The Biggest Retirement Mistake Investors Still Make and How to Fix It

Editor's Note: There's a place for buy-and-hold investing, but chances are your retirement portfolio could benefit from a little strategy diversification. That's why we're revisiting D.R.'s advice for a more active approach to retirement. The tactics he shares here won't just boost your savings - they'll help safeguard against market volatility, too...

The most common retirement strategy advisors still give today is "buy a good index mutual fund and hold it forever." That aged approach has been around since I got my start in the markets in the mid-1980s.

Sure, "buy and hold" is the easiest strategy for a client to follow. After selecting a fund, there is nothing more to do.

That's why it's great for advisors and mutual funds. Keeping your money is their top priority because they get paid based on assets under management, not performance. Plus, redemptions cost funds money and time. For every "sale," they have to deal with paperwork and transaction costs when they sell shares to raise cash for the redemption.

But as investors, taking a buy-and-hold approach with all your retirement assets can be one of the biggest financial mistakes you make.

Today I'll show you the value in taking a more active approach to retirement and give you a few better strategies to grow your nest egg...

Market Pullbacks Don't Always Come at Convenient Times

Buy and hold has done a particularly poor job of protecting nest egg money, especially during two periods over the past 15 years...

Buy-and-holders have seen two drops that exceeded a 50% drawdown since 2000.

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The first drop shown is the dot-com bubble in 2000. The S&P 500 dropped 50.5%.

retirement mistake

The second is the real estate and credit bubble that topped in October 2007. It led to a 57.6% drop in the S&P 500.

Now the market has recovered and won back the losses, thanks to the second-longest bull market of the last century. The S&P 500 has more than tripled since its March 2009 low.

That's fine for some retirees - if the timing was right...

But the buy-and-hold strategy ignores those who needed some of their funds during the huge drops. And living through two 50%-plus losses in less than 10 years is a horrible prescription for building wealth.

Plus, many retirees don't really understand what time frame they need to outperform inflation. We have the numbers to give you some perspective...

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When Inflation Eats Away at Your Retirement

Ed Easterling of Crestmont Research published the following retirement data in an extensive New York Times article in 2011. He looked at every period of investment from one year to 109 years between 1920 and 2011, and every rolling period in between. (For example, each 20-year period from 1950 to 1969, then 1951 to 1970, etc.)

Accounting for dividends, inflation, and taxes, Easterling concluded that for stable returns that outperform inflation, you need a 60- to 70-year holding period.

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He found that from the period of 1970 up until 2011, for any 20-year period, you had a one-in-six chance of a negative return relative to inflation for the whole 20-year hold period.

And the 20-year periods could be very volatile. For example, $10,000 at the end of 1961 would have dwindled to $6,600 by 1981. On the other hand, $10,000 invested at the end of 1979 would have grown to a whopping $48,000 by 1999.

Adding the last three to four years of positive data only improves those odds slightly.

This is why your retirement fund would benefit from some strategy diversification. Supplementing buy and hold with other strategies can provide a strong potential for outperforming in sideways and down markets.

Improve Your Retirement Strategy with an Active Approach

Here are a few strategies that can help you increase your retirement savings and protect it from plunging markets:

  • Tactical Asset Allocation - This can be as simple as deciding how much of your retirement savings to allocate to stocks, bonds, and cash at any time, or be more involved by moving in and out of sectors and more diverse assets, such as precious metals and commodities. Yale's famous endowment manager David Swensen popularized a form of tactical asset allocation called periodic rebalancing. It works because it is a standardized way to buy low and sell high as asset prices fluctuate.
  • Index Investing Using Moving Averages - Tracking moving averages can alert you to a coming pullback in the markets so you can move some money out of harm's way. Being invested when the 50-day moving average is above the 200, and being in cash when the 50 is below the 200, is a relatively simple way that has beaten buy and hold.
  • Down-Market Investments - Putting a small, underperforming portion of your portfolio to work in strategies that can increase returns in down and sideways markets also provides more active investors with an opportunity to outperform the markets in different conditions.

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About the Author

D.R. Barton, Jr., Technical Trading Specialist for Money Map Press, is a world-renowned authority on technical trading with 25 years of experience. He spent the first part of his career as a chemical engineer with DuPont. During this time, he researched and developed the trading secrets that led to his first successful research service. Thanks to the wealth he was able to create for himself and his followers, D.R. retired early to pursue his passion for investing and showing fellow investors how to build toward financial freedom.

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