Even You Can Invest

Oct 28, 1999 |Todd Temple

You may think investing is something you'll get around to in the future. But the future is exactly what you should start planning for now. Temple makes it easy.

When I browse the personal finance section of my local bookstore, I can’t help but feel intimidated. The shelves are crammed with the advice of experts who’ve figured out the complicated tricks to making money ... or so they claim. I can get through some of these books, but most are too dry, too technical and too depressing: Their authors assume I’ve got great stacks of cash to invest. I don’t.

My guess is, you don’t either. So while the economy booms and people all around us reap great rewards from their day trading, what are we cash-poor folks supposed to do? We need a simple investment plan, a strategy that works for wealth that’s measured in tens and twenties, not thousands and millions. I’ve come up with such a plan.

Actually, it didn’t originate with me. It’s based on the simplest of economic principles. I’ve covered some of these things in previous columns, but if you don’t mind, I’d like to present them together here in short order. If you’d like to bring sanity to your finances and start investing for your future now rather than later, follow these three rules:

1. Invest in Things That Go up in Value

Think of it this way: Every dollar you spend is an investment. What you buy with that buck can do one of two things: It can go up in value, or it can go down in value. The moment you buy a stereo, music album, pair of shoes or sunglasses, you start losing money because you can never sell that used item for the price you paid when it was new. That’s called depreciation. Bad thing.

Wait. It gets worse. When an item depreciates, you not only lose money in the value of the thing, you also lose the money you would have gained had you invested instead in something that goes up in value. That’s called opportunity cost. It’s bad too. It’s hard to imagine your future could be affected by the dozens of little things you spend money on each week. But those purchases add up to lots of cash — cash that could be earning money instead.

If you really want to save money, avoid spending it on things that go down in value. Instead, invest in things that go up. The simplest up is a savings account. There are lots of others, but this is where to start. If you don’t have a savings account, go out and get one immediately. Then get ready to use it. We’ll do that in a moment.

2. Never Borrow Money to Buy Things That Go Down in Value

There’s little point to keeping your money in a savings account if you then go out and rent someone else’s money to buy things that depreciate. The bank pays you a 3 or 4% rental fee (interest) on your money, while you’re paying a bank or credit card company or some other creditor up to five times that amount. Doesn’t make sense.

Pay off your credit balances, then start investing. For more on this, see (Get Out) of Debt! when you’re done reading. But not right now — we’re getting to the good part.

3. Make an Appreciating Investment With Every Paycheck

Maybe you're planning to start investing as soon as you have "enough." You know, when you graduate ... get a real job ... start working more hours ... when the big paychecks start rolling in. Then you’ll have a fat chunk of money that’s worth saving. But let’s look at this plan realistically: Unless you win the lottery or rob a bank, you'll never suddenly have one big chunk to invest. When those bigger paychecks start arriving, so will bigger bills — rent, insurance, medical expenses, food, taxes. If you’re waiting for your treasure ship to come in, forget about it. I’ve seen the horizon. That boat’s not coming.

The only sure way you’ll ever come up with one big stack of cash is to build it yourself, one dollar at a time. Make a deposit to your savings account every time you get paid. Your savings account statement should show deposits for each payday. No excuses.

Reaping the Rewards

These principles are so simple that it’s easy to miss the profound rewards they bring. Investing in things that go up in value forces you to question what you’re buying: Do I really need this? What will it be worth next year? What’s the opportunity cost? These questions make you into a more careful consumer.

And in case you didn’t notice, that second principle brings debt-freedom — a delicious state of being. And an essential step toward the fulfillment of your big dreams.

The principle of making regular, small investments leads to greater things too. It’s very habit-forming. Which creates a new problem: What to do with all that cash stored in your savings account. A bank savings account is a sure thing, but it also comes with an uninspiring interest rate. When you’ve got $1,000 in there, it might be time to diversify into other investments. There are lots to choose from — too many to cover this month. So stick with the savings account for now, and we’ll jump into some other investment possibilities in a later column. If you follow the plan, you’ll be ready for some ideas in the near future.

Copyright © 1999 Todd Temple. All rights reserved.

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