This article was first published in the National Post on August 19, 2022. It is being republished with permission.

by Tom Bradley

I want to take you into the realm of science fiction. You’re getting in a time machine and beaming yourself forward three years to a rainy afternoon in August 2025. You have your account statements spread out on the kitchen table and are reviewing your investments (time travel isn’t always exciting).

Now the question: What would you have to have done in the preceding three years to please the future you? This is science fiction, so I’m going to go inside your head to see what’s putting a smile on your face.

Roadmap: The bad markets in the first half of 2022 made me look at what I was doing. It forced me to clarify what the money was for and when I’d need it. From there, my adviser helped me determine an asset mix for my portfolio that fit with my goals, time frame and risk tolerance. It included all my accounts: guaranteed investment certificates, registered retirement savings plan (RRSP), tax-free savings account (TFSA) and trading account. I can’t believe I waited so long to have this framework for making decisions about my money.

More reason, less reaction: I stopped listening to what my golf buddy was telling me. He’d recommended cannabis, ether and Peloton Interactive Inc., all at the peak of their popularity. I finally realized his portfolio wasn’t doing that well. It seems to have cured me of my fear of missing out.

Regular contributions: Instead of managing from golf game to golf game, I set up a pre-authorized monthly contribution. It’s automatic so I don’t obsess over every purchase. It’s been brilliant, and, come to think of it, I don’t even notice the money coming out of my bank account anymore.

Fun money:I still have a small trading account. My “moonshot” fund, as I call it, is factored into my overall stock allocation. I was doing well for a while, but gave back most of my gains when the market tanked. It’s been a cheap and fun education.

Less but better: It’s true what they say about looking at your investments too much. We react twice as much to bad news as we do good news. Given that there are almost as many down days as up, I was putting myself through the ringer even though I was doing OK. I mostly own funds, so I tried to limit myself to checking my main account once a month. Now, I don’t even do that. I just spend a few minutes every quarter reviewing my account statement.

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Don’t blink: It got pretty ugly there for a while. My portfolio was down a lot, and everyone was talking about a recession. But I didn’t need the money (not likely until 2040), so I kept telling myself that lower prices meant buying more shares with my contributions.

Against the grain: I finally did what I promised myself I would. I had read for years about buying when stocks are down and everyone is scared, but had never been able to do it. I used my bonus in 2022 to add to my portfolio when the markets were looking ugly. I actually did it twice. The first purchase was about two months and 10 per cent too early. The second was near the bottom. Both worked out well.

Lingering problems: I procrastinated for years to deal with some nagging issues. I wasn’t paying myself enough (i.e., saving) and was paying my adviser too much (for one call a year at RRSP time). And I was too heavily invested in my former favourites: gold, real estate investment trusts, cannabis and the Ark Innovation Fund. Having a plan forced me to deal with them.

Work in progress: I promised my adviser I’d read a Warren Buffett book, but I haven’t finished it yet. I must say though, the first 200 pages have already changed how I think about investing. Wow.

Hopefully, your review will be this positive in three years. If it is, the self-congratulations should be about process and routine, not short-term results. That’s because being a disciplined investor is a challenge. The task goes on longer than anything you’ll ever do. There are lots of distractions to take you off course, and, of course, the outcome is always uncertain.

Having a disciplined process helps you deal with the short-term noise (and friendly tips) and focus on the things you can control: how much you’re saving; your long-term asset mix; and what you’re paying to invest. These things are more important than being a brilliant stock picker or market timer, and way easier.