Emotional Investing

DIY Investors Are Sabotaging Their Portfolios

3 Tips on How to get out of your own way

Ben Le Fort
Nov 5 · 5 min read
A man in a black suit looks at his laptop in pure frustration.
A man in a black suit looks at his laptop in pure frustration.
Photo by Sebastian Herrmann on Unsplash

Do It Yourself (DIY) investors are self-sabotaging their portfolio, without even realizing it. Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of DIY investing and am a DIY investor myself.

However, a report from Morningstar makes it clear that our constant need to tinker with our portfolios is costing us big time money.

Morningstar looked at the average return of investment funds over the past 10 years and compared that to the actual return that investors in those funds received. They found that the average investor trailed the return of the funds they were invested in by nearly 1% per year during that time.

  • The average fund in the study returned 7.05% per year
  • Meanwhile, the average investor returned 6.1% per year
  • That is 0.95% (95 basis points) annual difference

95 basis points is a meaningful difference. Let’s say you invested $100,000 when you were 25 and never invested another dime, and pulled the money out at age 65.

  • The portfolio returning 7.05% per year would end with $1.525 million
  • The portfolio returning 6.1% per year would end with 1.07 million
  • That is a difference of $457,000

The DIY investor in this example would cost themselves nearly half a million worth of wealth over their lifetime. The larger the lifetime investment, the more wealth they would be giving up.

Why investors lag fund performance

There are three psychological traits in particular that are hurting DIY investors.

  1. Fear
  2. Greed
  3. Overconfidence

Fear and greed are two halves of the same coin. In their report, Morningstar found that in periods after funds performed exceptionally well investors poured in a lot of additional money into that fund. Following periods of underperformance, investors began selling off their investment in that fund.

Translation; Investors were buying high and selling low. You don’t need to be Warren Buffet to realize that isn’t a recipe for investing success.

DIY investors also suffer from another bias; overconfidence. If you are a DIY investor you believe that you will have a better outcome managing your own investments than paying a professional to do it for you.

This overconfidence can lead to market timing decisions that seem like good ideas at the time, but most often lead to underperformance. These are the people who say things like “I don’t want to invest right now while we are at the top of the market”.

By holding their money out of the market, they are betting that the market is about to crash. In reality, market timing is nearly impossible to successfully pull off and your most likely outcome is missing out on future gains.

3 Tips to help DIY investors get out of their own way

  1. Don’t check your account balances
  2. Don’t take more risk than you need to

Stop trying to outperform the market

Standards & Poor’s collects data on how actively managed funds perform against their benchmark index across the globe.

Over the past 5 years here is what they found.

  • 82% of active fund managers in the U.S underperformed the S&P 500 index
  • 90% of active fund managers in Canada underperformed the TSX index
  • 80% of active fund managers in Europe underperformed the S&P Europe 350 index

There is no country in the world where a significant number of actively managed funds beat their respective indexes.

The managers of these investment funds are very intelligent people with more resources and more investing experience than you have. If they can’t beat the market, what makes you think you can?

Don’ bother trying. Invest in a passively managed fund that tracks the entire stock market. Then treat it like a passive fund by simply buying and holding.

Don’t check your account balances

To overcome fear and greed, simply do nothing.

  • Do not read news about what is happening in the stock market on a day to day basis
  • Do not follow blogs that advocate things like market timing or investing in gold
  • Only check your account balances when it’s time to rebalance your portfolio

Fidelity did a study that found the best-performing investors all had one thing in common: they were dead. Do you know what dead people have in common? They never check their account balances.

Don’t take more risk than you need to

A portfolio invested 100% in stocks is not appropriate for two groups of people.

  1. Those approaching, or in retirement
  2. Emotional investors

It just so happens that nearly everyone will fall into one of these categories. Most DIY investors probably think of themselves as the ultimate rational investor who won’t make emotional decisions with their money. This is another form of overconfidence.

The morning star data of investors underperforming their funds suggests that most people do in fact make emotional-based decisions. That includes selling when the market is down and locking in losses.

Watching your portfolio drop by 40%-50% in a single year is a scary and real possibility if you are invested 100% in stocks. This causes fear which can lead to an irrational decision to sell and lock in losses.

If you're invested in a portfolio that has a healthy allocation to bonds it’s much less likely to see such steep losses and things seem a little less scary.

Investing in bonds may lower your “expected return” as stocks tend to outperform bonds in the long run. However, if your an emotional investor (which the data suggests you are), you should be happy to trade off some expected return to save yourself from yourself when sh*t hits the fan.


Are you a DIY investor? How do you allocate your investments and how often do you buy and sell different investment products? Let me know in the comments below.

You can now sign up for our FREE personal finance course which includes a custom-built, expense tracker

Originally published on Wealthtender

Making of a Millionaire

Stories about money, personal finance and the path to financial independence.

Ben Le Fort

Written by

Sharing the lessons I’ve learned on my journey from debt to Financial Independence. Email me for freelance inquiries: makingofamillionaireinc@gmail.com

Making of a Millionaire

Stories about money, personal finance and the path to financial independence.

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