Today kicks off the first Funny Money STOCK-TOBER, when we'll look at you and the stock market, which is now on such a wicked comeback that the S&P 500 index is down just 1.5 percent since New Year's Eve 1999.
Some call it a "lost decade," but that's wrong - it's nearly 13 years: do the math. Also, don't you just wish you'd lost 2.5 percent of your, ahem, "assets" since the new millennium began? Cuz I think your "I Survived Y2K" T-shirt looks a little snug these days.
No mattress-stuffing, please
If you're younger, you've been buying low during the stomach-churning drops of the Great Recession. Still, even those super-cheap shares during the market nadir of 2008 don't make up for all the losses.
If you had invested $100 each month in a fund that tracked the S&P 500 since December 1999, you would have made about $3,300. That's an effective annual gain of a still-dismal 1.53 percent.
It's a poor return, but, if you started out with $0, you would have amassed the not-too-shabby sum of $18,700. Not bad, especially since your house probably lost value and stuffing cash into your mattress gets you nothing. If you invested in a workplace 401(k) or a similar plan with an employer match, your best return came from the money your bosses kicked in. Even if you invested in the Outer Slobovian Yak Futures Index, you made 50 percent on your employer match right there.
Good investment advice, unfiltered
Take my friend who dawdled for years about starting a 401(k), saving nothing and getting no employer match. Her excuse to her CPA: "Look, I'm out of shape and I smoke. How long will my retirement last, anyway?"
To which her CPA responded, "You can't consider smoking a retirement plan."
The bottom line is that we've endured a wretched period of two burst economic bubbles and recessions, including the worst downturn since the Great Depression, two wars and a terrorist attack. Given the historical returns of stocks, we're unlikely to see this same string of returns anytime soon, if ever. The worst possible takeaway from the pathetic showing by stocks is that it's OK to do nothing.
For now, your best bet is to keep investing. And if it turns out that stocks produce another span like the past 13 years, all I can say is: Smoke 'em if you got 'em.
(Brian J. O'Connor is an award-winning columnist for The Detroit News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)