“Money is like gasoline during a road trip. You don’t want to run out of gas on your trip, but you’re not doing a tour of gas stations. You have to pay attention to money, but it shouldn’t be about the money.” –Tim O’Reilly
The main danger is that the timid or beginning investor will enter the market at a time of extreme exuberance and then become disillusioned when paper losses occur.
It reminded me of my initial foray into investing, which I mistimed right before the housing bubble burst, perfectly captured in my blog post, What a crappy time to have started investing in the stock market. The post has a graph of an S&P index fund from October 2007, when I first started investing, through June 2008, when I wrote that post. At that point, the index was down 17%—and, unbeknownst to me, the bottom of that bear market was still 10 months (and 56%) away.
Compare that graph to now, 7 years on. The S&P 500 index is up 19% from where I started back in October 2007.
S&P 500 index from October 2007 through February 2014
What follows is a meaty excerpt from Warren Buffet’s 2013 Shareholder Letter, extolling the virtues of index funds for non-professional investors.
For the first time in several years, I have the ability to contribute to a 401(k) plan through Sincerely’s new parent company, Provide Commerce. There were only two index funds available among the predictably limited mutual fund offerings: the Spartan 500 Index Fund (FXSIX) with a rock-bottom expense ratio of 0.05% and the Spartan International Index Fund (FSIVX) with a respectable ratio of 0.17%. The rest were all managed funds with expense ratios between 0.8% and 1.2%. Given that my existing investments at Schwab are all index funds with an asset allocation of 40% large cap, 40% international, and 20% bonds, I skipped the bonds and just went with 50% large cap (aka domestic) and 50% international for my 401(k).
I like to take some time at the end of each year (or in this case, well past the beginning) to look back on the financial decisions I’ve made and think about the year ahead.
Not much happened in the first eleven months of 2012 besides dutifully making our first year of mortgage payments. One down and 29 to go. It feels like an important milestone, though I can hardly fathom the next 29 years. Given how dramatically the housing market in San Francisco recovered last year, we started thinking seriously about refinancing before the year was up. If the value of our condo had appreciated to the point where we had 20% equity, then we could cease flushing nearly $400 down the drain each month paying for private mortgage insurance (PMI).
Once a year, I like to look back on the financial decisions I’ve made and think about any changes I anticipate making in the year ahead.
Financially speaking, not much happened during the first eleven months of 2011, besides the steady evaporation of my travel savings. I did, however, accomplish the few financial goals I set for myself in my last “Learning how to save” post: I increased my exposure to international equity—predictably right before the eurozone economies slumped, I sold off my managed retirement funds (in favor of index funds), and I rolled over my Roth 401(k) to my personal Roth IRA.
When Stephanie and I returned to the United States in August, we had $10,000 as a post-travel savings buffer, an arbitrary amount that seemed reasonable in order to restart our lives. That estimate turned out to be prescient, as there wasn’t much left of it when our first paychecks showed up in the middle of October. It goes without saying that we were both exceptionally fortunate to be offered jobs within a week and a half of our return to San Francisco.
That would be the end of this post, if it wasn’t for something I wrote way back in 2007 (and subsequently acted on), shortly after starting this “Learning how to save” series. In my post, Thinking ahead (about real estate), you’ll find this little gem:
My 31-year-old self would probably want to take my 27-year-old self out for a beer and thank me profusely if he looked at his savings account balance and found $50,000. Of course, between then and now, there’ll probably be a lot of plane tickets and other spontaneous large expenses to account for. So saving $50,000 might take a little longer.
Since starting to seriously look at real estate at the beginning of October, Stephanie and I made a habit of trying to check out at least one or two open houses every Sunday. We weren’t being lazy, it’s just that there wasn’t that much available which met our minimal criteria: a two bedroom flat for less than 700k (preferably much less) in a broad central swath of neighborhoods from NoPa to Dogpatch (and possibly parts of SoMa).
The blue box highlights our general area of interest
Once we’d gotten a good baseline of what was already on the market, and ruled most of it out, we realized that finding a place was going to depend wholly on something new being listed while we were looking. We also knew that the market was going to cool down around Thanksgiving and not pick up again until after the Superbowl. I pretty much expected we’d still be going to open houses in the Spring.
And then, just before the weekend of Halloween, our fourth week of serious looking, I got an email alert for a new listing with the following blurb:
Modern meets Historical in Hip Mission Dolores! This 3BR 1BA completely renovated home features soft & hardwood floors, new electrical, central heating, new windows, period details, wood burning stove in the living room, TONS of storage, chef’s kitchen w/Wolf range, stainless appliances & counters & Scavolini cabinets. A bright sunroom features built in shelves & an eating nook w/custom table for 8-10 people. Ship stairs lead to the attic bedroom which features roof windows, walnut floors & ample storage. On a quiet street with a Walkscore of 94, it’s close to Dolores Park, Bi-Rite, Delfina, MUNI, BART & more! Add to that the active street community with an active Google Group & annual block party and all that’s missing is YOU!!!
Real estate descriptions tend to be pretty formulaic, but something about this one caught my eye. And good thing too, because there were no photos. I pinged our agents for more details, and they said that the photos would be up on Saturday. When I finally saw them, they took my breath away. We went to the open house on Sunday, and it was even better in real life. The kitchen was to-die-for. There was a cute sunroom/dining nook. There were two bedrooms downstairs, a lovely single bath, and an attic-space upstairs that had been converted into a third bedroom. People were crawling all over the place to get a look at it. This was going to move fast.
The obvious appeal and popularity of the condo tempered our initial reaction. Nothing else we’d seen either in photos online or in person came even close to the level of finish and character of this place. We figured we didn’t stand a chance, so we figured, let’s give it a shot. I emailed our agents that afternoon to say we wanted to make an offer. They called back to tell us that someone had made a preemptive offer for more than 100k over list price, well above our price range.