The worst financial advice from around the web! (Today only)

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[Updated below! 10:58am PST 6:14pm PST]

Today is going to be awesome. As you may have seen, stock indexes are dropping all over the world. That means that the kooks are coming out today! There will be lots of pundits mouthing off about what this world is coming to. Oh, doom and gloom!

New York Times image of Japanese stock market falling
Image from the New York Times.

As you know, I have a very low opinion of Chicken Little Kooks and the media’s horrible performance at predicting economic performance. And I’ve previously written about how hilariously frantic the media behaves during “global corrections.”

So today, I’m going to catalogue the worst financial advice from around the web. If you see something, add a comment!

* * *

From this thread on Reddit:

When you buy things like index funds and mutual funds, what do you think you’re really getting? Both the good AND the bad companies, all piled together, with no way for you to separate them. The whole point of buying individual stocks is to minimize the number of bad stock in your portfolio.

Let’s say you buy an index fund, and you also know that there’s a company within the index that is not only terrible, but where you know that they’re about to completely go out of business. You’re watching their stock, and it’s tumbling, day after day. You know what you, as an index fund investor, can do about this? NOTHING! You just sit there and watch that bad stock flush your money down the toilet.

Or let’s say there are 3 industries within the index (manufacturing, technology, and retail), and you know without a shred of doubt that the retail industry is going to take a severe beating for the next several years, and you wish you stopped owning all those bad companies. You have no power! You’ll just watch your money burn, while hoping that the other two industries in the index pick up the slack.

Now, sure, in the end the good stock may outweigh all the bad apples in the index. But the fact that you can’t get rid of the bad apples is also the reason why the profits on these things, while generally consistent, are so low.

If you have the time and the inclination to perform detailed research into where your money is going, and if you’re smart enough to read books on how to do this correctly and minimizing the risks, then buying individual stocks is a great idea, and sticking your head in the ground and buying an index fund or ETFs becomes a gigantic waste of your money.

This Marketwatch column, by Mark Hulbert, is so incredible that I just decided to paraphrase it for you. I strongly encourage you to open it in another window and follow along.

‘Now and 1987 were very similar.

Of course, things are different.

To be sure, I am not sure what I am saying (and I use double-negatives to confuse you into thinking I am writing something coherent).

Now I am going to quote someone who says something inconclusive.

I will add some quotation marks now.

The “expert” I am quoting says things are pretty good.

But even if they go bad, they won’t be bad.

Ahh, my work here is done.’

[Updated, 10:58am] From this forum (forums are the best for these kind of quotes):

As the bubble market bursts, I predict a recession with an extra added bonus of inflation running close to 10% – before the end of 2008…If Bush continues to shovel shit on the dollar right up to the end of his term in January 2009, the inflation rate could hit 15%-20% by 2010.

[Updated, 6:14pm] Ahh, Fortune, you never fail to tell me your kooky forward-looking predictions. In this delightful article on real estate (“Real estate: Buy, sell, or hold?”), they say the following:

Our exclusive calculations can help you figure out what your house will be worth in coming years.

“Exclusive?” Really? This sounds promising! Only a few lines later, they write this:

Take a deep breath. We can’t tell you what your house would fetch tomorrow. But we can help you through the fog of whipsawing prices and vacillating views to develop a clear picture of what your house will most likely be worth in five years or so.

The key word is likely. See, I can predict anything to be “likely” if the time horizon is long enough. For example, I predict that you will likely gain weight in the next 20 years. I furthermore predict that you will likely have gray hair and that you will likely need to take some sort of medicine! HOW DID I DO IT??! I AM A GENIUS!!!!!!!!!!!!

Please add more horrible financial advice you find to the comments. I’m especially interested in finding people who recommend buying gold and tin cans full of oil and butter. They are the best.

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44 Comments

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  1. You might want to link directly to the reddit comment as that thread grows bigger:
    http://reddit.com/info/666ib/comments/c02yjeo

  2. Hey,

    That’s so true. So called “experts” are funny.
    Whe the power of the internet we have looked in history about the french real estate in 1991 and a lot of previous “experts” are playing around !

  3. I look forward to today as well! It will be interesting to see who buys up all this cheap stock too.. Personally its probably not so good as this is how the middle class typically gets slammed by bigger interests, but its certainly interesting to watch it play out and the shift of wealth that occurs because of days like this.

    I didn’t find any great quotable material, but most of it on gold seemed to be talking about how gold is still a buying opportunity.

  4. I’m pre-calling a Jim Cramer meltdown on Mad Money. What a loon.

  5. My favorite was listening to a liberal talk show host proclaiming that today would be the start of a depression, not just a recession. In the commercial breaks, one of the spots they played featured the exact same host hawking a make-easy-money-in-fifteen-minutes-a-day-in-the-stock-market kinda product.

  6. Between IWillTeachYouToBeRich and

    http://patrick.net/wp/

    I have lots of fun ;)

  7. OMG!!! Your paraphrasing of Mark Hulbert’s article had me LMAO!

    Thanks for the laugh and the much needed reality check that is sorely lacking in most corners of the web!

  8. I really can’t understand the panic when markets do what markets do (go up and down) except among those with short time frames. In that case, you should not be in any overly risky investment.

    Also, the market makes me queasy and I can’t seem to avoid sneaking a peek now and then, even though I know it will ruin my day. Kinda like looking at a car wreck as you pass…

    That’s why I stay in real estate: There’s no ticker on it to give you the willies at times like these! TDW

  9. This article was actually posted the other day. It pretty much says that any market correction or recession is not a huge problem. We have seen it happen before and we have bounced back. But it goes on to warn that “Bernanke is risking a disastrous replay of the 1970s” and “while the economy is sending mixed messages about growth, the signs of increasing inflation are flashing bright red.”

    As a long term investor I am more interested in buying during these dips and watching for reaction to the fed cut and inflation concerns. Inflation could hurt me a lot more over the next 30 years than a few quarters of stock losses.

  10. Agreed, naysayers should shut their yap. I’m not worried about going bankrupt – if anything this will play out as a very good opportunity.

    But that still brings up a big question. I don’t think I need to pull out all my money now to keep from losing it all, but it does seem that this is a position where the market is going to continue down for at least a couple more weeks, almost without question. Given that, wouldn’t I still be better off selling right now, holding till Feb, and then buying back in even lower?

  11. For those confused like me, the reddit comment that Ramit quotes has been deleted. I guess the guy got slammed so hard by all the other commenters pointing out what bad logic he had caused the post deletion. So, if you’re looking for the idiot who wrote it like I was, then it’s no longer there (just listed as a deleted comment).

  12. My favorite was the recent Kiyosaki article (as seen on quote.yahoo.com) : http://quote.yahoo.com/expert/article/richricher/62341

    He is the EXPERT at saying absolutely nothing.

    He says: “Back in the 1990s, every time I had some extra cash I would buy some gold or silver.” Ok, first of all, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” was not released until 2002. We all know he wasn’t rich until those books came out. Secondly, gold was a poor investment and underperformed the market throughout the 1990′s! What a crock. The sad thing is that people buy it and do whatever he does. I think the best Kiyosaki strategy is a contrarian one – do the OPPOSITE of whatever he says. He says “don’t buy gold now” – that’s as strong of a “buy gold” indicator as I’ve seen in a while. ;)

  13. Hey Ramit
    I am advising people to invest in what they understand. FOr some, it’s index funds. for some, it’s real estate. for others, it’s direct investment in business.

    Investing in what you understand is the only sound financial advice I can give people.

    I use to invest in stocks, when I worked at Merril Lynch, then I realized I didn’t understand the market :) Now I’m investing in real estate in my local area, an investment I understand and am comfortable with. That’s all anyone can ask for

    BenjaminBach.com

  14. I’m loving this… I feel like Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroid at the end of “Trading Places”…
    Just sitting here, waiting to “buy, buy… buy” during this panic.

  15. Condoms. Invest in condoms. No, seriously. Not stock in Durex, but physical items.

    When the former USSR collapsed, condoms were the most valued commodity in the country. Supply was extremely limited, yet demand was higher than ever. Booze and food could be produced locally. Raw materials could be salvaged. But few could produce more condoms!

    They’re small and easy to store. Nobody else will have thought to stockpile them.

    And, even if the economy never collapses, at least you’ll be protected in other ways.

  16. My favorite today was the Washington Post. They ran the ‘market collapses! stock brokers perched on ledges!’ headline before the market even opened. And now that the DJIA has dropped ALMOST ONE PERCENT, their web headline is: “Despite Rate Cut, Stocks Fall Amid Recession Fear”

    I’m glad that people have been generally smart enough to make their own decisions today, but deeply confused about why the media/pundits are seemingly trying so hard to manufacture a stampede.

  17. @ Mike McHugh

    That’s because the majority of the media and pundits have a vested interesting in pushing their political agendas (which is mostly to paint the current administration in as poor a light as possible) and to increase their ratings and circulation numbers by selling fear.

    Then again, they may be part of a massive conspiracy to drive down the market so their cronies can buy in on sale. :-)

    Ignore these kooks. Ramit has one of the best attitudes that I’ve seen in the blogosphere regarding these nutcases.

  18. Why worry? If you have a credit card, you can buy whatever you want! If everyone had credit cards instead of worrying about stock and other stuff, they could just use them to buy everything. I take my credit card everywhere, and if I don’t have enough cash, I just give them my credit card, and I don’t have to pay for it! Starving people in Ethiopia? They should have credit cards. Seriously, folks.

  19. The comments are funnier than the post. I missed Mad Money…did Jim Cramer have a meltdown? I can only imagine…

    And I loved the person who advised investing in condoms…lol…

    Thanks for the great comments, it put a smile on my face…especially on a day where I ran some rough numbers for my taxes this year and realize I might be “AMT”ed…arrrgghhh!

  20. [...] The Worst Financial Advice From Around The Web A good point, made sarcastically: people who pronounce doom when the news is bad are usually paranoid. (@ i will teach you to be rich) [...]

  21. I’m pretty much a complete novice when it comes to the stock market and investments, so all of this advice is going in one ear and going out of the other.

    *phew*

  22. Rob asked:

    >I don’t think I need to pull out all my money now to keep from >losing it all, but it does seem that this is a position where the >market is going to continue down for at least a couple more >weeks, almost without question. Given that, wouldn’t I still be >better off selling right now, holding till Feb, and then buying back >in even lower?

    Rob you are tempted to try timing the market, but it’s not a good idea unless you KNOW (not guess) the future. Say you sell now but the market doesn’t go down further… you just took a loss and the transaction costs too. Now when will the market go up? Will it be a few days, a few months, a year, or several years? You could miss a pretty big gain by not being invested while you are waiting for “the right time” to buy.
    I don’t know about you but I can only know the past, so I am not going to sell on the hope that the market will go even lower. Instead, I plan to buy as I have the money to do so. I hope that I will be buying at a discount and will end up making a nice profit in the long run.

  23. Rick: Right on. Don’t forget about taxes, too. And, more importantly, laziness: Once you take your money out, imagine the energy required to actually invest it again. Chances are, you’ll just wait around and not invest it for a loooong time.

  24. I am one of those wackos who attempts to time the market. I sold all of my individual stocks a couple of weeks ago at a solid profit after only holding those particular ones a few weeks. Just for fun I have kept track of what would have happened had I held. I would have been down over 23 per cent as of this am. Right now I am sitting on a mountain of cash in that account, just biding my time.

    Back in the early 2000′s took “professional advice” and believed that I couldn’t time the market. Lost 50k and took 5 years to make up the loss in that buy and hold “strategy”. Nuf said.

  25. [...] I Will Teach You to Be Rich: The worst financial advice from around the web [...]

  26. @ Gayle,

    Just out of curiosity, have you taken into account the tax implications (ordinary income vs long-term cap gains) of selling your stocks after holding them less than a year?

    If timing works for you consistently, consider yourself fortunate (or a genius). You could make a fortune teaching others your secret. I’ve researched enough to assume that timing the market just doesn’t work so well for most of us in the long term.

    As for me, I’m doing fine buying in at regular intervals (so I average the market’s lows and highs) while holding for the long term.

    Happy guessing!

  27. Buying gold when it was less than $300 an ounce was a really great deal. I know mocking those who say that is a great sport, but they have been right for the last 5 years. It may not continue up as sharply, but then neither may the stock market. The market also has its times of staying stagnant for many years….

  28. The guy who predicted 10% inflation isn’t that crazy, as that’s definitely the direction we’re headed. Have you looked at commodity prices lately? The core CPI isn’t the whole story. This pretty much tells you all you need to know about the fall of the dollar:
    http://i14.tinypic.com/8ajy8ad.gif
    >10% inflation is hardly unheard of, it happened for 4 or 5 years during the 70s and early 80s. Its naive to think that somehow our economy is too sophisticated to repeat it. “Stagflation” could be around the corner.

  29. Prashanth Ganapathy Link to this comment

    While I agree to an extent with you about the MSM going haywire with their predictions, I would have liked to see you put your perspective to the mess we are in.

    Housing >>>>> Financial >>>> consumer >>>>>> all others follow.

    Is this the way we are supposed to live? In constant doubt and uncertainty??? Why is this country pouring money outside when it doesn’t have money of its own? (Trade deficit, Budget deficit, trillions in debt)

    How can the presidential candidates say they are going to solve problems like health care and illegal immigration without talking about reduced spending? The price oil actually hasn’t gone up but the currency has inflated its price.

    Yea and thats how the cookie crumbles, first the royally stupid, unnecessary, and unaccountable FED will pump more money into the market with low % rate, then CPI goes up and then they have no choice but to tighten up the market which throws the market into a bigger recession or we become Japan and live in shit-land for 20 years.

    The FED and other such agencies were put in place to keep a check on free market and the state of the currency. Their job description is simple.. Heat the market or cool it down…
    The skill level here is to make sure we don’t hit super lows and the common man can live without fear of losing his job, his money and his life…

    But do they do that?

    No, they let lenders like countrywide give shitty loans to people who cant afford them, using automated underwriters who qualify them for a house in 30 seconds, so we have to see this day.

    If they are not capable of providing this security then they should be held accountable.

    The media says a lot of things. Its up to you to find out what is actually going on and why we have to put up with this every few years.

  30. For Mike
    That particular account is an IRA. Therefore no tax implications. That being said there are two other retirement accounts that I make no attempt to time. One I am actively contributing to, and taking advantage of dollar cost averaging. The second is a 403b that is invested in funds that I have actually been quite happy with the performance over the years. But I had to wrench out of the hands of the company’s chosen fund group to achieve that.
    You could say I am trying it both ways. Just another way of spreading risk, I am not nutty enough to think I have found the holy grail. I am in fact only risking a portion of my assets and have spent a lot of time studying (20 years) before even attempting this. Had my “professional adviser” been able to generate ANY returns in that 5 year period I probably would not have been motivated enough to bother. During that same time period she collected $15,000 in commissions.
    Thanks for your concern

  31. Prasanath – I’m not sure I like your comment, “or we become Japan and live in shit-land for 20 years.”
    I hope that I am misunderstanding you and that you are talking about the Japanese economy over the past 20 years, and not living in Japan, which by every measure I read is one of the most pleasant places to live in the world (even more so if you’re not Japanese).
    I know their economy has sucked, but for a great many people living there now is even more paradisical than it was before (partly because of the deflation) and partly because it is a lovely place to live.
    Hope I was wrong about your tone.

  32. First comment ever! This is a fantastic website and I love your writing style. However, one thing sticks out for me — why are you repeatedly dissing putting money into gold? With such a prudent financial perspective, I’m surprised by the way that you shrug it off. Over the long term it is an excellent way to retain the value of your savings, especially in during a period of dollar weakness. It’s what people do when they freak out because everything that looked so good, now looks too good to be sure and at the end of the day gold will definitely worth something (and if you dont believe that show anything gold to any woman and see if they act like it’s worthless) Since 2001, there has been almost no better way to preserve liquid capital. Am I suggesting buying a bunch of rifles and exchanging your life savings for a bag of gold coins and hiding under the bed while the apocalypse comes? No. But there are innovative, online banking institutions out there that let you open a savings account priced in gold ounces that are an excellent tool to be aware of. These are small banks, just like the way ING started, that are audited quarterly by places like Deloitte and Touche and insured by Lloyds of London, they are totally legit. Throwing a couple of hundred dollars a month into these accounts (and I can remove the money into my checking account in 24 hours, if I like) has more than doubled the value of the money I put in and has gone up every year for seven years. Gold has gone straight up, from $285 to over $900 today, over a period of seven years. Think if you put $2850 dollars in a savings account in 2001 and today it was worth $9000. Are you kidding me? It’s an excellent store of capital and is misunderstood because most the articles out there say buy gold because the world is coming to an end, which is obviously crazy. Are we going back to paying for things with gold coins? No, but you cant buy your groceries with your stock holdings or with a part of your house either so the argument that it’s not a currency like the old days in Wild West is ridiculous too. It’s a completely unappreciated form of capital. You should learn about this before you brush it off just because some idiots on the tv and internet dont know what theyre talking about either and think that the “fiat currency system” is coming crashing down around us as we speak! Understanding how and why gold has existed in every monetary system that existed for 1000′s of years, including todays, would seem like something that would at least marginally interest you given your obvious aptitude towards saving and all things financial. I urge you to spend some time a more objective perspective and do some real research! There are a lot of people reading you…

  33. Prashanth Ganapathy Link to this comment

    Reuben

    I was talking money the entire time and referring to the japanese economy. Since you have brought it up, I would like to add that japan could still do well for itself even through 20 years of recession because their economy is very limited and well defined with few moving parts. However the US economy has too many moving parts and can very different effects than what happened in japan.

    Prashanth

  34. For the guy asking about selling and waiting a couple weeks. If you sold everything Tuesday morning or Wednesday when the market was dropping again, then you missed all the gains on Wednesday and Thursday. It’s also impossible to tell what will happen tomorrow, or what will happen over the next two weeks. Odds are, you’ll be wrong more often than you are right. Personally though, I much prefer buy and hold for numerous reasons, and not just because it seems simple. It helps stop a lot of emotional decisions that could really hurt your returns, like panic selling, and making uninformed purchases. But, to each their own. What works for me isn’t necessarily the best for everyone.

  35. @ Reuben,

    I’ve lived in Japan for a little over two years now, just south of Yokohama (which is just south of Tokyo). Economically, the country is still in shambles. Interest rates are incredibly low, so low in fact that I know some folks with 1% rates on mortgages. The larger problem, though, is that the personal savings rate here sucks. The average Japanese consumer is up to his/her eyeballs in debt. Prices are extremely high and the social norms (and some laws) basically force people to continually spend beyond their means. It’s not uncommon for a brand new driver to get a 10 year car loan, even though the average Japanese buys a new car in less than 5 years because of the high taxes imposed on keeping a car any longer. Home loan terms can range from 40-60 years as well, especially in and around the major cities. The average salaryman works 10-12 hours a day or more and earns squat compared to his western counterparts.

    You’re right about certain elements of living here, especially for foreign males. The people are generally helpful and courteous. Crime rates (actually reported) are very low. The food is delicious and the public transportation system is top-notch (albeit expensive).

    However, there are negatives as well: because it’s such a homogenous society (99% of inhabitants are Japanese), there’s rampant racism against foreigners – despite being courteous, there is an underlying “tone” that we’re all inferior. Even hafu (half-Japanese) kids are considered non-Japanese because of their tainted blood. Sexism is astonishing – women are second-hand citizens… ironically because the mothers here teach their sons that they are the center of the universe, which only continues the downward spiral. People that fall outside of the “median social norms” are basically outcasts. Physically and mentally handicapped folks are “hidden” from the rest of the society. Elderly (especially women) are neglected and many have recently died because they have been refused acceptance at hospital facilities. The sex trade here is alive and well, often through the trafficking of very young women or girls from poorer parts of Asia – and is relatively ignored by the government officials (except for those that frequent the establishment, but that’s not fixing the problem). Marriage here is a business contract and not much more – the western idea of “cheating” on one’s spouse is not considered a second thought here.

    As a reasonably young foreigner male, the only really negative experience that I’ve encountered is the racism. Many of my single American friends have had no trouble getting dates with Japanese women, who more often than not prefer Western men because we (and I quote) “treat them nicer than Japanese guys do”. I’ve seen many a Japanese woman become “tainted goods” to Japanese men because of a prior relationship with a Westerner, though. There are numerous restaurants, bars, and clubs that are permitted to hang signs that say “Japanese Only, no foreigners allowed”. My son has been called the English equivalent of “gross, nasty, disgusting, or stupid” foreigner on the playground by Japanese children under the age of 5 (these kids must be learning that foreigners are bad somewhere… my guess is at home) for doing nothing more than asking if they want to play with him – even when he asks in Japanese.

    In short, Japan – like anywhere else – has positives and negatives. Anyway, didn’t mean to hijack the comments. Just thought I’d share my 2 cents.

  36. @MIke:

    Think Japan is bad? You should try living in Korea.

  37. @Shane, funny you mention it. One of my coworkers just moved from Korea, having lived 3 years in Seoul. He shares your sentiments.

    @Gayle, my inquiry wasn’t out of concern, more just general curiosity. I incorrectly inferred from your initial post that you had developed a “time the market” approach with your entire investment portfolio instead of playing it both ways as you mentioned in your reply. I always cringe when I see and hear of people trying to time the market regularly and on a site like Ramit’s where the target audience is the youngins, I wanted to get my two cents in about the old buy and hold strategy. Having re-read my initial post, I probably should have had a second cup of coffee before replying.

  38. Mike, your information on Japanese culture is eye-opening. Thank you for sharing.

  39. [...] The worst financial advice from around the web! A funny round-up by Ramit on the doomsayers of our new financial apocalypse. No need to rush out to your bunkers yet folks. Palestinians rush into Egypt through wall breach I guess not everyone is too happy about that new government in Gaza [...]

  40. Why is buying gold bad? (As you inimated at the end of your email missive this morning, 2/6/08.) It’s up more than tripled since 2002 — heck, it’s risen more than 50% since Jan. 1, 2007 — and if the dollar continues to sink, provides a worthy, if conservative, investment that will retain buying power.

    I’m not suggesting that you dump all stocks and simply invest in gold, but I do think a 10-15% stake in gold (physical gold, not ETFs or mining stocks) is a good investment, at least for the short term.

    Unless someone can convince me otherwise… Ramit?

    Ramit wrote: “Please add more horrible financial advice you find to the comments. I’m especially interested in finding people who recommend buying gold and tin cans full of oil and butter. They are the best.”

    Thanks,
    Noah

  41. I believe the reality is not “kooky” Doom and Gloom, but instead that the United States has slipped from a leading world power to a 2nd class country. We’re no longer number 1 and with the way our education system and financial prowess as a country is we won’t be for a very long time.

    We’re now about on par with New Zealand and Canada. The good news in this is and will continue to be a transfer of wealth between the Middle Class and the Upper Class. We’ll see more people who know how to manage their finances poorly slip into the lower income area and the people who know how to manage and invest will grow into the upper class. ( This is good news for you Ramit, and good news for me too) Kind of like we see in other countries such as India and China. A small but very rich upper class and a large lower class.

    If you look at states that have had … near economic collapse, like Michigan you’ll get a better idea of what I’m talking about.

    A lot of people live the type of lifestyle they do, largely financed on credit. As credit becomes harder to get and variable rates for debt increase, we’ll see a crappier type of lifestyle in general. But it’s not the end of the world.

  42. I couldn’t guarantee where the price of gold will be
    anywhere in the future, but “buy low, sell high” is still
    good advice, and I’d say that gold is ‘high’ right now
    (900 to 1000 dollars). People HAVE made money buying
    high and selling higher, but that’s hard to do. I’ll predict
    that even people who bought gold at $300 would have done
    better (from the perspective of 3 years from now) buying almost any stock fund. Sure, I could be wrong, but I’m sure
    not buying any precious metals at these levels.

  43. I disagree about precious metals. You’re looking at it like a trader would look at it. Precious metals store wealth, They’re not an investment as they don’t pay dividends. The growth in gold’s value reflects the growth we’ve seen in commodities across the board. An oz of gold has typically purchased the same amount of Crude Oil through out recent history. I believe that the value of gold and other precious metals is finite and it is the price of currency that changes, as gold holds onto it’s purchasing power. Gold is where you want to keep your emergency fund, especially if you’re afraid of putting it into a failing bank. It’s not a place to grow your money.