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The Higher Your Income, The More Obliviously You Should Invest

Mike’s note: While I do not ordinarily publish guest articles, I recently invited Jim Dahle to write something for Oblivious Investor readers, and he was kind enough to oblige, with the following article.

A recent article by Tadas Viskanta, discussing a book entitled Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Muchpromotes the idea that we all have limited psychological “bandwidth.” Much like your computer runs slower when you’re running a dozen programs in the background, so does your mind and life run more poorly when your bandwidth is heavily taxed.

One method of “freeing up bandwidth” is to put your investing plan on autopilot — to invest “obliviously,” as Mike frequently discusses on this blog. Doing so frees you from having to worry about picking stocks, watching active mutual fund managers for the inevitable downturn, evaluating “alternative” investments, and timing the market. As Michael LeBoeuf famously said, “Invest your time actively and your money passively.”

Aside from freeing up bandwidth, a simple investing plan also frees up a great deal of time. My life, for example, became abnormally busy recently. I normally work as an emergency physician full-time and also run an increasingly busy website/blog called The White Coat Investor, where I help doctors and other high income professionals get a “fair shake” on Wall Street. However, in addition to these two jobs, I recently wrote and self-published my first book, The White Coat Investor: A Doctor’s Guide to Personal Finance and Investing.

Becoming busier was a very gradual process, but I finally realized I had simply run out of bandwidth. The final straw was when I took my laptop to work one night in the hopes that if the Emergency Room got really slow, perhaps I could deal with some of the 50 or 100 emails I had received that day. As those of you who have had the misfortune to visit an ER are probably well aware, it isn’t exactly a slow-paced job. When your life gets so busy that a job in an ER is the only place left from which you can steal some time in order to balance everything else out, you know you’re in trouble.

When you run out of bandwidth, something has got to give. You don’t want it to be your family or your career. Putting your investment portfolio on autopilot is not only likely to lead to higher long-term returns, but also frees up valuable bandwidth for you to use in the rest of your life, on things that really matter.

High-income professionals like doctors, lawyers, and business owners are even more likely to benefit from an oblivious investing plan than someone in a more typical career field, because their time can be used to generate money at a very high rate. It makes little sense to spend hours trying to eke out a little extra return on the portfolio when those hours could be better spent simply earning more money and increasing the amount contributed to the investment account — especially early in the career when the portfolio is small and the business is growing.

Some choose to hire an investment manager in order to free up this time and bandwidth. That is certainly a reasonable option, if you use a low-cost adviser who uses a smart investing strategy. But choosing a simple, low-cost investing strategy and putting it on autopilot will not only cost you less time and money, but counterintuitively, may also lead to better after-expense portfolio returns in the long run. The higher your income, the more obliviously you should invest. You can spend that time and bandwidth better elsewhere.

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