By Russell Dunkin

Weelunk Contributor

Happy New Year!

Just as reliable as the ball dropping in Times Square each year, you can expect to see financial magazines showing you all the best places to invest your money in the new year.

Not unlike the ads for tax relief, investment magazines play on your desires to get rich quick to sell their year end issues.

For example, I was at the airport in December, and these were just a few of the eye-catching headlines I picked up:

  • Where to Invest in 2015
  • Make More Money in 2015
  • 8 Stocks to Buy Now…and 5 to Sell

Seems like information you should know!

Unfortunately, history has proven that these forecasts are often better avoided than adhered to.

Take last year for example. U.S. Stocks, as measured by the S&P 500 index, ended the year up by more than 13 percent. That’s a pretty good year and well above its historical average.

Late in 2013, Kiplingers released their “24 stocks for 2014” article. The impressive list was “culled” from editors and columnists across their publication — in other words, their best ideas.

So how did they do?

Not so well.

Out of 24 companies, these are the depressing results:

  • 10 companies ended the year negative
  • three companies performed better than the S&P 500
  • The remaining 11 companies finished the year flat to up under 12 percent

Typically, the results aren’t this poor, but they’re rarely better than what you would return by simply buying a  broadly diversified investment.

So what should you do instead?

Many people we talk to locally are often confused with where to start when it comes to personal finance. Whether you’re a Marcellus lease holder, facing an upcoming retirement, or are just getting started, more people than ever are faced with the challenge of deciding how to manage their money.

Sadly, the financial media don’t make it very easy. Here are three things to help you navigate the financial landscape:

  1. Forecasts are for Dr. Dave — The prognosticators are out in force and are everywhere you turn. Whether in print,  Jim Cramer flailing around on CNBC, or a friend at a party, you’re sure to run into confident-sounding predictions this month. Remember! That’s all they are — predictions. Unfortunately, they’re masked with confidence and made to sound as if they’re gospel.
  2. Focus on what you can control — Many people spend more time planning for vacation than for retirement. Sadly, the financial press does do a good job covering financial planning topics, but they bury them behind salacious headlines. This leads many people to put more focus on areas well outside their control while ignoring things they can control. Simple things matter. For example, you’ll get much more bang for your buck paying down high-interest credit card debt, increasing your 401k contribution, or focusing on retirement plans than you will guessing which stock will become the next Google.
  3. Take advantage of 2015 — There actually are several things that a new year does bring about for you to take advantage of financially. Limits for many retirement plans have increased with the new year. Take this time to bump up your payroll contributions. Although it’s a new calendar year, you may be able to contribute to IRAs, Roth IRAs and Health Savings accounts through April 15 and get credit for it on last year’s taxes.

These are just some of the options to consider focusing on in the new year. Believe me. You’ll be much farther ahead than if you spend endless hours trying to guess what the markets will do.

Disclosure.

Russell Dunkin is a Financial Adviser and co-owner of Fort Henry Capital in Wheeling.



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