Why is it oldies drive really slowly and carefully? Surely they have less to lose? They’ve had a good innings, so why not enjoy what’s left, careen around town like Lewis Hamilton while snorting crystal meth and burning rubber at the traffic lights?
But, it’s true, the older you get, the more cautious you become. Like approaching the edge of a high diving board you know you are going to have to jump from, you begin to walk a bit slower, trying to find an alternative to making that leap. Just a few more minutes, please, while I enjoy the view from up here!
As I grow older, I notice that I am becoming increasingly risk averse and more prone to seeing shadows where before the road ahead was bathed in sunshine. It’s rather annoying, and fetters my decision making as doubt clouds my outlook. In many of the FIRE blogs, I see us talk a lot about goals and objectives, plotting our future direction and trying to get the best odds to favour us. Behind us rides dark anxiety, the risk of loss. Unfortunately, over time, he’s gaining ground.
About fifteen years ago, I bought around ten grand’s worth of shares in Scottish Telecom (renamed Thus in those trendy dot com years). I did this based on the recommendation of a consultant I knew who was working there. “You can’t lose on them Jim, it is buying money”, he told me. Two years down the line and I had lost nearly every penny. At the time, I shrugged ruefully and put it down to experience. I’d just have to save the cash and try again because the next bet might quadruple my money. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I know this to be true, because that’s what I was writing in my diary at the time. I was charging forward into the future, confident that things would turn out right in the long run.
I look back on those years now in sheer horror. What was I thinking?!! If I had only stuck that ten grand in an index fund, it would now be worth…no, I can’t face it! And Thus was only one bad bet I made. I lost cash on quite a few others too.
At the same time as I work through my contemporary horror, I do admire and respect that attitude and confidence I had, underpinned by the time horizon I was working to. Retirement was so far away I could afford to make some mistakes and I wasn’t frightened or intimidated by the future. These days even passive investing looks extremely risky. My index funds, since the start of the year have lost….oh, you don’t want to know. I don’t want to know! If only I had converted some of them to cash, like I thought about at the turn of the year. Maybe just ninety five percent of them, something like that. The other five percent, I could have risked.
I jest, of course. I accept that risk generally equals reward and that’s the deal we’ve signed up to. None of us, aiming for FIRE, are going to be able to do it by stuffing our cash under the mattress. Unfortunately, none of us can advise anyone else on what constitutes a risky approach to generate the best return, because the infuriating answer to that question is “It depends”, closely followed by “It’s up to you”.
So if I could hop Back to the Future to 1999, what would I tell myself to do with that ten grand? You know, I can’t help but think I’d tell myself to Damn the Torpedoes and have a punt. Despite those financial setbacks, I did learn from the experience: I subsequently read up more on investment strategies, I learned about asset allocation, and I realised that I wasn’t the type of person to gamble on individual shares. I became a better investor (for me) perhaps more quickly than I would otherwise have done – and finding out more about yourself is the one Never Ending Lesson on the road to FIRE.