Why We Shouldn’t be Bothered with Fear-Mongers

bad-economic-headlinesThere is much fearmongering in the different media which we are exposed to everyday. Take a look at the money section of any website, newspaper or magazine and you will find stories warning you about the Chinese economy, the Federal Reserve’s interest rate policies, the impact of the U.S. presidential election, global oil markets and market volatility.

But none of these stories—while interesting to read and think about—is worthy of spending too much of your brainpower.

Why? Because these big global factors are beyond your control and will be resolved without the slightest help from you.

You cannot control how the S&P 500 will perform or whether the European region will restart pumping profits. History has shown us that there are times when the U.S. markets outperform foreign markets and when the opposite is true. This is also true when it comes to growth stocks, value stocks, small and large companies. There is no way to successfully or consistently predict what will happen next.

So why do we bother?

Psychologists call it the “illusion of control“. Our intellectual minds tell us we can figure it out, even when—trust me—we can’t!

Putting your precious time into what you CAN control is really the only sensible way to go.

Here are six actions where focusing your energies in will reap you rewards:

  1. Develop rational goals built on your values. Let’s face it, without a real plan, you have decided to drift and hope for the best.
  1. Consider possible life transitions and how they might impact your actions. Transitions rarely give notice, so considering the impact of possibilities allows you to put solutions in place.
  1. Build agreement with other stakeholders (your spouse, a partner) on strategies to reach your goals. With all parties working toward the same goals, you’re more likely to be working for each other and get things accomplished.
  1. Invest time and resources to work with professionals who can help move your goals forward. Whether it’s creating a retirement plan or a proper risk management plan, you’ll benefit from working with experienced experts.
  1. Know your financial numbers and assign priorities for savings, accumulation and spending. Consider a rating system from 1 to 5, where you assign a point system to where your paycheck and resources go.
  1. Understand more about the “whys” of your life. Our beliefs don’t just arrive in our thinking like a magician’s trick. On the contrary, your money beliefs—your mindset—come from your money history over the course of your life. And it’s that mindset that determines what you consider the norm. Taking the time to understand whether your beliefs support your values is always time well spent.

These actions are very specific to you—you make the choices, decisions and actions that will support the outcomes you desire.

Devoting time to the economic issues of China or whether equity markets will rise or fall is beyond your ability to control and will only divert your attention from what really impacts your life.

Is Paying for Insurance a Gamble? Your Biases Could Hurt Your Finances

 Some people may feel that paying for insurance and gambling are similar because in both cases, a person sets aside a smaller amount of money in the hope of getting a disproportionately larger return. Let’s look at the 3 behavioural biases in gambling psychology which could affect your insurance planning – framing effect, loss aversion and optimism bias.

1. Framing effect

The most significant bias experienced by us is that of the framing effect of insurance pay-outs. In gambling, the benefit is the immediate gain of the money wagered. One can immediately experience the joy of winning.

Insurance, on the contrary, has benefits which are not easily foreseen. Is it an asset or a liability? Why should I be paying money to cover an event that I do not wish would happen? Decision making behind insurance purchases is in direct conflict with many of our common product purchases. Would I buy a computer and not use it? This bias is stronger towards insurance due to its benefits being intangible. When a product is too complex, we tend to procrastinate decision-making and thus, insurance is often neglected among our priorities.

2. Loss Aversion

Humans are highly loss averse.  We have a stronger tendency to avoid losses than to acquire gains. Empirical estimates that from a gambling perspective, the pain of losing $100 is at least twice the joy of gaining $100. So, if people are more loss averse, does that mean people are more likely to buy life insurance? The purpose of insurance is to protect us and our family against huge financial losses from catastrophic events right?

Unfortunately, the thought process of a consumer on the street is even simpler than that and the following video is indeed a cause for concern.

A probable reason for this finding would be that people view paying insurance premiums as a guaranteed loss, while the insured event is just a possible loss. When one is faced with a small guaranteed loss versus a larger possible loss, as behavioural studies suggest, many will choose to take a gamble and NOT buy any/sufficient insurance. Many people risk having their savings wiped out and find themselves severely lacking in insurance coverage ONLY when disaster strikes.

3. Optimism Bias

This is a well-established bias that causes someone to believe that they are less at risk of experiencing a negative event compared to others. Will a gambler walk into a casino thinking he is going to lose money? The answer is almost definitely no as we are often filled with high hopes of making a profit.

On hindsight however, many gamblers will feel that they should not have started gambling in the first place. Unfortunately, this realization usually comes only after one has suffered a significant loss. Optimism bias always leads one to overestimate the chances of winning and underestimate the risks of losing.

The same logic applies for insurance. Most people feel they will certainly live a healthy and accident-free life. (Honestly, who doesn’t?) Sadly, life is as predictable as the September 11 attacks and we can’t use a crystal ball to find out what happens tomorrow.

Insurance planning is an integral part of one’s financial plan. In the event of a thunderstorm, only those who carry an umbrella can be sheltered. People who don’t have an umbrella end up drenched. A well-planned insurance portfolio is the exact opposite of a gamble. Without sufficient coverage, we are gambling with the financial future of ourselves and our loved ones. Given the little insurance planning most Singaporeans have, many people may be “gambling” without realizing it.