Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

It happens to all of us, I suspect.

Anyone who demonstrates even a passing interest in investing and finance is no doubt inundated by queries and requests from those around them who have no such inclination but are nonetheless looking for easy answers to difficult questions.

If it's not "should I lock in my mortgage now, or are rates going to be lower later?" it's "tell me what stock is going to go up so I can buy it" (my personal favourite...)

The people close to me have no idea I have an investing blog -- they just know I take a weird amount of interest in the business section, and have an annoying habit of yelling at them when they use a white-label ATM to take $20 out on a Saturday night. But I definitely get my fair share of questions like that.

I really want to help out my friends and family in any way I can, but the thing is, I really can't win in these situations. I'd never tell anyone to buy any given stock -- the most I'd ever do is tell them what stocks I've recently bought, and explain my reasons for doing so. But that doesn't stop them from asking. Fortunately for me, I ususally can't even get past "Well, what stock you should buy and how much you should buy of it depends on a lot of things, including your risk tolerance, your investment timeline, and blah blah blah..." before they regret ever asking the question.

I'd like nothing more than to give them the answer that will solve their problems, but I don't even have those answers for myself, so I find it really hard to give them to others. I mean, I've bought stocks that did what I thought they'd do and went up. But I've also bought some losers. I'd love to tell my sister exactly what to do when she calls to say "I'm meeting with my banker tomorrow and I need to know if I should lock in my mortgage or stick with the variable rate" but that really is a no-win proposition for me. Best case scenario, I gain nothing, while the downside is my advice costs her tens of thousands of dollars.

I'm kind of torn on the issue. I hate being put on the spot, but at the same time, I'm glad they ask and are thinking about these issues, because one of the biggest challenges my generation faces is its complete apathy toward things like service charges and interest rates because they think they don't really affect their lives.

I'm loath to tell them what to do, but I also don't want to discourage them from thinking and finding the answer for themselves. I just haven't quite figured out the right answer to give that conveys that sentiment.

I suppose it's no different from a lot of professions -- I'm sure lawyers and doctors get hit up for free advice all the time. But it seems to me that when these questions come up, you really are damned if you do, damned if you don't.


MR said...

Hi GiV

Thanks for the link! It's scary when people ask *me* for my advice. I have to do the look over the shoulder thing... "Are you talking to me?"

I think it's part in parcel of our Internet society when we can look up answers for anything so why not predictions on the economy, rates, stocks, etc.? We want our answers now and it's got to be convenient. I'm still learning to be patient and it's a very, very difficult when it comes to investing.

Dennis said...

I know how you feel. My friends/family ask for financial advice all the time.

I generally tell them what I like to do, but I always encourage them to do their own research.

Financial Jungle said...

Some of my friends and co-workers know I write a blog, but they rarely ask me for advice, which is great. I don't want them to hold me accountable for their finances. Like yourself, I don't encourage my friends to buy specific stocks, because most people see short-term setbacks as "proof" that you're a lousy investor.

... I have to confess though. I intervene when I see friends paying 2.5% for closet index funds.

Brian Poncelet, CFP said...

Hello GIV,

Mortgage rates... My advice is generally go short or variable. If you are afraid, go long but don't look back.

There is a number of studies about this topic, if you want to save never lock in. Even in the 80's you'd be better going short. I have being doing this for over ten years. When prime was 8%. If we get to 8% again (which could happen) your house will be worth about 20% less.


Brian Poncelet, CFP