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Smart Money: The Top 10 investment mistakes

I continue to see people make the same, preventable mistakes, over and over.
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Brad Brain: " Sometimes financial decisions cause great angst, and the way that some people deal with money decisions is by not dealing with money decisions."

I have been doing this work for a long time. Nearly 30 years. And over that span, I continue to see people make the same preventable mistakes, over and over.

Here’s my Top 10 list of unforced investment errors.

1. Getting your financial advice from social media. If you have a question about money, what makes you think your equally uninformed friends have the correct answer? People with accounting questions will consult an accountant. People with medical concerns will seek out a doctor. But people with investing questions turn to Facebook or TikTok. It’s nutty.

2. Believing in fairy tales. Yes, I understand the allure of instant riches. Especially if someone is promising outsized returns with no risk. But huge returns with no risk is a fairy tale. Or a scam.

3. Being a perpetual GIC investor. Guaranteed Investment Certificates have their role in financial planning, but if you find yourself continuously rolling over your GICs at maturity because you don’t know what else to do, then what you end up with is a permanent string of low-paying investments. On an after-tax, after-inflation basis, you are almost certainly losing money. How safe is that?

4. Buying on greed. If the reason that you want to buy an investment is because it is showing impressive past performance and you want to get in on the action, chances are very good that you are not making a rational investment decision. And if the investment has already gone up by that much already, chances are that it's too late.

5. Selling on fear. If the reason that you want to sell a quality investment is because it is showing disheartening past performance and you want to get out to avoid the pain of loss, chances are very good that you are not making a rational investment decision. And if the investment has already gone down by that much already, chances are that it's too late.

6. Confusing investment costs with losses. Buying the lowest cost investment is not the same thing as buying the best investment. If you can replace the diversification and investment decision-making process at a lower cost, you might be on to something. But buying an investment only because it is cheap is a good way to end up with junk.

7. Overthinking. You really don’t need to wait until you master the nuances of a covered call strategy or do up a 200-column spreadsheet with correlation analysis before you take action. People can get overwhelmed by the choices and end up paralyzed into inactivity. Simple is usually better than complicated. Just get started.

8. Overconfidence. This one is a biggie. Way too many people think they know what they are doing with their investments, but that’s only because they don’t know what they don’t know. The tricky part is few readers will recognize themselves as being overconfident, just like everyone thinks that they are an above-average driver. But if the roads are filled with great drivers, why are intersections with four-way stop signs so difficult for people to figure out?

9. Burying your head in the sand. Sometimes financial decisions cause great angst, and the way that some people deal with money decisions is by not dealing with money decisions. Ignoring the situation might be a coping strategy, but it’s not going to get you anywhere. Unpleasant jobs are a fact of life. Pretending that they don’t exist doesn’t make them go away, and procrastination can allow small problems to fester into big ones.

10. Confusing wants and needs. You may want a shiny new toy right now. But you still need to eat when you get to retirement. A high consumption lifestyle is fun, but draining your retirement funds to finance it is short-sighted.

These preventable mistakes are well-known. Even so, I can assure you that people all over the world will continue to make all of them.

But you don’t have to be one of those people.


Brad Brain, CFP, R.F.P., CIM, TEP is a Certified Financial Planner in Fort St John, BC. This material is prepared for general circulation and may not reflect your individual financial circumstances. Brad can be reached at www.bradbrainfinancial.com.