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Why the financial news should be taken with a pinch of salt

By Sam Instone - August 18, 2020

I want to tell you a story.

It’s the story of a bereaved woman who has just lost her only son.

Kita is her name.

And her story provides invaluable learnings for successful international professionals.

Especially investors.

Kita goes to a great sage with her unburied child and asks him to cure her sorrow and bring her son back to life.

The sage tells Kita to go to every house in the village and gather one mustard seed from each family that had not been touched by death and grief.

Kita is initially relieved.

There will be a cure!

But as she goes from house to house, she is not able to gain even a single mustard seed.

She does, on the other hand, learn just how universal her grief is.

She gains community, shares her grief, feels lighter, somehow, though she can’t fully explain how.

Kita buries her son in the forest and returns to the sage.

She confesses that she was unable to obtain a single mustard seed.

Smiling, the sage explains she no longer needs them.

This is the Parable of the Mustard Seed—a powerful Buddhist teaching on compassion and suffering.

I share this story with you today not to remind you of the universality of suffering but to point out something else…

There’s no such thing as magic mustard seeds!

The Buddha knew that, I know that, and in your heart of hearts, I’m sure you know that, too.

But if the Buddha had told Kita there was no medicine for her problem, that the mustard seeds were just a metaphor to show her what she already knew, it would have defeated the purpose.

The point is the medicine is not the mustard seeds…

The medicine is the process.

With the markets in such turmoil over the last few months, ‘market gurus’ have been in high demand.

They have been appearing every day on television and radio shows, giving the comforting impression they know whats going on.

It’s their job to sell you magic mustard seeds.

As a successful, highly paid professional, I’m sure you know what I am talking about.

The media and financial industry need to sell you the next best thing...

The most trending topic by means of hyperbolic click-bait headlines.

That’s their business.

They make money by creating a sense of urgency (greed) or panic (fear).

Long-term discipline in the face of extreme market fads or fears, sensible asset allocation and the clarity created by means of a robust lifetime investment plan; are simply not hot enough topics to keep people interested.

Yet they are the most important principles for investment success.

It’s why it’s vital for investors to not confuse the financial media with financial advice.

There’s a quote from William Bernstein in his book, The Four Pillars of Investing, which sums this up…

“99% of what you read about investing in magazines and newspapers, and 100% of what you hear on TV, is worse than useless.”

It’s a little harsh but, sometimes, the truth is uncomfortable to hear.

Like the medicine mentioned above, good financial planning is a process more than an event.

The outcomes are determined by the sequence of returns, spending levels, market performance, economic growth, healthcare costs, tax rates, and the inevitable curveballs life throws at you on a regular basis.

There are no easy answers or mustard seeds…

The only sound advice when dealing with irreducible uncertainty about the future is to focus on what you can control.

What you should focus on in financial planning

So if there’s ever anything in the media that’s making you question your investment strategy or encouraging you to do things differently, I’d like to ask you to reach out to me or my team first.

My advice?

Don’t make a life-changing decision without first seeking a second opinion.

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