By Tim Hartland
Last week we took our little daughters to Texas for the first time. An 8 hour trip from our door to my parents – quite a bit longer in practice!
We rolled into the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex at about 3pm – at that point, you must choose left or right, east or west, Dallas traffic or Fort Worth traffic.
We chose Ft. Worth. Oops!
Uncontrollable things began to happen – Adalyn suddenly had a 102 degree fever. Two accidents occurred in conjunction with us pulling off the highway to treat the fever, and then to take a bathroom break. Literally there was no traffic when we pulled off the highway, and by the time we were back on the highway both times, we were at a standstill.
It took four hours to complete the last 1.5 hours of the journey!
Sitting in traffic I noticed something informative – cars ahead of me would switch lanes, back and forth, back and forth, trying to get to the “faster” lane. You’ve been there, and me too! You notice that the left hand lane seems to be moving. So you move to the left lane. Then what?
The left hand lane stops moving once you get there, doesn’t it? And the right hand lane begins to move.
Why does this happen?
Because great minds think alike! You weren’t the only one to notice the left hand lane being “ideal”. Your fellow traffic participants notice, too. So you aren’t the only one to make the change. They do, too!
So the left hand lane is momentarily faster. But then, ironically, it’s slower, because it becomes more crowded.
Now, this is anecdotal in nature, but I’ve concluded that in most situations, the best approach is to simply hold your lane. Stay the course! Granted, there will be times when a lane change will benefit you (if you’re close to the front of the traffic jam for example).
But I would argue that over a lifetime, changing lanes will hurt you much more than it will help.
So, stay the course.
Markets are like this – you aren’t the only driver on the retirement income highway! And market “drivers” are smart, too. And believe it or not, they really like to change lanes. The appeal of “beating” traffic is alluring – I’m certain many who read this will disagree with my conclusion to hold your lane. Many market participants do, too.
In his amazing book, “Winning the Loser’s Game”, Charles Ellis points out in Chapter Three that: “All of these basic forms of active investing have one fundamental characteristic in common: They depend on the errors of others. Whether by omission or commission, the only way a profit opportunity can be available to an active investor is for the consensus of other professional investors to be wrong.”
In a traffic jam, if you switch the left hand lane from the right hand lane, for it to prove a good, faster decision, everyone else you’re driving with must fail to see and capitalize on this opportunity, or do it much later than you do it.
What are the odds that you are right and everyone else is wrong?
What are the odds you are able to repeatedly change lanes and win?
They’re slim. And they’re slimmer in markets where you’re competing with Harvard MBAs and, worse in 2017, the best and brightest highest paid minds across the planet.
But I’ll conclude by reminding everyone that you aren’t a passenger in the retirement car. You’re the driver. You can choose. You get to choose your path. You get to choose your lane. We could have chosen to go the Dallas route. We could have chosen to refuse to take stops. But the reality is most “investors” in markets choose poorly. And the evidence is that holding your lane is a good strategy.
We help investors pick which lane to be in. We help them decide what would be a good path. And we help them stay the course once they choose.
We believe, wholeheartedly, that there are methods to improve your odds on the retirement highway. We help investors and real people do those things – not try to time their lane changes.
If you’d like a basic retirement projection, please find one here:
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