Wednesday, August 5, 2015

How to Stay Disciplined About Investing

It is not always easy to keep up with investing. It's all to easy to let the weeks slide by without new activity. Life tends to throw distractions in your way. And forget about distractions. It's the financial setbacks that are perfect excuses to pass on an investment this month. Or getting emotional about the market.
I had a few set backs recently. First, my car didn't pass inspection, and I had to put several hundred dollars into it. This was unplanned, but always a risk when driving a 14-year old car. I'm active starting to look for a replacement. I have money for that set aside in a car fund. But the repair was unplanned.
Then my computer's hard drive stopped working. Not a huge deal, but here also I spend some money to fix it. I was worried I had to buy a new hard drive, and spend time installing everything. Or even look at a new computer as mine is over six years old. Luckily I was able to fix it myself with some tools I bought on Amazon. Geeky details -- search for Seagate 7200.11 BSY fix. Next in line is my wife's laptop. It's probably about 5 years old. While it generally works, the battery is toast, so it has to stay connected to power, and it keeps getting slower. I've been playing with defrag and other optimizations, but perhaps it's time for a new one.
These things all cost money and are mostly unplanned. So it is tempting to skip my investment this month and put it towards these expenses.

Here's how I shake off these distractions:

  1. Automatic transfers. Fresh money goes from my checking to my brokerage account every month. This means I don't have to think about it. This creates a really low barrier to investing it. Also, it means it is work to put it back into my checking account, and I'm too lazy for that.
  2. Goals and plans. Having measurable goals for investments makes you think twice about straying from your investment plan. For if you skip this month, you either need to catch up later, or your goal will be at risk.
  3. The dividend payments just keep coming! It's like a money machine you cannot stop. Knowing money comes again next month and next quarter, I feel safer putting money into the market.
  4. Emergency fund. I have cash to cover several months of expenses. The monthly investment money is not needed for unexpected expenses.
  5. Screener. I trust my stock screener to give me solid investments. My capital gains are below expectations this year, along with the rest of the market. But I've been optimizing my annualized dividend income, and that's going well above expectations.
  6. Sometimes good stuff happens, sometimes bad stuff happens. In our case, my wife was able to pick up two months of work in the fall, which will more than offset these temporary losses.
I plan to spend my fresh money and dividend earnings around mid August. CAT is hot on the list at the moment.

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