Everyone is looking for a quick and easy way to riches and happiness. It seems to be human nature to constantly search for a hidden key or some esoteric bit of knowledge that suddenly leads to the end of the rainbow or a winning lottery ticket.
While some people do buy winning tickets or a common stock that quadruples or more in a year, it is extremely unlikely, since relying upon luck is an investment strategy that only the foolish or most desperate would choose to follow. In our quest for success, we often overlook the most powerful tools available to us: time and the magic of compounding interest. Investing regularly, avoiding unnecessary financial risk, and letting your money work for you over a period of years and decades is a certain way to amass significant assets.
Here are several tips that should be followed by beginning investors.
1. Set Long-Term Goals
Why are you considering investing in the stock market? Will you need your cash back in six months, a year, five years or longer? Are you saving for retirement, for future college expenses, to purchase a home, or to build an estate to leave to your beneficiaries?
Before investing, you should know your purpose and the likely time in the future you may have need of the funds. If you are likely to need your investment returned within a few years, consider another investment; the stock market with its volatility provides no certainty that all of your capital will be available when you need it.
By knowing how much capital you will need and the future point in time when you will need it, you can calculate how much you should invest and what kind of return on your investment will be needed to produce the desired result. To estimate how much capital you are likely to need for retirement or future college expenses, use one of the free financial calculators available over the Internet.
Retirement calculators, ranging from the simple to the more complex including integration with future Social Security benefits, are available at Kiplinger, Bankrate, and MSN Money. Similar college cost calculators are available at CNNMoney and TimeValue. Many stock brokerage firms offer similar calculators.
2. Understand Your Risk Tolerance
Risk tolerance is a psychological trait that is genetically based, but positively influenced by education, income, and wealth (as these increase, risk tolerance appears to increase slightly) and negatively by age (as one gets older, risk tolerance decreases). Your risk tolerance is how you feel about risk and the degree of anxiety you feel when risk is present. In psychological terms, risk tolerance is defined as “the extent to which a person chooses to risk experiencing a less favorable outcome in the pursuit of a more favorable outcome.” In other words, would you risk $100 to win $1,000? Or $1,000 to win $1,000? All humans vary in their risk tolerance, and there is no “right” balance.
Risk tolerance is also affected by one’s perception of the risk. For example, flying in an airplane or riding in a car would have been perceived as very risky in the early 1900s, but less so today as flight and automobile travel are common occurrences. Conversely, most people today would feel that riding a horse might be dangerous with a good chance of falling or being bucked off because few people are around horses.
The idea of perception is important, especially in investing. As you gain more knowledge about investments – for example, how stocks are bought and sold, how much volatility (price change) is usually present, and the difficulty or ease of liquidating an investment – you are likely to consider stock investments to have less risk than you thought before making your first purchase. As a consequence, your anxiety when investing is less intense, even though your risk tolerance remains unchanged because your perception of the risk has evolved.
3. Control Your Emotions
The biggest obstacle to stock market profits is an inability to control one’s emotions and make logical decisions. In the short-term, the prices of companies reflect the combined emotions of the entire investment community. When a majority of investors are worried about a company, its stock price is likely to decline; when a majority feel positive about the company’s future, its stock price tends to rise.
A person who feels negative about the market is called a “bear,” while their positive counterpart is called a “bull.” During market hours, the constant battle between the bulls and the bears is reflected in the constantly changing price of securities. These short-term movements are driven by rumors, speculations, and hopes – emotions – rather than logic and a systematic analysis of the company’s assets, management, and prospects.