Sometimes, it makes sense to not put your money into stocks

ILLUSTRATION: NYTIMES
ILLUSTRATION: NYTIMES

If you're a bit scared right now about investing your money, you're not alone. I've received many e-mails and comments recently from people who have money to invest. They even know how it should be invested. But they just can't persuade themselves to put the money into the stock market.

Why are they scared? Many of them cite the fact that markets are at record highs, as well as the endless stream of uncertainty in the news.

Feel that way yourself? Well guess what? You don't have to invest the money. Really, it's true! Even as I type these words, I feel a sense of relief. I gave myself this same advice a while back when I noticed how worried I was about my investments.

You see, I hate losing money in investments that are outside my control. It ties me up in knots and distracts me no end. A while ago, when I moved some money out of a 401(k) plan, a company-sponsored retirement savings scheme, into my retirement account after a job change, I left it in cash.

I told myself that I was fine with missing out if the market continued to go up. But I wasn't fine with investing this pile of cash just in time to lose it in a big, scary market drop. And guess what? That was and still is true.

I'm fine with letting the cash sit there earning 0.16 per cent or whatever the rate might be. I just don't want to lose it.

I told myself that I was fine with missing out if the market continued to go up. But I wasn't fine with investing this pile of cash just in time to lose it in a big, scary market drop. And guess what? That was and still is true.

This decision has cost me in paper gains that I might have achieved, given how well the market has done since that decision, but I don't care. I don't see it as a real cost. Instead, I see it as an investment in my sanity and my human capital.

The fact that I didn't have to worry about losing money in that area of my life allowed me to feel comfortable taking risks in other areas. I've started two or three new businesses, and moved my family to New Zealand. The risks I have taken have provided, and will continue to provide, a much higher return than what I might have received had I remained fully invested in the markets.

I know what you're thinking, but this not a sneaky way to engage in market timing, where one states with great confidence what the markets will do next and invests (or not) accordingly. Instead, this is about taking comfort in less risk (and living with less potential reward) in one area while taking more risk in another.

Having a pile of low-risk investments offers ballast to an otherwise risky life. Of course, each individual needs to take a complete and careful look at the total financial picture. You need to weigh when and where you take risks. But along the way, don't be afraid to make the moves that make it easier to take the risks that don't fit neatly into a spreadsheet.

NYTIMES

• Carl Richards is a certified financial planner.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 30, 2017, with the headline 'Sometimes, it makes sense to not put your money into stocks'. Print Edition | Subscribe