The CRNA Investor’s Guide: Avoiding the Three Biggest Mistakes

| January 13, 2017
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CRNAs tend to receive some of the best education and training in the world. However, many may be at a disadvantage when it comes to personal financial management because their schooling doesn’t equip them with the tools required for a lifetime of managing their family’s financial well-being. Additionally, CRNAs are not like other investors; they face unique challenges, such as hefty student debt, increased professional liability risks and a late start in their career due to their advanced schooling. All of these challenges must be considered when creating a holistic financial plan.

One of the most common reasons why CRNAs avoid investing and strategic financial planning is because it can seem overwhelmingly dense and complicated. Many of us like to think we still have plenty of time to catch up with our savings or retire on a tighter budget, so we keep putting off investing, saving, and retirement planning. As a result, more than half of Americans avoid the stock market and one-third of adults have yet to start saving for retirement.

It’s true that investing can be complex, and you’re not alone if you have yet to create a solid investment plan. However, investing doesn’t have to be intimidating or overly confusing. With knowledge and an experienced financial partner to offer guidance, you can get started immediately. And while you may think there are thousands of ways you can make a mistake when investing, avoiding just three specific mistakes can help you significantly on your path toward your goals.

Mistake #1: Not Saving Enough

Unlike most professions, being a CRNA requires extensive education and training before jumping into the job market. This late start means you’ve lost valuable accumulation years. Unfortunately when it comes to saving and investing, it costs to wait due to the significance of compound interest. Compound interest helps the money you put away grow faster due to interest building upon itself. For every year you delay, you’ll have to contribute significantly more to reach your savings goals, as you not only miss out on the contributions but also the compound interest earnings.

For example, if you start saving $400 per month at age 25, you would have $1 million saved by age 65 (assuming a 7% annual investment return). If you don’t start until age 35, you’ll have to save around twice as much to reach $1 million by age 65.* Along with compound interest, another reason why it’s important to start early is the time value of money (TVM). This is the notion that money presently available is worth more in the future because of its potential earning ability. As long as money can earn interest, even the smallest amount can be worth more down the road.

The ideal way for CRNAs to make up for these lost investing years is to save more aggressively during their working years. While you’re likely already contributing to a 401(k)/403(b) or IRA, aim to increase your contribution amount by 1 to 3% every year until you reach the maximum contribution limit ($5,500 per year for an IRA and $18,000 for a 401(k)/403(b) in 2017). Don’t forget that if you’re over age 50, you can make a catch up contribution of $6,000 per year into your 401(k)/403(b). This is also a good time to advantage of another retirement savings plan, such a Roth IRA or, if you’re a business owner, a SEP IRA, a Uni-K plan, or defined benefit plan.

It’ll be easier to save aggressively if you adhere to a budget. Try out Quicken or Mint.com to get an accurate picture of your spending. Taking into consideration your goals, income, debt, and expenses, determine how much you can spend per month and identify any areas where you can cut back on spending. If you’re feeling inspired, break out your budget into categories as specific as you want them to be, such as monthly bills, mortgage, gas, and groceries. Set aside a reserve for miscellaneous expenses.

*This is a hypothetical example and is not intended to reflect the actual performance of any specific investment. Earnings are pretax and may be subject to income tax when distributed.

Mistake #2: Poor Asset Allocation and Diversification

We all know that stockpiling our money away in a savings account won’t help us reach our goals. When you start saving, you have to choose how you’ll invest your funds. And unlike what we see in the media, selecting and trading stocks or timing your investments typically only make up a small portion of someone’s investment success. Your asset allocation and portfolio diversification can play a much more important role.

Asset allocation focuses on finding an appropriate mix of assets to determine your portfolio’s risk and return. The main asset classes are cash, equities (stocks), fixed income (bonds), and real estate. Since these asset classes may behave differently in certain market conditions, by including different asset classes in your portfolio, you may lower overall risk. The exact proportion you invest in each asset class depends on your circumstances.

The motto of diversification is “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” The goal of this technique is to reduce risk by including multiple investment types into your portfolio. For example, you may have too much risk if your entire portfolio is comprised of stocks. But you may not be able to earn enough returns if you only invest in bonds.

When creating a strong investment portfolio, it’s important for CRNAs to invest in different asset classes to decrease the risk of each class. It's also important to diversify within each asset class to spread the risk among many investments within that class. Don’t make the mistake of buying funds based on their performance in previous years. Focus instead on combining different asset classes into a well-designed allocation that matches your goals, risk tolerance, and time horizon.

There are several ways to determine an appropriate asset allocation based on your goals. However, if you take any online questionnaires, take the results with a grain of salt as they likely won’t be completely personalized to you. Consider meeting with a financial advisor to ascertain your investment needs.

Mistake #3: Trying to Outperform the Markets

One of the most common investment myths the media (and even many advisors) spout is that the performance of your investments is the most important factor for achieving a successful retirement strategy. Investors attempt to time the market by moving their investments based on how they think the market will perform in the short-term. This may sound like a great strategy for quick gains, but this theory is far from stable and efficient.

The reality is that long-term portfolio returns are only somewhat affected by the relative performance of investments. There’s no guarantee that your or your advisor’s particular choice of investments can outperform someone else’s investments. The success of your retirement plan doesn’t hinge on the S&P 500 Index or your ability to beat the market. You may see some success in the short-term, but it’s not the most critical factor when you retire.

Rather than performance, it’s our behavior that impacts the success of our returns. How we respond and react to market fluctuations — and, particularly, market exuberance and its inevitable crashes — has an enormous impact on our financial success. And ironically, trying to outperform the markets often results in below average returns.

Finance is an emotional and personal topic for most CRNAs. It can cause stress, grief, excitement, wonder, and any number of other emotions. So when we think we have the opportunity to cash in on high returns, we may let our emotions guide our decisions. We buy high and sell low to avoid losses or cash in on a possible windfall, even when we know that, long-term, that is a bad strategy. It’s more effective and less stressful (and we all know CRNAs face enough stress as it is) to instead focus on long-term goals and maintain proper asset allocation.  

Creating Your Investment Blueprint

Avoiding a mistake takes conviction, patience, and discipline. Even the most experienced investors find it difficult to avoid all investing missteps. And as a CRNA, you’re likely already short on time to dedicate to your financial strategies.

Luckily, you can start taking small steps now. Start saving consistently and aggressively. Stick to a budget and aim to save an additional percentage of your income every year. Next, work on determining how you’ll invest your savings, including the allocation of assets. Remember, even the strongest of portfolios needs regular rebalancing to ensure you maintain appropriate diversification and asset allocation. And lastly, be patient and focus on your long-term goals. Avoid falling prey to media claims and emotions that tell you to sell or trade in the hopes of gaining quick returns.

Remember, you don’t have to go it alone. Let CRNA Financial Planning® help you avoid these common investing mistakes CRNAs make so you can pursue retirement with confidence. We have been helping CRNAs invest and plan for their future for more than 20 years. Let us help you address your questions by calling us at 855.304.3748 or emailing [email protected].

About Jeremy Stanley

Jeremy Stanley is the founder of CRNA Financial Planning®. He has been providing advice and guidance for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) for over two decades. As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, Jeremy has met rigorous certification and professional standards set by the CFP® Board. He is committed to adhering to the principles of integrity, objectivity, competence, fairness, confidentiality, professionalism and diligence when dealing with clients.

Jeremy is also the author of The Wealthy CRNA and A CRNA’s Life After Anesthesia. The Wealthy CRNA features insights into becoming a financially successful CRNA and how to start planning for your financial future, and has been prior approved for up to 4 Class A CE credits by the AANA. A CRNA’s Life After Anesthesia serves as your financial roadmap for a smooth emergence into retirement. It reviews recent changes in the CRNA industry along with the new rules of retirement and the final steps of legacy planning. This book has been prior approved by the AANA for up to 2 Class A CE credits.

Jeremy Stanley is a financial professional with and Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through Private Advisor Group, a registered investment advisor. Private Advisor Group and CRNA Financial Planning® are separate entities from LPL Financial.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific financial or tax advice or recommendations for any individual.

No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification and asset allocation do not protect against market risk.

Investing involves risk including loss of principal.

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