Why I Decided To Stop Obsessing Over My Investment Portfolio

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TWO MONTHS AGO, I fessed up to my addiction to financial market news. Despite knowing better, I’ve followed the markets closely for years and would update my portfolio almost daily. Based on some comments my article received, it appears I’m not alone.

In the article, I vowed not to check my portfolio until New Year’s Day 2022. How’s my experiment gone thus far—and what have I learned?

My attempt to go cold turkey hasn’t been entirely successful. Though I’ve looked at my portfolio far less often, curiosity sometimes gets the better of me. Over the past two months, I’ve checked in on the market or my portfolio a handful of times. Still, compared to my old ways, I count this as a small victory.

One thing I discovered is just how addictive financial market data can be. Kicking the habit has been far more difficult than I’d imagined. Some days, I felt an intense craving for market quotes that were just a few keystrokes away. Usually, though not always, I managed to fight the urge.

Another revelation—perhaps obvious in hindsight—is just how difficult it is to insulate oneself from market data. Both The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg have an electronic “ticker tape” displayed prominently across their websites. Even HumbleDollar recently implemented this feature on its homepage, displaying daily price changes for a dozen exchange-traded index funds representing broad market segments. I felt like a smoker trying to quit but being bombarded by images of cigarettes dancing across my computer screen.

By the way, if anyone working for these news outlets is reading this, may I offer a suggestion? Allow subscribers to opt out of seeing dynamic market quotes. Unfortunately, I have a sneaking suspicion that such feeds drive user addiction—I mean, engagement.

With regard to checking my portfolio, I resorted to a financial hack that’s been somewhat effective. I set up alerts for every position I own. Fortunately, my portfolio is pretty simple. I would be notified if any holding increased or decreased by 10% in price, or reached a new 52-week high or low. No alerts meant that nothing earth-shattering was going on.

I’ve received just a handful of alerts over the past two months. Two bond funds hit 52-week lows. A stock fund hit a 52-week high. Finally, a gold-mining ETF broke above the 10% threshold I’d set.

How many of these alerts did I act upon? Exactly zero. A waste of time, perhaps. But for me, the alerts provided a measure of reassurance that my portfolio hadn’t gone completely off the rails.

Overall, spending less time fussing over market noise provided me with greater equanimity. While I’m disappointed that I haven’t been able to break the habit completely, I’m determined to beat this addiction one way or another. Stay tuned.

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John Lim is a physician and author of “How to Raise Your Child’s Financial IQ,” which is available as both a free PDF and a Kindle edition.

This article first appeared on HumbleDollar. If you’d like to receive the site’s free weekly newsletter, sign up here.

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