How I Used the Stock Market To Mask My Problems

THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. PLEASE READ MY DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.

 

In my 20’s, I had an obsession with buying.  It’s all that I would think about.  I would wake up in the morning to check out my favorite websites to see the latest trends, consuming as much as I could before work.  Then at work, I’d daydream about my future purchases.  

 

I was pathetic.  While at work, I wasn’t able to make online purchases.  So, I’d call my Mom to make these purchases on my behalf.  On my drive home, I eagerly anticipated arriving back at home to make sure the purchase went through correctly.  After the high from that purchase subsided, I would repeat the cycle all over again.  I spent most vacation days sitting on my computer, trying to discern the next best thing to buy.  The addiction was real.

 

What was I addicted to purchasing exactly?  Stocks.  The stock market sucked all my time and energy under this one pursuit.  That’s probably why I didn’t have a girlfriend in my 20s.  I’m honestly not sure I would have ever even met my wife without divine intervention (thank you, God!).  

 

Love at First Sight

anxiety stock marketIn college, my love affair with the stock market started.  I was infatuated with the ability to make money by purchasing shares of a company.  

 

Since I was singularly focused on this endeavor in college, I poured all of my time and resources into learning as much about the stock market.  While my friends were out partying at night, I was reading textbooks on technical analysis, momentum investing, value investing and contrarian investing.  Yes, I was a complete nerd.  I can’t deny it.

 

Of all the material that I consumed, I loved learning most about technical analysis.  It seemed much more of an art form than hard math.  It included reading the charts, predicting based on analysis the trends of the market, and understanding what volatility did to the prices of securities.

 

During my junior and senior years of college, I created my class schedule to start after 4pm every day.  That meant that I could watch the market all day and trade and then attend class without missing any opportunities to buy.

 

Trading Options

Life was pretty wonderful for those two years.  I was trading options.  The recession in the early 2000s had hit, so volatility in the market was rampant.  Prices of securities were bouncing all over the place, and I was able to buy and sell options quickly.

 

On top of that, I was exceedingly good at it.  I was able to take a portfolio that started with $5,000 and build it up to $50,000 within two years.  Sure I made a mistake or two along the way.  I lost $5,000 in one afternoon.  But overall, I made more money that I lost.

 

Unfortunately, like all good things, it came to a screeching halt when I graduated college.  No longer could I sit at home all day and trade.  My parents were insistent that if I was going to move back into their house that I would have to get a job.  They didn’t approve of me day trading for a living.

 

Even though I was making thousands of dollars a month, I knew that health insurance and living on my own would basically eat up all of that money.  Thus, I would be unable to make any real traction building up my account.

 

Pushing My Luck

Like any freshly-minted 22 year old, I decided that if I really wanted to succeed in day trading that I had to make a huge move.  I decided to buy the S&P 500 options.  I utilized over half of my available cash thinking that I would be able to live off of the winnings for a year, if I traded correctly.

 

To make a long story short, the market had started off in my direction.  But I pushed my luck.  I kept thinking, what if my returns rise a bit more?  Like a pig, I eventually got slaughtered.  I lost the whole investment.

 

My Dad has a saying when it comes to investing: “Be happy in Seattle; don’t crash and burn trying to make it to Hawaii.”  In layman’s terms, be happy with the profit that you make on your investment; don’t try to push your luck and potentially lose it all.

 

Focusing on a “Real” Job

Since I clearly wasn’t heeding my Dad’s advice, I had to obtain an actual job.  But that didn’t stop me from day trading on the side.  I’m sure I wasn’t as productive as I could have been at work with one eye on market activity at all times.  My heart was yearning to be a trader.  

 

Even with the reduced amount of time spent on trading, I was able to continue growing my portfolio to $80,000.  I decided to allocate those funds towards a downpayment for a house.  

 

Diversifying

I figured that while I was successful day trading, I needed to diversify my income stream.  After I purchased my house, I rented out rooms to housemates.  Then, once again, I became obsessed with trying to build back my portfolio.

 

So the research continued.  I needed to make the wisest decision in each stock pick.  You may ask- if I was so good at trading, why didn’t I try to get a job on Wall Street?  

 

The honest truth was I was terrified.

 

Chronic Anxiety

anxiety stock marketIn my 20s, I dealt with debilitating anxiety.  The thought of going to work with strangers all day was scary enough for me.  I couldn’t engage the thought of leaving the cocoon of my family and friends to start a life in New York City by myself.  

 

My anxiety was so bad that most of the time I just stayed home instead of venturing out with friends.  New situations would flood me with anxious thoughts and left me feeling extremely queasy.

 

It was hard to admit that I was suffering with anxiety at the time.  In your twenties, you are suppose to be invincible, right?  I began to seek treatment from a professional by my late 20s, after another friend of mine received a mental health diagnosis and sought treatment.  I saw the tremendous impact in her life from receiving help and that was motivation for me to do the same.

 

Once I started to receive therapy, I began improving.  Through counseling, I realized that I was using the stock market as a crutch to avoid having to socialize with real people.  So, I took some drastic action.    

 

A Passive Index Strategy

It was time for me to step back and start enjoying the world.  I decided to pivot from actively managing my portfolio to utilizing a passive index strategy.  I moved 90% of my portfolio into passive index funds and then left 10% of my portfolio to trade once a year. 

 

Since 2010, when I started the strategy of only actively trading 10% of my portfolio, I’ve done quite well.

 

anxiety stock market

 

Could my net worth be higher if I had stayed actively day trading?  Sure.  Every once in awhile, those thoughts creep back into my mind.  But you know what?  I’m much happier these days.  

 

As humans, we were designed to need human interaction.  Even us introverts 🙂  I feel healthier now.  I have a wife, a son and another on the way.  Instead of researching stocks when I return home from work, I get to wrestle with my son and go on walks with my wife.  I am able to really enjoy the people that God has placed in my life.

 

While I love trading the stock market, I am so much happier today.  I’ll take a healthy lifestyle over a higher net worth any day.  

Mustard Seed Money

Welcome to the website. A mustard seed is a very small seed but astonishingly grows very large over time. My hope is that through your financial journey that your small investment in time, money and faith will grow beyond anything that you could ever imagine.



52 Comments

  1. Kudos to you for digging yourself out of that hole. I never bothered with day trading because it seemed like too much work and I would rather be outside riding my bike. But I definitely see the allure of making big bucks trading on the market. Maintaining a small slush fund for trading is a good balance to keep your head on straight. Good work.
    Justin @ Atypical Life recently posted…The Most Popular Personal Finance Posts You Need to Read to Help You Save More and Spend LessMy Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by Justin!!! It is definitely alluring to make money in the stock market with a click of a button. Plus that feeling that your “bet” paid off is a nice feeling. But I am definitely glad I don’t have that stress anymore.

  2. Wow. This is a really cool story. My husband deals with anxiety, too, and I’ve definitely noticed that he avoids certain things over the years–I don’t even think he realizes he’s done it. We humans are great at coming up with behaviors to cope, right? At least you didn’t turn to alcohol or drugs. I’m so glad to hear you got counseling and worked through your anxiety. And the positive outcome was, you had the downpayment for a house!
    Laurie@ThreeYear recently posted…August Net Worth UpdateMy Profile

    • Haha…it’s amazing the things that we can convince ourselves that we should avoid. I am definitely glad I didn’t turn to alcohol or drugs. That would have been a disaster.

  3. Wow, powerful stuff. Glad to hear you got things going the right direction. I can’t imagine being that in tune with the market. I do have minor anxiety, but that’s why I ignore the market most of the time. There are more important things in life.
    FullTimeFinance recently posted…Are we in Debt?My Profile

    • I am one of the lucky ones that has made money in the market but I know a lot of people that have lost a lot of the money in the market. It’s not all doom or gloom but not nearly as easy as some people will make you think.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Mr. MSM. It is not easy to tell others we have an issue we are trying or did try to cope with. I myself have my own, but I’m not sure if I’m ready to share them yet. It makes me feel vulnerable…

    I think it’s great to have a passion. I’m sure you now have lots of experience trading stocks. It’s hard to balance our lives when we have something we just want to focus on all the time.
    Ms. Frugal Asian Finance recently posted…5 Things We Refuse To Do To Save MoneyMy Profile

    • Thanks for sharing Ms. FAF!!! I definitely agree that when you are super focused on something, especially if it’s something that you love, that it’s hard to always find the right balance. Even now with the blog I have a hard time at times 🙂

  5. Back in 2008-2009, I used to do a bit of day trading. I was able to make more right purchases than wrong, but the more active that you were the more fees you would pay.

    As time went by, I realized that I was pretty much a gambler (and it was exciting) not an investor based on my trading habits. I could be right 70% if the time, but the 30% of the time that I was wrong, I could lose more than I make. Slowly, I started to revamp my portfolio and started to be less active. It freed up a lot of my time and I was able to redirect it towards diversifying my investments into other areas like real estate.
    Leo T. Ly @ isaved5k.com recently posted…I Don’t Want To Be Mortgage FreeMy Profile

    • Thanks for sharing Leo!!! I am definitely glad that I diversified away from the stock market with my time. It’s allowed me to pursue some other avenues that I’ve been interested in like Financial Education 🙂

  6. What a great story! I think a lot of people cope with anxiety by spending too much time on the internet and too much time (and money!) shopping. You are a finance guy so it is fitting that you coped by obsessively buying stock.
    I used to think one day I would learn more about the stock market and day trading. It was such a relief to discover low cost passive index funds. I can put my time and energy into other things! Like reading blogs.
    Beetsandlilacs recently posted…Frugal Wins of the SummerMy Profile

    • Thanks for sharing Beetsandlilacs!!! Not having to focus on the market has really freed me up to pursue other activities that I enjoy, although I seem to have filled the time with other endeavors very quickly 🙂

  7. Thanks for sharing. I can relate to how hard it is to pass on something that you enjoy while it makes you Money. I applause you for giving up some potential returns in exchange for something much more valuable.

    • Thanks for the kind words Chelsea!!! It can definitely be a roller coaster of a ride but I definitely enjoyed it. However, while I enjoy it, I am definitely enjoying the things I’m doing with my family now 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing Erik!!! I definitely agree that it takes a ton of time an effort. Unfortunately like you I don’t have a ton of either right now but maybe one day in the future 🙂

  8. I can understand how the market can become addictive. I was kind of like that too year ago. You get excited about the thought of making a lot of money, but don’t really understand all the risks involved. I’m glad I learned early and fiercely. Nice to see you’ve done the same and are enjoying time with your family by using a passive portfolio strategy 🙂
    SMM recently posted…What’s Your Money System?My Profile

  9. Sorry to hear about the anxiety but glad you pulled through. It is funny how we use “obsessions” as crutches. I was thinking just yesterday how I spent so much of my youth playing video games. I mean hours upon hours at night from my pre-teens through my 20s. Really it was not until I hit 33 or 34 that I stopped.

    I think I used video games as a way to disappear. To go into a shell or other world and forget about the stress of school and family. Pretty crazy. Think about what I could have done with my time. Maybe started a business, read books, written a book. I mean so much stuff. Ah well.

    You made it and I made it. So that is good and what is important. Thanks for the good post.
    Dads Dollars Debts recently posted…Wanna work part time starting now or bust your butt for FIRE?My Profile

    • I definitely played a ton of video games growing up as well. Anything to escape and not deal with some of the issues that I had going on. I am definitely glad that I hit these problems head on, otherwise I shutter to think where I’d be today.

  10. After college, I was riding high on the hog with an accounting degree and a full time job with decent pay. Naturally, I thought I could trade stocks. I quickly learned my lesson after losing all but $400 of the $3,000 I invested. I didn’t know whether to scratch my watch or check my arse when it came to stocks!

    Balancing work and personal like was already difficult, but financial pressure is being throw an operating chainsaw when you are juggling nerf-balls.So I focused all of my “investing” research time to finding a financial advisor for help. He takes on the bigger picture items (retirement, insurance, last will etc), while I focus on the smaller issues such as budgeting, saving etc.

    Financial anxiety is real and it can eat away at you, if not managed properly. Great post!
    Church recently posted…Your Financial-Life BalanceMy Profile

    • Thanks for sharing Church!!! I definitely agree that if you don’t have time to do the research that finding a trusted advisor is a great move. It beats putting your head in the ground and ignoring it like so many people are prone to do.

    • Thanks Amy!!! The baby is due mid-October but the last one came two weeks early. So we figure anytime between three to five weeks we should be bringing a new bundle of joy 🙂

    • Thank you for the kind words. I am definitely in a much better place and much happier these days. I am definitely glad I changed course and don’t like thinking about where it could have led to.

  11. I used to do more buying (and even more selling) when I was in my 20s and single. Now I don’t watch the market movements on a daily basis because my priorities have changed and I’ve moved to a passive indexing strategy as well.

    I still do make several individual stock and ETF trades a year that require some research because I still enjoy aspects of active investing, but, it’s great to hear others have the similar experiences as I did.
    Josh recently posted…Saving Made Easy With Money MarketsMy Profile

    • Thanks for sharing Josh!!! Investing can be really fun, especially if you’re doing well. I found for me that I couldn’t have a good balance so that’s why I had to limit myself to once a year, otherwise I could easily fall back into things 🙁

  12. I always wanted to get into day trading, and was always a little envious of folks that did. Not as much the trading but more so because I wanted to understand what they understood about the stock. I get the sense this is one of those things that you learn by doing.
    Invariably i never did, because I never had the money and couldn’t give up the job (although a job didn’t stop some of my friends who did).
    Powerful story, and thank you for sharing!
    Working Optional recently posted…3 Costly Mistakes I Made As A New ImmigrantMy Profile

    • Thanks for sharing Working Optional!!! There is definitely something to be said about experience. It’s one thing to trade a fake portfolio and completely different when your money is on the line. Definitely makes it that much harder to stay disciplined 🙂

  13. Good for you for doing what you needed to do to turn your life around. The hardest thing to do is taking that leap of faith, seeking out the help you need, and then acting on it. That’s what is most impressive to me from this article.

    Reading your experiences, I think that is an interesting experience and conclusion that you were using the market as a crutch to avoid social interaction. I loved reading your conclusion that you have ditched researching stocks each night in favor of a happier lifestyle with your family . To me, that is what it is all about at the end of it all.

    Amazing read.

    Bert

    • Thanks Bert!!! I’m so glad that you enjoyed the article 🙂 It took me awhile to finally take the leap and I kick myself for not doing it earlier. But I figure most things work out in the right time 🙂

  14. Thanks for sharing your story. I still love researching stocks and holding for years or even decades more so than index investing. I also reserve a small allocation to speculative investments. This leaves room for a little fun. Congrats on understanding the downfalls and shifting your strategy. It really shouldn’t be life consuming work.
    Turning Point Money recently posted…Paying for Healthcare Cost in Early RetirementMy Profile

  15. Powerful story and a good reminder that there’s a dark side to finance. It’s definitely true that “pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered”. Glad you made it through and are in a better place!
    Paul recently posted…Back In the SaddleMy Profile

  16. At the end of the day, all that matter is your health, happiness, and family. Changing your strategy to passive index funds makes it easier because you don’t have check the market all the time unlike being an active trader where you depend on what time the market opens and closes.
    Thanks for sharing your story MSM!!

  17. Anxiety is a terrible thing, I witness it daily as Mrs. Miser has fairly bad anxiety, but thankfully she is improving as she pushes herself. She, like you, certainly made excuses as to why she couldn’t do certain things. It gets to a point where it totally consumes any possibility of a normal life.

    I’m glad you managed to get out of it, I hope one day my wife can be totally free of any anxiety.
    Money Miser @ Money-Miser.com recently posted…Why Is Everyone So Hell Bent On Spending All Their Money?My Profile

    • It’s definitely a miserable thing to live with. For those on the outside it’s hard to completely understand but it’s awesome to hear that you’re supporting her!!!

  18. THANK YOU. Admitting you have anxiety disorder is amazing! I suffer from low-level depression and wrestle the occasional bouts with anxiety. As a society, I believe EVERYONE would benefit from being more open and communicative about mental health issues…so, again, thank. What a great article!

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the article. I have become more open in sharing and definitely want to make as much impact as I can, especially with those that struggle with it like I once did 🙂

  19. That is an awesome story, my friend. Sharing.

    I can attest your journey is one shared by many. I see them in my office all the time. Some get addicted to the options trading and lose everything. The sooner they invest (versus speculate) the better off they are. Your experience should be a guiding light for other to follow. Thanks for telling the story.

    • Thanks for sharing Keith!!! I have to admit the thrill and addiction is real. I never truly understood it until I was knee deep. Thankfully I was able to walk away before I did something detrimental but for others I know that’s not always the case.

  20. Holy smokes man, this was me until about two years ago… only with sports / horse gambling instead of the stock market. I stumbled upon the holy grail — a guaranteed way to make money — and I was good at what I did. I had a laptop stashed under the desk at work so I could gamble away. I neglected my job and when I got home I neglected my family. Like you, I have a son and had one on the way. The trade off is less money, but a better life over all. I could dedicate my life to it and end up wealthy without ever actually ‘working’… but at what cost!? I know I’ve made the right trade. Glad you did too MSM!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge