See more of the story

It happens once or twice a year, especially if the stock market has a relatively strong start: The phone rings, and a friendly client asks whether the time is right to reduce equity exposure.

"Could be," we reply. "But why in particular are you asking?"

"Well, you know the adage," they respond. "Sell in May and go away."

From an adviser's perspective, this is the equivalent of a financial dad joke. It will elicit either a chuckle or a groan (depending on who's asking) and is destined to be forgotten a few minutes later. You know the saying, "It's funny because it's true?" Yeah, that doesn't apply here.

The "Stock Trader's Almanac" is credited for popularizing the aforementioned phrase based on historical returns of the Dow Jones industrial average being strongest from November through April. Selling in May suggests you should be buying or holding heading into April. How did that strategy work out this year?

As our high school statistics teacher wrote on the blackboard, correlation does not imply causation. If you're going to sell stocks in May, it should have nothing to do with the calendar.

Clichés are everywhere in financial media. Here are some of the most popular, with a few thoughts on each:

Don't put all your eggs in one basket

Thanks to modern portfolio theory, almost all financial professionals preach the benefits of diversification. It does reduce risk, which is commendable. But diversification has its limits. Studies show a portfolio of 1,000 stocks has a statistically similar amount of risk to a portfolio of 60 stocks. It's OK to have a little more conviction and a few less holdings.

Buy low, sell high

See also: Bring an umbrella when it's raining. Yes, every investor intends to do this, but reminding yourself of the obvious will not make it any easier to identify peaks and troughs that only become clear in hindsight.

Don't fight the Fed

This has proven to be sound advice through the past 15 years. A U.S. Federal Reserve committed to low interest rates led to the longest bull market in history (2009-2020). Then, while the Fed hiked interest rates to combat inflation (March 2022 to July 2023), the S&P 500 was essentially flat. The caveat is equities have still provided attractive returns when the Fed Funds Rate has been 5% to 6%, as it is currently, provided rates do not continue increasing from here.

Markets climb a wall of worry

One of Ben's favorites, it's a reminder to embrace the uncertainty that is vital to successful long-term investing. There will always be reasons to feel anxious about the U.S. economy, geopolitical conflicts or a company's next earnings report. Stay invested anyway. The market has already priced in those concerns.

The trend is your friend

Some conflicting emotions here. We agree momentum has a strong impact upon short-term market movements. That said, this cliché also implies following an established pattern will lead to favorable results. That sounds too much like "chasing performance," which is often a foolish idea.

Be greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy

The mother of all Warren Buffett quotes is as close to a perfect piece of advice as you will find. Simple, direct, easy to remember and yet still difficult to implement, which is why it bears repeating. It is essentially a road map to buying low and selling high. Put another way, successful investing need not be complicated, but that doesn't mean it's easy.

Not all investing clichés are wrong, but some are obviously more valuable than others when it comes to making smart decisions with your money.

Ben Marks is chief investment officer at Marks Group Wealth Management in Minnetonka. He can be reached at Brett Angel is a senior wealth adviser at the firm.