially Afford to Lose

January 15th, 2015

So often, investors react impulsively to bad news and a volatile market selling shares of perfectly good stocks or changing their asset allocations in anticipation of a significant downturn in the market. Had they held on, history reinforces staying the course if the allocation makes rational and financial sense and the stocks deemed to be good stocks over the longer term.

But many investors, react with their emotional money minds rather than their rational ones.

Why is it that some investors make rational decisions, stick with their choices and strategies while others act out their emotions and make bad investment decisions?

The field of Behavioral Finance has given insight into the mental miscues investors make that sabotage and crimp their returns. One of those miscues or mental mistakes is the fear of losing money.

This is how it works: Psychologically, people give greater weight to a past loss than they do to a future gain. In fact, some investors find losing money so distasteful that they psych themselves out of investing altogether.

Investors don’t make reasonable tradeoffs. The drive to avoid loss really sabotages any future gains or opportunities. Rather, investors rationalize their feelings and walk away from being an involved and active investor in the market. Some work it out and choose a strategy of a more passive approach investing in index funds and stay the course.

From where I sit as a psychologist specializing in money management and investing, I tend to experience investors or would-be investors who are frozen by indecision and the fear of losing their money.

Solution: Determine ahead of time exactly how much you can “emotionally” afford to lose as well as “financially”. They are often very different.

If you feel that a financial loss will be a significant emotional and financial loss, then choose the more conservatively balanced approach of investing. If you feel you can handle the emotional and financial upset of a loss, estimate just how much of a loss that should be for you to continue to feel and be secure.

The point is that investing is by nature an emotional as well as financial business. Your heart and wallet go hand in hand.

With spending some time upfront reflecting and gauging your comfort level, you will be better equipped over the long-term for whatever happens in the market.

©2015 Kathleen Gurney, Ph.D.

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