It is said that the most valuable lessons in life aren’t taught, they’re experienced. This is especially true at the moment, as many of the things that took up our time and money have been put to one side, at least for now.
So what has the lockdown experience taught me about how I manage my money?
Here are three lessons I’ve learned.
Firstly, it’s amazing how much money I fritter away on non-essentials. This has been the biggest eye-opener for me. While I miss meals in restaurants, holidays abroad, catching up with friends over coffee, until now I had not really known how much I spend on socialising.
We often say on these pages how giving up the gym membership you never use, or sacrificing your daily cappuccino could be a great way to kick-start your savings. It’s true, making a few cut backs can really make a difference to your financial well-being. One thing I will be doing in future is questioning how I spend my money and how it could be channelled towards longer-term, delayed gratification, such as saving for my retirement.
Making regular monthly savings into your workplace pension is an easy and affordable way to get your savings on track. It can soon add up, even if you’re only investing a small amount.
Maybe now is the time to really address any savings gap you may have.
Secondly, we’ve seen that stock markets can and do recover. Last week, markets in the US were back to pre-Coronavirus levels and the tech-heavy Nasdaq reached new highs. During this lockdown period it’s been a good reminder of the perils of trying to time the market.
This experience has reminded me that while it’s easy to think you can sell to prevent further losses and buy back before the markets go up again, in practice, this is extremely difficult. No one rings a bell at the top or the bottom of the market. Trying to time the market means you have to time two decisions perfectly - when to sell and when to re-buy again.
Just as market falls come unexpectedly, so do the sudden rises. It, therefore, makes sense just to stay invested to ride out the volatility if you can. The most important lesson with investing is to make sure you can give your investment time to grow. If you know you’ll need the money in the short-term and can’t invest it for 3-5 years, it would be foolish to take on too much risk. It could fall in value just before you need it.
Finally, I’ve learned that when it comes to investing there are always winners and losers. During this pandemic not all sectors have performed the same way. Technology, healthcare and consumer durables have benefited from the crisis while retail, hospitality and the travel sector have suffered.
Being diversified, or not “putting all your eggs in one basket”, is a crucial lesson for all investors. Taking too much risk and investing in one particular industry sector you really believe in can have dire consequences if you get it wrong.
Similarly, being too cautious and not taking enough risk could mean over time your investments have not grown enough to beat the negative effects of inflation.
With stock market investing there are no guarantees, so spreading your investments over a range of different assets is the best way to be diversified. That way, the investments doing well will compensate for the ones doing not so well.
As we emerge, bleary-eyed out of lockdown and the damage to the economy becomes more widely known, we can be sure the outlook will continue to look uncertain. It is worth remembering that the timeless principles of investing regularly, trying not to time the market and being diversified have been just as relevant over the past three months as they ever have been, whatever the crisis may be.
Important information: The value of investments and the income from them, can go down as well as up, so you may get back less than you invest. Investors should note that the views expressed may no longer be current and may have already been acted upon. Overseas investments will be affected by movements in currency exchange rates. Investments in emerging markets can be more volatile than other more developed markets. You can't normally access money in a pension until 55. This information is not a personal recommendation for any particular investment. If you are unsure about the suitability of an investment you should speak to an authorised financial adviser.