"Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand..." — Henry David Thoreau
It struck me this morning that Thoreau, if he followed his own advice in his financial affairs, might have been a pretty good investor. This thought was the takeaway from a investment process gone somewhat wrong.
At the beginning of 2013, I decided to be a DAA do-it-yourselfer rather than automate the process. After all, why would an investing veteran like myself need help implementing a strategy I helped invent? Ridiculous.
However, it became a little more complicated when the amount I wished to allocate to DAA exceeded what I had in a single retirement account. (Like many of you, I had picked up a variety of IRA and 401(k) accounts over the span of my career.) This meant I would need to implement the strategy in two brokerage accounts, adding a minor degree of complexity. Still, not a concern for a spreadsheet whiz like yours truly.
My results in 2013 were slightly better than if I had gone the automated route, which, given my talents, I had naturally expected. Rebalancing at the end of the year, resetting the correct percentage allocations to my various strategies spread among four different accounts, was a little taxing—but I was up to the task, if a bit late. The fact that the holidays and other time involvements prevented me from completing this important housekeeping chore on time should have been a warning, but if it was, I ignored it.
It's obvious now, and I'm embarrassed to admit it, that my success in 2013 seems to have led me to take a less-disciplined approach in 2014. If I missed making a change by a day or two, no matter. I'm pretty busy, after all.
But by mid-year, I awoke to the fact that I was out of sync with the DAA signals. Must have missed something while on vacation. Cost me a few percent. I resolved to pay closer attention. It was only one day a month that I had to be on my toes. How hard could it be?
On the morning of August 29, Susie and I were packing the car and heading out for a trip south for a friend's wedding. Although distracted by the need to get on the road, I remembered to enter my sell signal when I learned that EFA was being replaced. Good for me. I wouldn't be able to reinvest the proceeds in BLV until the following week, but I could do that while away. I printed out the data and a reminder and tucked it into my briefcase.
Where it remained, undisturbed and unheeded. Going online to conduct a little business seemed like such a poor way to enjoy my reunion time with friends and family. It could wait until I got back. Which it did.
This morning I fired up the computer and got back to business. And discovered that, in my departure haste, I had failed to sell the EFA position in the second brokerage account! (Fortunately, EFA hasn't gone down very much—about 1%). And so I remembered the wisdom of "simplify, simplify."
What was I thinking, anyway? Was the possibility of outperforming the automated approach by a percent or so worth the worry? Turns out I'm often preoccupied with other matters of everyday life on the last trading day of the month (and most other days as well), and have little interest in arranging my schedule each month around managing DAA.
So, I'm firing myself as my personal DAA manager. Such incompetence can't be tolerated. While I have the aptitude, I've discovered I no longer have the appetite for the task. As another great American once said:
"A man's got to know his limitations." — Detective Dirty Harry CallahanFor more tips on simplifying your investing life, check out these suggestions from Sunday's Wall Street Journal.
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