No Surprises

Opposites Attract

Last week we discussed how different and unique siblings can be. I want to kick off today’s topic with another reality of how different spouses can be.

Opposites attract, they say. My wife and I fit this bill. She’s quiet. I’m loud; she’s patient, I’m pushy; she’s a listener, I’m a talker. You get the idea.

When we first met, I didn’t realize how different we were. She was my first girlfriend, and I didn’t have much of any dating experience or expertise.

Early on in the relationship, I organized a surprise dinner with her three college roommates and their significant others. I booked the reservation, confirmed with her friends, and then shared my surprise plans with her mom and sister.

“You did what!?” My sister-in-law blurted out, immediately followed by my mother-in-law’s interjection, “Does she know about this?” These emphatic responses were because my wife despises surprises, which I didn’t know at the time. She doesn’t like them one bit. She always likes to know what’s going on, when it’s going on, and who will be attending. It’s just how she’s wired.

Needless to say, I quickly put the kibosh on the whole surprise dinner and never mentioned a word of it to her.

Yikes! That was a close one.

A Planner At Heart

Where does this distaste for surprises birth from? My wife is a planner; she likes to be prepared. She always leaves early in case of traffic, packs extra sunscreen on beach days, and ALWAYS gets a thorough tune-up before any road trip. Surprises are a planner’s greatest enemy.

As a husband, I always try to keep my wife in the know of any potential changes to our plans (aka surprises) – I overcommunicate these things because I know it’s her love language.  As a financial advisor, I’ve set a new rule for my clients, a rule that my wife would very much approve of – no surprises.


What in the world does this mean? No surprises means it is my job to provide clarity around what are reasonable expectations. What to expect regarding portfolio income, price volatility, expected returns, liquidity, etc. Clarity is key. Slowing down the process to have conversations about the ranges of possible outcomes helps a client not to be surprised when an obscure event or outcome occurs because they WILL occur.

Markets misbehave; that’s just par for the course. If you have a career in which you study markets all day, this is no surprise to you. Chaos and uncertainty are the norms. If you choose to invest your free time and labor elsewhere, maybe this isn’t so obvious to you. That’s where I come in – it is my job to educate and help avoid surprises at all costs. Why? Because surprises typically lead to bad decisions.

What does this not mean? It does not mean that I am responsible for predicting the future. Why? Because I can’t. Let me explain… An event like COVID was a surprise to all of us, right? Yes, BUT the way markets behaved was not. Markets overreacted in one direction and then quickly pivoted in a very bipolar bout. This should not be a surprise – markets are chaotic, and the benefits to investors are gleaned in the long run, while one endures the short run. March of 2020 was just markets being markets.

Planning Comes First

When is it a good time to explain that this is how markets behave? I’ll first tell you when it wasn’t the right time. Explaining the normalcy of this market behavior during the bottom of March 2020 was not helpful. It was too late. The surprise was already out of the bag. To fulfill the no-surprises rule, you need to discuss the best and worst outcomes BEFORE they occur. Plan for the worst, and hope for the best. As dreary as that may sound, it’s a good tenet for financial planning.

Don’t Be Surprised When…


Don’t be surprised by the direction of markets. Markets travel in all directions and are never beholden to your expectations or financial needs.

Sometimes you’ll think markets are expensive, and then all of a sudden, stock prices will skyrocket further. Expensive things can get more expensive, and there are no valuation metrics that help one to time these outcomes.

Sometimes the bottom drops out from a market, and falling prices can be swift and shocking. Then the recovery and reaction of markets can be just as unpredictable – sometimes a marathon slog recovery over a four-plus year period and other times snapping back overnight.

And still, you know what’s even worse? Sideways markets. The go-no-where markets. When prices stay in a tight range, and your portfolio statements read the same value for months or years on end—the agonizing pain of going nowhere.

Markets go in every direction, don’t be surprised.

Thou Shall Not Covet

There will always be a neighbor or someone you know, that will do better than you.  Not everyone, but someone.  Don’t be surprised.

There will always be an investment you wish you owned.  You will regret not having a time machine to take you back in time to purchase that particular security at that perfect moment.  AND there is a good chance there will be a friend who will tell you how they bought that investment at the exact time you wish you had.  Don’t be surprised.

Remember, though; this is not a race.  You are not competing with your neighbors.  You have your own plan, your own goals, your own objectives, your own constraints, your own preferences, etc.  Your outcomes are to fulfill your plans, not your neighbor’s plans.

Again, surprises frustrate us, and frustration leads to bad decision-making.  In poker, they call this feeling being on “tilt.”  One goes on tilt when they lose a hand they were surprised to lose. They call it a “bad beat.”  A player then reacts to this hand of the past with emotional decisions and emotional wagers going forward.  When you feel like you “missed out” on an investment, there is a good chance that you will buy anything that looks similar or shiny in the future to avoid missing out again.  Don’t do it.

Someone else will make an investment decision that looks genius in hindsight, and of course, they absolutely will tell you about it.  Don’t be surprised. Just expect this as this will be part of your investing journey.

Planning For Success

I’m married to a planner.  I have become well versed in scoping the landscape and communicating to my wife all the possible things that could happen.  Many of these things don’t end up happening, but the love of my life appreciates me being her eyes and ears.

The reason that books like “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” are bestsellers is that all of us have a little planner inside of us.  We know what it feels like to be put on the spot or be surprised and unprepared to react.  We all have comical stories relating to our unprepared responses and reactions.

Now, the reality is, is that surprises are just a normal part of life.  We can’t predict every potential outcome we face, but if we are in regular conversation about the good, the bad, and the ugly, we start to train or prepare ourselves because surprises are normal.

The ultimate goal is not to be surprised by surprises.  No rise in your blood pressure, no feeling the need to go off-script, but rather referring back to conversations with your safari guide (advisor) about the importance of staying the course.

Clarity around expectations and regular communication about the range of potential outcomes.  That’s it.

The Bahnsen Group is registered with HighTower Securities, LLC, member FINRA and SIPC, and with HighTower Advisors, LLC, a registered investment advisor with the SEC. Securities are offered through HighTower Securities, LLC; advisory services are offered through HighTower Advisors, LLC.

This is not an offer to buy or sell securities. No investment process is free of risk, and there is no guarantee that the investment process or the investment opportunities referenced herein will be profitable. Past performance is not indicative of current or future performance and is not a guarantee. The investment opportunities referenced herein may not be suitable for all investors.

All data and information reference herein are from sources believed to be reliable. Any opinions, news, research, analyses, prices, or other information contained in this research is provided as general market commentary, it does not constitute investment advice. The team and HighTower shall not in any way be liable for claims, and make no expressed or implied representations or warranties as to the accuracy or completeness of the data and other information, or for statements or errors contained in or omissions from the obtained data and information referenced herein. The data and information are provided as of the date referenced. Such data and information are subject to change without notice.

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This document was created for informational purposes only; the opinions expressed are solely those of the team and do not represent those of HighTower Advisors, LLC, or any of its affiliates.

About the Author

Trevor Cummings

Private Wealth Advisor, Partner

Trevor is a Private Wealth Advisor focused on building customized financial plans for his and many clients of the team.

As the author of TOM [Thoughts On Money], Trevor endeavors to write and speak about financial concepts and principles in a kind of “straight” talk demeanor and posture.

He received his Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Biola University and his MBA from California State University, Fullerton.


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