You have to understand your own psychology. You have to understand that human beings weren't really designed to invest. We have all these emotions that are appropriate responses if you're being chased by a tiger, but they're terrible responses if you've got a 30-year time horizon to think about investment or when you're trying to manage investment over 30 years.
No one in his right mind would walk into the cockpit of an airplane and try to fly it, or into an operating theater and open a belly. And yet they think nothing of managing their retirement assets. I've done all three, and I'm here to tell you that managing money is, in its most critical elements even more demanding than the first two.
A decade ago, I really did believe that the average investor could do it himself. I was wrong. I've come to the sad conclusion that only a tiny minority, at most one percent, are capable of pulling it off. Heck, if Helen Young Hayes, Robert Sanborn, Julian Robertson, and the nation's largest pension funds can't get it right, what chance does John Q. Investor have?
There are two kinds of investors, be they large or small: those who don't know where the market is headed and those who don't know what they don't know. Then again, there is a third type of investor: the investment professional, who indeed knows he doesn't know, but whose livelihood depends upon appearing to know.
You have to ask yourself, what are the things that matter to you most in your life? If you have to have a latte every day that'snice to have right now, but if you take that latte every day right now, you may wind up eating cat food when you are 70. And you have to decide which is worse.
An index fund is a fund that simply invests in all of the stocks in a market. So, for example, an index fund might invest in every single stock or almost every single stock in the U.S. market, it might invest in every single stock abroad, or it might invest in all of the bonds that are out there. And you can make a perfectly fine investing portfolio that mixes equal parts of all three of those.
While it is probably a poor idea to own actively managed funds in general, it is truly a terrible idea to own them in taxable accounts... taxes are a drag on performance of up to 4 percentage points each year... many index funds allow your capital gains to grow largely undisturbed until you sell... For the taxable investor, indexing means never having to say you're sorry.