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Why Inactivity Can Be Your Best Friend

When most of us think about the word inactive, we may think negatively – such as lounging around on the couch, being lazy, or apathetic to a given situation. Most of us feel the need to be active to promote a healthy lifestyle through exercise, perform optimally at our job, or being involved with our family. In many cases, this is valid.

There is one area where inactivity can be beneficial.

When it comes to investing, doing less can help us achieve the expected return we need on our portfolios, while keeping expenses as low as possible.

For many of us, this seems counterintuitive. Many of us can’t help but to do something, anything. Some of us may feel that if we are in control of our investments, we can impact their performance.

But the truth is for most us, we are not in control. We cannot control the markets. We cannot control the fluctuations. Being active in our portfolios to control volatility and returns is a frivolous endeavor.

What do I mean by active? Here are a few examples. Selling out of a stock or fund when it is underperforming, without any other basis for consideration. Just because an asset is underperforming doesn’t mean it should be sold. In fact, we should expect assets in our portfolios to underperform – to lose money from time to time. This means we are diversified.

Another example is buying an asset based on recent performance. Based on its recent good performance, we may feel it’s bound to keep going up. We may also feel the need to buy and sell based off news reports, market prognosticators, or tips from family and friends. This can lead to the temptation of day trading – a recipe for disaster.

To paraphrase the great Warren Buffett, much can be attributed to inactivity, but investors cannot resist the urge to do something.

What do we mean by inactivity? Inactivity means once we have our asset allocation determined, and have the appropriate diversification among the asset classes, we need to sit back and let our investments do their work. This keeps expenses low, transaction costs to a bare minimum, and more importantly, allows us to focus on things we can control – such as other areas in our wealth management planning.

I jokingly call this a “Rip Van Winkle” portfolio. Set it up, fall asleep for many years, then wake up and look at how much money you have. We’ll have save money, time, and energy by not trying to control what we can’t. And over time, we’ll find that we’ve done way better in our investments than those who are busy (and stressing) for the sake of being active.

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