Greed has a drinking problem

drinking problem investing riskWhy you might be taking on more investment risk than you should

Mitchell Barr, Client Associate

Friday afternoon happy hour is one of the great traditions of working in business. The sleeves get rolled up and another week gone by is celebrated with a few cocktails to kick off the weekend. I’m no exception when it comes to enjoying a drink after a hard week of work. A cold craft beer is usually my drink of choice. That first frosty sip of a malty porter hits my lips like the kiss of an angel and suddenly everything in the world is right. The rest of the first beer goes down pretty well, too. In fact it goes down so well I usually order a second one. At this point I’m feeling the alcohol warmly running through my veins, but my stomach is starting to get a little full. It takes me longer to finish the second beer, and if I go for a third one, well, it definitely doesn’t taste like the kiss of an angel anymore. This describes the law of diminishing returns.

The diminishing returns I experience when I’m partying it up during happy hour also appear in investing. In your brain, the first $1,000 gain feels like the first beer at happy hour, but the next $1,000 just isn’t quite as satisfying. It’s no secret that we all want to make money on our investments. The question is, how much risk are you willing to take to do so? Financial markets are pretty efficient in that for every reward there is a risk, and usually the magnitude of each increases in tandem. A venture capital deal that invests in biotech startups is riskier than parking some money in a stock index fund, but obviously the upside could be ginormous.

Yet, the way we experience the relationship between gains and losses is not symmetric. My third porter usually makes my stomach feel like a balloon ready to burst (okay maybe fifth) and completely trumps any pleasure I experienced while drinking it. Likewise, investing losses actually tend to hurt a lot more than gains feel good. This creates a problem when we try to decide whether to hop into the private equity deal or the index fund. By choosing the riskier investment, you are conceding to the potential for more pain than an equivalent gain would give you pleasure. Financially it may be a winner, but mentally you lose either way. Yet, the money monkey in my head still drives me to drink the third beer and likewise it can drive you to investing mistakes.

Greed should never be the primary driver of an investment decision for this reason. A 20 percent downturn in the stock market is not uncommon and biotech startups can vanish overnight. At the very least, a savvy investor should take advantage of the many different risk tolerance questionnaires available online for free. Answering a few questions about risk will at least slow down your thought process and force you to be honest with yourself about how you will react to a large loss. Everyone has their limits, and knowing them can prevent you from having one too many beers

Mitchell Barr

Client Associate

Mitch writes the popular blog, The Money Monkey, where he focuses on common mental mistakes made by investors, how to avoid being your own worst financial enemy, and thinking about investing in new ways.

Disclosure: Please remember that past performance may not be indicative of future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, investment strategy, or product (including the investments and/or investment strategies recommended or undertaken by Versant Capital Management, Inc.), or any non-investment related content, made reference to directly or indirectly in this article will be profitable, equal any corresponding indicated historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful. Due to various factors, including changing market conditions and/or applicable laws, the content may no longer be reflective of current opinions or positions. Moreover, you should not assume that any discussion or information contained in this article serves as the receipt of, or as a substitute for, personalized investment advice from Versant Capital Management, Inc. To the extent that a reader has any questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed above to his/her individual situation, he/she is encouraged to consult with the professional advisor of his/her choosing. Versant Capital Management, Inc. is neither a law firm nor a certified public accounting firm and no portion of the article content should be construed as legal or accounting advice. If you are a Versant Capital Management, Inc. client, please remember to contact Versant Capital Management, Inc., in writing, if there are any changes in your personal/financial situation or investment objectives for the purpose of reviewing/evaluating/revising our previous recommendations and/or services. A copy of the Versant Capital Management, Inc.’s current written disclosure statement discussing our advisory services and fees is available upon request.