The programme Supersave Me went through a list of different investment and speculative alternatives, from short-term savings products through shares and property to betting on the horses. It looked at different attitudes to investing at different stages in the ‘life course’, with younger savers more interested in setting money aside for a rainy day or a deposit on a house and older savers keen on having an income in retirement. It showed how most savers want to choose themselves, believing they have an edge in choosing cars, property, share or racehorses. And they were all aware that there is risk involved.
There are a number of simple ways in which you can get the risk return trade-off that suits you. Some people, say close to retirement, don’t want too much risk; others, younger, are looking for capital growth which only comes with risk attached. If you have a nest egg, or are saving monthly, just decide how much you can afford to lose. For example, with a £10,000 nest egg, would you be able to survive if it fell to £5,000? Or can you afford only to have it fall to £8,000, say? The smaller the fall you can afford, the less risk you can take on.
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The stock market, for example, can, as we have seen, fall 40 to 50% in a single year, although that is a rare occurrence. So, decide up front, how much you can afford to lose. It’s likely that if you are in your fifities, you will have a higher minimum value on your nest egg than a thirty-something with years to go before retirement.
You also have to decide your time horizon. If you are investing for 10 or 20 years, and can afford to hang on to your investments, you shouldn’t worry about short term falls as, at some point in the future, prices will recover. That is true of property too, but the problem with property is that it tends to be a ‘leveraged’ investment. People tend to borrow to invest in property, so that a fall in the value of the property or in rents can mean that the loan is called in and substantial losses incurred. People tend not to borrow to buy shares so investing in shares is less risky than borrowing to invest in buy to let.
But the simplest way to make sure you maximise your expected return for a particular level of risk is to diversify across different kinds of assets. Put simply, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Put some in cash, some in bonds, some in shares and possibly some in property or another ‘alternative asset class’ such as gold or even classic cars. By so doing, you will be making sure that at least part of your savings doesn’t fall. For example, when the stock markets were crashing in 2008, investments in government bonds were racking up capital gains of 30% or more. And if your pot is not big enough, there are plenty of investment trusts or unit trusts who will diversify on your behalf.
And, finally, if you are investing in the stock market, don’t invest it all at once. Regular saving, so called ‘dollar averaging’ means that you don’t put all your money in at the top of the stock market cycle and also that you do put some money in when shares are cheap. Regular saving avoids the classic small investor’s temptation – to buy at the high in the heat of a stock market boom and to sell when prices have gone down.
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