17 August 2007

Riding the storm out

We're all clear on how much I like to graph my life on Excel spreadsheets, right?

Well, for the last several years I have been graphing my 401k balances. Every Monday morning I go to the website for the company that has my money, I check the balance, and I type that balance into my 401k spreadsheet. There's a little calculation that determines the difference between this Monday and the previous Monday and there's a little chart, so I can see my future cat-food and store-brand paper goods fund displayed visually.

(I don't play with the money, I just look at it and graph it. I re-balance my stocks/bonds/etc percentages every couple of years and pretty much just let it grow quietly; the same kind of benign neglect that I apply plants. This works even better for a 401k than it does for plants.)

The chart generally looks like a two-dimenional representation of one of the hikes that Mom used to do all time - a kind of ragged, but generally ascending, line. There are, of course, a couple of ha-has* - the first in September of 2001 and the second right now.

10 September 2001 was an average Monday and I entered the 401k balance. 17 September, of course, was not an average Monday, but the balance was only a few dollars off of the one for 10 September. The 24 September balance, on the other hand, was 8% lower than the 10 September balance. I guess everyone in America hit the malls after that because after taking on that bucket or two of water, the little dinghy righted itself and I had made back the losses by 8 October.

Right now the American stock market looks more like a graph of a teenager's moods. And the last couple of weeks have had an emphasis on black fingernail polish and songs by The Cure and Morrissey.**

I'm hearing on the radio that things are going to continue like this for a while. Which is very exciting for me because between 16 July and 13 August my account dropped 6%. And that's six percent of a lot more money than I had in 2001. Between 13 August and today, it has dropped an additional 3% from the 16 July balance. So I'm looking at my balance and doing what I did in 2001, which is scanning for some kind of "save" button, but there doesn't appear to be one.

But I shall be staunch. I shall stand firm and not fret. I still won't play around with my 401k. I'll let it get back on its own feet. This is not permanent, it's just something that happens occasionally.

And I'm going to repeat those helpful phrases as I check my balance on Monday through the fingers I'll be covering my eyes with.

* in the sense of a sunken fence or unexpected ditch. See Jane Austen's Mansfield Park.

**Yeah, yeah, okay, out of date references, I know. I'm old, let's move on.***

***But, really, was there ever - outside of "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and the works of Chopin - music more suited to depression and self-pity than Morrissey or The Cure?


Maureen said...

This is exactly why I check my balances pretty much only when I get my year-end balances. Up from last year? Good.

The man I'm married to, however, checks his TSP and other accounts several times a week. Granted, he is at least 5 years closer to retirement than I am...

David Gorsline said...

For ha-ha, see also Arcadia, including some speculation on its etymology. Funny, but I've only ever seen it in the definite singular, "the ha-ha," not the indefinite plural.

Anonymous said...

I'm right with you on this one, except that (these days) I import the numbers every two weeks, so that each one captures a payday contribution. It's funny to see the numbers going up and down by more on a daily basis than I put in every two weeks. I have, however, gotten nervous enough about the economy over the last ~6 months or so that my current distribution is something like 65% treasuries, 20% foreign equity fund, 10%S+P and 5% Wilshire 4500. But at some level, the option is either save or don't. I had a nice, round amount of money in there for about a day or two before it started cascading downward.

I'm actually more nervous about the Roth IRA I started last year. It's MUCH harder to move money around in than the TSP and having just reread the prospectus, it has an unhealthy afinity for financial stocks. And since last year everything was going so well that poo flinging monkeys would have made good stock pickers, I tell myslef that I've got to take the bad with the good.