One common piece of personal finance advice I see written all over the internet, is to not look at the market (or your account balance). “Just ignore what stocks are doing” they say. “It’s all just noise.” “Don’t look at the stock market and live a great life” write other personal finance blogs.
Depending upon how you look at it, this could either be sensible financial advice, or covering your eyes and hoping for the best.
Given what we know about long term returns from the stock market, ignoring the market does appear to be reasonable advice. Longer holding periods tend to earn better returns over the long-term. Intuitively, investors who watch the market and try to make “smart financial decisions” are more likely to trade too often and hurt investing returns.
In other words, if ignoring your brokerage account helps you hold a little longer, then it might just be sound financial advice.
But here’s the dirty little secret nobody is talking about: Everybody looks!
Let’s Get Real
OK let’s not beat around the bush and tell lies. No half-truths or subterfuge either. People check the market and their account balances. That’s reality.
I do too! There’s no point in pretending otherwise. I log-in and check my accounts roughly once a week. That’s pretty often. This is mainly to verify my dividends have been deposited, or to collect the numbers for my monthly dividend income and expense reports. Occasionally I’ll also vote a shareholder proxy too, but I mostly ignore net worth numbers or the “performance results” sections in my brokerage account.
Honestly, because the account balance numbers fluctuate too much. It’s difficult to care about a number when it’s that random. One week it might be up $50k, and the next week it might be down $50k. This is exactly why I only post my net worth number once a year. (Incidentally, 2018’s net worth post is here.)
I don’t have to worry about regularly selling assets either because we mostly use dividends to fund our lifestyle. The only occasion when I might consider selling a stock is when it fails my scorecard. (I evaluate based on a three year window. Selling happens infrequently.)
For me, it really doesn’t matter which direction the market is going — as long the cash keeps flowing from my assets. I pull out large sums of cash (living expenses) from our taxable accounts once or twice a year, so that can really move the net-worth needle too.
What I actually check more often is my watch list. I check my watch list daily… sometimes even a couple times a day!
What’s a watch list? A watch list is a list of stocks I find interesting (usually taken from my investing ideas posts). These are stocks I’m interested in buying or selling at the right price. I’m constantly checking them to see:
- If prices are rising or falling into the (pre-determined range) where I want to buy or sell.
- If there’s any interesting news regarding the stocks on my watch list.
I suppose I could setup alerts to send me text messages instead, but I haven’t done it. It’s easy enough to pull up the Yahoo-finance app on my phone every morning when the kids are brushing their teeth, and check my watch list.
Is This Actually Bad Behavior?
One question that probably pops into everyone’s mind when hearing this — Is this frequent checking of stocks and the stock market bad behavior?
Opinions on this subject vary wildly. From “it’s a waste of time” to “you’re going to die early from all that extra stress you’re creating”. They’re almost entirely negative. I’ve never once heard anyone say “Checking stocks is good for your health, wealth, and it’ll clear up that weird skin rash too!”
But is it actually all that bad? I don’t think so… Not in my case anyway. It only takes a few minutes out of my day. I’m not trading more frequently because of it. On this blog you can see exactly how often I do something with my portfolio. (Maybe once a month or once every other month?) It’s rare.
I think of checking my watch list as similar to checking the weekly sales flyer from my local grocery store. You know the type…
Yep, I check my weekly grocery store ads every week for sales! I usually buy what’s on sale and then cook up delicious home-made meals from the weekly loss-leaders. It’s a food strategy I’ve used for years to very good effect.
Buying stocks, bonds, or other assets shouldn’t be any different. When stocks are on sale, you buy. When they’re not, you don’t buy. If you never check stock prices, you’ll never know what the sales are!
With all that said, I must concede that for some individuals checking accounts or stocks regularly could be a bad idea. Does it add to your anxiety or excitement around money when you check the market? Do you get depressed when your account balance falls?
If you do, then you probably shouldn’t be checking the market or looking at your brokerage account as frequently . Investing shouldn’t create negative emotion and it shouldn’t be exciting. If looking at a 10% one-day drop in your net-worth stresses you out, then absolutely put the stock market on ‘ignore’.
Investing should be the (fairly) boring act of converting cash into assets on a regular basis. Investing your life-savings should not be anything like throwing the dice at a Las Vegas craps table. It should be a dull and fairly mechanical process, if you’re doing it right.
So there you have it — The God’s honest truth about how often I check my accounts. I check them regularly, and I don’t believe that’s a bad thing. It doesn’t stress me out to see the numbers changing, or cause me to trade more frequently. My lifestyle depends almost entirely on cash flow from these assets, so I believe it makes perfect sense to keep a close eye on them.
What do you think? I’m curious to hear how often all you readers check your accounts. More often? Less often? Tell me how often you check in the comments below!