When purchasing a big-ticket item like a car or a house, don’t most people usually do a little research, shop around, compare prices and look for specific features that suit their needs? Of course they do. So why do many people not bother doing the same when it comes to their investments, especially their retirement, arguably one of the most important big-ticket items a person will ever own?
It always surprises me when people talk about their portfolio but have no clue as to what they are invested in. They’ll often joke about it and make a comment about leaving it up to the professionals or that’s why they pay their stock broker/adviser the big bucks.
Let me ask you this: Would you let the dealer pick out the car you’re going to purchase? Or how about letting your real estate agent pick out your home? Highly unlikely. So why would you let anyone else have the last say on your retirement or investments?
Think about some of the reasons why you probably wouldn’t leave the decision-making up to a dealer or agent:
Perspective. The fact that there are six – count’em, six! – cup holders may be a fabulous feature but not as high on your list of ‘Auto Must-Haves’ as it might be for the car-pool commuter. An agent might find the school next door to be most convenient but your spouse working the night shift might disagree when trying to sleep during the day. Different people are always going to have different opinions based on their unique personal perspective, especially when it comes down to the details.
Priorities. The dealer may also not realize that you’d rather give up side air-bags for an extended warranty, even though you indicated that ‘safety’ was a priority. An agent might consider a view to be more valuable than a yard. Many of us don’t even realize our own priorities until we start looking at options and are faced with making some decisions.
Cost. It’s way easier to spend someone else’s money. It’s also easier to take risks and overlook ‘minor’ issues when it’s not your buck. The agent or dealer won’t have to live with the stiff clutch or the less-than-functional kitchen layout. And if compensation is based on a percentage of price, they might not be as aggressive in negotiating the sale. Always track the money chain. Fee structure can often make a big difference in how much you end up actually paying for something.
Value. No one will care as much about getting the best bang for your buck as you will. These are your hard-earned dollars so it makes sense that you’ll want them to work as hard as you do (or harder!) That’s why we usually take the time to shop around, to get the most value for the best price. We each have a different cut-off point when we feel we have a good idea of the ‘going rate’ and are comfortable with the intrinsic value of the purchase. The dealer or agent might only look at 2 or 3 options before making a decision.
Reliability. Choices can be tough, either having too few or having too many. It’s hard to know all the in’s and out’s of every product in every field and it can be even harder to slog through all the information out there and filter it down to manageable, suitable options. That’s one of the reasons why we look to loan brokers, agents, lawyers and other professionals. Hiring a specialist in the field and leveraging their knowledge and experience is usually well worth it. But…
How reliable would you consider the data or opinion if the dealer/agent providing the information was also the owner of the car or property you are about to buy?
Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s VERY important to seek professional assistance and advice, especially for infrequent, large and/or complex transactions. But just like an auto dealer or real estate agent, their role is to give information, guidance, advice and support through the transaction. You might decide to outsource some of the legwork but ultimately you need to make the final decisions.
All of these concepts apply when making any major decision, including investment and retirement planning. If you leave all the decision-making up to someone else, you are basically at the mercy of their choices. You don’t have to be an expert but you owe it to yourself to do a little research and have a basic understanding of the core concepts, even when you use a professional, so that you can effectively evaluate the information you are given and make informed decisions.
NOTE: Many employer-sponsored retirement and 401k plans are limited to a few select investment funds but they usually include dollar-for-dollar matching contributions. It’s hard to go wrong with free money! Just be sure to monitor statements and fund performance, and discuss options or concerns with the fund manager. Don’t forget ~ 401k accounts can normally be rolled over into an IRA when employment has ended. Know where your funds are and what they’re doing!