Policy research is great for policy makers but may be poison for you.
I just finished reading an article in a professional journal that reported on extensive research about how people of different ages divide their investments between stocks and bonds. It went something like this.
Our research, based on zillions of responses to trillions of questions, has determined that investors at age forty have 60 percent of their funds in stocks and 40 percent in bonds. Investors at age seventy have 70 percent in bonds and 30 percent in stock. Further analysis, to a high degree of statistical significance, has determined these proportions are close to the proper allocation of resources for the average investor of these age groups.
Therefore, we have concluded that, based on our studies, investors should use the following formula to determine the percentage of stocks and bonds in their portfolios:
- The amount to be invested in stocks = (100 – the investor’s age)
- The amount to be invested in bonds = (100 – the amount invested in stock)
What a terrific solution to how you should invest your money. No muss, no fuss. All you need to know is your age and the rest is just simple math that you can do in your head. If that seems too easy, there are many companies and magazines that provide more detailed suggestions about how to invest your money based on your age. All of these approaches are based on a concept known as life-cycle investing. The general idea is that your financial needs are related to your age. The approach is endlessly popular and sounds terrific. There’s only one problem: it’s hogwash!
Wait, that’s not fair. If you happen to be a sociologist or a government policy maker, this might be terrific stuff. After all, sociology is the study of large groups. Still, it’s dangerous hogwash if you try to use it to plan your own life. Remember, sociologists are the professionals who came up with the concept of families with 1.8 parents and 2.3 children.
Since you’re probably not a sociologist or policy maker, and are more interested in your unique needs than the statistically average needs of everyone your current age, the cookie cutter—life cycle approach—to planning won’t work for you.
Let me tell you about two of my clients, the Salters and the Boones. When we first worked with them, my partners and I were amazed at how similar these two families seemed. Both families not only live in the same city, they also live in the same neighborhood, just two blocks apart, in houses of the same model, built the same year by the same builder. Mr. and Mrs. Salter and Mr. and Mrs. Boone are working professionals. When we met them they each were fifty-five years old, in good health, and they planned on retiring when they reached sixty-two. The coincidences seemed endless. We thought they even looked alike! Both had investment portfolios valued at $1,000,000 at that point, and they all considered themselves moderately conservative investors. Because neither the Salters nor Boones have children, they have no desire to leave an estate.
Well, if lifestyle planning worked, these two couples’ investment portfolios should look alike. Lucky for our clients we are financial planners and we gathered more information. Here’s what we discovered:
How about that? To a sociologist, these couples looked alike; to a financial planner, based on their savings rate, their retirement income, and financial goals they looked very different. Let’s see how our recommendations differed from the life-cycle solution.
Note that the life-cycle recommendation is the same for the Salters and Boones. That seems a little strange because the Boones plan on spending a lot more than the Salters in retirement, and the Salters are saving more between now and retirement and have significantly more Social Security income. The fact that their ages, risk tolerance, employment, home, health, and planned retirement dates are similar is irrelevant.
After careful analysis and based on the information specific to our clients, we made the following recommendations:
It sure doesn’t look like the 55 percent bond formula you’d get by subtracting their age from one hundred. Why the difference? In spite of similar demographics, the Salters and Boones have very different resources and goals. Remember, you’re unique and planning based on simple rules of thumb can be a mighty dangerous way to plan the quality of the rest of your life.
This blog is a chapter from Harold Evensky’s “Hello Harold: A Veteran Financial Advisor Shares Stories to Help Make You Be a Better Investor”. Available for purchase on Amazon.