Introduction to Investing

Have you ever wondered how the rich built their wealth and then kept it growing? Do you dream of retiring early (or of being able to retire at all)? Do you know that you should invest, but don’t know where to start?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, you’ve come to the right place. In this tutorial, we will cover the practice of investing from the ground up. The world of finance can be extremely intimidating, but we firmly believe that the stock market and greater financial world won’t seem so complicated once you learn some of the lingo and major concepts.

We should emphasise, however, that investing isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. Taking control of one’s personal finances will take work, and yes, there will be a learning curve. But the rewards will far outweigh the required effort. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to let banks, bosses or investment professionals push your money in directions that you don’t understand. After all, no one is in a better position than you are to know what is best for you and your money.

Regardless of your personality type, lifestyle or interests, this tutorial will help you to understand what investing is, what it means and how time earns money through compounding. But it doesn’t stop there. This tutorial will also teach you about the building blocks of the investing world and the markets, give you some insight into techniques and strategies and help you think about which investing strategies suit you best. So do yourself a lifelong favour and keep reading.

One last thing, remember there are no “stupid” questions. If after reading this tutorial you still have unanswered questions, we’d love to hear from you. If you are looking for more information about where to put your money, ask to be contacted by one of our professionals.

Investing

The act of committing money or capital to an endeavour with the expectation of obtaining an additional income or profit.

It’s pretty simple: investing means putting your money to work for you. Essentially, it’s a different way to think about how to make money. Growing up, most of us were taught that you can earn an income only by getting a job and working, that’s exactly what most of us do. There’s one big problem with this: if you want more money, you have to work more hours. However, there is a limit to how many hours a day we can work, not to mention the fact that having a bunch of money is no fun if we don’t have the leisure time to enjoy it.

You can’t create a duplicate of yourself to increase your working time, so instead, you need to send an extension of yourself – your money – to work. That way, while you are putting in hours for your employer, or even mowing your lawn, sleeping, reading the paper or socializing with friends, you can also be earning money elsewhere. Quite simply, making your money work for you maximizes your earning potential whether or not you receive a raise, decide to work overtime or look for a higher-paying job.

There are many different ways you can go about investing. This includes putting money into stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or real estate (among many other things), or starting your own business. Sometimes people refer to these options as “investment vehicles,” which is just another way of saying “a way to invest.” Each of these vehicles has positives and negatives, which we’ll discuss in a later section of this tutorial. The point is that it doesn’t matter which method you choose for investing your money, the goal is always to put your money to work so it earns you an additional profit. Even though this is a simple idea, it’s the most important concept for you to understand.

What Investing Is

Investing is not gambling. Gambling is putting money at risk by betting on an uncertain outcome with the hope that you might win money. Part of the confusion between investing and gambling, however, may come from the way some people use investment vehicles. For example, it could be argued that buying a stock based on a “hot tip” you heard at the water cooler is essentially the same as placing a bet at a casino.

True investing doesn’t happen without some action on your part. A “real” investor does not simply throw his or her money at any random investment, he or she performs a thorough analysis and commits capital only when there is a reasonable expectation of profit. Yes, there still is a risk, and there are no guarantees, but investing is more than simply hoping Lady Luck is on your side.

Why Should you Invest?

Obviously, everybody wants more money. It’s pretty easy to understand that people invest because they want to increase their personal freedom, sense of security and ability to afford the things they want in life. However, investing is becoming more of a necessity. The days when everyone worked the same job for 30 years and then retired to a nice fat pension are gone. For average people, investing is not so much a helpful tool as the only way they can retire and maintain their present lifestyle.

Whether you live in the U.S., Canada, or pretty much any other country in the industrialized Western world, governments are tightening their belts. Almost without exception, the responsibility of planning for retirement is shifting away from the state and towards the individual. There is much debate over how safe our old-age pension programs will be over the next 20, 30 and 50 years. But why leave it to chance? By planning ahead you can ensure financial stability during your retirement.

Now that you have a general idea of what investing is and why you should do it, it’s time to learn about how investing lets you take advantage of one of the miracles of mathematics: compound interest. Albert Einstein called compound interest “the greatest mathematical discovery of all time”. We think this is true partly because, unlike the trigonometry or calculus you studied back in high school, compounding can be applied to everyday life.

The wonder of compounding (sometimes called “compound interest”) transforms your working money into a state-of-the-art, highly powerful income-generating tool. Compounding is the process of generating earnings on an asset’s reinvested earnings. To work, it requires two things: the reinvestment of earnings and time. The more time you give your investments, the more you can accelerate the income potential of your original investment, which takes the pressure off of you.

To demonstrate, let’s look at an example:

If you invest $10,000 today at 6%, you will have $10,600 in one year ($10,000 x 1.06). Now let’s say that rather than withdraw the $600 gained from interest, you keep it in there for another year. If you continue to earn the same rate of 6%, your investment will grow to $11,236.00 ($10,600 x 1.06) by the end of the second year.

Because you reinvested that $600, it works together with the original investment, earning you $636, which is $36 more than the previous year. This little bit extra may seem like peanuts now, but let’s not forget that you didn’t have to lift a finger to earn that $36. More importantly, this $36 also has the capacity to earn interest. After the next year, your investment will be worth $11,910.16 ($11,236 x 1.06). This time you earned $674.16, which is $74.16 more interest than the first year. This increase in the amount made each year is compounding in action: interest earning interest on interest and so on. This will continue as long as you keep reinvesting and earning interest.

Starting Early

EConsider two individuals, we’ll name them Pam and Sam. Both Pam and Sam are the same age. When Pam was 25 she invested $15,000 at an interest rate of 5.5%. For simplicity, let’s assume the interest rate was compounded annually. By the time Pam reaches 50, she will have $57,200.89 ($15,000 x [1.055^25]) in her bank account.

Pam’s friend, Sam, did not start investing until he reached age 35. At that time, he invested $15,000 at the same interest rate of 5.5% compounded annually. By the time Sam reaches age 50, he will have $33,487.15 ($15,000 x [1.055^15]) in his bank account.

What happened? Both Pam and Sam are 50 years old, but Pam has $23,713.74 ($57,200.89 – $33,487.15) more in her savings account than Sam, even though he invested the same amount of money! By giving her investment more time to grow, Pam earned a total of $42,200.89 in interest and Sam earned only $18,487.15.

Editor’s Note: For now, we will have to ask you to trust that these calculations are correct. In this tutorial, we concentrate on the results of compounding rather than the mathematics behind it.

When you invest, always keep in mind that compounding amplifies the growth of your working money. Just like investing maximizes your earning potential, compounding maximizes the earning potential of your investments – but remember, because time and reinvesting make compounding work, you must keep your hands off the principal and earned interest.

Investors can learn a lot from the famous Greek maxim inscribed on the Temple of Apollo’s Oracle at Delphi: “Know Thyself”. In the context of investing, the wise words of the oracle emphasize that success depends on ensuring that your investment strategy fits your personal characteristics.

Even though all investors are trying to make money, each one comes from a diverse background and has different needs. It follows that specific investing vehicles and methods are suitable for certain types of investors. Although many factors determine which path is optimal for an investor, we’ll look at two main categories: investment objectives and investing personalitites.

Investment Objectives

Generally speaking, investors have a few factors to consider when looking for the right place to park their money. Safety of capital, current income and capital appreciation are factors that should influence an investment decision and will depend on a person’s age, stage/position in life and personal circumstances. A 75-year-old widow living off of her retirement portfolio is far more interested in preserving the value of investments than a 30-year-old business executive would be. Because the widow needs income from her investments to survive, she cannot risk losing her investment. The young executive, on the other hand, has time on his or her side. As investment income isn’t currently paying the bills, the executive can afford to be more aggressive in his or her investing strategies.

An investor’s financial position will also affect his or her objectives. A multi-millionaire is going to have different goals than a newly married couple just starting. For example, the millionaire, to increase his profit for the year, might have no problem putting down $100,000 in a speculative real estate investment. To him, a hundred grand is a small percentage of his overall wealth. Meanwhile, the couple is concentrating on saving up for a down payment on a house and can’t afford to risk losing their money in a speculative venture. Regardless of the potential returns of a risky investment, speculation is just not appropriate for the young couple.

As a general rule, the shorter your time horizon, the more conservative you should be. For instance, if you are investing primarily for retirement and you are still in your 20s, you still have plenty of time to make up for any losses you might incur along the way. At the same time, if you start when you are young, you don’t have to put huge chunks of your paycheque away every month because you have the power of compounding on your side.

On the other hand, if you are about to retire, it is very important that you either safeguard or increase the money you have accumulated. Because you will soon be accessing your investments, you don’t want to expose all of your money to volatility – you don’t want to risk losing your investment money in a market slump right before you need to start accessing your assets.

Personality

What’s your style? Do you love fast cars, extreme sports and the thrill of a risk? Or do you prefer reading in your hammock while enjoying the calmness, stability and safety of your backyard?

Peter Lynch, one of the greatest investors of all time, has said that the “key organ for investing is the stomach, not the brain”. In other words, you need to know how much volatility you can stand to see in your investments. Figuring this out for yourself is far from an exact science, but there is some truth to an old investing maxim: you’ve taken on too much risk when you can’t sleep at night because you are worried about your investments.

Another personality trait that will determine your investing path is your desire to research investments. Some people love nothing more than digging into financial statements and crunching numbers. To others, the terms balance sheet, income statement and stock analysis sound as exciting as watching paint dry. Others just might not have the time to plough through prospectuses and financial statements.

Putting It All Together: Your Risk Tolerance

By now it is probably clear to you that the main thing determining what works best for an investor is his or her capacity to take on risk.

We’ve mentioned some core factors that determine risk tolerance, but remember that every individual’s situation is different and that what we’ve mentioned is far from a comprehensive list of the ways in which investors differ from one another. The important point of this section is that an investment is not the same for all people. Keep this in the back of your mind for upcoming sections of this tutorial.

If you are not sure about how you would react to market movements, we can suggest one good starting point: try starting up a mock portfolio investing simulator, which gives you $100,000 of virtual money in an account that tracks the real stock market. The simulated experience of investing can help you know your head, your habits and your stomach before you invest even one real dollar.

Preparing for contradictions

An important fact about investing is that there are no indisputable laws, nor is there one correct way to go about it. Furthermore, within the vast array of different investing styles and strategies, two opposite approaches may both be successful at the same time.

One explanation for the appearance of contradictions in investing is that economics and finance are social (or soft) sciences. In hard science, like physics or chemistry, there are precise measurements and well-defined laws that can be replicated and demonstrated time and time again in experiments. In social science, it’s impossible to “prove” anything. People can develop theories and models of how the economy works, but they can’t put an economy into a lab and perform experiments on it.

Humans, the main subject of the study of the social sciences are unreliable and unpredictable by nature. Just as it is difficult for a psychologist to predict with 100% certainty how a single human mind will react to a particular circumstance, it is difficult for a financial analyst to predict with 100% certainty how the market (a large group of humans) will react to certain news about a company. Humans are emotional, and as much as we’d like to think we are rational, much of the time our actions prove otherwise.

Economists, academics, research analysts, fund managers and individual investors often have different and even conflicting theories about why the market works the way it does. Keep in mind that these theories are nothing more than opinions. Some opinions might be better thought out than others, but at the end of the day, they are still just opinions.

Take the following example of how contradictions play out in the markets:

Sally believes that the key to investing is to buy small companies that are poised to grow at extremely high rates. Sally is therefore always watching for the newest, most cutting-edge technology, and typically invests in technology and biotech firms, which sometimes aren’t even making a profit. Sally doesn’t mind because these companies have huge potential.

John isn’t ready to go spending his hard-earned dollars on what he sees as an unproven concept. He likes to see firms that have a solid track record and he believes that the key to investing is to buy good companies that are selling at “cheap” prices. The ideal investment for John is a mature company that pays out a large dividend, which he feels has high-quality management that will continue to deliver excellent returns to shareholders year after year.

So, which investor is superior?

The answer is neither. Sally and John have different investing strategies, but there is no reason why they can’t both be successful. There are plenty of stable companies out there for John, just as there are always entrepreneurs creating new companies that would attract Sally. The approaches we described here are those of the two most common investing strategies. In investing lingo, Sally is a growth investor and John is a value investor.

Although these theories appear to contradict one another, each strategy has its merits and may have aspects that are suitable for certain investors. Your goal is to be informed enough to understand and analyse what you hear. Then you can decide which theories fit with your investing personality.

Index

A portfolio of securities representing a particular market or industry or a portion of it. Indices often serve as benchmarks for measuring investment performance– for example, the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the S&P 500 Index. Although investors cannot directly purchase any index, they are able to invest in mutual funds and exchange-traded funds that are based on the indexes. These types of vehicles enable investors to invest in securities representing broad market segments and/or the total market.

Margin Account

An account that allows you to borrow money from your brokerage account in order to purchase securities. The loan is collateralized by the existing securities and cash held in the account.

Dividends

The distribution of a portion of a company’s earnings, decided by the board of directors, to a class of its shareholders.

Prospectus

A document filed with the SEC that describes an offering of securities for sale to the public. The prospectus fully discloses the risks, policies, and fees of the offering.

Yield

The income return on investments. This refers to the interest or dividend received from securities based on the investments cost or face value. By taking the time to learn about the common types of investments and the language that accompanies them.

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Just as the proverbial thousand-mile journey begins with a single step, the path to lifelong prosperity begins with making a single decision. Today's financial world with its complexities and rapidly changing perspectives means that simply doing nothing is actually a far riskier proposition than taking a sensible, professionally-guided approach.

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