Don’t Gamble with Your Retirement
My son was hanging out with other teenagers. My wife and daughters were at a magic show. I took this rare opportunity to stroll leisurely around the cruise ship on my own. About fifteen minutes into my “passeggiata” (this was a Mediterranean cruise from Rome), I saw flashing lights and heard laughter and machines whirling . . . the ship had a casino! I’ve only had the opportunity to gamble a few times in my life – and, this was no Disney cruise! I quickly took a seat at the roulette table. I felt the endorphins start to surge as that little white ball bounced around the wheel. With as much cognitive will as I could muster, I decided how much I was going to play with over the next couple of nights. I set my total gambling limit at $200.
I handed my cash to the dealer. She said, “Put it down.” I said, “What?” She said, “You have to put it on the table; you can’t hand it to me directly.” Oh, yeah, I forgot there were some strict rules. I ceremoniously plunked down $100 on the table and the dealer slid a tower of $1 chips over to me. At first, I decided to hedge my bets, literally, by allocating some chips to individual numbers as well as to certain sections of the board. This produced some marginally “winning” bets and some equally marginal “losing” bets. While I enjoyed playing, within two hours my roulette “war of attrition” resulted in a total of zero chips. On the second night, I was determined to be more aggressive in an effort to not only win back the first night’s losses, but to come out ahead. First, I asked for $5 chips, so I could be more focused. Second, I didn’t bother with the hedging, and only bet on individual numbers. I really had no special insight – I just looked for numbers that seemed to beckon. “Place your bets,” the dealer repeated. My fourth bet finally produced a winner! The odds put the payout at 35-to-1. The dealer slid $175 over to me. I was now ahead for the night, but still negative for the two days so I kept playing . . . and, I ended up losing everything I had won! If I had stopped after the one big winning bet, I would have only been out $25 instead of $200.
It is awfully hard to get up from the table when you are winning! It is even harder to quit when you are down. The same is true about investing. One of the greatest challenges investors face is the ease of placing retirement bets on their own. The stakes, of course, are much higher than my cruise ship roulette. It is well worth your time and money to get expert advice before risking your financial future. If I had a $1 chip for each time I’ve heard an investor say, “I’ll sell my stocks once they get back to . . . ,” I’d have a very large stack of chips, indeed!