I've been invested in the stock market for the past 15 years, but I'm not excited that it's reached an all-time high. According to a recent Business Insider article, half of America is "bummed out" about the bull market. To say I'm "bummed" would be an understatement. I'm beyond annoyed because even the 3.5-year-long market rally hasn't made up for the hits I took from the dot-com bubble, the "Panic of 2008" and overall market decline during the Great Recession. Experts keep talking about how the S&P has exploded 170 percent in the past few years. According to a Gallup poll, 60 percent of Americans owned stocks between 1998 and 2008. Pew Research Center reported earlier this year that only 45 percent of Americans had money in the stock market. Most experts imply that if the other 55 percent had stayed invested in the stock market, they would be enjoying stellar returns. If I sold all of my positions in my Roth IRA today, I'd lock in dramatic losses even though the market is supposedly "up." Looking back, I'm trying to learn from my mistakes so I'll actually enjoy the next stock market rally.
Buying individual stocks
My biggest mistake was investing in individual stocks instead of purchasing exchange-traded funds (ETFS) or mutual funds. Several of the stocks I owned went bankrupt during the Great Recession. I still own two bank stocks that are down 75 percent compared to when I purchased them before the stock market decline in 2008.
Relying on dividends
I assumed I'd be fine if I picked stocks that paid a dividend. However, two of the stocks I chose suspended their dividends during the Great Recession. One of the companies isn't sharing profits with shareholders because it still isn't back to being profitable. The other company finally resumed paying dividends this year. If I had chosen ETFS that paid dividends, I would not have been disappointed.
Failing to be consistent
Another mistake I made was being an irregular investor. It's impossible to dollar-cost-average into a position unless a person is willing to be consistent. I didn't have as much money to invest during the Great Recession because of furloughs and pay cuts. Now I'm relying on automatic deductions being taken from my paycheck and saved into my 401(k). However, I picked a lower percentage that I can maintain even when I have a reduced income.
According to the Pew researchers, the "white, wealthy and more educated" people tend to be invested in the stock market. Seventy-seven percent of college-educated people are invested in stocks versus less than half of non-graduates. I'm annoyed because I spent my 20s paying off my college loan debt only to lose anything I had saved for retirement when the dot-com bubble burst. I worked hard in my 30s, saving 20 percent of my income only to see my 401(k) shrink during the terrible recession. Now I'm told the stock market has hit an all-time high, but I'm still waiting to break even.
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