Commentators sometimes compare investing in stocks to riding a roller coaster. After the last several weeks, you may find this particularly true. For investors, there's more to the financial analogy than the ups and downs.
Anyone who has ridden a few roller coasters would offer these tips:
1. Find the roller coaster that suits you. There are all kinds -- the truly terrifying, the mildly amusing and plenty in between. Find one that's comfortable, and you'll enjoy the ride more. In investing: don't take more risk than you can stomach. Owning a meaningful amount of bonds or cash will make stock market swings easier to bear.
2. Never get off in the middle of the ride. And, especially, never get off as your car is navigating a dangerous turn, mid-air in a 360-degree loop or traveling at high speed. Obvious, right? Sadly, it's what investors do too often, especially on the downhill. It can end badly.
3. The ride often feels better with a partner. You're more likely to stay in your seat and enjoy the ride when you're not alone, especially if your partner has ridden plenty of roller coasters. In investing, your partner can be a professional advisor or a friend with experience, whom you trust.
4. The scary parts are a small fraction of the ride, but they're what you remember -- and what provokes all the high-decibel shouting. After the ride, you realize how momentary the crazy parts of the ride were. Investors, please keep that in mind: the truly gut-wrenching times don't last long.
5. Want to go really fast? Only ride coasters with the best safety protocols. Disney is surely more state-of-the-art than the ride your kids' high school rented from the guy with the broken-down trailer. In investing: if you want to max out risk, make sure you are using well-designed products. Buy low-fee mutual funds with diversified portfolios and proven track records.
There are two important ways in which the analogy breaks down -- one challenging and one rewarding.
• The investing journey is utterly unpredictable: Unlike roller coasters, you can't see what's coming with the stock market. You don't know how long the scary parts will last, when they will come or what they will feel like. So it's even harder to stay in your seat -- but all the more important.
• At the end the ride, you have moved forward. History tells us that, over long periods, the stock market will almost surely provide attractive returns. Over the last century, the US market returned about 10% annually, on average. The future may be different, but the odds are in your favor. Whereas, with the roller coaster, you always end up where you started. Not as attractive, I'd argue.