Exploring Your Investment Choices
IN THIS CHAPTER
Seeing how stocks and real estate build long-term wealth
Understanding the role of lending and other investments
Selecting investment firms and brokers
In many parts of the world, life's basic necessities - food, clothing, shelter, and taxes - consume the entirety of people's meager earnings. Although some Americans do truly struggle for basic necessities, the bigger problem for other Americans is that they consider just about everything - eating out, driving new cars, hopping on airplanes for vacation - to be a necessity. In reality, investing - that is, putting your money to work for you - is a necessity. If you want to accomplish important personal and financial goals, such as owning a home, starting your own business, helping your kids through college (and spending more time with them when they're young), retiring comfortably, and so on, you must know how to invest well.
It's been said, and too often quoted, that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. To these two certainties we add one more: being confused by and ignorant about investing. Because investing is a confounding activity, you may be tempted to look with envious eyes at those people who appear to be savvy with money and investing. Remember that everyone starts with the same level of financial knowledge: none! No one was born knowing this stuff. The only difference between those who know and those who don't is that those who know have devoted their time and energy to acquiring useful knowledge about the investment world.
Getting Started with Investing
Before we discuss the major investing alternatives in the rest of this chapter, we want to start with something that's quite basic yet important. What exactly do we mean when we say "investing"? Simply stated, investing means you have money put away for future use.
You can choose from tens of thousands of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, and other investments. Unfortunately for the novice, and even for the experts who are honest with you, knowing the name of the investment is just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath each of these investments lurks a veritable mountain of details.
If you wanted to and had the ability to quit your day job, you could make a full-time endeavor out of analyzing economic trends and financial statements and talking to business employees, customers, suppliers, and so on. However, we don't want to scare you away from investing just because some people do it on a full-time basis. Making wise investments need not take a lot of your time. If you know where to get high-quality information and you purchase well-managed investments, you can leave the investment management to the best experts. Then you can do the work that you're best at and have more free time for the things you really enjoy doing.
An important part of making wise investments is knowing when you have enough information to do things well on your own versus when you should hire others. For example, investing in foreign stock markets is generally more difficult to research and understand compared with investing in domestic markets. Thus, when investing overseas, hiring a good money manager, such as through a mutual or exchange-traded fund, makes more sense than going to all the time, trouble, and expense of picking your own individual stocks.
We're here to give you the information you need to make your way through the complex investment world. In the rest of this chapter, we clear a path so you can identify the major investments and understand the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Building Wealth with Ownership Investments
If you want your money to grow faster than the rate of inflation over the long term and you don't mind a bit of a roller-coaster ride from time to time in your investments' values, ownership investments are for you. Ownership investments are those investments where you own an interest in some company or other asset (such as stock, real estate, or a small business) that has the ability to generate revenue and profits.
Observing how the world's richest have built their wealth is enlightening. Not surprisingly, many of the champions of wealth around the globe gained their fortunes largely through owning a piece (or all) of a successful company that they (or others) built.
In addition to owning their own businesses, many well-to-do people have built their nest eggs by investing in real estate and the stock market. With softening housing prices in many regions in the late 2000s, some folks newer to the real estate world incorrectly believe that real estate is a loser, not a long-term winner. Likewise, the stock market goes through down periods but does well over the long term. (See Book 1, Chapter 2 for the scoop on investment risks and returns.)
And of course, some people come into wealth through an inheritance. Even if your parents are among the rare wealthy ones and you expect them to pass on big bucks to you, you need to know how to invest that money intelligently.
If you understand and are comfortable with the risks and take sensible steps to diversify (you don't put all your investment eggs in the same basket), ownership investments are the key to building wealth. For most folks to accomplish typical longer-term financial goals, such as retiring, the money that they save and invest needs to grow at a healthy clip. If you dump all your money in bank accounts that pay little if any interest, you're likely to fall short of your goals.
Not everyone needs to make his money grow, of course. Suppose you inherit a significant sum and/or maintain a restrained standard of living and work well into your old age simply because you enjoy doing so. In this situation, you may not need to take the risks involved with a potentially faster-growth investment. You may be more comfortable with safer investments, such as paying off your mortgage faster than necessary.
Entering the stock market
Stocks, which are shares of ownership in a company, are an example of an ownership investment. If you want to share in the growth and profits of companies like Skechers (footwear), you can! You simply buy shares of their stock through a brokerage firm. However, even if Skechers makes money in the future, you can't guarantee that the value of its stock will increase.
Some companies today sell their stock directly to investors, allowing you to bypass brokers. You can also invest in stocks via a stock mutual fund (or an exchange-traded fund), where a fund manager decides which individual stocks to include in the fund.
You don't need an MBA or a PhD to make money in the stock market. If you can practice some simple lessons, such as making regular and systematic investments and investing in proven companies and funds while minimizing your investment expenses and taxes, you should make decent returns in the long term.
However, don't think that you can "beat the markets"; you certainly can't beat the best professional money managers at their own full-time game. This book shows you time-proven, non-gimmicky methods to make your money grow in the various financial markets. We explain more about stocks in Book 3 and mutual funds in Book 5.
Owning real estate
People of varying economic means build wealth by investing in real estate. Owning and managing real estate is like running a small business. You need to satisfy customers (tenants), manage your costs, keep an eye on the competition, and so on. Some methods of real estate investing require more time than others, but many are proven ways to build wealth. See Book 8 for more on investing in real estate.
John, who works for a city government, and his wife, Linda, a computer analyst, have built several million dollars in investment real estate equity (the difference between the property's market value and debts owed) over the past three decades. "Our parents owned rental property, and we could see what it could do for you by providing income and building wealth," says John. Investing in real estate also appealed to John and Linda because they didn't know anything about the stock market, so they wanted to stay away from it. The idea of leverage - making money with borrowed money - on real estate also appealed to them.
John and Linda bought their first property, a duplex, when their combined income was just $35,000 per year. Every time they moved to a new home, they kept the prior one and converted it to a rental. Now in their 50s, John and Linda own seven pieces of investment real estate and are multimillionaires. "It's like a second retirement, having thousands in monthly income from the real estate," says John.
John readily admits that rental real estate has its hassles. "We haven't enjoyed getting calls in the middle of the night, but now we have a property manager who can help with this when we're not available. It's also sometimes a pain finding new tenants," he says.
Overall, John and Linda figure that they've been well rewarded for the time they spent and the money they invested. The income from John and Linda's rental properties also allows them to live in a nicer home.