It’s no secret: getting an early start on saving and investing is one of the most important things you can do for your future! Putting money into the market when you’re young – even small amounts – gives your investments time to grow and compound over time.
Unfortunately, too many millennials haven’t gotten started yet. A recent survey by Bankrate found that only 26% of Americans under 30 were invested in the stock market, compared to 58% between the ages of 58 and 64. (1)
While the stock market has historically seen positive returns over the long run, it’s not hard to understand why many millennials are wary of it. Millennials under 30 have seen two major market crashes: the tech bubble of the late 1990’s as well as the 2008 economic crisis. Many saw how family members and friends lost years worth of savings and were often financially devastated by what happened.
The result: a deep distrust of Wall Street and a desire to avoid the market altogether.
While it is understandable that millennials are wary about putting their earnings into the market, it’s also unfortunate.
In spite of the two crises of 1990 and 2008, if you had invested in the S&P 500 at the beginning of 1985, and kept that money in until the end of 2014, you would have earned over 25 times what you had initially invested. (2) (3)
Even saving just a small amount each week or month would have made a tremendous difference in your retirement savings.
While many millennials make the mistake of investing too little in the market, others make another critical mistake. While they may be making regular contributions, they may not be invested in a wide enough variety of securities.
The youngest generations have grown up with access to the internet, social media, online financial media, and the tools to invest in any publicly traded security that they choose and they feel empowered to make investment decisions on their own, without consulting a professional. They’re also able to trade information with friends and make changes to their portfolio in a matter of seconds using their smartphone or computer.
Because of this, millennials are often invested in individual hot stocks, companies they believe in, or companies that sell products they use and like. This can (and will) work for some investors sometimes as a result of sheer luck and the law of large numbers, but it is not a consistent – or wise – strategy to rely on.
In 2007 researchers at UC Berkeley and UC Davis published a paper where they showed that individual investors have a tendency to buy stocks that had recently been in the news, or that had share prices that had recently gone up (4). By buying these “hot” stocks, new investors were forced to bid up the price to a higher level than they were before the news story came out. The study showed that, because these investors were buying at an artificially higher price, their portfolios ended up performing poorly as a result of having bought these ‘hot stocks’.
Additionally many millennials choose to engage in “socially responsible” investing, avoiding stocks in companies that sell products they don’t believe in, or that engage in business practices they feel are undesirable, and putting their money in companies that they believe in and feel good about.
Unfortunately, this too can have a negative impact on their returns over the long run. By focusing so narrowly, their portfolios are missing a major piece of the market, which limits their diversification. Additionally social responsible investments can have higher fees than their non-SRI counterparts, because they have the added cost of screening out stocks based on certain criteria.
Along with the added costs, and the decrease in diversification that result in focusing only on SRIs, researchers from Princeton and New York University published a paper in 2009 that showed that ‘sin stocks’ have historically outperformed their non-sin counterparts. (5)
Whether you are choosing to invest your money in a single stock, or several stocks, or you choose to invest in a SRI investment, you are limiting your investment choices, which in turn limits your level of diversification and possibly your returns over the long run.
Bottom line: if you avoid these two critical mistakes by starting to save – and invest – early, and by making sure your portfolio is diversified, you’ll be setting yourself up to watch your money grow over time.
Broad-based investment vehicles with low fees and high levels of diversification, if appropriate to their specific circumstances, is one strategy to help clients toward their goals.