By Brad Sherman
Learn more about Brad on NerdWallet’s Ask An Advisor
The market has been on a wild ride lately, which has provided a wake-up call for investors who rode the six-year bull market — and its low volatility — without a care in the world. Now reality has set in.
As with all market corrections, this one has inspired retail investors to question whether it’s time to pull money out, shift to safer and more stable investments or just throw in the towel entirely.
While it is normal to feel anxiety during a downturn, there’s another way to look at it. As long as downturns and dips don’t affect your financial plan or, more specifically, your immediate need for cash, they can be an opportunity.
Remember the mantra “buy low and sell high”? The volatility, geopolitical risk and uncertainty we’ve experienced so far in 2016 have presented a particular opportunity for investors in the accumulation stage of their lives, or for anyone who has money but hasn’t started investing yet, to actually buy low (or at least lower). If you’ve been delaying investing regularly because the “market was too high” or “you knew a correction was coming,” now might be a good time to start.
The key is to view volatility — like what we experienced last August and what we are seeing now — as a tool to keep contributing regularly to your investments. This will let you maximize the possible potential for your investments and enable you to watch them grow. The two best concepts to help you do that are dollar-cost averaging and compounded interest.
Dollar-cost averaging is the process of spreading out the costs of your investments as the market rises and falls, rather than purchasing shares all at one (potentially higher) price. The key is to pick a schedule — whether it’s monthly, bimonthly or weekly — and an amount, no matter how small, and stick to it by purchasing as many additional shares in your investments as your fixed amount will allow. This is much more effective than trying to “time” the market by buying shares when they are at their lowest or selling when they are at their highest.
Using this system, you are regularly contributing the same amount, regardless of the price of shares. As a result, that fixed dollar amount buys more shares in times when the market has dropped and prices are low, and it limits the amount of shares when the market has risen and prices are high. Over time you will come out ahead, compared with trying to time the market.
Once you have started to build up the size of your investment with the help of dollar-cost averaging, the concept of compound interest gives you a boost. Compounded interest is the interest you earn on the sum of both your initial investment and the interest that investment already has earned. If you have $1,000, for instance, and it earns 5% interest yearly, you will earn $50 at the end of the first year. Then, if you keep that money invested, the next year you will earn 5% interest on the total — $1,050 — which is $52.50. The following year, you will earn 5% on $1,102.50, which is a little more than $55.
Because dips in prices allow you to buy more shares with a fixed amount, volatility allows you to maximize the potential for compound interest as well.
Using these two concepts, the daily ups and downs and market corrections are not a cause for undue concern. If you are sticking to your dollar-cost averaging plan and taking advantage of compound interest, news events shouldn’t affect your long-term plans and goals. Any dollar that is invested in the stock market should be a dollar that you are comfortable keeping invested through a bear market or a major correction.
If you are disciplined about investing, and consistent about reinvesting, you’ll start to look at market volatility as a tool and an opportunity, rather than as a source of anxiety or, worse, a reason to throw in the towel and lose out on long-term growth.
Image via iStock.