One word for trying times like these

Investing lessons from my flood damage and the one word that sums it up

Man standing with an umbrella over his head with a sad face whilst it rains.

Image source: Getty Images

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I had an article almost finished and ready to go on Monday morning.

Then, as I sat at a cafe putting the final touches to it (and having a coffee and brekky) the heavens opened.

"Bugger", I thought. "Oh well, I'll just have another coffee while I wait for the rain to ease off, then I'll jump in the car"

But, it didn't.

And when I say 'the heavens opened', I don't mean it started raining.

I mean it poured.

And poured.

And poured.

I've been in heavier rain before.

I've been in longer periods of rain before.

But never before can I recall it raining that heavily for that long.

I'm sure it's happened, of course. I just can't remember it.

And then I was sent a photo of water already pooling on the decking outside our front door.

So, I braved the rain and headed home.

There was water pouring down the driveway. It was coming under the fence from next door.

It was gushing through the stormwater easement along our boundary fence.

In short order, the steps outside turned into a water feature of cascading rapids.

And then the water feature became an indoor one.

Bugger.

The result is two flooded carpeted rooms, and a couple of floating floors that, well, almost floated.

I've started the insurance process.

One question required me to choose between flood, stormwater, storm surge and storm flood.

I'm sure the insurance company has a document somewhere defining the difference.

I'm equally sure that the lawyers' definitions of those words will be the difference between my claim being approved and unsuccessful.

I guess we'll find out, in time.

Suffice it to say, that article I'd almost finished remains unfinished.

A couple of thoughts over the past few days, though.

First, I'm bloody lucky to be working for an employer (and a boss) who simply said 'No worries. Take whatever time you need. What can we do to help?'.

I'm very, very aware that many people aren't that fortunate.

I attended to some media commitments over the last couple of days (though I had to admit to Deb Knight on 2GB that I had no idea what the market was doing on Monday when she asked me how the ASX was trading. I had been out buying a water pump and trying to make temporary sandbags out of bags of potting mix!)

But other than that, my colleagues covered my other work responsibilities as admirably as they always do when I'm away, leaving me to get on with trying to minimise the damage, then start the clean-up.

Second, I was much, much luckier than many.

Our house remains habitable, with the power and water still on. We are warm and dry.

Yes, the damage sucks. And the cost (either the insurance excess or the whole bill, depending on what the assessor says) will be high. Pulling up and getting rid of carpet is hard, wet and annoying work.

And yet…

And yet we were far, far luckier than many in South-East Queensland, Western and Northern Sydney, and others in our area of the NSW Southern Highlands whose damage was worse.

And we're not in Ukraine, facing a brutal and unjustified invasion. We're not going without food like many in Asia and Africa.

In short, even with the water damage we incurred, we're still among the most absolutely fortunate people on the planet.

So I posted some photos on social media of our impromptu water features, and the lawn I'd mowed 48 hours earlier that now resembled a creek. No point crying over spilt milk, so I thought I'd make a little fun out of it and give people a laugh.

Why am I sharing all of this?

Well, it explains why you haven't heard from me in a few days.

But also, because it reminded me of a tweet.

A few weeks ago, Josh Rowe had asked the hivemind: "What is one important skill every person should have?"

After thinking for a bit, my answer was simple, concise and offered with conviction:

Perspective.

(A skill? You bet. It doesn't always come naturally and can be developed and honed with effort.)

The ability to put yourself, others, and your circumstances into their proper context is, I think, an underappreciated, underdeveloped and underutilised skill.

Most of life's annoyances, especially for the vast bulk of Australians who are in the wealthiest few percent of the world's population, are trivialities.

Most perceived insults and slights are unintentional, if they're there at all. And those that are intentional are barely worth a second thought.

Many of the 'problems' we have would be eagerly endured by most of the rest of the world, if they had the rest of our lives as well.

It's true of investing, too.

If you're like me, you're probably feeling pretty glum, based on the last few months of share price performance. It's been a pretty rugged time, watching my portfolio leak value recently.

But as I looked at a chart of the All Ordinaries Index (ASX: XAO) (an index of Australian share prices), I zoomed out. Here's what I found.

Over the last 5 days, the ASX is down 1.8%. Not great.

Over the last month? Down 4.2%. Oof.

Since the beginning of the year? Shares are off 8.5% (and unless you own resources shares, probably more). Ouch.

I'm not painting a pretty picture, am I?

What about over the last 6 months? Well, still down, but only by 5.3%.

Over the last year? Shares are actually up 3.6%.

And that's before dividends, so maybe 7.5% or so, including them – not far from the market's average annual return.

Over the last 5 years? Up 25%, plus dividends, so perhaps 50% all told.

My point?

Humans always overweight the short term (both the past and the future) at the expense of the long term, which is far, far more consequential.

No, I don't expect you to enjoy falling share prices, at least to the extent that they hurt your portfolio.

But, two things:

1. If you're regularly adding to your portfolio, you're getting better prices than a few weeks and months ago; and

2. Whether you're adding money to your portfolio, or you're living off it, remember something I say very regularly: "The ASX has never yet failed to regain, then surpass, a previous high. That's not a guarantee, but it'd be a brave person to bet against it, I think".

Now, allowing for the absence of predictive certainty, if you read that second point again, it should salve some wounds, and hopefully even be cause for optimism.

No, not every company will go back to previous highs. Some fall and keep falling. That's why you need to choose well, and be diversified. So invest accordingly, of course.

One more: Think about that second point with an historical eye: imagine you could go back and buy (more) shares during the dot.com crash. During the GFC. During the COVID crash.

You would, right? I know I would.

As they say: at the time, every slump feels like the end of the world, and in hindsight every slump looks like the best buying opportunity in years.

Our job, as investors, is to wrestle with those two thoughts… and exert control over our emotions. Even if you can't make the fear and despair go away, I hope you can at least put it back in its box, and invest anyway.

That's what I'm doing.

Yes, I might have yelled at the sky in mock anger (and a little genuine exasperation) on Monday and Tuesday as water flowed into my house.

Yes, I might swear at my portfolio under my breath every so often.

But then I remember how lucky I am, and what history has meant – for my life and for my portfolio.

And then I get on with both pulling up carpets and investing the cash I have in my investment account.

Because of that one, powerful word: perspective.

Fool on!

Motley Fool contributor Scott Phillips has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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