Sick of personal finance noise? Tune it out.

Carl Richards is a Certified Financial Planner™ and creator of the Sketch Guy column, appearing weekly in The New York Times since 2010.  The following article is reproduced with permission from his weekly newsletter and his website can be found here.

Greetings, Carl here.

Let’s try a little thought experiment.

Think back over the last couple of years to a time when you read something about money in the news, you acted on it, and then with the benefit of hindsight, you were glad you did.

This could include any number of things: the latest IPO, bear markets, bull markets, mergers, market collapses.


Go ahead, I’ll wait. Close your eyes and think about it.

I’ve done this experiment hundreds of times around the world, and I’ve only had one person come up with a valid example. It was news about a change in the tax law.

That’s it.

Isn’t that interesting?

Think of all the financial pornography out there, think of the number of dental offices that have CNBC playing in the background, think of the USA Today Money section. And almost all of it is noise. Almost none of it is actionable.

Occasionally, we get information—you know, facts and figures. But most of that is useless because it doesn’t matter to you, or it is beyond your control anyway.

The noise is worthless, the information is useless, and then every once in a while, there is a little teeny tiny speck that might be useful. In fact, the one piece of feedback I get about this sketch is that the little tiny dot that’s labeled “Stuff That Might Actually Be Useful” is way too big!

This leads to one obvious question: Why are we paying attention in the first place?

It might be fun—if you’re into that kind of fun. You know, like going to the circus. You might consider it part of your job to be up on the latest market news.

But most likely, it’s just a waste of time.

So now I’ll get out my little permission-granting wand and grant you permission to stop paying attention to all the noise.

Instead, use that time to work on that list you have…

You know, “The List.” The one that has all the really important things you actually want to do with your life. Hang out with your kids, learn how to surf, take an extra shift to pay off your credit card debt.

Yeah, that list.

Doesn’t that sound so much better than spending another hour watching CNBC?


P.S. As always, if you want to use this sketch, you can buy it here.