By John Weber
During quarantine in 2020, I decided to pick up running to keep healthy and to get exercise. Two years later, I have found myself six half-marathons deep into my new passion, but not without setbacks. One of those setbacks was last year, when I missed my first in-person half-marathon due to a knee injury. After training for a couple of months, I was of course disappointed and even thought about pushing through the injury and running the race anyway. Instead, I decided to let my body heal, play the long game, and completely stop running for about a month.
Every once in a while, I felt I might be able to go for a jog, but I knew my knee would probably flare up a few minutes into the run. I had to stay disciplined and focused on my goals and refrain from taking action that might negatively impact my long-term goals.
Flash forward two years, nearly to the day of my injury, and I am now gearing up for my first full marathon. Looking back, that knee injury was devastating, but it’s now just a small blip in my much longer running journey.
So, what does all this have to do with your finances? Both fitness and finance require emotional, mental, and sometimes even physical endurance to stay the course. Right now, it's halftime; it’s mile 20 during a marathon. Your portfolio is most likely seeing more red than green, the prospects of an economic recession are increasing, and inflation is higher and sticking around longer than economists forecasted. You have two choices: (1) remember your goals and the “why” behind your financial journey or (2) give in to your emotions, likely causing you harm in the long run. The choice seems straightforward, but this is no easy decision. Extreme mental fortitude is required when times get rocky.
To stay the course, I recommend two specific investing strategies. One of the two strategies you may already be familiar with. The other is an extension of the first with the goal of investing more money as the market continues to dip:
- Continue to regularly invest in your company’s retirement plan. No matter the retirement plan type, dollar-cost averaging (putting the same dollar amount in each period or paycheck) has proven one of the best ways to build wealth and avoid market timing. Your paycheck is reduced by the amount you contribute to your retirement plan, meaning that money is saved separately from your everyday spending account, and instead enjoys the benefit of compound interest over many years.
- Allocate extra cash at set target prices. Perhaps you are already contributing to your company’s retirement plan or putting money into an IRA each month. If you have extra cash, you might consider strategically deploying those funds, especially as we are amid a bear market. The following method has been my personal investing strategy since the COVID 2020 downturn. First, I set price alerts for whenever my preferred fund or stock fell 10%, 15%, 20%, or 25%+ from the 52-week high. Then each time the alert triggers, I invest more of my available cash, bringing down my average cost basis. Specifically, the strategy may look like this with the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF, VOO:
- The 52-week high of VOO is $441.26
- Invest $1,000 when VOO is down 10% ($397.13)
- Invest $2,000 when VOO 500 is down 15% ($375.07)
- Invest $3,000 when VOO 500 is down 20% ($353.01)
- Invest $4,000 when VOO 500 is down 25%+ ($330.95)
This method isn’t perfect, of course, but it provides you with price entries that are favorable for long-term growth. If you follow the above strategy, and each of the price targets are hit, your average cost basis would be $366.25, or ~17% below the 52-week high. You can adjust the target price and amounts invested to fit your preference, but this strategy takes the emotion out of investing since you are automatically investing predetermined sums at predetermined prices.
What if the market only falls to 20% from its 52-week high, and you still have 40% of your cash sitting on the sidelines? You could wait until the next bear market hits, but who knows how long that will take. If you follow this second strategy, I suggest you put a timeline into place to become fully invested — say for example 12 months. If you haven’t fully invested your cash after 12 months, then I suggest investing the rest of the cash as either a lump sum or implementing the first strategy of dollar-cost averaging.
Whether it's dollar-cost averaging, investing a lump sum, or coming up with your own investment strategy, the most important part is that you establish a plan and stick to it, especially in times of crisis. Without a plan, you become subject to your emotions and risk negatively impacting your financial future.
Just look back two years during the COVID crisis. The world was shutting down, and all economic activity came to a screeching halt. Who would have guessed the market would rally 100% from the bottom in just 354 trading days, as CNBC pointed out? Dollar-cost averaging into the market slump or implementing a version of my second strategy would have proved fruitful both in 2020 and now, but not without going against the headlines that say you should go to cash until things calm down. By the time you think things are calm, the market will already be one step ahead. You don’t have to perfectly time the market, but you should take advantage when there are significant discounts. Just as I made the decision to stop running and let my knee heal to achieve my long-term goals, so too should investors like you make decisions with your long-term goals in mind.
My challenge to you is to stay true to your goals and spend your time focusing on the bigger picture. Detach from the moment, remember both the victories and setbacks that have already occurred in your financial journey, and look through the coming months to avoid making investment decisions you might regret later.
About the Author: John Weber
John Weber is a Financial Planning Associate at Omega Wealth Management, a fee-only financial life planning firm based in Arlington, Virginia. Omega Wealth Management’s goal is to know clients on a personal level, integrating their values, vision, and wealth to provide holistic and comprehensive financial planning. John can be reached at email@example.com.