An exhaustive study released by economists Gary Brinson, Rudolph Hood and Gilbert Beebower in the late 1990s revealed the lesser-known truth: Market timing makes up only 1.7 percent of portfolio performance, 2.5 percent is based on knowing what to buy and what to sell, and 93.6 percent comes from asset allocation. That's a fancy term for having your money balanced across a spectrum of investments that reflect your age and risk tolerance. Younger people can take more risk, because history shows us the stock market always rebounds over time. Older people, especially those nearing retirement, should take less risk.
I took this matter very seriously in late 2007. I had just read a book by Peter G. Peterson called "Running on Empty, How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It." The book explained how our politicians' unquenchable thirst to spend more money than we took in was threatening to destroy our economy. Guess what? Pete was right.
This is when I made two decisions that changed my life forever: First, I left WSB-TV to run for the U.S. Senate. I was so convinced special interests were destroying our nation that I swore off special-interest financing. It turned out to be the perfect formula for not raising enough money to run for office! Second, I took every penny out of my company-sponsored 401(k) and moved it into an extremely conservative individual retirement account, or IRA. Why did I make this extreme move just before the Dow Jones reached its historical high of 14,093? I'd learned the truth about investing from a couple of very low-key retirement planners. David Allred and Brian Byars run a company called Advanced Retirement Planning. You can find them under the financial tab on my website, www.TrustDale.com.
In summer 2007, I confided to them I was considering a run for office (a very risky employment decision), and asked their advice about my retirement portfolio. Remember - I, along with just about everyone else, was enjoying huge year-to-year gains in my 401(k). David and Brian advised me that because of my worries of losing money they suggested a "safe money option" that would allow me to have some of the upside of the market and protect me from the downside. I took their advice.
On Jan. 1, 2008, I "camped out" near the top of the 320-foot-tall Corey Tower across from the state Capitol in downtown Atlanta in an attempt to draw attention to our approaching fiscal crisis. I even hung a huge banner from the tower claiming "We're all in trouble." It didn't work.
Turns out, I stunk as a politician. But I've done pretty well as an investor. Four years after taking my money out of the 401(k) and moving it to an IRA, I not only kept every cent of my pre-market crash savings, but I've also earned about 13 percent more.
So here's my advice: Trust your savings to a retirement planner, not a market-player. If you're like me, you'll be glad you did.