If you want to stay alive long term as an investor, trader, or even in business, you MUST learn to manage your risk!
In business that might be your expenses, or knowing how much you will spend on advertising (especially with untested sources). You keep track of things so that you don't keep throwing good money after bad. In other words, if you track your advertising results (which you MUST do), and a certain campaign is not working - you scrap it and try something else. For those ad ideas that are working, you keep doing them, and stop when they quit being effective.
For those of us involved in index trading (or any type of market trading for that matter), it is even more simple. We MUST know before we go into a trade, how much we are willing to risk or lose on it to see if it works. Even if we are going to average, we still need to calculate it out. How many times will we average, what is my max loss. Once you know that figure, it may determine how many times you can average (place additional orders to improve your entry point).
The market may change and dictate that we get out early, but it MUST never dictate how big our loss will be. In other words, we NEVER let a small loss turn into a big one. It would be like throwing money away on advertising that does not work.
Most folks (especially those who have been ingrained with the buy and hold mentality) keep holding losing trades until they become catastrophic losses. A huge losing trade that wipes out their account (or 50% or more of it - which is exactly what happened to most stock investors with the mortgage meltdown fiasco).
Learn to keep your losses small and be ready to trade another day. Some traders shut down if they have two losing trades in a row (some days, you are just not in the zone!).
Risk To Reward Ratios
Most "experts" will tell you to calculate the risk-to-reward ratio before you get into a trade or investment. In my opinion, they are almost impossible to calculate. My first rule of trading is that in the market "Anything Can Happen at Any Time". So how will you know what a trade could do or what the potential reward is? Whose formula will you use to calculate it?
I've heard "experts" claim you need at least a 2 to 1, others say a 3 to 1, or even a 5 to 1 or better reward ratio, or you should NEVER even open the trade! That simply means that you should not enter a trade unless you can make double the money you may ultimately lose on it (for a 2 to 1 ratio). While it is a good idea in theory, it would keep me out of a lot of really good trades (for one thing, I know that nobody can be sure what the market will do - anything can and does happen).
While you should be looking for highly probable moves that have the potential to turn into NICE runs, the truth is, you NEVER know what is going to happen. I've seen traders take losses on trades that were once in profit simply because they were holding out until some arbitrary reward ratio was met.
We teach our traders to get into a highly probably move and then lock in some profit and see what happens! Once you have nothing to lose (by locking in some profit), and a HUGE potential upside, you can't really go wrong. As traders we should WANT to be in that position as often as possible. Sometimes we even get our targets out of the way and let the winning trade RUN! Forget about holding onto a trade until some calculated ratio is reached.
On any chart you look at there are floors and ceilings that are easy to see. You must take note of them and trade according to what "might" happen. However, if you lock in profit as soon as you can, you will be way ahead of the guy that is looking for some magical reward ratio.
Calculate How Much You Will Earn
Just as important as calculating your max loss on any one trade, is knowing when to shut down for the day. A daily profit goal can help. It can also help you to formulate your plan for trading.
It would be good if your max loss was less than your daily goal, then one loss would not ruin your day.
Sure, there will be days when you don't reach your goal, but there will be days when you surpass it, because you stuck to your plan, and locked in profit when you had a chance. Many days I have several little trades, and then one nice run and I'm done.
An Advanced Move
This is not for beginners. New traders should get in and take whatever the market is offering by locking in profit as mentioned above. However, once you account size has grown, it opens up more options for you, like the move I'm about to describe.
Let's say your goal is $1,000 a day in your trading. For this example, let's say you are trading the mini-DOW (my favorite index). The mini-Dow is worth $5 per tick. So, if you start with 10 contracts, you would need 20 ticks to get to your goal of a grand for the day (we will ignore the broker commissions since they are really small anyway).
First, you look for the highly probable set up you want. When it appears, you open the trade with 10 contracts. If it moves 20 ticks in your favor, you are done. However, if it moves against you (a back tick), you average up to 20 contracts (by adding 10 more contracts to your trade at a new entry point). Now with 20 open you will need just 10 ticks to get to $1,000. If you average up to 40 you will need just 5 ticks. If you go up to 80 you will need 2.5 ticks.
Again, to pull this move off, you would have to have the DEEP pockets required. You could do the same thing with a $100 daily goal and starting out with 1 contract. In either case you MUST have the risk calculated. At some point you could use averaging to get to your acceptable loss level.
Risk-to-reward traders would probably never do this move. However, if you have the experience, and account size it is fairly easy to do. Some days you could be through in a few seconds.
Whatever style of trading or business is right for you, learn to calculate your max loss on any one deal, and you will be MILES ahead of most folks who never think in these terms. Remember, you MUST manage risk to win at anything!
Doug West has taught hundreds of folks to pull from $100 to $1,000 or more daily from the markets, and you can too. Learn to make short-term trades and you will never have to second-guess the bulls and bears. Just learn to take what it gives you with his simple and easy to understand course on Index Trading