I recently read an article about a couple from Kansas that has eaten at Texas Roadhouse six days a week for the last 15 years.
“She orders the “Roadkill” — a chopped steak topped with sautéed onions and mushrooms, plus a house salad with Ranch dressing, no tomatoes, and a baked potato, no salt. He orders barbecue chicken breast — or if he’s feeling a little crazy, the pork chop, well done — plus mashed potatoes with brown gravy and an iceberg lettuce salad with Italian dressing. Though recently, he’s discovered sweet potatoes. Turns out, he likes them.”
“The ritual is all part of the order Ron Watson likes in his life. A Vietnam veteran, he dines only in restaurants that offer military discounts, and Texas Roadhouse gives vets 10 percent off. He still has some PTSD, he said, and he feels comfortable at table 412, which is a booth at the bar that gives him a good view of the door and everyone coming and going.
The couple also are regular enough customers that they know how to make the most of their money at Texas Roadhouse. Every Sunday through Wednesday, they arrive between 3 and 3:15 p.m. to take advantage of the restaurant’s early bird special, which is available from 3 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and offers a full meal for $9.49.”
I think people like the Watsons are incredible. They’re able to stick to a routine for years and years, never deviating from their plan. They get comfortable with their routine and they just go for it. Now I couldn’t eat a pork chop everyday for 15 years straight, but I do have my own little quirks and tendencies. I only wear one brand of jeans, I’m almost always wearing Chuck Taylor shoes, etc. I like my routine. It makes me feel good. There are just parts of our lives we need to put on cruise control so that we can focus on other things. We really do need routines for our finances.
Routine is particularly powerful in personal finance.
If you set up a plan to pay down debt faster than normal, routine is crucial. For example, the “snowball” method of paying down debt only works if you can stick to the plan, and make paying down your debt a part of your routine. If you manage to do this, the velocity at which you’re eliminating debt gradually increases until the debt is gone. You set up a system, make it part of your routine, and eventually. . . you’re debt free.
On the other side of finance (growing wealth rather than decreasing debt), routine is incredibly powerful for investing. You’ve probably heard the phrase “pay yourself first.” The idea is that when you get paid, you need to immediately take a portion of your check and put it aside for the future. Almost every 401(k) (or other defined-contribution plan) works this way, IRAs usually work this way, and for good reason. If you can automate your investing and set up a regular contribution schedule, you’re tapping into one of the most powerful forces in finance: Dollar Cost Averaging (DCA).
Just as the Watsons go to Texas Roadhouse for dinner every night, you too should also set up a regular schedule for investing. Generally, most people allocate their money to investing every two weeks or once a month (depending on how they’re paid).
A common concern we get from clients when we advocate setting up regular contributions is the fear of the market going down. People are terrified of watching the market fall and are often tempted to wait for cheaper prices. They insist on “timing” the market, waiting in cash until they see a dip. DCA ignores all of the temptation to time the market and systematically invests your money regardless of the market’s levels.
It’s extremely tempting to buy stocks during the “good times” and sell them during the “bad.” Market history shows something different, however. History, and many studies show that a steady, methodical, and consistent approach is the most reliable way to grow your wealth.
T. Rowe Price published a study on the topic:
“The discipline of regular investing ensures that you won’t drop out when the market turns bearish. The surest way to limit your long-term potential for investment gains is to drop out of the market for long stretches. Not only will you set aside less money over time for your investments, it is also likely that you will miss significant early gains when the market recovers. Dollar cost averaging is also beneficial from an investment perspective because it is an automatic way to buy more shares when the price of an asset has declined or is low. The lower (in absolute or relative terms) a security’s price, the more shares you will be able to buy with your regular investment. Buying low is an effective way to contain price risk and enhance your long-term potential for gains.”
Blogger Jim Yih, from Retire Happy, created this great example:
“Take a look at this chart. If you had $1200 to invest, which investment would you buy?
For most people, the answer is obvious.
Investment A is the most consistent and also has increased the most.
With investment A, your investment has gone from $1,200 to $2,400.
Investment B would have grown to $1,800 and Investment C would have recovered to the original $1,200 investment.
But what if you invested $100 per month instead of the $1,200 all at once right at the beginning? Now which investment would give you the best return?
Believe it or not, investment C would be the winner giving you a portfolio value of $1,741, while investment A and B would both end up at about $1,595.
When investing regularly, dollar cost averaging can work in your favour.”
Dollar Cost Averaging is an incredible force in finance. If you can channel your inner Ron Watson and stick to a routine (hopefully for much longer than 15 years), you will be able to build wealth for yourself and your family.
Setting up a routine takes the worry out of investing. You can ignore the talking heads on the financial shows, you can stop worrying about earnings reports, economic cycles, and instead focus on other things that are more enjoyable to you.
Build a routine into your personal finances and allow small habits to change your life.