Friday, January 22, 2010

Take baby steps before you start investing

These are the questions I get most: young people who want to become investors but aren't sure where to start. And typically my answer is always the same: begin at the beginning.
Q: I am interested in investing but I do not know where to start. Is it better to do online investing? Or have a financial advisor? How do you find out when upcoming new projects are letting people invest in their company? Is it better to invest money into mutual bonds? insurance policies?
A: That's actually several questions but I'll try to give a thorough answer. As I said, I often get questions about how to start investing but many people aren't really ready yet. Pouring money into stocks, bonds, mutual funds or other types of market-based investments isn't a good strategy if you haven't done the financial basics.

What are the basics? Budgeting, assuring you're living within your means, having significant cash savings and investing in your company's 401(k) or other retirement plan if they have one.

My question to the reader who asked the question is have you done ALL of those things? Do you live by a strict budget under which you can see that you have money left over after all your living expenses to devote to investing? Are you living within your means every month or do you have revolving credit card or other consumer debt that you need to pay off? How many months could you live off what you have stashed in savings? Are you putting a significant amount into your 401(k) retirement account?

If not, begin at the beginning. Remember that becoming an investor isn't about how quickly you can get rich, it's about building assets over time. Of course the earlier in life you can begin that process, the better, but trying to pour a large amount of money into stocks, bonds or mutual funds before you have enough money saved up to last even a month in an emergency is a lot like trying to run a marathon before you can walk.

Take your time, crawl first and be sure your desire to become an investor doesn't make you trip all over yourself.