This is an article by Marc Pearlman. Marc is a money management professional who has been in the finance industry over 20 years, and he is the author of The Positive Money Mindset and host of the radio show, Your Money Matters.
I watched as these two were duking it out — at the poker table, that is. Fortunately for me, I was out of the hand with my lousy cards safely in the muck pile. I watched with no attachment to the outcome, but I had a prediction of who would come out the victor in this poker showdown. This young kid, probably mid to late twenties with a black hat pulled half way down his head had been quiet most of my time at the table, was squaring off with a middle aged guy. If appearances mean anything, this middle age guy was somebody of means given the designer clothes he was sporting.
Anyway, this kid makes a modest bet and the middle aged guy is quick to match it. Not only does he match the bet, he raised him with a smirk as though daring this kid to come at him again. So, the kid comes back at him with a bigger bet, and again this guy matches him. When all was said and done, both guys had all their chips in the middle and our middle aged poker wannabe had absolutely nothing for a hand. He tried to save face and belted out, “I didn’t have anything, but I couldn’t sit there and watch you walk away with it.”
Egos can be expensive that way.
All too often people make financial decisions out of emotion, which can be an expensive trap for those who have their ego firmly married to their net worth. If we look around, we can see examples of this all across the spectrum of income classes.
Years ago, I worked with a doctor who shall we say did not suffer from a fragile ego. He was interested in putting money with an institutional money manager who had a large minimum investment requirement and a lousy recent track record. I had suggested a manager who demonstrated better performance numbers and who utilized a strategy with less risk. “What is the minimum investment?” the doctor inquired. The minimum was about half of the other managers requirement, I answered. The doctor quickly rebuffed the notion.
It came out in conversation that his peers had money invested with this manager who had the higher minimum. I understood that it was important for him to be part of what he believed to be a prestigious group of investors. Making money was not his motivation, satisfying his ego is what dictated his investment choice.
Another story comes to mind. I once had the opportunity to work with a professional commodities trader. I was hired to help him with his trading deficiencies. This guy had strong opinions on whatever subject was being discussed. He could not possibly fathom that his thought process could be flawed. I introduced him to the concept that being right to him was more important than making money. He scoffed at the idea. In the end, he learned his lesson in a painful way. This trader would hold onto losing positions until he was forced to sell. He vigorously defended his position that he was right only to watch his once several hundred thousand dollar trading account dwindle to less than $20,000.
Ultimately, the ego he was trying to protect was humbled.
Here is yet another example of how our egos can hurt us financially: about a decade ago I had a wonderful client who has since passed away. Great guy, but wow, what a terrible stock picker! Honestly, someone could have made a fortune by simply doing the opposite of what this guy did. He held fifteen stocks in his portfolio, ten of which I had selected for him.Out of the five he picked, every single one was a dog. When I say dog, I mean dog with fleas. They were all down 70 to 80% within a year. I am not suggesting that every selection I made was a homerun, but we were profitable on average with my ten selections.
He would call in on a regular basis to discuss the market. He never wanted to discuss his losing stock picks. Furthermore, I knew it was taboo to mention my winning stock picks. The only subject that was not off limits was the couple of picks I made that were not working out.
When he passed, he still held those losing positions. His refusal to acknowledge his mistakes cost him well over five figures in losses, not to mention the opportunity costs associated with redeploying the money elsewhere.
Big egos often mix with money with the same cohesiveness that oil and water mix. Having an inflated ego is not necessarily the issue, but when your financial decisions are borne from ego, you are in dangerous territory.
Strong and sound financial decisions require letting go of your ego. Often, we need to admit our analysis was wrong and we need to cut losses in order to preserve our hard earned capital. Sometimes the simple truth is that keeping up with the Joneses is going to bring financial ruin.
Many times, laying down your cards is the best thing you can do for your wallet.
Photo: Ross Elliott
Updated February 7, 2012 and originally published February 6, 2012.