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Investment perspective redux

“We’re putting all our spare cash into the stock market right now,” my coworker M said to me not long ago. “I figure that it’s cheap to buy right now, and prices are bound to go up.”

“We had twelve thousand dollars in the stock market,” my friend J said to me not long ago. “Then when everything came down it was ten. Now it’s back up to eleven. But we’re sure not doing anything with stocks until it gets back up to twelve at least. We can’t afford it.”

There are differences between M and J, of course–one is that M is in a household with two good incomes and J is in a household with (temporarily) one fair one–but they also have different perspectives on investing. Following up on Tim’s post, different people can look at the same world situation–a depressed stock market in which prices which had been rising have fallen and are slowly climbing again–and have radically different reactions.

As Tim said, the price you pay or how you feel about an investment doesn’t affect its outcome–but it does affect yours. Buying stocks cheaply now may well be a good move; but even if J had the money, she probably wouldn’t do it because she’s risk-averse and has just suffered a loss, which increases her risk aversion. M, on the other hand, is relatively risk-loving. If both of them were given the same opportunity–for example, the chance to buy stock in a company being touted as the next Google–chances are that they would react differently, even if they have the same information about the market and the absolute risk, based on their investment styles and their previous experiences.

It’s worth considering whether your previous experiences are coloring your thinking when it comes to investing. Maybe you lost money recently in your portfolio. (Chances are you did; most people have.) That doesn’t mean you’re going to lose money if you make another investment. It doesn’t mean you’ll make it, either, of course. It all depends on the market and world events; but not, as Tim said, on your action or your personal history.

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