Our own devices

Posted by on August 30, 2011 @ 11:38 am in Investing

I have to admit, I can’t live without my smart phone. The ability to be constantly connected to my friends, take care of e-mails in between other tasks, or check the news from anywhere is an incredible convenience. It’s also led me to open random apps almost compulsively throughout the day.

I mean, clearly, everyone needs to know the weather in five random locations each hour, right? And I’m not alone. My generation is addicted to our devices.

The downside of always being connected is … always being connected. We are fed information and opinions on everything all the time. And when it comes to important topics like saving and investing, a constant barrage of information can be numbing and even frightening. In the past couple of years (and especially in the past few weeks), financial news has dominated the media. And the headlines haven’t been pretty. It becomes difficult to know what to trust, especially when we receive so many conflicting messages. And with media sources competing for a slice of your attention, it’s no wonder the news is often alarmist.

Earlier this summer, an article in The Wall Street Journal* described the effects of recent market conditions on young investors. According to a recent Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey, 59% of affluent investors aged 18–34 are looking for low-risk investment strategies; a higher percentage of this age group is more risk-averse than all other age groups. Similarly, a March 2011 survey by MFS Investment Management found that only 39% of “Gen X” and “Gen Y” respondents named “growing assets” as a primary investment goal; these respondents also had only 34% of their assets in U.S. equities and had 30% in cash.

Many of my generation have personally felt the impacts of high unemployment rates and declining home prices, and we’ve seen our families lose significant amounts of wealth—and in many cases, their jobs—in the last decade. These firsthand effects, coupled with the unending reminders we receive on our phones, computers, tablets, TVs, and radios, can make the decision to engage in the stock market difficult. It’s no wonder why many members of Gen Y are conservative when it comes to investing.

But keep in mind that avoiding assets like stocks and bonds won’t negate investment risk altogether. If history is any guide, leaving your money in cash or short-term investments means you could see a return that is below the rate of inflation. In other words, while you might see your money growing, it’s probably doing so at a rate slower than the pace at which prices of everyday goods and services rise. The net effect: The money you’re saving will likely buy you less when you need it in the future. You haven’t escaped investment risk; you’ve just shifted your risk away from market risk and toward inflation risk.

So, where do you Google from here? For most young investors with long-term investment goals, investing in a balanced portfolio constructed of stock and bond funds, or in a target-date or life-cycle fund, could be a way to manage investment risk while still engaging in the markets. Take a quick look at this tool on vanguard.com that illustrates a range of options, including diversified portfolios.

If the flood of news coming through your electronic devices is keeping you from making the investment decisions that are best for you, turn them off.

(By the way, right now it’s raining in Seattle and hot in Vegas.)

* Available at WSJ.com. This link will open a new browser window. Except where noted, Vanguard accepts no responsibility for content on third-party websites.

Notes: All investments are subject to risk. Diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss in a declining market. Investments in target date funds are subject to the risks of their underlying funds. The year in the fund name refers to the approximate year (the target date) when an investor in the fund would retire and leave the work force. The fund will gradually shift its emphasis from more aggressive investments to more conservative ones based on its target date. An investment in the target date fund is not guaranteed at any time, including on or after the target date. Past performance is not a guarantee of future returns. Bond funds contain interest rate risk, the risk of issuer default, and inflation risk.

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