Making smart investment decisions is crucial for building long-term wealth. However, for novice investors just getting started, it can be all too easy to fall into common traps that sabotage your portfolio. This article outlines five of the most common investing mistakes that beginners make, as well as tips for how to avoid them. The purpose is to help new investors get off on the right foot by sidestepping these pitfalls and developing good habits from the start. With the proper diligence and long-term perspective, your investments will be positioned for success.

Trying to Time the Market

Market timing involves attempting to predict when markets will rise or fall in order to make investment decisions. New investors often think they can “time” the market by buying when prices are low and selling when prices are high. However, consistently timing the market is extremely difficult, if not impossible, in practice.

There are a few reasons why trying to time the market usually fails:

  • Markets can be volatile and unpredictable in the short term. Large price swings happen frequently, making precise timing very challenging. You have to guess both when to buy and when to sell.
  • No one can predict future market movements with certainty. Unanticipated events can catch even professionals by surprise. Geopolitical events, economic reports, company earnings – many factors impact stock prices.
  • You have to be right twice to succeed at market timing. Not only do you need to sell before a decline, you need to know when to get back in. Many investors fail on the reentry and miss periods of recovery.
  • Sitting on the sidelines means potentially missing days where significant gains are made. The stock market’s best performance often occurs in bursts. Just a handful of trading days account for the bulk of annual returns.

Rather than trying to time the market, many experts recommend having a fixed asset allocation and staying invested for the long term. While you can make tactical adjustments, market timing is extremely difficult for most individual investors. Time in the market tends to provide superior returns compared to timing the market.

Not Diversifying

Diversification is one of the key principles of investing. Simply put, diversification means not putting all your eggs in one basket. By investing in different asset classes, sectors, and geographic regions, you reduce the risk that any one investment or group of investments will significantly hurt your overall portfolio.

Many novice investors make the mistake of focusing too heavily on a single stock, sector, or even country. For example, investing predominantly in U.S. tech stocks leaves you vulnerable if that sector declines. We saw this play out during the dot-com bust of the early 2000s. Likewise, investing mostly in domestic equities means missing out on the growth potential of emerging markets and other global opportunities.

To build a resilient portfolio, include a mix of assets such as stocks, bonds, real estate, commodities, and cash. Within equities, have exposure to stocks of different market caps, investment styles, sectors, and world regions. Fixed income can provide balance through more stable government and corporate bonds. Alternative investments like precious metals and crypto can also play a role.

Rebalancing periodically maintains target allocations as some assets outperform others over time. This forces you to sell high and buy low. Apps and robo-advisors now make diversification easy through pre-made portfolios or simple rebalancing tools.

The goal is to mitigate risk and smooth out volatility, so your returns are steadier over the long run. With a well-diversified portfolio aligned to your risk tolerance and time horizon, you are less likely to panic when any single part of the market struggles.

Letting Emotions Drive Decisions

Investing often involves riding waves of market volatility. When prices swing, it can stir up strong emotions of fear and greed that lead investors to make poor choices.

Fear can take over when stock prices tumble. Some investors panic and sell all their holdings – often at market lows. The urge is to get out to stop the pain of losses. But locking in declines turns paper losses into realized ones. Patience is a better approach – ride out temporary dips if the investment thesis still holds.

Greed can also manifest in overtly optimistic markets. Investors get caught up in the euphoria of rising prices. The fear of missing out leads many to pour excessive amounts into stocks after huge run ups – right before a correction hits.

Mastering your emotions is critical in investing. Gains and losses are part of the journey. Making objective, rational decisions based on facts and data leads to better results over time. Don’t let fear or greed push you into choices you may later regret. Stay calm, stick to your plan, and keep a long-term perspective.

Not Having a Long-Term Plan

One common investing mistake is not having a long-term investing strategy and plan. Many novice investors get caught up in trying to make quick gains and react to short-term market fluctuations. However, investing is a long-term endeavor and it’s important to focus on your long-term goals.

Having a clearly defined investment plan helps provide direction and discipline. It ensures you are working towards specific goals like retirement or saving for a major purchase. A long-term perspective helps avoid getting distracted by temporary drops in the market and making rash decisions like trying to time the market.

Aim to set long-term financial goals 5, 10 or 20+ years in the future. Outline the types of investments, asset allocation and savings you need to achieve those goals. Revisit and adjust your investment plan periodically, but avoid making radical changes in reaction to market volatility. Investing is a marathon, not a sprint. With a prudent long-term investment strategy, you can work towards growing your wealth over decades.

Trading Too Frequently

One common mistake novice investors make is trading too frequently. When you first start investing, it can be tempting to buy and sell stocks very often, sometimes even multiple times per day. However, this constant trading activity often leads to poor returns for several reasons:

  • High transaction costs – Every time you buy or sell a stock, you have to pay commissions and trading fees. These costs add up quickly when you trade frequently, eating into any potential profits.
  • Increased tax liability – Frequent trading can lead to short-term capital gains taxes, which are typically higher than taxes on long-term gains. All those extra trades mean you’ll owe more at tax time.
  • Difficulty beating the market – Trading frequently makes it exceptionally hard to outperform benchmark indexes over the long run. The more you trade, the harder it is to consistently buy low and sell high.
  • Focus on short-term noise – Day trading and high-frequency trading tends to mean you’re reacting to short-term news or price movements. But most of this noise is meaningless over the long run.

The better approach for individual investors is to develop a long-term investing plan, diversify across asset classes, and avoid constant trading. Buying and holding quality investments for 5-10+ years is generally a much better strategy than trying to time short-term swings in the market. While trading less frequently may seem counterintuitive, it often produces better returns in the long run.

Paying High Fees

Paying high fees to brokers, advisors, or fund managers can significantly reduce your investment returns over time. While fees may seem small, just 1-2% annually can add up to tens or hundreds of thousands of lost dollars over decades of investing. It’s important to pay attention to expense ratios, loads, commissions, and any other fees associated with your investments.

Actively managed mutual funds typically charge higher fees than index funds. You’ll want to look for low-cost index funds whenever possible. Consider using a robo-advisor that charges less than 0.5% annually rather than a traditional financial advisor charging 1% or more. If using a brokerage, look for $0 or low commission trades. Each fee you pay chips away at your returns.

It can be tempting to try picking individual stocks to avoid fees. However, the costs of research and trading likely outweigh any savings on fees. Most investors are better off using low-cost, diversified index funds as the core of their portfolio. Building wealth is more about minimizing fees than maximizing returns. Pay attention to what you’re paying in expenses so more of your money goes toward growing your net worth over the long run.

Chasing Hot Tips

It’s natural to get excited when you hear about a hot investment tip or a stock that’s supposed to take off soon. However, basing your investment decisions solely on speculative hype or rumors often leads to poor outcomes. Here’s why chasing hot tips can be risky:

  • Information may be false or inaccurate. The hot tip could be based on flawed analysis, unrealistic assumptions, or downright misinformation. Always verify any data before acting on it.
  • Momentum may already be priced in. By the time you hear about a hot stock, institutional investors likely already bought shares, driving up the price prematurely.
  • Past performance is no guarantee. Just because an investment did well in the past doesn’t mean it will continue rising. The fundamentals may have changed.
  • You may buy high and sell low. Investors who chase hype often buy near the top after prices have already shot up. Then when the momentum fades, they end up panic selling at a loss.
  • It encourages short-term speculation. Investing based on hot tips promotes a gambling mentality rather than a long-term perspective.

It’s better to tune out Wall Street gossip and short-term noise. Focus on your goals, risk tolerance, and timeline. Conduct thorough due diligence before investing based on objective data rather than tips, rumors or unspecified claims of big gains. Patience and avoiding the temptation to chase hot tips is often rewarded in the long run.

Not Tracking Investments

One of the biggest mistakes new investors make is not regularly tracking and reviewing their investments. It’s easy to put money into stocks, mutual funds, or ETFs and then forget about them entirely. However, investing requires ongoing monitoring and discipline.

When you don’t pay attention to your investments, you run the risk of sustaining major losses without even realizing it. Or you could miss out on selling winners at the right time. Forming habits like checking your portfolio at least quarterly enables you to course-correct when needed and lock in gains.

You should also track not just the absolute returns, but the performance relative to appropriate benchmarks. Understanding if you are beating the broader markets or lagging behind is key. Don’t just look at the nominal gains/losses of each holding in isolation.

In addition to tracking the performance of your investments, you need to monitor key metrics like the allocation across different assets. As markets move and asset values change, your desired asset allocation can get skewed. Rebalancing back to target allocations is crucial for risk management and maximizing returns.

Put simply, investing without carefully tracking your holdings is like driving with your eyes closed. You wouldn’t drive a car that way, so don’t invest that way either. Get into the habit of regularly reviewing performance data, rebalancing, and making any necessary changes – it will pay off in the long run.


Investing successfully over the long run requires discipline and avoiding common mistakes that novice investors frequently make. As we’ve covered in this article, some of the most common errors include trying to time the market, ignoring diversification, letting emotions drive decisions, not having a long-term plan, trading too frequently, paying high fees, chasing hot tips, and not tracking investments closely enough.

By being aware of these pitfalls, you can take steps to avoid them. Have a diversified portfolio across different asset classes, stick to your long-term investment plan without getting distracted by short-term market swings, choose low-fee investments like index funds, and track your investments regularly to ensure you’re on track. Patience and discipline are essential.

While investing always involves some risk, you can tilt the odds in your favor and avoid unnecessary mistakes by acting prudently. Focus on what you can control – your costs, diversification, time-horizon, and discipline. With smart choices and a level head, your investments have a better chance of paying off over the many years to come. The key is keeping perspective; don’t let short-term stumbles throw you off a sound long-term investing approach.