Metaphors for Investing

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Metaphors for Investing

Postby AThiker » Fri Jan 25, 2008 12:49 am

As a beginning investor, I find it helpful (well, it just happens anyway!) to imagine a sailboat as a metaphor for investing. I'm only 4 figures now, so my boat is a little sunfish in which I've just set sail. Barely past the breakers rolling in to shore, my tiny vessel is already being bounced and buffeted by waves and gales of volatility and risk. I try to keep my sails trim--that's my AA--and my investment plan on course. Taxes and inflation are barnacles.

It's likely my image was inspired by the Vanguard logo.
I suspect many of us have our own little metaphors for investing.
What are yours?
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Postby Otto » Fri Jan 25, 2008 4:36 pm

That's a good metaphor. May I add to it? Your AA could actually be your compass. You have been tossed for several days in a washing-machine of turbulent seas as you say. As well, your body’s equilibrium is awash, and you have lost your mental direction to that island’s lighthouse you were sailing to. You now see a spec of light on the horizon. Is that the lighthouse or a low star on the horizon? Your compass tells you the lighthouse is farther back out to sea, but your mind is telling you go for the light… go for safety.

The chance is better that the compass is more right about the direction of your safety than your perception of a safe direction.
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Postby NoMoreInvestingExcitement » Fri Jan 25, 2008 4:52 pm

Otto wrote:That's a good metaphor. May I add to it? Your AA could actually be your compass.


I like the compass ... that's why I included it in my "signature" when I registered (and saw that signatures and avatars are available) :wink:
Unlimited online financial info's great, but I'd rather my compass just kept working.
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Re: Metaphors for Investing

Postby Live Free or Diehard » Fri Jan 25, 2008 5:02 pm

AThiker wrote:I try to keep my sails trim--that's my AA--and my investment plan on course.

I like the analogy of the sail to the asset allocation. Part of the sail is large cap, part is growth, part is small cap, part is value, part is international and part is bonds. At different times different parts of the sail will catch wind and move the boat. The market is the wind. Sometimes the market loses wind and you just sit there; but eventually the wind will start up again, and you'll be on your way.
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Postby Plainsman » Fri Jan 25, 2008 5:40 pm

Golf.

Most players, overconfident in their abilities, grab a Big Bertha driver on the tee box, trying to carry the far edge of the water at 300 yards. They end up in the water, and end up with a double bogey (worse than market return). The smart players know how difficult it is to birdie the hole (beat market return). They hit a 2 Iron down the middle, lay up in front of the green, and two-putt for par (market return).
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Postby spacepilot » Sat Jan 26, 2008 10:03 am

Driving and investing

--Contrary to popular belief, changing from one lane to the next rarely gets you too far ahead, neither does jumping from one hot fund to the next.

--In the event of a traffic crunch, an appropriate following distance will provide a nice cushion between you and danger, an appropriate amount of bond and cash will do the same for you in a market crunch.

--For most people, driving and investing are just the means, not the ends. Relax, enjoy the scenery, don't try to beat the traffic (market), it makes the ride much more pleasant.

Edit: One more I just thought of

--Although a statistical impossibility, most people think they have better than average skills in driving, and/or investing
Last edited by spacepilot on Sat Jan 26, 2008 11:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Driving and investing

Postby VictoriaF » Sat Jan 26, 2008 10:29 am

spacepilot wrote:Driving and investing

--Despite popular belief, changing from one lane to the next rarely gets you too far ahead, neither does jumping from one hot fund to the next.

--In the event of a traffic crunch, an appropriate following distance will provide a nice cushion between you and danger, an appropriate amount of bond and cash will do the same for you in a market crunch.

--For most people, driving and investing are just the means, not the ends. Relax, enjoy the scenery, it makes the ride much more pleasant.


Excellent.
To build on the last one:
--Research showed that the length of one's commute negatively correlates with one's happiness. Likewise, the longer one tinkers with the portfolio the more harm she may do.

And one more:
--Driving and talking on a cellular phone could lead to a disaster. The same is true for investing and listening to popular media.
Every joke has a bit of a joke. ... The rest is the truth. (Marat F)
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Postby biasion » Sat Jan 26, 2008 10:56 am

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1. Do not confuse strategy with outcome | 2. Those who fail to plan plan to fail | 3. Do not assume the unlikely is impossible, and | 4. Be ready to deal with the consequences if you do.
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Postby spacepilot » Sat Jan 26, 2008 12:03 pm

bettega wrote:That all depends....


I thought my observations probably wouldn't apply to motorheads like you. That's why I said "For most people, driving and investing are just the means, not the ends". I suspect there are plenty of people on this board that take as much enjoyment in devising a near optimal investing strategy and sticking to it through thick and thin, as they do in reaping the result in the end. After all, this is the Bogleheads forum. :)

bettega wrote:An Automatic transmission also robs you of the necessary responsiveness.


Can't agree more, although my current car has an autotragic transmission (the ex-wife wanted it, and I'm stuck with it :(). The traffic situation in this county would be much better off if everyone were required to drive a manual transmission car, or at least take the driving test in one. Not only will it discourage people from doing the stuff they do when they drive, like putting on/off make-up, talking on the cellphone, chugging down the Pepsi, putting the left foot up on the dashboard..., it also make people appreciate the basic physic involved in driving, thus making them think driving more as a potentially dangerous activity and not just a real-life video game. But that'll never happen. With the new technologies, the automatic, and automated manual transmission, are offering performance that equal or even exceed the manual transmission, even the automotive enthusiasts are turning away from stick shifts. Why use the clutch pedal and the stick when you can just tap the flaps behind the steering wheel. With this trend, I hope I can still get a performance car with manual transmission when I start withdrawing from my retirement funds.

bettega wrote:You don't necessarily need a very fast car (though it helps), but a manual transmission and aggressive instincts help enormously.


On the average American road, it's probably much more fun to drive a slow car to the 6/10, than driving a fast car to the 2/10. A C63 AMG would be nice, but I doubt it will be more enjoyable on my daily commute than an NA Miata (with a manual transmission of course).

bettega wrote:With the car, I enjoy it so much I have to handle it like an Italian: with passion and conviction! With the money, I handle it like an American: passively.


Well said, bettega, and way to get back on topic.
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Postby biasion » Sat Jan 26, 2008 2:52 pm

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Postby NoMoreInvestingExcitement » Sat Jan 26, 2008 4:07 pm

spacepilot wrote:Although a statistical impossibility, most people think they have better than average skills in driving, and/or investing


I read something similar not too long ago in Jason Zweig's latest book, in the chapter appropriately titled "Confidence;" well, maybe "Overconfidence" would have been OK, too.

Zweig described the results of a study in which 50 drivers were asked to rate their own skill, ability and alertness during their last time behind the wheel.

A tad less than 2/3 of the drivers said they were at least as competent as usual, and many went on to say that their most recent drive was "extra good" or even "100%."

So, these folks were pretty confident!

But, wait.

The kicker is that the folks running the study conducted all of their research interviews in hospitals ... because while each of the 50 drivers started out in their own vehicles, they ended their trips by taking an ambulance to the hospital.

P.S. The local police later determined that 68% of the drivers were directly responsible for their crashes, 58% had at least two past traffic violations, 56% totaled their vehicles, and 44% would end up facing criminal charges. In case you are wondering, a paltry 5 out of the 50 drivers admitted to the test interviewers that were even partially responsible for their respective crashes.

If our (over)confidence about investing rivals our (over)confidence behind the wheel ... yikes!
Unlimited online financial info's great, but I'd rather my compass just kept working.
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Re: Metaphors for Investing

Postby umop apisdn » Sat Jan 26, 2008 4:12 pm

AThiker wrote:I suspect many of us have our own little metaphors for investing.
What are yours?


Equity returns are a box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get :D

"Value mutual funds, growth mutual funds, international mutual funds, mutual funds-kabobs, mutual funds creole, mutual funds gumbo. Small-Cap, Mid-Cap, Large-Cap. There's pineapple mutual funds, lemon mutual funds, coconut mutual funds, pepper mutual funds, mutual funds soup, mutual funds stew, mutual funds salad, mutual funds and potatoes, mutual funds burger, mutual funds sandwich..."
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Postby linenfort » Sat Jan 26, 2008 4:34 pm

Your handle is "upside down" -- I like it!

Love the driving analogy. I almost always travel as a pedestrian, so I'm not sure how that would figure in, but at least I have patience while others are zooming past me. Beware backseat drivers! If they only knew how safe they are with a Boglehead at the wheel.

I sometimes think of a tree as a metaphor for investing. You provide the nutrients and care, and hope that your tree will survive drought, cold, lightning, disease, etc. Sometimes I think of it as a wild forest. I don't think of it as a finely pruned garden, though, and Chance the Gardener is best left for economics metaphors. ;-)
The key is not so much what couch you choose, but that you stay on it. -- boglehead Random Musings. | Wolde ye bothe eate your cake, and haue your cake?(1546)
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Postby VictoriaF » Sat Jan 26, 2008 4:46 pm

linenfort wrote:Your handle is "upside down" -- I like it!

Thanks for pointing it out. Now I got it too!

linenfort wrote:I sometimes think of a tree as a metaphor for investing. You provide the nutrients and care, and hope that your tree will survive drought, cold, lightning, disease, etc. Sometimes I think of it as a wild forest. I don't think of it as a finely pruned garden, though, and Chance the Gardener is best left for economics metaphors. ;-)

Perhaps, asset allocation is the "forest" and specific funds are the "trees," and so one should not miss the forest for the trees.

Some trees are more efficient than others in terms of their support for the wildlife, need for water, etc.

If a forest fire destroyes a lot of trees, new trees are planted to bring it in balance.
Every joke has a bit of a joke. ... The rest is the truth. (Marat F)
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Postby spacepilot » Mon Jan 28, 2008 5:38 pm

NoMoreInvestingExcitement wrote:... ...

If our (over)confidence about investing rivals our (over)confidence behind the wheel ... yikes!


Lol. There may yet be hope, both for our driving and investing skills. In a paper by Kruger and Dunning published in 1999, it's observed that the persons that are most unskillful in a discipline are usually also the most overconfident in evaluating their performance in that discipline. The paper, appropriately titled "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments", is available here. Several figures in the paper shows that, although the persons in the studies as a whole show the "above average" effect in their self-assessment, the bottom quartiles often have the most overconfidence and their self-evaluations are significantly above average without fail. The persons with less ability simply don't know enough to know that they don't know enough.

Although the drivers in the study in the Jason Zweig book apparently aren't the best drivers, if most of them are truly in the bottom quartile by some objective measure of driving skills (I sincerely hope so), their gross overconfidence is not inconsistent with the Kruger and Dunning study. And if K+D's conclusion carries over to driving skills, the driving population at large probably don't have the overconfidence nearly as great as the fine persons in the Zweig book.

Another interesting point from the K+D paper is that the top quartile always underestimate their performance in the studies conducted. I am sure that there are a lot of posters on this forum are in the top quartile in their knowledge in investing, yet remain modest and humble. So I'm still optimistic in getting some excellent advice from the forum and put my faith in a solid investing plan. Let's hope "staying the course" does it.
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Postby spacepilot » Mon Jan 28, 2008 7:20 pm

bettega wrote:Well, if you really want to stay on topic, consider Dr. William Bernstein's point in The Four Pillars of Investing or Mr. Larimore/Leboef/Lindauer's point in Boglehead's Guide: Investing is different from life in that it is not effort dependent.
...
It is this counterintuitive nature to all other aspects of life that gets people hurt. Usually, people with lots of money tend to work hard in fields where a lot of manipulation, tweaking, connections, effort and "beating the competition" or "beating the average" is encouraged and necessary. With investing trying to apply the business principles is hazardous to your long term returns.


Very well said. We pretty much need to have faith that the market is going to return to the mean and not to mess with the portfolio too much if we want to get close to the market return.

bettega wrote:I currently drive a Subaru Forester turbo, which is quite a hot ticket.

The one with the WRX engine? I've heard good things about them. It's probably hard for it not to be fun to drive with that engine and AWD. I'm driving a Passat 2.0T right now. It's pretty good as far as a family sedan goes. Lots of features, good gas mileage, decent power and handling. My previous car , also my first car, was a 1989 Honda Civic with manual everything. Although it probably couldn't pull more lateral Gs in the corners than the Passat, it was more fun to drive. The Passat will probably be my wife's car when she graduates and gets a job next year. If we need a second car, I'll probably look into used Miatas. (An RX8 probably would be nice, but I heard it's rotary engine needs rebuild every so often.) If we need more utility, we'll probably look into a Golf/Rabbit or a Mazda3 hatch back. But we'll try to be a one-car family for as long as possible.

Here's hoping that we can have what we want, at least automobile-wise, when we are ready to retire.
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Postby AThiker » Mon Jan 28, 2008 11:10 pm

Sailing--a good metaphor for AA, financial planning, and market volatility. Otto, thanks for reminding me about the lighthouse! LiveFree, true thatassets as different sails is particularly apt; hence diversification and always having something to keep you moving forward. Now I'm thinking of lifeboats as...cash?

Golf--hadn't thought of this, but overconfidence is well illustrated by this model. I am a little leery of the implication that investing is a competitive sport. That attitude might lead one to take unnecessary risks or get too greedy. Assets and clubs are also comparable (I don't know much about either golf or investing!). Plainsman, I think your emphasis on wise strategy is key.

Driving--investing as a personal journey, human-machine interface, dealing with other idiots on the road, too-frequent lane changes...I was thinking about that last one while walking through Shinjuku station this morning on my way to work. Picture thousands of stressed commuters running for ticket gates, ticket machines, exits, escalators, all trying to avoid each other yet chart the most direct path to their goal. Very old people walking very slowly (investors happy to sit back and life off bond income?); young salarymen looking anywhere but where they're going, hair spiked-up with gel, yakking on cellphones (investors looking for the next hot fund); housewives on shopping trips clutching brand name bags, wearing mink, walking awkwardly in high-heels (investors who won't settle for plain indexes)...I admire the driving metaphor, though I guess I don't relate much to it. Not much of a driver. Accidents and cellphones (popular media)--got it!

A box of chocolates--mostly delicious; sometimes you get a nasty liquer-filled erruption or marzipan surprise, and they all rot your teeth at the end of the day. Makes me think dentists would come up with good investing metaphors.

Forests and trees--myriad animals. Must be a metaphor to do with deciduous/evergreen trees, moss on rocks, timber harvesting too. I love hiking. But I can't really think of investing metaphors for that...well, maybe the long, slow trudge up a steep mountain path, while enjoying the forest, the views, and ignoring any false summits!
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Postby VictoriaF » Tue Jan 29, 2008 12:06 pm

AThiker wrote:Forests and trees--myriad animals. Must be a metaphor to do with deciduous/evergreen trees, moss on rocks, timber harvesting too. I love hiking. But I can't really think of investing metaphors for that...well, maybe the long, slow trudge up a steep mountain path, while enjoying the forest, the views, and ignoring any false summits!


Serious hiking (such as AT) requires broken boots. Novices can easily be spotted by their shining hiking boots fresh from the store. Likewise, most investment sages have a lot of experience including weathered portfolios and memories of early pain.

When hiking you want to tune out the noise and focus on what feels right.

In hiking, speed is not equivalent to stamina. Quick wins may backfire, especially at altitudes. In the Alps, Andes, Himalayas old poorly dressed locals frequently cover more ground and elevation than impatient gym-trained tourists.
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I like Charles Ellis's: Amateur tennis

Postby AnimalCrackers » Tue Jan 29, 2008 6:19 pm

Ellis states that most competitive activities can be divided into two types of "games" -- the Winner's Game and the Loser's Game. He uses tennis as an example. Although everybody plays the sport with the same equipment, rules and scoring, Ellis points out that tennis is actually two different games: one game is played by professionals; the other is played by everybody else.


The distinguishing feature between the two games is how the points are scored. In "expert" tennis, the majority of points are won -- the skilled professional will beat his opponent by playing great, successful shots. Here, victory is due to winning the most points.


However, "amateur" tennis is literally a different ballgame. Brilliant shots, long rallies and miraculous recoveries are few and far between. Instead, the ball is all too often hit into the net or out of the court. Thus majority of points are lost, so to speak. The amateur player seldom beats his opponent. Instead, victory in the amateur game usually goes to who lost the least points.


So how does your amateur player succeed at tennis? Ellis simply suggests: "avoid mistakes". In other words, be conservative, keep the ball in play, and give your opponent plenty of opportunities to blunder his way to defeat.


Although your opponent may play the odd fantastic shot, his general efforts to win will, unfortunately for him, only increase his error rate. In short, by not trying too hard and losing less, you can become an amateur victor.
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Postby AThiker » Tue Jan 29, 2008 10:43 pm

Novices can easily be spotted by their shining hiking boots fresh from the store. Likewise, most investment sages have a lot of experience including weathered portfolios and memories of early pain.

Not to mention all the uneccesary, heavy gear carried by those starting at Springer Mtn. every March-April! By the time they reach Neal's Gap, they've (hopefully) jettisoned the majority of it...similarly, simplifying one's portfolio might really take a load off, just as sticking to the basics of survival is what most long distance hikers really love about the sport!

Although your opponent may play the odd fantastic shot, his general efforts to win will, unfortunately for him, only increase his error rate. In short, by not trying too hard and losing less, you can become an amateur victor.

A very good metaphor for investing--one that this amateur will keep in mind! I'd also add that tennis is seen as a middle-to-upper class sport, b/c it generally requires tennis club membership, expensive equipment, maybe lessons, and adequate free time. Might investing--unfortunately and erroneously--also be seen as a rich mans' game?
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Postby linenfort » Wed Jan 30, 2008 9:23 am

VictoriaF wrote:
linenfort wrote:I sometimes think of a tree as a metaphor for investing <snip>

Perhaps, asset allocation is the "forest" and specific funds are the "trees," and so one should not miss the forest for the trees.<snip>


Nice!

Bettega has reminded us that investing is not about effort, so I will not extend the forest to agriculture and GM crops.

How about a shepherd and a flock of sheep. You guard the sheep from the predators of inflation, identity theft, etc, but it's up to the sheep to multiply. Asset allocation: don't make the sheep graze in the same single spot.
The key is not so much what couch you choose, but that you stay on it. -- boglehead Random Musings. | Wolde ye bothe eate your cake, and haue your cake?(1546)
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Postby VictoriaF » Wed Jan 30, 2008 11:37 am

linenfort wrote:How about a shepherd and a flock of sheep. You guard the sheep from the predators of inflation, identity theft, etc, but it's up to the sheep to multiply. Asset allocation: don't make the sheep graze in the same single spot.

Alternatively, asset allocation plays a role of the shepherd's dog. Both (AA, dog) help the decision maker (investor, shepherd) to implement his strategies and stay the course.

As for the wool, is not this where the word "shares" came from?
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Another...

Postby etc06 » Wed Jan 30, 2008 1:28 pm

I believe Larry Swedroe has mentioned investing should be like a postage stamp. Similar to how a postage stamp sticks to the envelope until it reaches its destination, you should plan out your asset allocation, and stick to it until you reach your goal.
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Postby AThiker » Fri Feb 01, 2008 5:09 am

I like the postage stamp imagery for sticking to one's investment plan. Or duct tape, or fly-paper, depending on personal feelings about $.

In a different thread, Gekko posts this nice one:
"Investing should be more like watching paint dry or watching grass grow..." - Paul Samuelson


I'm proud to present my own personal Poultry Placement Paradigm:
Asset allocation involves the idea that, in addition to not wanting all your eggs in one basket, you want to keep the eggs you plan to eat in the morning in the fridge (cash), the eggs you want to turn into chickens in the hen house (bonds), and the chickens you want to lay more eggs you'd better let scavenge around in the yard for bugs (stocks).

Disclaimer: Don't overreact by killing the hawks and coyotes when they eat a few of your hens. That's just the law of nature (volatility). Stay the course!
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Casino

Postby prentis » Sat Feb 02, 2008 3:45 pm

I like to think of the stock market as a casino. If you go to Las Vegas you might see "our slots pay 95%" on a casino's sign. On the stock market's sign you might see "our stocks pay 107%. That is a much better deal. However to realize that percentage you have to play all the slots in the stock market casino for years on end. Play just a few slots once in a while and you might win, or you might not. You have to play the whole market over a long term to be sure to realize the gains.
A good landing is one that you can walk away from.
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Postby AThiker » Tue Feb 05, 2008 4:27 am

John Brennan, Vanguard chairman, provides another look at the investing-as-seafaring metaphor in terms of staying the course through market volatility:
One of the best remedies for seasickness is to keep your eyes on the horizon. Unless you plan to spend your investments in the short term, it's best to keep a long-term view.

This one, a story, speaks to diversification:
One of our shareholders recently shared a story about a cattle ranch on the rugged high plains of Wyoming. On the morning of a big cattle drive, a visitor asked an old ranch hand what kind of weather he expected for the day. Without hesitating, the man looked up from beneath the brim of his cowboy hat and said matter-of-factly, "Oh, we'll have weather." So they loaded their saddlebags with rain gear, snow gear, and sunscreen. And they needed all of those things over the course of the day. By being prepared for anything, they turned what could have been a miserable experience into just another day on the ranch.


Both of these thanks to VG's Chairman's Corner: Four Tips for Remaining Calm in Turbulent Markets

Happy trails! AThiker
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Postby james22 » Tue Feb 05, 2008 6:31 am

spacepilot wrote:Although a statistical impossibility, most people think they have better than average skills in driving, and/or investing


Given a population of 10 drivers: 9 the likes of Mario Andretti, Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, Kimi Raikkonen, etc., and the 10th james22.

9 of the drivers can claim better than average driving skills.

Given a population of 10 investors: 9 the likes of Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, David Swensen, Lou Simpson, etc., and the 10th james22.

9 of the investors can claim better than average investing skills.
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2 Metaphors

Postby kayman » Tue Feb 05, 2008 2:24 pm

I like to relate exercise to investing, with Bond/Equity mix as Cardio/Strength training. In your 20s you can, as Kevin James said, "Eat three Big Macs and finish out the day like a humming bird". In your twenties you may not need to focus too much time on cardio (bonds) and have the resiliency to do lots of strength training.

As you get older you start needing to protect your heart, so you work more cardio (bonds) into your routine. You no longer want to risk the injury that could come from lifting heavy weights so much, so you tone things down on that side too. By retirement you might do some light strength training and focus most of your exercise on long, relaxing walks and swimming.


I like to think of Asset Allocation like picking a woman. The most important part is her mind (LC/S&P500) but few guys would want to be without some of the other "asset classes". :)
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Postby VINNY » Wed Feb 06, 2008 1:35 am

I like the one made by Charlie Ellis

Investing is a continuous process. It isn't supposed to be interesting; it's a responsibility. If you go to the stock market because you want excitement, sooner or later you will lose."
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