“Good” Financial Advice That’s Actually Pretty Bad

Financial experts love giving money advice. Some, like keeping an emergency fund, automating your bill payments, and saving for retirement, are worth listening to. But others can actually do more harm than good.

Here are some widely accepted “words of wisdom” you can safely ignore and the better advice to follow instead. 

1: Skip the lattes and you could be a millionaire 

Some financial experts like Suze Orman argue that if you give up on daily conveniences or little luxuries (like your morning Starbucks), you could become a millionaire. She even goes as far to say that “you are peeing $1 million down the drain” by buying coffee outside. Her assumption is that if you take the $100 you would have spent on coffee each month and invested it, you could have around $1 million after 40 years, if your rate of return is 12%.

There’s some truth to this advice. By investing regularly, your money could indeed grow substantially, thanks to the power of compounding. But skipping your latte is probably not the best way to do so. For one, you’ll need to earn an improbably high return of 12% every year just to become a latte millionaire. And are you truly willing to forgo lattes – or whatever little splurges that make your life easier – for the next 40 years of your life?

The better idea: A holistic budget

While small purchases here and there can quickly add up, managing your finances doesn’t mean cutting out these purchases or depriving yourself of all luxuries. You should not have to feel guilty about treating yourself.

Instead, take a holistic view of your monthly spend and adopt the 50-30-20 approach. Allocate 50% of your income towards your needs, 30% towards your wants, and 20% towards savings and investments. 

With this method, you’ll have nearly one-third of your money to be spent on what matters to you. After all, life is too short to keep saying no to the things that make you happy.

2: Invest in these 20 stocks and you could be a millionaire

The S&P 500 hit an all-time high in August that surpassed even its previous record set before the pandemic.

With headlines touting the 10, 15 or 20 must-buy stocks, it is easy for investors to think that they can make a profit by timing the market and buying individual stocks. Well-meaning or not, this is advice that can easily go wrong. 

To quote billionaire investor and entrepreneur Mark Cuban, “everyone is a genius in a bull market.” But what happens when markets go south? If you’re investing into stocks without really understanding the fundamentals, you could eventually lose money if there’s a market correction.

The better idea: Long-term investments

Time and again, research has shown that putting money regularly into low-cost index funds historically delivers better returns than stock picking. An exchange traded fund (ETF) that tracks the S&P 500 index for instance allows you to buy a tiny bit of each of the 500 stocks within the index. Your investment risk is much more diversified compared to you buying just a few individual stocks.

This is evident when even the most seasoned traders on Wall Street fail to pick the right stocks consistently. According to the S&P Dow Jones Indices’ SPIVA Scorecard in 2019, almost 81% of large-cap, active US equity funds have underperformed their benchmarks for the last five years.

Although you can occasionally make some good buy / sell calls, trading in and out of the market shouldn’t be your sole investing strategy. If you truly want to build wealth, focus on investing for the long-term instead. 

This is a position that Mark Cuban recommends as well. “In this market you can be a trader, but in the longer term, traders typically end up losing all their money, and so you want to be an investor longer term and understand what you are doing.”

3: Use the Rule of 100 to determine your asset allocation 

The “Rule of 100” is often used to advise investors how they should split their funds between stocks and bonds. It states that you should subtract your age from 100 to determine what percentage of your portfolio should be invested in stocks. So if you’re 40, you should have 60% in stocks and 40% in bonds.

This advice is popular because it is easy to understand. But it is dated and oversimplified. It also ignores other asset classes such as REITs. 

The better idea: Strategic asset allocation

Finding the asset allocation that suits your investor profile is crucial if you want to meet your investment goals. To do so, start by determining your risk tolerance. For example, if you are comfortable with experiencing short-term losses for higher potential gains, you’re likely to have a higher risk tolerance. You may consider allocating more of your portfolio to stocks or REITs. These assets have higher risk compared to bonds, which also means a greater potential for both returns and losses. 

Next, consider how long you plan to hold your investments. Generally, the longer your time horizon, the greater your ability to ride out market movements. As such, you can include riskier assets in your portfolio. Conversely, if you need to deploy your funds in the near future, it is better not to have them invested in stocks. 

You can also decide your asset mix based on your objectives. If your goal is income generation, you may want to invest in a REIT portfolio like Syfe REIT+ for consistent dividends. If you want to achieve capital growth and have a good ability to tolerate risk, you may consider Syfe’s Equity100 portfolio for a pure 100% equity exposure. 

For an even easier way to find out your ideal asset allocation, take Syfe’s Risk Questionnaire. It will help you define your attitude towards risk and recommend a diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds and gold that matches it.