My wife used to make fun of my fondness for fantasy sports -- until the day that changed her mind.
Before I had a kid, I played in every type of league you can imagine. I even played in a NASCAR league, despite the fact that I am neither a fan of nor knowledgeable about NASCAR. Many of these leagues were just for fun, but some had money involved -- not a ton, maybe $20 or $25 for each league.
In March 2000, my wife and I moved to the San Francisco Bay area. We didn't know anyone there, so I decided to see if I could find a local fantasy baseball league to join, just to meet people. After perusing websites and message boards, I found one. It had a $50 buy-in, the largest I'd ever paid, but I did it.
Fast forward to late summer, and I was in the title chase. My team was clicking. My moves kept working. All was well. So I went to my wife.
"I think I've got a chance to win this thing," I said.
"How much would you win?" she asked.
That changed everything. This wasn't fiddling around over a few bucks. This was real money. And living in a pricey place like San Francisco, we looked for every chance to save or generate cash.
As the season drew to a close, we watched games, scoured box scores and endured more stress than either of us would probably care to admit. But in the end, it worked out. I took home a little more than $600. I brought home the bragging rights and the cash, and my fondness for fantasy sports was rarely questioned again.
It can be similar with investing. One who obsesses over the market and all the minutiae that come with it can appear to be wasting her time -- especially if she always gets returns that are only equal to or less than what the market returns as a whole.
But when you get a big win, things change. You get more confident. You think about how to get another big win. And then, inevitably, you lose. After all, in life and in sports, you can't win them all.
I've never had another big win like that, and I probably never will. My fantasy obsession has waned in the wake of the birth of my son. But those experiences can carry over into other aspects of life -- including investing.
Let me explain.
Here are six indispensable truths about investing that I learned from playing fantasy sports.
1. Micromanaging Will Kill You.
Every fantasy sports owner has faced this: Your superstar quarterback or slugger is off his game, and you're not sure what to do. Do you bench them, trade them or even cut them? It can be agonizing, but usually you're best served by just waiting out their slump. For example, last year, slugger Albert Pujols -- arguably the best player in baseball -- was wretched in his first month with his new team, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He barely hit over .200 for the month. But, as great players do, he turned it around -- ending the season with a .285 average, 30 homers and more than 100 RBI.
Same goes for a stock. If the company's fundamentals are good and you're still confident that you've found yourself a great company for the long term, hold on tight. Chances are that the dip or the slump will work itself out over time -- and you'll be glad you stuck around.
There's Coke (NYSE:KO), for example. In March 2009, as the world wrestled with the global economic crisis, the stock price fell below $20. By late 2010, it had shot back up to $32 and eventually topped $40 in late 2012.
2. Your Biases Can Cloud Your Judgment.
I'm a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. Sure, I love my Longhorns, and I'm even a football season ticket holder. But if I always kept Texas-ex Colt McCoy as the starting QB on my fantasy football team, I'd be a fool. There are just so many other better choices.
It's the same with investing. You may have fallen in love with this one stock because of a hot tip or a family connection, or maybe because you just love the store. However, if the company falls on hard times -- losing a ton of money, eliminating their dividends, cutting employees -- you have to be willing to let go.
Take Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). You may love the new iPhone you got during the holidays, but that doesn't mean you should run out and buy its stock.
Be ruthless. After all, it's just business -- it's not personal.
3. The Devil Is In The Details.
Fantasy leagues are won and lost in the late rounds of the draft. They're won by folks who crunch the numbers and follow the news to see which players have won or lost starting jobs, have suffered nagging injuries and have lost a few miles off their fastball. All that time looking at data can help a fantasy league player uncover hidden gems.
Successful investing is similar. Investors who are willing to pore over earnings reports, calculate P/E ratios and dig deeper than anyone else are the ones most likely to find the stock that other folks say "came out of nowhere." That's when big successes are possible.
4. People Matter.
Both sports and investing, when you get right down to it, are about people.
Some star running backs can't make it through a season without getting hurt. Some baseball players always start slowly and finish strong; others do the opposite. An athlete who is in the last year of his contract -- and thus is looking to impress other teams in hopes of getting a big contract next year -- may end up having the year of his life. Meanwhile, a player who just signed his big contract may struggle. The fantasy league player who recognizes these facts is much less likely to be blindsided by a bad choice.
When it comes to investing, it's crucial to know as much as you can about the company's top players -- that is, their management team. It's Warren Buffett's biggest factor as he decides whether to invest. Make it yours, too. The more you know about the folks running the show at Company A, the more informed your decisions. And while we all don't have the access Buffett does, we can read a wealth of information about key executives in annual reports, newspapers and trade publications.
Don't believe it's that important? Imagine Berkshire-Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A) without Buffett or Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) without Jeff Bezos. How would that change your perception of the company?
5. Your Gut Will Guide You.
There will be companies that everyone but you likes. Don't buy them. There are players about whom you think, "I just don't like them this year." Don't draft them.
You won't always be right, but whether it's fantasy sports, investing or life in general, trusting your gut is usually the way to go.
6. Sometimes You Just Get Clobbered.
The team tanks. The stock bombs. It happens -- even when you kill yourself doing homework and then follow your gut.
Gird yourself for it. Accept it. Move on.
The Investing Answer: Jump in and have fun -- but watch your costs. A fantasy league that charges you excessive entry fees or transaction fees can leave you in the red even if your team does really well.
Similarly, choosing a stock, broker or mutual fund with outrageous fees can eat up all your profits in a hurry. Read the fine print before you act. Know exactly what you'll be paying for.
After all, the last thing you want to do is set yourself up to lose before the game even begins.