March 07, 2006

Me vs. the 401k - Who Wins?

For years, I delayed signing up for the company's 401k plan, for a few reasons - first, the company didn't offer matching funds, limiting the potential benefits, and second, I always felt that I could react more quickly to market changes and be more likely to select potential winners, while mutual funds selected by a third party would be far too diversified to do any good. Years of being an amateur stock picker (always in tech and without diversification) showed me I could routinely outrun the market, and though there were always risks, I tended to come out on top.

However, I gave in at the end of 2004, and have watched the 401k slowly increase. And I do mean slowly... as even if I put as much as I can into the "high growth" funds, we're lucky to see anything more than 1% increase on a good month. Meanwhile, the money left in eTrade is a lot more flexible, but, as is cautioned, has the ability to be withdrawn and spent at any time, while the 401k is hidden away where I can't reach it.

So, the stock market in 2006 has definitely been up and down, as it seems for every winner I've picked, another tried and true favorite has been letting me down. That brings us to today. The three largest stocks I own on eTrade were each up today - at rates of 1.3%, 2.5% and 4%. I didn't mind. Slow and steady wins the race after all. But at market close, when I expected the 401k to chip in with similar gains, instead, all four funds were down... between .9% and 1.4% apiece. Seems they aren't picking the right horses.

So - today, I win. Louis 1, 401k 0. I'll watch this space and keep you posted.

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